Alex Mercer's Golf Wise

Featured Length Instructional Video: Steve Elkington's lifelong golf coach and one of the top instructors in Australia, Alex Mercer, shows you how to improve your game, from basics of setup to fundamentals of the golf swing.


[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Alex Mercer won 22 events in his first 10 years as a professional. He was also the head professional at the Royal Sydney Golf Club between 1962 and 1979. He left that position to concentrate on coaching. Known as the "Pro's Pro" in Australia, Alex is considered the number one coach in Australasia. He has coached some of the best individuals and country and state squads to come out of Australia and New Zealand. He was the PGA Chairman for Australia for four years and has been awarded both the PGA Services to Golf Award and the "Australian Golf Digest" Contribution to Golf Award. Alex's track record simply speaks for itself.


- Golf is a game of complexities. Your swing will be influenced greatly by your physical makeup. Age, flexibility, length of arms, width of shoulders-- all these different physical dimensions will have a bearing on the kind of swing that you make. Let's go through some of the simple basics that I've used over many years successfully with people on all different levels of handicap. We'll move on to this magnificent golf course at Laguna Keyes, the top resort course in Australia, and examine some of the simple ideas that I want you to take from this tape.


Golfers all want to make a good swing. Now, what's a good swing? What's a golf swing? To me, one of the simplest concepts is to make the head of the club draw a circle.

We need to know two factors to be able to do that. We need to know where the center of the circle is going to be, and we need to know the length of the radius. So when we make a golf swing, the length of the left arm and the length of the club shaft become the radius of the circle. But because the club shaft isn't going to change during the course of the swing, maintaining an even length with the left arm is enough to be able to use that as the radius.

The center of the circle then basically should be the point of the left shoulder, but it's not going to remain stationary during the swing. It's going to move. And where it moves to becomes the center, which is the V on my shirt roughly. And my left shoulder will be around about that position at the top of the back swing.

Now having made that movement, I need to recover now and on the through swing create a mirror image action. So everything on the through swing matches what I did on the back swing. In this way, I'll have a complete circle with the head of the club with me in the middle. The centrifugal force that's created by working on that arc-- the rhythm and the balance that comes from drawing a circle-- is what we rely on for consistency and power in the game.


Feel is a tremendously important part of the game of golf, and feel comes through your hands. Not everybody's hands are the same shape or size. Therefore, we can't all have exactly the same grip.

But some of the basic ideas that I like to work on are to make sure that the face of the club, the back of the left hand, the palm of the right hand all end up aiming in the same direction so that when the face of the club is coming through the ball I want it to be aiming at the target. Which means if I get the back of my left hand aiming at the target, the palm of my right hand doing the same thing, then I've got a good chance of bringing the club face through square to the target line. So that's one very important aspect of the grip.

Another very important aspect is to shape the hands on that club so that it doesn't slip throughout the swing. Now, the strength in the left hand will be in the base of the hand and the roots of the fingers. So the club actually runs right through the roots of the fingers and comes out the back of the hand. When the thumb fits on the top of the club, it's either on the [INAUDIBLE] on the top or slightly behind center. And the pressure is always greatest of all and the control is greatest in the butt of the hand.

With the right hand, we're gripping the knuckles because the size of the club grip fits comfortably in that little tunnel we make with our fingers. The pressure in the grip in the right hand is evenly distributed through the knuckles. That's the design of the golf club. It's made that shape and that size to fit in there.

The biggest mistake people tend to make is they want to get hold of the club in the middle of their hand like a cricket bat or a tennis racket. But if the golf manufacturer wanted you to grip like that, he'd make the grip on the golf club three or four times as round. And obviously, there's a reason why that's not done. And by gripping in the knuckles, of course, it avoids too much tension and stress in the hands, allows you to feel the club head a lot more. And that's very important.

And the power of the right hand should be aimed up the same as the face of the club-- aiming towards the target. A good check for these angles is to look for the V's upside down-- the inverted V's formed by the thumbs and index fingers of both hands. Now, if both of those V's point roughly towards the right eye, you'll find that the back of your left hand and the palm of your right hand will pretty well match the face of the club when it's aiming towards the target.

Obviously, people tend to grip too tightly rather than too loosely. It's an instinctive thing for people to clasp hold of the club very tightly, and this is something we should try to develop a feel and a sense of rhythm in the head of the club. So the pressure of the grip should not be overdone.

Always remember the club head is meant to be a pendulum. It's not meant to be choked out of existence. One very important aspect of the grip is the joining of the hands through either overlapping or interlocking a little finger of the right hand with the index finger of the left. It's fair to say that there have been some top players who've used both of these alternatives.

