A Small Golf Reference Library

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re a golf reader.   (Not everybody is.)   You might have more than a few golf books at home, too.   Nothing wrong with that.   I have several score.

These are the ones I have found to be most useful in teaching technique, diagnosing problems, and just plain having fun with golf.

On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer, 1946. The original book on how to be a feel player.   This book still has influence.

Advanced Golf, by Vivien Saunders, 1995. Saunders goes into detail on points that barely get mentioned in popular instruction books.   Once you get the hang of the basic swing, this is how you elevate it.

Golf Doctor, by John Jacobs (also published as Curing Faults for Weekend Golfers), 1979. Jacobs describes twenty-five errant shot patterns, explains why they happen, and tells what to do about them, in detail that no other book even approaches.   Whatever is going wrong, it’s in here.

The Elements of Scoring, by Raymond Floyd, 1998. This is absolutely the best book there is on both the mental game and the art of getting the ball in the hole.

The Complete Golfer, Herbert Warren Wind, ed., 1954. Great fun.   Fiction, humor, memoirs, history, instruction, and fold-out maps of great courses.   This book is for people who realize there was golf before Tiger Woods, or even Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus, or want want to find out about it.

A few others:
The Golf Swing, by Cary Middlecoff, 1974.
Play Golf the Wright Way, by Mickey Wright, 1990.
The Short Way to Lower Scoring, by Paul Runyan, 1979.
A Golfer’s Education, by Darren Kilfara, 2001.

How to Practice Your Swing

Golf swing practice should be, at its core, learning how to repeat your swing, and learning it so thoroughly that when you play you never have to think about what your swing is doing, but rather where the ball is going to go.

You don’t learn how to do that by swinging over and over. You learn by breaking down your swing and building it back up, one part at a time. And repeating that endlessly.

Let me go to music to demonstrate what I’m saying.

When you learn a new piece, you first memorize it in little bits, a few measures at a time. You would start with the most difficult parts, because they need the most work.

After all of the piece has been memorized, you learn how to play the little bits smoothly, and how to connect them. It’s a slow building-up process that leads to playing the piece all the way through.

When the entire piece has been learned, you practice it, not by playing it all the way through over and over, even though you can, but by playing and connecting those little bits, just like you did when you were learning it.

You build up larger and larger compilations of the little bits until you are playing the entire piece. You’re always working on the details, so none of them get forgotten.

That is how you practice your golf swing. You should know what the little bits are that make you swing work. Practice each one, in isolation, to drill them into your unconscious mind.

Then build up your swing, one bit at a time, until you are swinging from start to finish, hitting all the bits you were practicing.

Then go do all that again.

How many times have you hit a bad shot and thought when it was over, “Oh, no. I forgot to do X.”

You most likely forgot to do X because you don’t practice X. You make only full swings and hope that part gets right somehow. But it never will get right until you practice that part alone. And all the other parts as well, each one by itself.

At the range, build up your swing, bit by bit, before every ball gets hit. After you hit that ball, repeat the building-up process again from the very start.

This method seems slow because you will make fewer full swings. It actually accelerates learning. Not to mention, the full swings you do make will be linked up and just like you want them to be.

A Few Random Golf Notes

No essay today. Just a few odds and ends that have come to mind lately.

1. That the forward swing begins with the movement of the left hip is beyond doubt, but what that movement is, exactly, is a matter of confusion. There is a slide and a turn. But which one comes first and how much of a movement is each one? Let’s make the matter simpler.

Think of the first move forward as pushing your left hip straight back behind you. Now it cannot exactly go straight backward. To go back it has to turn somewhat and there will be a bit of a slide, too. Also, your weight will get off the right side early, like it should.

By thinking about it this way, whether the slide or the turn happens first is no longer an issue. They will both happen at the right time and that’s all you need to worry about.

If you try this, make sure the hip goes backward in rhythm. Don’t snap it back quickly.

2. A few years ago, the Play It Forward campaign was big. Play from the right set of tees and you will shoot lower scores and have more fun. There’s another reason why playing it forward pays off. It makes you a better golfer over time.

Because the course is shorter you will be hitting more shots that are within your ability to hit. This means you will learn how to score. Instead of always playing catch-up, you will always be on offense. You will learn how to dictate to the course instead of the course dictating to you.

You might want to play for a while from tees that are too short, then back up with your new mindset.

3. A few years ago I talked to you about the clubs I used to chip with. It was a set that went from lob wedge through 8-iron. The chipping stroke I used was somewhat of a downward blow with a little bit of punch to it.

Recently I have changed my chipping stroke to one that is more of a level brushing stroke. It gradually became clear that the clubs I calibrated earlier did not work well with the new stroke.

Since the blow with a brush is not as sharp, the ball does not leap off the clubface as it does with the downward stroke. All I had to do to recalibrate my chipping set was to move up by two clubs.

For example, where I had been using a lob wedge I now use a gap wedge to chip to a certain distance, or instead of a pitching wedge I use an 8-iron to send the ball an equivalent distance.

