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Welcome to Play Smart, a new game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Director of Game Improvement content Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

Sir Nick Faldo was my idol growing up, and as a junior golfer with dreams of playing at the highest level, his inspiring story was one I thought about often: A promising golfer who left school at 16 who quickly worked his way into professional golf and established himself as one of England’s most exciting young talents. Yet as he began to rise through the ranks and flitter into contention in the majors, fans and media members began speculating whether he could perform under pressure. He was dubbed “Nick Fold-o,” and determined to prove his critics wrong, he employed swing coach David Leadbetter to improve his technique.

Over the next two years, many thought Faldo had made the worst decision of his career. His star, once rising, had seemed to disappear. But slowly and surely, he built it back, until he rose all the way to World No. 1. He captured six majors, and established himself as one of the best pressure players in golf history.

Earlier this week, Faldo and his now-GOLF Hall-of-Fame teacher David Leadbetter recounted their journey together as part of the GolfZon Leadbetter University virtual summit, and along the way they provided some helpful information to golfers everywhere about the things they need to know if they want to revamp their own golf swing.

1. Know *why* you want to make the change

The first step of any swing change, according to both Faldo and Leadbetter, is to understand your goals. Why do you want to make this change? It’s important to have a good reason, because it won’t just help keep you motivated when times are tough, but help you understand why the changes you’re implementing are important. Faldo’s goal was winning the Open Championship, which meant hitting the golf ball with less backspin.

“There was an element that the swing couldn’t handle the Sunday afternoon pressure,” Faldo said, “and the ball flight had to get better.”

2. You can’t ‘go back to your old swing’

Making a swing change won’t always be easy. There’ll be days when you want to quit, or wonder why you did it at all. You may even be tempted to try to return to your “old swing,” but be warned: That won’t work, Faldo says. Your best — and only — option is to stick with it.

“Sometimes people would ask me, ‘Why don’t you use your old swing?’” Faldo says, laughing. “Once you’re in it, you don’t have an old swing. There’s only what you have in that moment.”

3. Focus on finding a feel

Even if you’re making some nitty-gritty technical changes, your biggest breakthroughs will come from unexpected places, the pair said. A huge part of this is finding a feel that works for you, which will allow you to ease some tension and take your changes to the course.

“You’ve got to get on autopilot,” Leadbetter says. “I want you to soften your arms as much as you can, and for some reason, it just sort of clicked.”

4. Don’t get sloppy

When you finally get your swing in the position that you want it, and your game starts improving as a result, you don’t want to ruin all your hard work by getting sloppy. It’s time to go into maintenance mode — making small and subtle changes to keep your swing in top shape and avoid having to make any overhauls again in the future.

“It looked like we did a lot of technical stuff, because I was around a lot, but we really didn’t,” Leadbetter said. “At that point it was mostly about suring things up. Maybe giving him a little feel here or there. But really, he’s done the work, it’s just a matter of keeping things on track.”

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Director of Game Improvement Content at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees all the brand’s service journalism spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.



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