Back to the Basics
Back to the Basics
Easy come, Easy go. Here today, Gone Tomorrow. That was then, this is now. The right stick at times will save you on #9. All the cliché’s in the world can’t describe how frustrating it is to play like a champ one day, and a chump the next. Just when you thought you had this game figured out, you play twenty four hours later and all the feeling you had the day before has vanished.
There are a lot of things which can cause a sudden loss of golf memory. Are the conditions the same as yesterday? Weather, wind, and temperature are factors which can disrupt your normal game. Are you playing a different course? Maybe one you don’t care for or is intimidating to you. Are you playing with the same people? Maybe yesterday you enjoyed the other members of your group but today you’re playing with a couple of jerks. Did you spend too much time at the nineteenth hole after your fine round yesterday? Whatever the reason, you just can’t seem to hit a solid shot.
We All “Lose It” Sometimes
When you “lose it”, (and we all do) here are a few ideas I have for getting it back.
- Go back to the basics. Check to make sure your grip, posture, and aim are all correct. Any change of the three could cause a sudden loss of feel.
- Take an easier swing. Until you are able to get your rhythm back, hit an easy 7-iron instead of swinging hard at an 8. You’ll hit it more solid with an easier swing.
- Think back to your past. What kind of things did you do to improve, the last time you “lost” your swing? What types of bad habits have you had in the past? Old habits can creep back in you swing without warning. Have you gone back to one.
- Focus on your target. Don’t focus on hitting the ball. Concentrate on swinging smoothly and sending the ball to the target.
- Once you’ve got the feel back, write down the swing-keys you’ve used to regain it. Carry your notes in your golf bag so you can quickly refer to them in time of need.
It’s Okay. Just be Prepared to Work Through It
So there’s no need to cry over spilled milk the next time you feel you’ve “lost” your feel. Now you’re fully prepared to cross that bridge when you come to it.
Driving Made Easy
Driving Made Easy
So what’s the least favorite club in your bag. No, don’t tell me, let me guess. If you are like most players that I ask that same question, your answer is sure to be the driver. Because of it’s length and lack of loft, I agree that it is the most difficult club to hit accurately. This set of tips will focus only on the driver and some thoughts on how to improve your tee shots.
Before I take you through your “Driver’s Ed.” course, let me give you some background on this particular club. They used to all be wooden, but now they are mostly Titanium. The lighter metal allows for a bigger head (easier to hit) without being too heavy. The are huge in size compared to the clubs I grew up hitting. Now they come with the ability to adjust the lie, loft and face angle of the club. Technology has attempted to make this club as easy as possible to hit, however the majority of today’s golfers still struggle when they tee it up. Drivers are by far the number one selling individual club in the golf industry. Every time a new driver comes on the market, claiming to improve distance, you can bet the consumer will jump at the chance to hit one. I even heard there is a company in Oregon developing an all-purpose driver. It is not only guaranteed to add 30 yards to your tee shot, it also develops buns of steel, helps you lose 10 pounds in a week, prevents hair loss, and makes unsightly wrinkles disappear. I’m anxiously waiting with my home-shopping card in hand.
Now that you know everything about the drive, let’s learn how to hit the darn thing. The very same reasons that allow you to hit this club farther than any of the others, are also the reasons why so many of us hit it poorly. The length of the club will allow you to establish a huge swing arc, creating a great deal of club head speed, however, the length of the club also makes it more difficult to return the club to a square or straight position at impact. The loft (or pitch) of the driver forces the ball to lift off of the club on a very low trajectory. This lower flight sends the ball out, rather than up, gaining distance at a high rate of speed. The loft, or lack of loft, can also hurt you. I think a lot of beginners would be better off hitting a #3 or #5 wood from the tee until they are able to generate enough club head speed to get the ball airborne.
Let’s Do some Troubleshooting
In order to help improve your driving record, I’m going to do a little troubleshooting. See if you can identify with some of these typical errant tee shots:
Effect: The ball goes straight up in the air and the club drives the tee into the ground.
