As a television commentator, Johnny Miller may be the most polarizing figure in the business.
Everyone agrees, though, that Miller was one of the finest ballstrikers of his generation. So when the two-time major champion shares what he calls “maybe my single best tip,” it's a good idea to listen.
Miller explained the drill, which he calls the “brush-brush” drill, in the September 2013 issue of Golf Magazine. It's an incredibly simple way to groove a downward strike with your irons, and you don't even need a ball to practice it.
Heeeeere's Johnny… and his beloved “brush-brush” tip:
- On the range or in the yard, scratch a line into the ground using the club's toe (or whatever is handy). The line should be long enough to reach from your feet to where the ball would lie.
- Set up with the line in the middle of your stance if using a wedge, or closer to your lead foot for longer irons.
- Take a slow, short swing, brushing the top of the grass on the target side of your line. The goal is to not take a divot.
- As soon as you finish the swing, repeat. Miller says doing it twice in quick succession ingrains a smooth rhythm.
How can such a basic drill improve your swing? For one, it trains you to hit down on the back of the ball and through, preventing fat shots or a scooping action with the hands. The key, Miller says, is to get the grip's butt end even with or just past the line with your wrists still slightly cocked. This creates a downward impact position, with the shaft leaning toward the target, which traps the ball between ground and clubface for power and accuracy.
Try the drill on sidehill, uphill and downhill lies to improve your all-around iron game.
Improve Ballstriking – Johnny Miller
To today's generation of golfers, Johnny Miller is known as an opinionated commentator who can always be counted on to offer a strong perspective regarding the shots hit by the best players in the world. While Miller has created an extremely successful second career for himself in the announcing booth, he was first a top touring professional. Miller won 25 times on the PGA Tour, recording victories in two major championships along the way. He was the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1974, and he is now a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
It is easy to forget about Miller's incredible playing career due to the notoriety of his announcing work, but a serious golf fan will always think of Miller as a player first. One of the great memories that Miller provided in his days on the course was a stunning 63 during the U.S. Open in 1973. This unforgettable round is one of the best that has been played in golf history, as Miller was the first to ever shoot 63 in a major championship competition. He would win that U.S. Open at Oakmont on the strength of his Sunday 63, beating Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Trevino, and more.
So, we've established that Johnny Miller was an excellent Tour player in his day - but is there anything that the modern golfer can learn from the swing that Miller used to post such great scores? Certainly. While the style of the golf swing has changed over the years due to the advances in equipment, there are plenty of tips that can be taken from Miller's swing and applied to your own game. You don't need to copy the swinging style of Johnny Miller in order to benefit, either - simply pick out a couple of parts that could help make you a better player, and blend them in to the way you already swing the club. Johnny Miller was known as one of the very best ball strikers of his time, and likely is one of the best of all time. If you can't learn from someone with that pedigree, it is going to be hard to learn from anyone.
As with anything else that you try to add to your golf swing, you need to be careful to pick and choose things that you can learn from Johnny Miller. Depending on the state of your current swing, you may actually make things worse by trying to imitate some of Miller's moves, while others could make you a better ball striker rather quickly. Think carefully about the strengths and weaknesses of your swing, and then make adjustments based on those points. You certainly don't want to attempt to fix something that isn't broken, so you always need to be smart with the adjustments that you make.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Left Heel Gives Way
One of the first things you will notice if you find a video of Johnny Miller making a swing from anytime during the prime of his career is how his left heel gives way and comes up off of the ground during the backswing. This is a move that has 'gone out of style' over the years, as the majority of Tour pros today keep that left heel flat on the turf. However, for some players, this is a move that is still worth some consideration. When using properly, allowing your left heel to come up off of the ground during your backswing can help you make a bigger turn, and it can even help to put a bit of rhythm into your swing.
The main advantage of letting your left heel come up in the backswing is to enhance the length of your turn away from the ball without having to improve your flexibility. If you were to keep that left heel down, your backswing length would be limited to the flexibility that you have available in your lower back. You can take that limitation away by freeing up your left heel and allowing it to lift as the backswing progresses. When you take this approach, you will give the club extra room to turn back, and you will be able to make a longer overall swing. Johnny Miller typically made a rather long swing, and was a powerful ball striker because of it. If you feel that you are limited by flexibility and that a longer swing would lead you to longer shots, feel free to experiment with allowing your left heel to come up in the backswing.
