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.

Look At the Hole When You Putt

I know, you’ve heard this from your kooky friends who are always trying something different.  You look at your target when you throw something, so why not look at the target when you putt?

Answer: because nobody putts that way.

Case closed.

Well, let’s give that idea one more look.

The “You look at the target when you throw something” argument is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough.  When you’re looking at the target, you brain is in constant contact with the target, and giving your body constant, up-to-date instructions on what to do to hit the target.

When you don’t look at the target, you’re relying on memory. It’s very recent memory, but still…

Try this.  Put a wastebasket maybe six feet away from you, wad up a piece of paper, look at the wastebasket and toss the paper inside.  Did you get it in?

Now toss paper at the wastebasket after you have taken a look then turned your head away so you can’t see the wastebasket.  How did you do?

I would bet that if you alternated ten times with each method, looking would produce a higher percentage of successes.

Can you feel the confidence disappearing when you turn your head?  That’s exactly what happens when we look at the ball instead of the hole when we stroke the putt.

You might not notice this, but tests have shown you keep your head and body very still when you’re looking at the hole.  You’re also less likely to flip the putter—have the left wrist break backwards on the forward stroke, a cardinal error.

You will hit short putts with more confidence because you are always in tune with the target.  I’m sinking more putts in the 5-8’ range as well.

Approach putting?  You’re going to get a much better feel for distance this way, especially if you’re using the TAP method [link].  Your mental computer is feeding you continuous up-to-date instructions, like I said before, taking much of the guess-work out of a 40-foot putt.

Now about the stroke.  Don’t worry, you won’t whiff.  With a little practice, you’ll learn that the putter comes back to the ball on the sweet spot.

The club path won’t get wacky on you if you extend your right forefinger down the shaft and pretend it’s a pencil that is drawing a straight line on the ground.  This is easier to do with a long putter than with a standard-length putter because you can extend your right arm fully.

Search you favorite web browser on this topic.  You will find lots of responses, from teaching professionals, who say this method helps you putt better.  You won’t find anyone who says it’s for the birds.

I don’t put things in these posts I haven’t tried and found to be helpful.  Play with this on the practice green of a hour, the play a few rounds looking at the hole when you putt.  You have nothing to lose but two-four strokes.

Good Golf, No Pressure

Golf is hard. Golf under pressure is harder. Instructors, even highly paid golf psychologists, tell us we have to put pressure on ourselves during practice to learn how to play with pressure.

Here’s an example you come across all the time. When you’re on the practice green, make 10 three-foot putts in a row. Miss, and you start over. Feel the pressure build after you have made 9 in a row because you can’t stop the drill until you make that 10th putt.

Except there are two problems with this drill. One is that after you make a three-foot putt on the course, your next shot is likely to be with your drive from the next tee.

The second problem is that this drill doesn’t teach you how to play under pressure. It teaches you how to create pressure by letting your past or your future define your present. That’s no way to live, and that’s no way to play good golf.

How about instead we learn how to control our mind so that pressure, which is entirely of own creation, never gets created? How about we spend as much time developing our mind as we do developing our golf skills?

How would you do that? Simple. Hit practice shots just like you would on the course. Hit this shot, then move on.

Learn to play each stroke isolated from ones that came before, and leave the ones to come for when you get to them.

Say you’re on the practice green. Drop a ball 30 feet from the hole and hit an approach putt. Go up putt out, then do something else.

Drop a ball four yards off the green and get the ball in the hole. Then do something else.

Do this over and over—in realistic shot sequences, and when a sequence is over, go through a different one.

If you’re on the practice tee, hit a club once, put it away, and hit a different club, preferably at some remove, like fairway wood, 9-iron, 5-iron, and so on.

When you practice like this, on the tee or on the green, each shot or each swing being different from the one before, and only giving yourself one chance to get it right, that’s golf you’re practicing.

All the while you will be developing the mental skill of playing the shot at hand, without worrying about how it will come out or whether you can hit it at all.

Now I’m not saying you should practice like this all the time. There’s nothing wrong with hitting 10 three-foot putts in a row to learn how to hit three-foot putts.

That comes under the heading of skill-building, and you have to do a lot of that to get good. But keep it at hitting one putt ten times.

Golf is not the sum of your skills. It’s the application of those skills. If you can learn how to play with a steady mind, I would say you can play four strokes better than your skills would otherwise suggest, because that steady mind lets your best performance emerge.

Two Fine Points

In the golf swing, just like anything, it seems, the devil is in the details.   I want to let you know about two details that seem to be working well for me lately.

The first one has to do with the golf club.  That’s what we swing to hit the ball with.  So far, so obvious, but it’s not always made to be that simple.

You have teachers who say you swing the handle.  Eddie Merrins comes immediately to mind.  Then there are others too numerous to mention who say you swing the clubhead. We could go on.

But what you’re really swinging is the golf club–the entire thing.  All of it.  You don’t swing the handle and leave the rest of it behind, do you?

When you think of swinging the entire club all at once, even though you are holding onto a small part of it, everything changes.  At least it does for me.

In several of my posts, and in my Living Golf Book, you will find me to be an advocate of the concept that swinging the club correctly tells the body what to do.

That only makes sense if your mind is on the club.  Not just part of the club, but all of it.  Handle, shaft, clubhead, not three parts, but all one thing.

Now this is a feeling in your mind and feelings are notoriously difficult to describe.  The best I can do is to suggest that even though your hands are holding only the handle, it has to feel as if they were holding the entire club.  I hope you can take it from there.