Cause: Club is making contact on too steep of a downward plane.
Tip 1: Make sure to position the ball forward in your stance (inside left heel is recommended).
Tip 2: Just lay a tee on the ground a couple inches outside the ball but exactly where the middle of your body is (sternum). Instead of placing your driver head directly behind the ball, line it up even with the tee. Only focus on the tee throughout the swing, basically ignoring the ball and let the club swing forward while you remain steadfast focused on maintaining your “center” position. When the club extends towards the target, let it turn your right side so you finish properly, with your weight on your left side. This should prevent you from moving forward as you start your downswing.
Effect: The ball starts left of the target then slices way right.
Cause: Swing path is coming from outside the target line, ending up way inside the target, with the face of the club aiming to the right. You probably made a big move at the ball with your right shoulder when you started your downswing to get the club in this position.
Tip: At the top of your swing when your shoulders are aiming to the right, just let your left hand drop down instead of turning your shoulders back to square. This will get your swing path going from inside the target to outside the target. Next you’ll have to learn how to change the angle of the club face on this path (to be discussed at a later time…sorry!).
Effect: Hitting the top of the ball resulting in a shot that rolls on the ground.
Cause: Not maintaining a spine angle that is slightly bent. In other words you straighten your spine in an effort to get leverage while trying to hit the ball.
Tip: When you practice, try teeing the ball up as high as you can, and instead of trying to hit the ball, concentrate on sweeping through the tee and not hitting the ball. When you do it right, you will either go completely under the ball or the ball will go very high in the air. Gradually lower the height of the tee but still focus on sweeping the tee out from under the ball. You probably should put some clear tape on the top of your driver when practicing this drill so as not to mar the top of your club.
Use the Drills to Improve Your Drives
Try some of the drills that I’ve listed to correct your errant shots. The drive swing is no different from any other full swing. It’s just that the mistakes are amplified. So, good luck and learn to “drive safely.”
Know Your Distance
Know Your Distance
Nothing can be more frustrating than hitting a great shot, with the wrong club. In most cases, your mismanagement can only be blamed on yourself, due to poor planning. In order to improve your scores, you might need only to improve some incidental aspects of the game, such as obtaining the correct yardage, and learning how far you hit each club.
Most golf courses make it simple for you to figure out yardage. Make it a habit, when you get to the course, to ask how they mark the distances on the course. Do they have bushes, trees, posts, concrete slabs, birdhouses, or the like, to represent 200 yards, 150 yards, and 100 yards? Are they measured to the middle of the green, or to the front? Or better yet, purchase a “range finder” so that you can accurately determine the distance of your next shot.
Since nearly every golf course in the area has watered fairways, find out if the yardage is indicated on the sprinkler head. Again, it makes a difference if the yardage is to the front, or to the middle of the green.
It is also a good idea to actually measure how far one of your paces is, so that when you’re walking off distance from let’s say 150 yards, and you take 9 paces forward to your ball, you will know for sure, if you have a shot of 141 yards or more.
Many courses will either give you a yardage book, or have them available for sale. If you do have to buy it, they are worth the money. The book will make it even easier for you to plot the distance, especially when you hit it in the rough, or behind some trees. Hole descriptions may also offer some helpful insight into planning your strategy.
Know Your Distances
The best way to learn about the distance you hit each club is to hit about 12 – 20 balls with each one. Disregard any “missed” shots, and try to get an average distance that you hit the rest. Take into consideration how far they are bouncing when you come up with your average, because you’ll need to know how far they fly, not how far they go, after the roll. Record your data and either memorize it, or you can make a label, and stick it on each club.
Now that you know how to find the yardage, and have the knowledge to hit the proper club, you still must consider some other factors. Are you hitting into the wind? Is the shot uphill? Have the greens been holding, or are they firm? Find the hazards. If they are in front of the green, hit a bit more club. If you are in the light rough, you may have what’s called a flyer, and you’ll need to hit less club, cause it’s going to shoot off the club a little farther than normal.
