By Keith A. Eaton
(Photos by Justin Brotton)
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, help me hit that little white ball!”
Understandably, the number of people playing golf in December, January and February falls drastically during Oklahoma’s mostly frigid and windy winter months – especially this year. Ryan Hybl, men’s golf coach at the University of Oklahoma, has a recipe for all players interested in maintaining and even improving their swing and their health.
Hybl comes by his advice naturally as a member of a southeastern golfing family, a nationally ranked junior golfer, a college All American at the University of Georgia, a professional tour player and successful coach. In his coaching role, Hybl stresses all aspects of preparation and execution – the physical and the mental. While every young man he coaches may not achieve Hybl’s level of play or receive multiple prestigious academic awards as he did at Georgia, his wards will be instructed to overachieve in every aspect of their college experience and enjoy it fully.
One Part Each: Posture, Grip, Stroke and Flexibility
“It may sound simplistic, but I believe every golfer, in any age group, can benefit by a regular exercise program that emphasizes stretching the big muscles in the back, the legs and shoulders. Some regular cardiovascular exercise, as simple as a regular walking routine, is important for stamina. You use a lot of energy in a round of golf and fatigue can be your worst enemy,” Hybl explains.
“Tim Overman, our golf team’s strength and conditioning coach, is an important part of the program and he does an excellent job of getting our golf student athletes in shape to play their best golf and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Hybl insists.
The exercises demonstrated by Coach Overman are those used in the OU men’s golfing program. While not every exercise fits all ages of the golfing audience, you will likely find several that will benefit your health and golf swing by maintaining or improving your strength and flexibility. (See Sidebar for a suggested program of exercise easily performed in your home or office without special equipment.)
“Golf is a game that emphasizes the importance of repetition of fundamentals. Stray from those fundamentals, even for a short time, and a good round of golf can go rapidly downhill,” Hybl continues. “That’s why I personally use two simple and inexpensive drills that anyone can do in their home year round.”
“First, once or twice a day, maybe morning and evening, just practice your swing in front of a mirror, full length if possible, and hold your position at the top. Check your position in terms of head position, wrist cock, knee flex, weight distribution; see if you can maintain your balance for 15-20 seconds. Perform this drill facing the mirror first and then from the side. From the side view, check the position of your arms, shoulders and hips, focusing on realizing good posture and a square alignment of both hips and shoulders parallel to an imaginary line to a target,” Hybl instructs. “You can improve your swing, build in muscle memory and repeatability in a couple of months by regularly performing this simple drill.”
From Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods to every top amateur, accomplished golfers have one thing in common – a sound grip on the club that enables the coordination of hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and legs to work together to achieve a repeatable, consistent swing.
Here again, Hybl recommends a low-cost, simple aid and drill to make this most important fundamental of the game perfectly natural.
“You can purchase a two-foot club, just the handle really, that has a molded grip that forces a player to place their hands on the club in the tried and true Varden position, accommodating the overlap or interlock variations, but insisting on the correct positioning of both thumbs and forefingers … the famed “vees.”
Slightly more expensive, but with a real payoff, is the purchase and regular use of a putting strip and cup.
Speaking analytically, Hybl offers a mental assist: “Keep track of your results and seek to gain improvement over a month’s practice. Note the percentage of three-foot putts you make and likewise for six- and ten-footers … almost certainly, your ‘scores’ will improve over time as you stick with the routine.”
Of course, Hybl encourages all golfers to practice on their local range and play when the weather cooperates.
“It always helps to practice and play, to see the results of the exercises and drills you’ve been working on.”
Oklahoma has produced its share of great amateur and professional players and will continue to do so as golf continues to grow in popularity and give young people the opportunity to win educational scholarships, perhaps take up a lucrative profession and certainly enjoy the benefits of a sport that involves exercise, mental acuity and personal responsibility.
OU has seen what a talented and dedicated coach can do in just 19 months. Since joining the athletic program in June, 2009 as men’s head coach, Hybl has led the Sooners to early success, including a win at his inaugural event, the Kansas Invitational, and carding ten top-ten finishes in scheduled play during the 2009/2010 campaign.
One measure of Hybl’s impact is the change in ranking as published in the Golf Weekly magazine. When Hybl arrived, OU sat at number 100. At the end of the 2009/2010 season, the team ranking was number 40. That’s significant improvement by any definition.
Hybl’s program has been rewarded by receiving financial support from the university to rework the practice putting greens and make capital improvements to the Charlie Coe Center’s physical facilities. These changes bring the training and practice facilities on par with the university home course. The Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club is one of the state and region’s premier public facilities thanks to a significant redesign for the 2009 Public Links Championship. The course stretches to 7,387 yards for championship play to par-72.
Hybl’s recruiting-friendly, second-to-no-one approach to building a nationally contending program confirms the expectations Hybl expressed when explaining his move from Georgia to Oklahoma.
“The attraction for me was the potential of the program. The infrastructure was already in place from the great facilities, the strength of the athletic department as a whole and an obvious commitment from the former players and alumni in keeping up with the team. All those things combined set us up for success, and that was the reason I took the job.”
Now, perhaps among our readers, there are some dads or granddads with an eye for golfing talent, say in a son or grandson. If you would like to see them learn golf fundamentals from great instructors, play a superb course and genuinely learn a love of the game next summer, take a look at the website www.soonergolfcamp.com.
To greet your foursome with an improved grip, swing, balance and fewer three-putt greens this spring, just follow this advice and instruction given by Coaches Hybl and Overman.
Oh, and next spring, take all those presses on nine and eighteen with confidence. It’s gonna be easy money!
“Our issues as a population nowadays are mobility and flexibility. We spend the day sitting at our desks, in our cars, at the dinner table and in front of our TV.” – Tim Overman, OU Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach.
The goals of Overman’s suggested program of exercise are to strengthen your “core” – the muscular system from the neck to the hamstrings in particular, but also the hip flexors and glutes.
- Hand walk
- Forward and backward lunges
- Thoracic/spine and T-spine variation
- Planks – front, both sides and back
- Sit on roller, lean back with arms extended behind and alternating one ankle crossed over the other knee, and roll forward and back; then with one foot on the other, legs extended, roll forward and back.
- Place a tennis ball under your bare foot and simply roll it around. A golf ball is even better. Easily done at your desk or dining chair.
- “W” drill – stand with palms facing stomach and open your arms into a “W,” opening the chest and back.