4. Remember that we play golf in order to have fun with friends. Of course we want to get better, but improvement occurs gradually. Having fun happens anytime we want to. First things first.

The Golf Swing as Simply as I Can Describe It

Golf instruction books, videos, blogs, all give you advice on how to swing the club that makes sense to the person who wrote it but is no more than a vain attempt to describe what the swing feels like.  That’s what technical advice really comes down to.

Bobby Jones wrote this in his introduction to his book Bobby Jones on Golf:
“In order to play well, the player must have the feel of the proper stroke.  Being unable to view himself objectively, he has no other guide than the sensations produced by the action of his muscles.”

Those sensations, being subjective, defy objective description.  Technical advice can point a golfer in the right direction and warn her or him of things NOT to do, but after that, all is left to the internal investigations of the individual.

I’m going to make an attempt here at describing the swing in terms of everyday motions, not golf motions.  This description lacks detail on purpose.  If you can do these things, I believe you will be CLOSER to doing it right than if you followed a mechanical laundry list of what is happening.

So here goes.

The backswing:  Imagine there is a shelf behind you and just above your right shoulder (left shoulder if you play left-handed).  Stand up straight and reach behind yourself with the hand on the opposite side of your body to take something off the shelf.  The catch is that your feet have to stay in the same place and cannot turn.

Unless you are Gumby, you will will not be able to reach the object on the shelf unless you turn your body.  Your legs turn, your hips turn, and your shoulders turn in order to get your hand back there.

Now get into your golf stance and do the same thing.  Reach for the shelf and you will find your body making a proper turn back.

If you do this with a club in your hands, once you are finished you will be in a very good backswing position.

Without a club in your hands, you might have turned your head to look at the imaginary shelf, but holding a club, your head stays looking forward.  That should be the only difference.

As for the forward swing, imagine you are holding an object up there weighing several pounds that you want to toss a long way away from you, and which you are holding with both hands.

You would start by getting your hip into it (you would), then your arms would swing forward, and lastly your hands would release the object you’re throwing. The momentum of the throw would continue your body turn, and swing your arms and now-empty hands high and in front of you, coming to a balanced stop.

(The reason I say to think of throwing a heavy object is that its weight will keep your hands back where they cannot throw it until it is time to.)

That’s it, the golf swing in a nutshell:  reach back for the shelf, throw the heavy object.

Now do two things with what I have just said.  First, interpret it literally, not literalistically.  What’s the difference?  If I say it’s raining cats and dogs, the literal interpretation is that it’s raining very hard.  The literalistic interpretation is that boxers and tabbies are falling out of the sky.

Second, if this description of the golf swing doesn’t make sense to you, or doesn’t seem quite right, or if you have a better way of saying it, don’t quibble.  Make up your own nutshell.  Use what I said as a springboard for finding your own way to express the golf swing IN THE SIMPLEST TERMS.

When you’re out there playing is not the time to be thinking of minute technical points.  They all have to be included in a larger, simpler conception.  I’ve given you two: one for the backswing and one for the forward swing.

I’ll let you know when I figure out a way to describe the whole thing at once.

Your Ideal Golf Swing Tempo

It’s funny how you can hear the same thing over and over again and it doesn’t make sense until something happens that just makes it click.  That happened to me a few days ago when I was watching Tiger Woods hit a few tee shots.

On every tee, His GOATness took two relatively slow, graceful practice swings—swings any one of us could make.  I would hurt myself if I swung at the ball like he does, but I am right in there with his practice swing.

Which gave me an idea for my game.  Hit the ball with my practice swing.

I know, everyone has heard that a thousand times before, but watching Tiger’s practice swing next to his real swing made me finally comprehend what that advice really means.

His practice swing is slowed way down so he can feel everything.  He’s checking all the marks that he pays attention to along the way.  What those marks are is not important.  That his swing is error-free is important.

Now he is good enough to step on the gas with a ball in front of him and still make an error-free swing.  We are not.

I would suggest that before each shot the recreational golfer take a few unhurried, perfect practice swings, and use THAT SAME SWING for hitting the ball.

That will provide the time to hit all the marks that are important for making a successful swing.

You will not rush yourself through your swing and miss some of your marks, or more importantly, force the club out of position by making your body keep up with itself, and fail to.

Many amateurs have a problem getting their weight onto their left side before impact.  Swinging slower gives them time to do that.

Many amateurs throw the club at the ball from the top.  Swinging slower makes it easier to hold onto their lag and release it naturally at the ball.

Swinging slower makes it easier to swing from start to finish rather than from start to impact.

And so on.

I wrote in my Living Golf Book that your ideal tempo is the fastest you can swing through impact and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.  For many recreational golfers, that isn’t nearly as fast, or as forceful, as they now swing.

Will you lose distance?  Maybe, at first, but when you have settled into hitting the center of the clubface, that distance will come back AND you will be much straighter.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

The swing you make before you hit the ball is the same swing to hit the ball with.  There should be no, zero, difference between the two.  Hopefully it is an unforced swing that leads to your finest shots time after time.