But basically, the majority of good players over a long period of time have used the conventional overlapping grip where the little finger of the right hand overlaps the index finger of the left. Or sometimes with people with long fingers, of course, it can even slip gently in between the gap formed by the index finger and the next one. There have been one or two instances of people using a double-handed grip where there's been no overlap or interlock.

But unfortunately for most people this can tend to lead to a separation of the hands in the swing in terms of power and one tends to dominate the other. I think for all intents and purposes joining the hands together by this overlapping system or by interlocking at least brings the hands onto the club as one unit, and neither one wants to dominate the other. And I think that's an asset in your game.


Now for set up, we need to have the ball set in a particular position to suit our swing. We need to set up with our stance in a position which gives us good balance. To do that, basically, shoulder width with your stance is about the ideal to be able to maintain good balance. The weight won't be on your heels or your toes. It'll be on the balls of the feet, and then it can rotate from that position. Both knees will be slightly flexed but not totally collapsed, and the hips will be tucked back slightly.

For long clubs, I like to play the ball opposite the inside of my left heel. And to do that, I've set up a line towards the target. And with another club shaft, I've set up a line at right angles, that original line.

Now if I play the ball on that right angle line and put my heel directly opposite the same position, then I get the ball opposite the inside of my left heel. For shorter clubs, I like to move the ball back a fraction. If I was changing to a smaller club, I'd be maybe in my stance just a little bit further forward so that I could hit the ball more on the downswing rather than too much on the sweep.

Another aspect of your posture is that if your arms are the same length as each other, which they normally are, and your right hand's a little lower on the club than your left, then your right shoulder will be slightly lower at the address than your left. And the angle of your spine will be tilted back slightly from perpendicular. These points are all important because your swing that you make is going to depend on a good posture and good balance to be effective.


Alignment is always a very important part of the setup. And once again, it's an individual requirement. But basically if we start off aiming our feet parallel to the line we intend to hit the ball, that's a good start point. So if I've taken a line here opposite the ball in line to where I want to go and I put another club shaft parallel to that, I can teach myself to aim up.

I also need to get my line through my hips parallel to that line as nearly as possible. And the hips will be tucked back slightly. That gives me the chance to rotate and maintain balance.

Now for different clubs, this varies. Shorter clubs I may be open with my stance. I will have my stance a little closer so feet together. My feet will close in a little, and my left toe will draw back from that line parallel. And that opens me up a little bit to the line. On short irons that's quite a good asset to be able to open up a little and stop too much movement of the right-side on the back swing. It allows you to get down into the shot and impart more backspin.

Some people find that they can make a better body rotation on the back swing if they close their stance. That means that they draw the right toe back from the line parallel to the target line, and that allows a freer rotation of the body on the back swing. So the basic system is to line everything up parallel to where you want to hit the ball, but then you should be free to adjust to other positions which suit particular shots. And if your own individual physical makeup demands a slight change of this alignment, then you should look into it very closely.


There are two mechanical systems in a golf swing-- hand and arm action, body action and footwork. Let's move on to the hand action. This is where I try to develop in my pupils the concept of a mirror image so that whatever the hands do on the back swing, they'll make an equal and opposite movement on the follow through.

So if I take my normal grip, make a small action where I cock my club into the sky. My left thumb is cocking upwards, and the club has rotated. And the tilt or the toe of the club is pointing skywards. Then on the through swing, by bringing the club back through the square position and onto a perfect mirror image where the thumbs, again, are pointing into the sky and the toe of the club is pointing upwards, then by balancing one against the other we should be certain of having the club face square through the hitting area.

Then if we add the arms to this system-- if we can imagine we have a spot on the inside of each elbow joint. And during the back swing, where you let the right elbow rotate under the shaft until that spot is pointing into the sky. And once again, by releasing the club back through the impact square and letting it release to the opposite position until we get the other paint spot pointing at the sky, once again, we balance the system. Once again, we get the club face square through the impact area.

These actions lead to a rhythm and feel. I like people to practice these drills. One drill we do, of course, is hitting very, very small shots with the feet together and just working the wrist and hands only to develop feel, and rhythm, and concept of the hands knowing where the club hit is during the swing. And then of course, we can hit shots with a bigger drill, and that's the paint spots under the arms, under the elbows pointing towards the sky. First, one end, then the other.


The second of our mechanical systems is body action and footwork. This is an area which is involved very much in power, rhythm, and balance. We need to use the elasticity of our muscles to create a coil-recoil system. So the more rubbery and relaxed we can feel while we're performing this action, the more likely we are to maintain good balance and good rhythm and, therefore, create more strength.