If you aren’t hitting the ball solid, don’t fall into a mode where you tell yourself to hit more club than normal. If it is a 130 yard shot, on level ground, with no wind, no hazards, on soft greens, hit your 130 yard club whether you think you’ll hit it good or not. If you think that you’re going to hit it poorly, 9 times out of 10, you will.
Take Out the Guess Work
You know you’re going to hit some bad shots during a round. Don’t make matters worse by guessing how far away you are, and what club to hit. If you want to get serious about improving your scores, start by paying more attention to the yardages, and the distance you hit your clubs. Take the guess work out of your next round by getting more prepared.
One of the most important, but least understood aspects of the game of golf involves what is called “course management”. Some people think course management refers to etiquette, others misinterpret it as the ability to make the proper club selection, while some players would simply guess that it applies to the people who get the best parking spots next to the pro shop door. In order for me to explain what it is, and how you can become better at it, I’ll need to take you back to when I first started playing the game at about age twelve.
My earliest experiences playing golf took place in the mid 60’s, back when shafts were wooden and golf balls were stuffed with feathers. Every Sunday my father would take me to his favorite golf course where I would hook up with my grandfather and aunt for a 9 hole round. In my mind I was far better than either of them. I hit much farther than they did, so obviously I was the superior player.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While I was trying to hit over, under, and through trees, bushes and hazards, they would walk a straight line from the tee to the green, just stopping long enough to hit a few shots along the way, and to glance over to me in my quest to return the ball back to the hole I was trying to play. When the 2 1/2 hours of torture was over, my grandfather would make it a point to loudly add up the scores (he knew it ticked me off). Just like so many times before, he would shoot 46, my aunt 47, and Joe 55. I wanted so much to kick some relative butt, I knew I was good enough, but what I didn’t know was that I wasn’t smart enough.
Good Advice from my Grandfather. And for You, Too
Finally, after many frustrating rounds, my grandfather gave me some advice that I vividly remember to this day. He asked me if there were any holes on the course that I thought I couldn’t make a bogey on. I laughed and said that there aren’t any holes on the course that I couldn’t par, what are you talking about. In a stern, but friendly voice, he reminded me that he didn’t ask me that question. So I told him that I thought I could make bogey on every hole. Then he asked what score would be the result of nine bogeys. I really had never thought of it, so I wasn’t quick to reply. After some quick math I responded with the number 44 (par 35). After he reminded me that I had never scored below 50, he said that the next time we played together, all he wanted me to do is make a bogey on every hole. Up to the challenge, the next time I went to the course I played with much less pressure and a whole new game plan. The result…. a 48, the best round of my life!!!
So, the point of the story? Course management is the ability to turn a 55 into a 48, with nothing but a change of attitude, and purpose.
If you are consistently shooting in the high 40’s and above, try this simple experiment. Before playing your next round, get a scorecard beforehand, and fill it out. The total score should add up to your normal round. Let’s say you usually shoot around 53. On your card you’ll have a lot of bogeys, but you will also be guilty of making some 7’s, 8’s, and maybe higher. I know when you look at the card your going to think that there is no way your going to make an 8 on that short par 5. Well let me remind you, this is reality, you need to make that 8 to reach your normal score. Now, when you play that next round, pretend you’re playing high stakes, and your opponent bet you $20 that you’ll make an 8 on this hole, the short par 5 (he’s already seen the card), I would imagine that you will do whatever it takes to make less than an 8 on the hole. That might involve chipping out, instead of trying to hit through the trees, or hitting to the right side of the green instead of going for the pin and ending up in the bunker. Your future has been laid out in front of you, are you wise enough to avoid making the mistakes that you know you normally make?
Manage to Your Lower Score
Too many times I see young players tee off with the attitude that if I don’t shoot par I don’t care what I shoot. These are people who constantly turn 42’s into 50’s. The first time they miss a green or hit a bad shot their world falls apart and so does their golf game. Remember, the tour players only hit 12 or 13 greens in regulation on average, so they hit quite a few bad shots too. The difference is that they are able to recover from poor shots, hardly ever making more than a bogey.