Practice Scoring, Not “Golf”

Once you have developed reasonable skills, your practice should be built around lowering your score.   By that I mean practice particular shots that will help you get the ball around the course efficiently and into the hole quickly.

You might think that the point of practice is to build skills that accomplish those two things.  But I mean the opposite.  Practice accomplishing those things then take what you practiced onto the course and use it.

I came up with this thought a few days ago when my approach into a green came up about 4 feet short and I had about a 35-foot chip. The ball was resting slightly on upslope.  The more I looked at the shot the more I liked it because I realized I practice that shot all the time.  There is no mystery in it.  All I have to do is hit the ball.  So I did and it ended up 15 inches from the hole, like I knew it would.

Another shot like this is 63-yard pitch.  There’s a flag that distance from the mats at my range, so I warm up by hitting balls at it.  Over the years I have become very good at hitting a golf ball 63 yards.

I know that if I have a pitch on the course between 60 and 65 yards the ball will end up one-putt close, not because I have a great pitching game, but because I hit this particular pitch all the time and it has become second nature to hit a ball 63 yards.

Golf has almost an infinite variety of shots that can be hit.  You can’t practice them all.  I’m suggesting that you pick a few and practice them to the extent that you know every time you step up to hit one of them something good is going to happen.

Here’s a sample list:
– 3-wood off the tee—to be used all the time or when your driver is being a bad boy.
– Advancement shot from the fairway, say of 175 yards.
– Shot into the green from 145 yards.  Once you get past the 150-yard marker, you should be thinking, “Down in three.”
– A pitch from a given distance.  Like I said above, I have 63 yards pretty well figured out.  But what if it’s 80 yards?  I’ll just take two clubs more and put the same stroke on the ball. Et voilà. Roughly 80 yards.
– A chip to a certain distance.  Same comments as for the pitch.
– A 30-foot putt.  Same comments again.
– A 3-foot putt.  Gotta sink those every time.

You can make up your own list.  The point is to get very, very good at the shots on your list.  If you have them down can’t-miss cold they will be all you need to play well.  You will never have a bad day.

Again.  There isn’t enough time to practice being good at everything.  If you try, you end up being good at nothing.  Practice shots you know you’re going to use.  When you play, put yourself in a position to hit those shots as often as you can.  That’s how to shoot low scores.

The Golf Swing as a Whole

The finish of the golf swing is not just a position we arrive when the swing is over.  It embodies the entire swing.

The swing is the sum of its parts.  All the parts must be linked up together, as Percy Bloomer described it, so the golfer can proceed to the finish, and it is by swinging to the finish that the parts are linked up.

What I mean by this is understanding that what happens after the ball is struck counts as much as everything you did beforehand.  You hit the ball with all of your swing.

Instructors have lately emphasized impact as the most important phase of the swing, and they are right, in a way.  That is when the ball is struck, and how the strike turns out is everything.

But it will not turn out well if the pursuit of a good strike makes the activity of the swing end at impact.

The direct pursuit of a good strike leads to end-gaining*, inconsistent ball-striking, and the inability to improve.  A good strike is the residue of a good swing, from start to end.

I know you wish you had a dollar for every time you have heard, “It’s a swing, not a hit.” (It used to be in dime, but inflation, you know.)

To become the player you want to be you need to internalize that maxim.  Getting an A on the written test doesn’t count.  To play good golf you need to get A on the practical exam.

Train yourself, and this is a mental exercise, by swinging without the ball in front of you, over and over, not thinking of any mechanics, nor of a backswing and a forward swing, or hitting an imaginary ball, but rather of one motion that connects the start (address) with the end (finish).

One motion, over over, from the start to end.

When there is a ball in front of you, here’s a reminder (not a swing thought).  As you’re about to take the club away, you usually have a feeling of hitting the ball.  Replace that with a feeling of swinging the club.  Actually feel the entire swing, especially the part that sails through the ball and continues to the finish.  Now you can go.

If you’re an OK golfer and want to become a good golfer you need a new conception of the golf swing.  Ending your golfing activity at the finish, using the entire swing to hit the ball, is that conception.

*The natural act of doing what seems obvious to achieve a result instead of doing what is right to achieve that result.

Consistent Putt Speed

We all know how critical the right speed is in reading a putt we think we can sink.  The speed of the putt refers not to how hard you hit the ball, but how fast it is rolling when it gets to the hole.  To be a consistent green reader, you have to be able to make that speed be the same regardless of how long the putt is.

Once you have picked out your favored speed, generally fast enough to let a missed putt roll from 12-18″ past the hole (but pick one distance, say 15″), and practice how to to make the ball approach the hole at that speed consistently.

The drill below shows you how to do that.

Bob’s Living Golf Book — August 2018 Edition

The latest edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book is now online. New material includes:

– How to check your aim visually (p. 7)
– The Left Wrist (p. 10)
– Swing the Entire Club (p. 10)
– Look at the Hole (when you putt) (p. 19)

and updated remarks on topics too numerous to mention. But those are all in blue text, so you can find them easily enough.

The search for improvement never ceases.

Play well, and have fun.

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play