To illustrate this coil-recoil concept, I like to use an elastic band. If I resist at one end and twist the opposite end, even that little piece of elastic develops energy. And when I allow the recoil to take place, there's quite a bit of strength and energy developing. So that in the body action is quite a good picture to imagine the top part of the body making this spiral of movement. And then the un-spiraling process starts from the feet and works its way up.

Some very important aspects that we need to be conscious of are maintaining similar levels throughout. It doesn't serve any good purpose to stick the head down unnaturally low or stick the chin in. Because if we do that, there isn't going to be room for left shoulder to fit under the chin as we coil on the back swing. And any tendency to have the head and the top part pushed down unnaturally low will lead to a lifting action as we come to the hitting area. So the people who lift their heads most of all are the ones that push it down most of all. If you maintain a natural level throughout, a comfortable level where you can look at the ball comfortably where there's room under the chin for the shoulder to fit, then you're least likely to lift your head as you come through the hitting area.

The other thing we need to remember is that when we started that movement, the center of the arc was behind the ball. So we need to maintain that position throughout the back swing so that the rotation of the body allows some weight transference onto the right side that it won't be a lateral sliding action. It'll be mostly a rotating weight transference, which fits nicely into that coil-recoil system. On the reverse action, the weight that's moved into the right side will recoil and move onto the left side coming through. And through the impact area, the weight will continue to transfer through onto the left side.

If we relax the right side and let it rotate fully, we end up poised and balanced. And this is very important for consistency and accuracy. And this way, we can create rhythm and balance, which leads to a lot more power with less effort.

One thing I like to stress is the image of being able to bring the club face back precisely to where it started as it hits through the ball. And if we're going to make the head of the club strikethrough it's original position, we should train ourselves to bring the butt end of the club in my hands through their original position at impact. So if I imagine I have a string from my chin straight to the ground, at the at rest position, my hands would virtually be on that string line. And when I strike the ball, I want my hands to knock the string away to release the club through to it's finished position.

So what we need to remember are top part back, bottom part through as the coil-recoil concept. We need to remember to maintain consistent levels. So our head and our center of gravity all stay as much as possible the same height from the ground.

There will be a little lateral movement obviously, but we keep that to a minimum. And we try to remember to bring the hands on the downswing to drive the butt end of the club and the hands back underneath the chin as we recoil. Because by doing that, we can get the club face to come back through its original position.


One aspect of the swing which is emphasized quite heavily these days is swing plane, which is quite an important concept for people to understand. It usually refers to the angle that the swing arc leans back from vertical. It used to be referred to as "flat" or "upright." Nowadays, we use that words "swing plane" to describe this aspect of the swing.

What the accepted rule is that the swing plane should be a line drawn from the ball through our center of the arc of our swing, which is roughly this line here. But two things I must point out-- very few people can swing the club back and down on exactly the same path. So most players change direction at some stage at the beginning of the downswing anyway.

And secondly, some of the greatest players I've seen didn't even work anywhere near that line until they were approaching the hitting area on the downswing, and then they get everything back on plane as we say. So I guess the best rule of thumb is the only measure of correctness is if it works. If it works, then it should be pretty right for you. But it's not a bad picture to have in your mind.


Probably the simplest shot for most players is a full pitch with a pitching wedge-- no need to do anything special in the way of control, easy to get a fairly accurate shot. Sometimes it's a little tricky when we need to hit the ball 2/3, 3/4 of the normal distance. It's not advisable to make a normal swing and then weaken at impact or to decelerate the club head through the hitting area. I find it much better to take the power out of the shot by the way we address the ball and during the back swing so that we can still make a bold, confident attacking stroke at the ball without hitting it too far.

A lot of the power is going to come from the full rotation of the body. So in this shot, I like to set up with around about 2/3 of my total weight on my left side and my hands, therefore, in front of the ball. And by keeping the weight on that left side throughout the stroke, it reduces the amount of body coil, and it will reduce the length of the back swing. This idea of a narrower, shorter back swing with a steeper angle means that I can hit the ball quite boldly but still not get a great deal of club head speed.

The other thing which makes for club head speed is the full release of the hands to a complete mirror image through the hitting area. And whilst that will take place towards and extend on this shot, the hands will block slightly and slow down that process through the ball. If I do these things, I'm going to hit the ball quite crisply and still not hit it anywhere near the normal distance.