Course management is not something I can teach you on the range. All I can do is offer advice like my grandfather did to me. Analyze the way you play golf. Are your scores high because you make silly mistakes? If so, the next time you hit your tee shot in trouble, say to yourself, I bet this is the hole I’m going to take that 9 on, and play the rest of the hole with the purpose of making less than a 9. With this attitude I think you’ll “manage” to lower your score.
Believe In Your Game
Believe In Your Game
I’ve often stressed how having confidence in your game plays an extremely important role. Being able to stand over the ball and know you can hit a good shot, says it all. This tip will hopefully provide some insight into improving your confidence.
Okay, you’ve just finished playing 18 holes; What do you do next? I see it everyday. You go back to the car, throw the clubs in the trunk, pull off those stinky golf shoes, mumble a few cuss words, and head to the nineteenth hole. You know whereof I speak. The nineteenth hole is where all golfers flock in need of therapy after eighteen holes of physical and mental abuse. It is here where you lie about your good shots and try to forget about the bad ones.
The next time you play a round, I suggest you alter your routine just a bit. Don’t worry, they will still keep the beer on ice for you, but try and put it off till later. Upon the completion of your round, do what the tour players do: Go directly to the range. Do not pass the bar or collect your $200.00 skin money. At the range, (or what I call the eighteenth and ½ hole) mentally go over your round while it’s still fresh in your mind. Think about some of the poor shots that you hit. On #6 did you hit your 7-iron left of the green, resulting in a costly bogey? If so, practice hitting a few 7-irons until you’re satisfied that you’ve corrected the mistake. Go over each hole and each shot, including putts. If you had three short putts that broke from left to right, and you missed them all on the right hand side, go to the practice green, find a left to right breaking putt and don’t leave until you’re comfortable stroking it in the hole.
Use the 19th Hole to Prepare for your Next Round
It is so important that you don’t begin a round with negative thoughts still lingering from the last round. At your job, if you make a mistake, I would hope that you correct it before you leave for the day. I’m simply suggesting you do the same thing at the golf course. The range is where you can make amends for poor performance.
The nineteenth hole can certainly help you forget about that fat 9-iron you hit in the water on #8, but next Saturday you’re going to have to face that same shot again, so you better be prepared.
Cure Your Slice
Cure Your Slice
The pure slice, or the shot that starts to the left of the target and spins wildly to the right, is a result of a down-swing path that starts from outside the target and finishes inside. Typically the reason for the improper path is that as the player starts the down-swing with too much right side, causing the left side to open too soon, forcing the club to first swing out, then be re-routed to the inside. It feels like an aggressive swing, but actually most of the potential speed is wasted pulling the club-head inside the intended path, which creates all the unwanted spin. Another cause may be an incorrect club-face position at the top of the back-swing. If the face is pointing to the sky and the toe is pointing to the right, this will cause an outside to inside path every time.
Steps You can Take
Now let’s talk about how you would prevent these two swing flaws from happening. Grab a club and take a slow motion back-swing. At the top of your back-swing check a couple of critical positions. Make sure the shaft of the club is parallel to the target, and cock your wrists so that the toe of the club is facing the ground. The face will be pointing to the right. Now, slowly start the down-swing. It’s important that you pull the butt-end of the club down with your left hand, returning the club to a position so that the shaft is parallel to the ground, your wrists are still cocked, and most importantly imagine a laser beam shooting from the hole in the bottom of the grip. The laser beam must be pointed slightly to the right of the target. This confirms that you are now swinging from a slightly inside to outside path. A slice path will have the beam aiming left of the target.
Once you arrive at this position you must now release the club properly. Slowly un-cock your wrists and return the club to a square position. Next, let the left hand make a circular motion which catapults the right hand outward. You’ll notice that in a flash the club-face has gone from being behind you, to being flung in front of you. The right arm is extended now, while the left is slightly bent. Your swing-path has just rotated through the hitting area, rather than being pulled through. The speed of the release should now pull the right side to the target.