The second fine point is more technical and is something you can put your swing right away.  I read about it and James Sieckmann’s new book titled, Your Short Game Solution.

We all should know that the shape of your left wrist at the top of the backswing should be the same as it was address.  This goes a long way to keeping the clubface square.

In this book, Sieckmann adds the obvious point that the wrist should be in that shape throughout the backswing.

What I played with that idea, I discovered my wrist was getting out of shape along the way then back in again at the top.  That didn’t seem to affect my full swing all that much, but I discovered it went a long way toward explaining why I occasionally shank short pitch shots.

I had been bowing my left wrist outward, which shoves the entire club outward.  The short swing did not give me enough time to get the wrist back in shape so the club could be pulled back in.  That meant when the club came back to the ball it was not the clubface but the hosel that would do the hitting.

By keeping my left wrist angle constant, that problem, which I have tried so many things to solve and failed, is now a thing of the past.

Better yet, I find this point makes it very easy to do what I suggest above, which is to swing the entire club.

So that’s what I’m working on right now.  You might give them a try to see if they make any sense to you.

2018 PGA Championship Preview

The 100th PGA Championship will be played this coming weekend at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo.  Missouri.  August.  Maybe the best reason why the PGA is being moved to May beginning next year.

Bellerive has hosted a major championship only two times before.  In 1965 Gary Player won the U.S. Open to become the 3rd player to win the career slam, following Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.  In 1992, Nick Price won the first PGA played here.

Official website.

The 7,329-yard par-70 course is built around a creek that winds through the grounds.  Water comes into play on eleven holes.  The championship course normally plays at 7,547 yards par 71, but 54 yards were shaved off the par-5 4th hole, turning it into a 521-yard par 4.

The 10th green is shown below.

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The PGA lacks an obvious identity the other major championships possess.  The Masters has a fine course everyone recognizes.  The U.S. Open takes a difficult course and turns it into an impossible one.  The Open Championship takes a fine course and lets it stand on its own, which it never fails to do.

But the PGA? Its identity is subtle.  It has the finest field of the four majors, club pros notwithstanding.  Winning it is difficult because there are so many players in the field who are capable of winning.

So who are my picks?  Justin Thomas can repeat.  Tommy Fleetwood is due.  Xander Schauffele plays well in majors.  Jordan Spieth needs this one to win the career slam.  Dustin Johnson hasn’t gone away.

What this tournament means to me is this.  Starting next year, golf ends in July with the Open Championship.  I’ll just take a break from sports for a few weeks afterward nd then get ready for college football without my attention being divided.

Aim Your Golf Swing Visually

You have no doubt heard of aiming your golf swing by sighting from your target backwards to the ball and aligning yourself using that imaginary line.  But you can still go wrong with that method.  You need a way to check it before you start your swing.

When you are in your stance and ready to start the club back, you might well take one more look at the target.  Use that glance to check your aim.

Looking downrange you will see a picture that contains your target.  Where that target lies in the picture tells you where you have aimed yourself.

The two pictures below show what I mean.  The first picture shows you what you would see if you stood facing the flagstick and looked straight at it.

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The second picture shows you what you see when you are in your stance and turn your head.  The flagstick is considerably to the left of where you saw it when looking straight on.

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When you practice your aim at the driving range, get into a setup you know is properly aimed and pay special attention to where the flagstick lies in the picture you see when you turn your head.  That image is what you want to remember.  It won’t take more than a few practice sessions to learn it.

To help you fix that location, notice when you turn your head and look to the left, you will see an out-of-focus image of the bridge of your nose framing the picture on its left edge.  The flagstick will be somewhere near that image, the exact location depending on how flexible your neck is.  

(Unfortunately, I’m not good enough at altering images to include this frame on the photograph, but if you look to the left only by moving your eyes you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

During play, if you see the flagstick more to the left of where it should be, you are aimed too far to the right.  Or if you see the flagstick more to the right it means you are aimed too far to the left.

To make this check on your aim work, you must be sure to turn your head the same amount every time so the target will show up in the same place when correctly aimed at.

I watch the people I play golf with set up.  Every so often, one of them hits a beautiful shot that goes ten yards to the right of the green.

“How did that happen,” they ask in vain. “It happened because that’s where you were aimed,” I say to myself.

The Full Bag Drill

I’ve been doing this drill lately to build an identical swing with each club.  It pays off throughout the bag, but especially when you get to the driver.  It also takes a lot of discipline.

You’re going to go through your bag, from the most-lofted club to the least lofted (probably your driver), and hit a good shot with each club, using the same swing with each club.  You only get to hit one shot with each club.  Thirteen swings.  No do-overs.

By the same swing I mean the same movement, same rhythm, same tempo.  THE SAME.  This is the whole point of the drill.

The only thing that will change is your posture as the club shafts get longer.

This is a very difficult drill.  First of all, you want to hit 13 good shots and you only get one chance with each club. Hitting 13 good shots in a row isn’t easy.

Second, as the clubs get longer, the temptation to swing harder or to get the clubhead on the ball in a different way is great.  But you can’t do that.  Each swing has to be the same.

The reason you want to have the same swing for every club is that one swing is easier to learn, easier to rely on, and makes golf easier to play, than two or three swings do.

You will also learn to trust the design of the longer clubs to get the distance you want from them.  As clubs get longer, they have a lengthier shaft and less loft.  That alone is enough to send the ball father and farther.  You don’t have to make extra effort.

Do this drill (one time) at the driving range.  Doing this drill in your pre-round warm-up might be a good idea, too.

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