This is a situation where we've hit our ball close to the edge of the green. But because of the grass and the terrain we can putt, so we're forced to play a chip and run shot. It's quite a simple shot if we read the green and read the situation. By that, I mean we pick out where we're going to lob the ball, and I've placed a disk where I intend to lob this ball, which is about two paces on the green. And I've placed another disk two or three paces short of the hole because I figure that's when the ball will slow down and begin to roll evenly, and it will take whatever slope there is in the green.

There are a number of alternatives when playing this shot. Firstly, I like to play the break and block shot, where I take a lofted club like a 9 iron and squeeze the ball quickly and firmly off the club face, landing it near my first lob spot so that it comes off the club quickly and then dies at the other end. Now to execute this shot, I need to grip the club short.

I need to have about 2/3 or more of my total weight on my left side and keep it still, and I need to break the wrist gently so that the club is above the ball on the back swing. And in the hitting area, the back of the left wrist will firm up and take the contact. If I do that, I get a lot of spin on the ball by squeezing it into the turf, comes off the club quickly, and then dies quickly at the other end.

An alternative shot that I like to use in these situations, particularly if I don't need to be as aggressive if the green's very quick, is what I call a "Y shot." And that's where I form a letter Y from the shaft of the club through to both elbows. The wrist joints don't move either way then. They stay fixed in position. The rest of the address position is the same as the break and block, but now it's just a matter of rocking the shoulders from side to side.

When I do this, it takes a lot of speed of the ball, and it ends up running along the green a lot more slowly than the brake and block. So although I used a 9 iron for the brake and block shot, I'm now using a 7 iron to get exactly the same result using the same lob area. So the Y shot slows the ball down. The break and block is a more wrist-y shot with more nip in it.


Bunker play is often a real worry for the average player. I wonder how many golfers carry a sand iron and don't understand why it's different from the other clubs apart from the extra loft on the club face and apart from the weight of a sand iron. The sand iron has a reverse angle on the sole-- this being the sole of the club-- So that on a level surface the back of that sand iron flange will always make first contact. But with a normal club, the first contact on the fairway is with the leading edge, which takes the divot out.

Now, this obviously means that the sand iron is designed so that it won't dig deeply into the ground. This is the opposite of what lots of people do, and that's where their first problem occurs. So if I'm going to play this explosion shot-- explosion, of course, means that you deliberately don't hit the ball. It's got nothing to do with the noise you make when you miss it or something like that.

So this explosion shot-- I'm going to hit the sand deliberately a little way behind the ball. And each person through practice and experience learns the optimum distance behind the ball for them to hit. There's no absolute rule. I usually use about this distance here-- a couple of inches, 5 centimeters.

And the next thing I do is assess the depth and the consistency of the sand. Because the deeper and the more powdery the sand, the more likely I am to dig too deeply. So what I'm going to do is turn the club outwards, or open so that I accentuate the bounce effect of the back of the flange.

Now when I do that, the club's is aiming to the right of the target. So what I need to do now is aim my stance and my body to the left until ultimately the club face is not aiming where I'm aiming but is aiming at the flag. And that's what I need to do.

Now, when I play the shot, I'm going to make a fairly steep back lift on the back swing, a little on the outside of the line. I'm going to hit the sand of this nominated area and drive the club out towards the flag so that the face of the club will be facing the sky as it comes through. And the back of my hand will be facing the sky as it comes through.

If I do that, the sand particles will cling for a moment onto the club. So the divot of sand will hold together long enough for the ball to come out without having hit the metal head, and this is one of the very important aspects of this shot. So to avoid dispersing all the sand particles on impact, I need to keep an even tempo.

Before I play the shot, I need to assess in my mind the speed required to hit the ball to the required distance. And when I commence my through swing, I want to maintain that speed as the club hits all the way through so that if the club head is going to approach the sand at whatever speed, it takes the divot and it comes out again with no change of speed. That's also important because that tends to hold the sand together as well.

Decelerating, collapsing the left wrist at impact-- all those things cause problems just the same as a sudden acceleration with a very flicky action would do the same problem. So we'll just try and make this action a one-speed swing all the way through to the finish. For those people who are worried about how much power you need to play the shot, provided the leading edge doesn't get caught in the sand, you can play with one hand and still get quite a good result.

Here's a situation that would be enough to dawd most people. The ball landed and plugged deeply in the sand, and that sometimes happens. It's not always as impossible as you think to get it out of there as long as you apply certain basic principles. First thing, when I open the club to avoid digging into the sand on a normal shot and now I have an opposite situation, so I should now-- and I prefer this system, I know there are alternative ways to do it, this is the way I prefer to teach and play the shot-- to turn the club in to accentuate the sharp cutting edge of the leading edge.