Practice Makes Perfect (or at least better)
If you practice these tips, I can’t guarantee that your slice will vanish, but at least you will be headed in the right direction. The path is the key, it’s not as easy as following the yellow brick road, but you’ll feel like a wizard when you start hitting the ball straight, or even a little right to left.
Shift Your Weight
Shift Your Weight
I’m sure you’ve all heard the term “reverse weight shift.” When Jenny Craig says it, she is referring to a client who is gaining, instead of losing pounds. When you hear it from a golfer they are talking about your weight being on your left side at the top of your swing, and on the right during your follow-through. These positions are opposite of where they should be, hence the term “reverse weight shift.”
Any errant shot you can imagine could possibly be caused by not shifting your weight from your right side to your left. Your slices, tops, fat shots, sky balls, hooks and shanks are all shots that could result from poor weight transfer.
Before I offer you a cure, let’s make sure you have the disease. Grab a club and take your normal back-swing. When you reach the top of your swing, can you lift your left foot off the ground with ease, or do you have to physically strain to shift it over? Now, take your forward swing and see if your right foot is free to lift. If the answer to both questions is yes, I don’t think shifting your weight is a big concern. If you had trouble picking up the correct foot, let me offer you a simple solution to the problem.
Imagine, if you will, that you have volunteered to help place sandbags on a dam that was about to overflow. You are in the middle of a line of people passing sandbags to the front of the line. Pretend you are turning to your right for the next bag. Wouldn’t the most natural way for you to receive the bag be to rotate your trunk and face the person handing it to you? Hopefully, you would hand the bag to the person on your left the same way. Feel how awkward it is to hand the sandbag to your left while holding your weight on your right. Pretty uncomfortable huh? Well, quit doing it then.
This will Come Naturally, with Practice
Maybe I’ve made it sound a little easier than it actually is to shift your weight properly, but with a little practice you should be able to transfer your weight naturally. After all, the proper weight shift is a natural move. If you are doing it wrong, for whatever reason, you are going against the normal flow of motion. Try my suggestion and the next time somebody calls you a sandbagger, take it as a compliment. What they mean is that you have an excellent weight shift.
Sand is Child’s Play
Sand Is Child’s Play
Think back to your childhood. Remember how much fun you had playing in the sand? Building sand forts, digging holes with your shovel, or covering your brother or sister with the fluffy stuff.
As you got older and started playing golf, memories of those happy times in the sand box were replaced with agonizing attempts to remove your golf ball from a sandy grave known as a bunker. I think golfers and whales have a lot in common. When either of them find themselves in the sand, a slow death seems inevitable. Let me try to return you to your youthful days when sand was your friend, by offering a little advice on how to execute the shot correctly.
First, let’s talk about hitting a shot from a fairway bunker. The key to hitting this shot a long distance, depends on the type of lie that you have. Is the ball sitting up in the sand? Is there a lip (or mound) above the ball, preventing you from hitting a less lofted club used for distance? Are you standing uphill or downhill? All these factors will affect your club selection.
If you are able to hit a long iron or wood out of the bunker safely, here are some fundamentals to help you:
- Dig your feet into the sand to anchor your body
- Choke down a bit on the club to compensate for your lower posture
- Keep the legs still during the swing
- Use more club since you are only swinging with your arms and hands
- Play the ball in the middle of your stance so contact is made at the bottom of your swing arc.
- Don’t touch the sand with your club prior to making your swing, that’s a two stroke penalty
- To avoid hitting the ball heavy, try to maintain the same weight level throughout the swing
The greenside bunker can be a very exciting shot as you watch the ball blast onto the green and spinning back towards the hole. Or this shot can be very disheartening when it takes more than one try to get it out.