Should you decide to give this swing tip a try in your own game, there are a couple of things you should know ahead of time. Make sure to hit on the following two points when you add the left heel lift into your swing and you will give yourself the best possible chance at success.
- Stay on your left side. As you are allowing that left heel to lift off of the ground, you don't want to force your weight onto your right leg. If you let your weight drift to the right at any point during your golf swing, you are going to have a hard time recovering to hit a good shot. Even though you will be bringing your left heel off the ground, you need to make sure that you remain balanced and allow plenty of your weight to rest into the toes on your left foot. When the downswing does get started, you are going to be turning left rather quickly, so you won't have time to make a full weight transfer back toward the target.
- Heel down first. It is fine to have that heel up in the air at the top of your backswing, but it better head back to the ground immediately on starting the forward swing. As soon as the club changes directions and you head down toward the ball, be sure to drive the left heel into the turf to start your move toward the target. This is actually one of the benefits of lifting the heel, as it can give you a convenient way to get your downswing started consistently time after tine. In many ways, the left heel can now act as a timing mechanism for your swing - by using it to 'trigger' your downswing, you will have a definitive act that moves you from backswing to downswing instantly.
Lifting the left heel off of the ground in the backswing is not going to be a move that works for every player. With that said, it is worth at least trying it out if you are someone who struggles with a lack of flexibility in your swing. A great turn is essential for hitting powerful golf shots, and lifting your left heel should help you get all the way back with regularity.
Aggressive Through the Ball
Another thing that you are sure to notice when you watch Johnny Miller's swing is how aggressively he moves the club through the hitting area. Many amateur golfers are tentative at the bottom of the swing, not wanting to make their mistakes any worse by accelerating the club quickly. That was not the case with Miller. He was confident enough in his technique to swing through at full speed, knowing he had the club in the right position to achieve a beautiful strike.
In order to be aggressive through the ball, you have to get your mind in the right place before you even start your swing. Doubt is one thing that can kill a golf swing faster than just about anything else, so don't let yourself fall into the trap of doubting your ability while on the course. There is plenty of time that can be spent on the driving range to work on your technique and refine your fundamentals - once on the course, you need to get out of that mode and simply believe in yourself as completely as possible. Is your swing perfect? No, of course not - nobody has a perfect golf swing. However, it is your obligation to trust the swing you have built and swing through to the finish as if nothing could go wrong.
Telling an amateur golfer to be aggressive through the ball is something of a dangerous game. Many players will hear those instructions and simply think they need to 'swing as hard as possible', which is not the same thing. Yes, you want to turn the club loose through the hitting area. No, you do not want to swing as absolutely hard as possible on every shot. By trying to swing your very hardest, you can do plenty of damage to the fundamentals of your swing - specifically, your balance. You need to know exactly when to turn on the speed, and also when to stay relaxed and let your rhythm build naturally.
The best way to think about using your speed in the swing is to wait to really turn it loose until you have gotten onto your left foot in the downswing. That means that you want to stay smooth and steady throughout the backswing, as well as in the start of the downswing. Once you settle in to the downswing and you have your hips turning toward the target, you can then 'give it the gas' and really speed your arms up into the ball. If you rush this process, however, your swing will get out of sequence and you won't be happy with the results at all. Take your time early in the swing, let your speed build naturally, and only go all out once you are on the way down and ready to strike the shot.
Being aggressive through the ball is a concept that can apply to all of your shots, no matter how far you are trying to hit them. Whether it happens to be a drive off of the tee on a par five or just a short putt for par, you want to be aggressive and confident through impact at all times. This is not always easy, of course, as nerves and pressure have a way of making even the best golfers tentative from time to time. Over time, work on believing in yourself more and more on the course, and eventually you will feel free to turn your swing loose regardless of what is on the line.
Upright Swing Plane
Going back, Johnny Miller used a significantly upright swing plane in order to position the club for the downswing. At the top of his swing, you can see that his left arm is on a steep plane and his hands are well up above his head. This is an excellent position from which to strike, especially when you are playing iron shots. By hitting down from this high-hands position, it is easy to create a downward angle of attack and a clean hit on iron shots played from the fairway or the tee. Many golfers today have gone to a flatter plane in an effort to turn the ball from right to left, but a number of the top golfers in the history of the game have used this steeper plane to great effect.