Play the ball back in the stands stance just inside that right foot, going to hit down very steeply behind the ball about the same distance as before. Then the sand particles will squash the ball and pop it out, and this way it jumps over the bank onto the green. The difference, of course, is the other shot-- the normal explosion-- has a great deal of backspin. And this one has the opposite spin.

So we must not hit it too far into the green. Otherwise, it'll run right off the other side. This is where practice and a lot of training comes in so that you can judge the required amount of power to lob the ball on the green and give it time to run towards the target.


Putting in such a vital part of the game. But feel, the imagination, touch are much more important than technicalities. And these areas develop more from years of hard practice than any technical expertise.

Things that I think are most important about putting are to get a posture at the address which is well balanced, and comfortable, and which remains the same throughout. The least movement of the head and body possible is the ideal. And then to learn to aim the putter face accurately and learn to keep the hands firm on short putts-- very little wrist action-- that allow for a much more rolling concept on the very long putts.

Now, to aim the putter straight, there are all sorts of devices. I don't think any part of the guy has more mechanical practice devices than putting. But I use one regularly, which is quite simple, and it works for most people. And that is to set up this string line on a straight putt of about the length of the shaft-- two wire posts and a piece of string bisecting the hole. I can then put the putter behind the ball and my head right over the top of the ball, and I can judge whether the putter face is at right angles or not that string. When it's at right angles to the string line, it's obviously aiming into the center of the cup.

As you can see, by having that little aiming device takes the pressure off me. I know where the putter's aiming. I develop a much more confident stroke. By practicing this on the practice green, it helps me when I'm on the golf course. Now, there's another way we can use this string line to effect and that's to practice putts with slope, or borrow, or break-- whichever term people like to use. I'll set it up, and we'll have a look at how that works.


Obviously, all greens aren't flat. So when we're practicing putts with borrow or break, this string device comes in quite handy because it encourages us to hit the ball straight off the putter face and let the slope in the green do the work. So I've put the string in the position which I think represents the break on this putt. And what I'm going to try to do is hit the ball straight along the string and let the slope in the ground create the bend.

This is a much better system than aiming too straight and trying to spin the ball against the slope in the ground. The ball runs much more truly if it's hit in a straight line. Try always to keep an even tempo. People make a big fuss about accelerating the club head. I find that misleading.

I think the main thing is to not decelerate, keep an even tempo all the way. If you do that, the ball runs off the putter face much more truly. Obviously, the firmer you hit the ball, the less it turns. So speed and line relate very closely on these breaking putts.


The next important aspect in putting is long putting, where we need to be able to get as long putts close enough to the hole to make the second putt comfortable for holing out. Lots of people spend a long time reading line on long putts. But considering we don't often hole them, It's much more important to make a special effort to two-putt. And to do that, it's important for us to get the speed right, to get the speed of the ball rolling along the green.

To do this, we should try and learn to roll the long putts off the face of the putter. It's difficult to control speed and yardage if we make a short swing and hit the ball very hard on the face of the putter, which causes it to explode off the putter face, often bouncing into the air before landing on the green and then a total loss of control develops. To do this, I often get people to practice just for fun the idea of rolling the ball, like playing lawn bowls, with their hand a number of times to develop that concept of rolling the ball along the surface of the grass instead of belting it very hard with the face of the putter.

Most golfers at some stage have been confined to indoors, unable to get to the practice or the golf course. And quite often, you can still work on your golf by practicing putting on a carpet, which is a fairly normal thing. But apart from that, there are other things you can do to maintain your sense of rhythm and feel.

You can take a short club like a putter, grip it short so that you can damage the furniture in the room, which could be embarrassing. And you can still go through your normal swing pattern, working on a mirror image action, which you do on a golf course. And by making this practice drill with a shortened club, we don't lose touch or feel in our hands. So when we go back onto the golf course, we'll still have that feeling of swinging the club in a mirror image and in a rhythmic fashion to get the club from one end to the other. And your brain maintains a picture that way.

There's another thing that you can do that I find is very simple because just about all of these rooms will have a cushion of some kind. And if we can get that cushion, a small cushion, and put it between the forearms, take the normal grip, then we can go through the usual swing actions. And having the cushion in there it keeps the arms working together, allows you to coordinate the arms and body, which is a good drill.


Good golf is happy golf. If you practice the ideas that I've put into this tape, I'm sure your game will improve. Because it's a very individual game, I suggest that you may need help at some stage in the future from a PGA professional coach to help you with your personal requirements. I wish you good luck with your golf in the future.