My teaching method for hitting shots out of a greenside bunker is very simple:
- Dig your feet as you did on the long shot
- Open your stance considerably (aim left)
- Open the face of the club
- Adjust your weight and how high you grip the club according to the length of the shot. For a longer shot stand more upright and grip high on the club. For a shorter shot, bend more and choke way down on the club. Your grip and body weight will determine how deep the club penetrates the sand which will determine the distance of the shot.
- Take the club back on the same line as your feet (It will be outside the target line)
- Cock your wrists at the top of your backswing
- Uncock your wrists at the bottom of your swing
- Pull through with your left hand (right handed player) in a sliding motion as if you’re cutting through a tomato
- Above all make a long follow through.
Another Day at the Beach
Hopefully, with a little practice, using these simple tips, hitting out of a bunker will seem like just another day at the beach.
Teaching a Beginner
Teaching a Beginner
Admit it, you’ve all done it.
At one time or another you have either tried to teach somebody how to play the game or have attempted to remedy your buddies ailing golf swing. Maybe something you’ve read or perhaps a tip given to you by a fellow golfer has provided you with enough expertise to give lessons and that’s fine by me. There are thousands of people who are playing golf only because a spouse or friend got them interested in playing and took the time to teach them the basic fundamentals of a golf swing.
As a golf professional, I have books, manuals and instructional videos preparing me to teach the way the PGA suggests. What I would like to do is come up with a brief guide to help novice teachers be prepared when that loved one says, honey I‘d like to learn to hit that stupid white ball around the golf course just like you!
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you forget about your local golf professional. By all means if you have the wisdom to start out taking lessons from a pro you’ll benefit from the experience, but if for some reason you would feel more at ease with a friend or spouse, well, if that’s what it takes to get you started, go for it!
The Top 10 List
I’ve put together a Top Ten List of some guidelines you may want to use while teaching a beginner:
10. Use a ten-finger grip (baseball) when teaching women, juniors and seniors.
9. Let them hit every shot (except putts) off of a tee, at least for a while.
8. Pay much more attention to how the swing looks than to the result it produces.
7. Laugh if it’s funny, but NEVER criticize.
6. Be anxious to praise and slow at finding fault.
5. Make your recommendations very simple.
4. Keep the driver in the closet.
3. Don’t argue. The student is always right.
2. Don’t overdo it. Remember it’s a game & it’s supposed to be fun.
1. When teaching your spouse, keep all sharp objects out of reach. The life you save may be your own.
Learn to Release
Learn to Release
“Please Release Me, Let Me Go”. I wonder if famous singer Englebert Humperdinck was thinking about his golf swing when he recorded that song. If he was, then he is probably in a very small minority of players who understand exactly what it means to release the club in your swing.
The “release” is probably one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted fundamentals of the golf swing. If you ask most golfers to define the “release”, you’ll get answers ranging from, turning the wrists over, to uncocking the wrist, to pulling the club through. I would like to set the record straight and make the “release” a much easier concept to understand. The song says it all…”Please release me, let me go”.
I interpret the “release” as the position in your swing where you have a tremendous amount of stored energy that needs to be transferred through the ball and to the target. In order to accomplish this feat correctly, one must “let it go”. The clubhead has got to be slung, flung, catapulted or any other defining word you can think of.
To better understand my execution of a proper “release”, think of the mechanics of pole vaulting. The vaulter holds the pole with both hands, then runs as fast as he can, down the runway. The more speed he can generate, the more likely he will have a successful jump. Next, he carefully plants the bottom of the pole in a stationary base. Now, one could actually watch all the energy produced from this speed go from the bottom of the pole to the top. He has a tremendous amount of leverage, or whip that will send him sailing over the standard.
The same principles apply to the golf swing. As a right handed player pulls the club down with his left hand on his downswing, he is building up speed and energy. Now the player should do the same thing as the vaulter. Plant the bottom of the club (butt-end of grip) in that stationary base and let the energy fling, sling, or catapult outward, to the clubhead. As the energy is “released”, the ball will explode off of the club-face and be rocketed towards the target. There will be much more clubhead speed than ever before.
But don’t take my word for it, Englebert had the right idea long before I did.