If you are looking for ways to improve the quality of your ball striking, consider moving your backswing plane up a little bit higher in the air. This doesn't have to be a dramatic change, either - just slightly shifting where you put the club at the top can do wonders for the quality of the hit that you get at the bottom. Of course, your ball flight pattern is likely to change when you do this, so keep that in mind and expect to need to make some secondary adjustments.
To swing up on a steeper plane, you will need to get your wrists involved in the backswing at an earlier stage. Players who swing on a flat plane tend to keep their wrists mostly out of the backswing, instead using just a pure shoulder rotation to get the club into position. To move the club higher, try to hinge your wrists up when you get partway through the backswing. Every player will time this hinge a little differently, so try out various timing options until you find something that feels good to you.
It is important to note that you don't want to start hinging your wrists while you are still in the takeaway phase of the backswing. An early hinge will put the club to the inside of the proper path, and you may wind up with a slice when you come back around. So, allow the takeaway to develop on its own, and start to hinge your wrists around the time the club is parallel to the ground. This will move the club quickly up into a rather vertical position, and from there you can turn your shoulders the rest of the way to finish off the backswing. When all is said and done, your hands will be up higher than your head (most likely), and you will be ready to swing down onto the ball with confidence.
There is one problem that can potentially develop when you make this change - hitting the ball fat. At first, you might find that your steeper backswing leads to fat contact with the ball. This is most likely occurring because your lower body is not doing its job from the top of the swing. You need to get your lower body rotation started immediately from the top of the backswing no matter what kind of swing you make, but it is especially important when you swing on a steep plane. A good lower body move to start the downswing will pull your body toward the target and clear the way for a clean strike. If you are hitting the ball fat after shifting to a steeper swing plane, focus on improving your lower body turn and you should soon start hitting the ball solidly with all of your clubs.
Trust Your Style
Above all else, the single element that was likely most-responsible for Johnny Miller's excellent ball striking was his commitment to his own style and his belief in his ability. This is a point that is absolutely crucial for the average golfer to understand. When Johnny Miller went out onto the course, he wasn't trying to be anyone but himself. His swing was uniquely his own, and he trusted it completely to help him compete against the rest of the best players in the world. Golf is a hard enough game when you do trust yourself - it is nearly impossible when you are busy trying to be someone you're not.
For the average golfer, confidence is fleeting on the course. This lack of confidence leads, inevitably, to trying a variety of different techniques over the years in the hopes of stumbling upon something that will work. Rarely, however, is that approach effective, and most players spend their golfing lives moving from one technique or tip to the next, usually with no positive results whatsoever. If you are ever going to make any headway in your game and actually improve on how you play, you need to be consistent and stay true to yourself.
One common way that amateur golfers will try to improve is by copying the swings that they see on TV each weekend. For example, it is common for a golfer to watch a specific player win a tournament on Sunday afternoon and then head to the range on Monday to try imitating the swing of that winning player. Needless to say, this rarely works. As was discussed earlier in this article, you aren't going to be able to copy the exact swing of a Tour pro with any level of success. Can you learn from those swings, just like we have learned a few things from Johnny Miller in this article? Absolutely. However, trying to copy the swing of a pro golfer frame-by-frame is a strategy that is simply destined to fail.
Even if you don't think much of your swing at the moment, it is the swing that has come naturally to you so far in your golfing experience. The idea going forward should not be to attempt to completely overhaul or change your swing – instead, you should only be trying to make small tweaks as you go until you reach a point where your swing is functioning at a high level. It is the small changes that are going to have the biggest impact in a positive way. Making big changes almost always results in disappointment, and they will certainly take a long time to learn if they are ever going to be successful at all. By finding way to adjust your swing one small bit at a time, you can wind up with an action that works better than you ever expected.
Just as Johnny Miller was happy to swing like himself, you too should be happy to make the swing that comes naturally to you. That doesn't mean you are going to hit great shots all of the time, but you will perform up to your personal level of ability when you trust your game. Imitating others in any walk of life is a strategy that rarely works, and it almost always falls flat on the golf course.
Despite his reputation as a commentator to the younger generation, older golfers remember Johnny Miller as one of the best players – and purest ball strikers – in the world. If you would like to learn from Miller to improve your own ball striking, carefully review the content that has been included above. By making a few small adjustments to your technique based on the way Johnny Miller swung the club, you should be able to elevate your overall level of play.