The Wisdom of the Wiffle

“As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong”  
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Golf is a paradox.  When you swing out to the right the ball hooks left, you hit down to make the ball go high, you “let go” to “get in the zone”.  It’s a game of opposites which validates my personal discovery of utilizing what is soft and weak to develop distance and consistency, and even a cure for the chipping yips.

I grew up playing what I like to call Yard Golf in the front yard of our rented home when we moved to BC from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan when I was 10 years old.  The best way that I could really hit full shots around my home and neighborhood was with wiffle balls.  We eventually moved to a home that didn’t have a large enough yard and I fell out of love with this feather light piece of practical plastic.  Recently however, I was writing a blog on The Essentials to Playing Golf Anywhere and I reintroduced myself to the mighty wiffle. 

I stepped into my office (my backyard golf green) and began to compare the flight of a real golf ball with that of a couple of variations of foam golf balls as well as the wiffle ball, and what I discovered, aside from the obvious ability to play free golf, safely, around your neighborhood, was a breakthrough in how I think about three things:  Shot shape and club face control, the ultimate tour swing, and a cure for the chipping yips.

Lets start off with my first realization – shot shape and club face control.  When you strike a wiffle ball one of the first things you’ll notice is that the spin on the ball is slightly accentuated.  You can hit little draws and fades with a fraction of the effort.  So, what I found is that you can really zone in on the subtleties of club face control without spending thousands on private lessons.  Here is the lesson when working with the wiffle: tell your mind to tell your body what the intention for the shot is.  This works at any distance; chips, pitches or the full swing.  “I want to hit it dead straight, high and soft.”, and then practice until you hit the shot you want.  “I want to hit a very subtly draw so it lands and spins left.”, then take a swing and hit the shot and don’t give up until you hit the shot you want.  Your mind body connection will eventually figure out what needs to happen for this club to be delivered to execute what you intended to do.  There will come a time that with every swing you take, you will hit a different shot shape.  High draw. Low straight ball. Trap fade (now we’re talking). You get into a groove without too much thinking.

You may ask, “why can’t I do this with real balls at the driving range” and the answer is “I don’t know, why can’t you?”  My theory is because there is no expectation on the outcome of the shot, there is nobody close to witness what the heck is going on, and lastly the flight of the real ball is understated compared to that of the wiffle.  It exaggerates your feedback and can highlight your successes.

Next let’s explore the ultimate tour swing and how the wiffle can help achieve this.  This is an opinion in which I know I’ll have a lot of people agreeing with me.  The swings of Ernie Els and Loius Oosthuisen are two of the best swings that the tour has ever seen.  There are many others that are great but can we agree that these swings are at the very least top 10 golf swings of all time?  Not only are they technical perfection but what draws people in is the rhythm and tempo in which they swing, and on top of that, they hit their drives into the stratosphere.  I mention these swings because there is something they know that we don’t and I think the all knowing wiffle might be able to answer the question.  Allow me to elaborate; people spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours getting feedback from machines like Trackman and Flighscope to tell them what their ball spin rate is and how to adjust their swing, and equipment, to help achieve the optimal numbers.  This is fine, you have the money and have a ton of time – well done.  This is a worthy pursuit, honestly it is.  But if you take some wiffle balls into an open field you can almost immediately allow the mind body connection to figure out the best way to get the maximum distance out of your shot, especially if you have a light breeze in the face.  The discovery I made was that swinging like a goon does not make the ball go farther, it actually increases the spin and makes the ball go higher into the air but travel a shorter distance.  After much testing in the field, I found that emulating the rhythm of Ernie or Louis maximizes the distance potential of the wiffle ball. What I learned was,  if you come in a little “shallower”, meaning your club glides along the ground for longer instead of “chopping down” at the ball, and if you have your hands slightly ahead of the ball at impact while embracing an image of Ernie or Louis in your mind, you will get maximum distance with the most efficient swing possible – which I imagine has to be the goal of all golfers, wouldn’t it be?  Be like Ernie!

I took this practice and mental imagery to the course and pretended the ball I was hitting was a wiffle ball, while trying to emulate the rhythm of The Big Easy, Ernie Els, and it paid immediate dividends.  My golf balls were undoubtedly flying further with less effort. The theory had been proven right.  A Trackman Machine costs’ $19,000USD while a wiffle ball on Amazon costs’ $0.24 cents.  It’s a theory worth trying.

Lastly, the wiffle may be the answer to the chipping yips.  I have been suffering the yips for over 20 years now and am still optimistic I will overcome them.  I had a sweet little breakthrough in the backyard during ball testing of various limited flight balls.  First off, the wiffle allows me to trust my shot without the worry of skulling one over the fence or through a window – that is helpful!  With that trust in mind it really allows me to put any fears on the shelf while I practice.  And as the fear subsided and the trust ensued, I made a big realization.  The yip was caused by a breakdown in my left arm (not new news) but the trust allowed me to realize just how locked out my left arm should be to make solid contact.  From there I just used the straight left arm as a sort of pendulum while hinging the right arm less or more to control the force of the shot.  The more I practiced the more confident I became, the more consistency I saw, and eventually transferred that trust to a regular golf ball.  My touch was back!  From there it was all just speed control and face angle. Easy!  Its early days for me but I’m excited to continue trying this method for curing my yips.  In fact, I’m heading out to the green right now.  I have to go…Bye.

2 thoughts on “The Wisdom of the Wiffle”

  1. Scott your post really hit home, and it brought back my memories of playing yard golf with wiffle balls. Playing with wiffle balls invited imagination and creativity into my game. It’s come full circle and I now see my kids using wiffle balls in my yard (which will save some of our windows!).

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