The Best Golf Swing Lesson I Ever Had

I have a list that I look at before I go golfing. It’s a list of things I need to take to the course. I put the list together because on different occasions I have forgotten, at least once, most of the items on it.

For example, one item is “14 clubs.” I left my putter at home once. Took it out of the bag to practice with and forgot to put it back in. I’ve left my sand wedge home. Same reason. Forgot a towel once. It’s pretty hard to hit a decent shot with dirt all over the clubface. Forgot my golf shoes several times. That wasn’t too critical, I got by with it. After a while I stopped looking at the list because I thought I had it all down. Big mistake.

I’ve been playing golf lately with my wife and sons on alternate Sundays. We go to an 18-hole executive course, bat the ball around, and have a great time together. My wife drives, I take a nap along the way, and we meet our boys there.

When we arrived at the course the last time we played, I got out of the car and walked back to the trunk to get my golf shoes. As I did, this terrible feeling came over me that I had left them at home. Sure enough, they weren’t there. The reason that I had a terrible feeling, and not just a feeling, is that the shoes I had on weren’t really shoes.

They were a pair of moccasins.

That would be OK, I thought. I could walk around the course if we didn’t go too fast. You see, I got the moccasins on sale and they were a size too big, so I can’t walk fast in them without walking right out of them. But I could manage.

So we all teed off on the first hole, which is on a hill about a hundred feet above the green. We walked down a gravel path to the ground below, and it hit me. It had been raining lately, and the ground was soaking wet. Not only that, it was early in the day and the grass was covered with dew.

I just thought if I walked carefully, my moccasins wouldn’t get too wet. Silly me.

By the eighth hole my socks were soaked through and by the twelfth the moccasins were entirely soaked. It was not comfortable. Did I mention it was less than 50 degrees out and my feet were kind of cold?

But in the midst of this travail, I found the cloud with the silver lining. Since I had no spikes on and was supported by wet socks inside wet shoes that were too big, and the ground was wet and slick, I couldn’t take my usual swipe at the ball. I had to swing . . . easy. Of course I had to, or I would have fallen down.

And you know what? Out of eighteen full swings I took that day, there were seventeen beautiful shots and one, just one, clinker. Seventeen shots that took off straight, high and with authority. Shots I might hit half the time on a good day, I was hitting every time. I had not hit the ball that well all year. All because of the easy swing which I had no choice but to make.

After the round I bought a new pair of socks from the pro shop and had a pleasant ride home with my feet jammed up against the heater vent. When we got home I put the moccasins out to dry. Mistake #2.

Wet leather shrinks when it dries out. I had forgotten this. I should have put some shoe trees in them. By Wednesday the moccasins were completely dry and one size smaller. But that’s OK, because remember how they were too big? Now they fit just right.

Somehow, even after pulling two real boners, I came out smelling like a rose. Just goes to show you. Someone up there must love me. Even so, I’m back to checking the list before I leave for the course.

The Fates forgive honest mistakes, but they don’t suffer fools, especially ones who don’t learn from the best golf swing lesson they ever had.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

No Swing Thoughts!

Imagine your playing partner standing beside you as you’re addressing the ball, giving you all sorts of little reminders. Swing smoothly. Let your weight shift. Swing through the ball. Nice finish. How long do you think you would put up with that? One time, tops. So why do you put up with that kind of chatter from yourself every time you swing? The reminders like this that you give yourself as you’re about to swing, and especially during your swing, are just as destructive.

The reason you remind yourself to do something is that deep down you’re not sure you can do it. Or maybe you’re trying to use a swing thought to block out pressure you might be under at the moment. That’s negative thinking, and there’s no place for that on the golf course. Swing thoughts also isolate one part of your swing from the rest of it, overemphasizing one aspect of a movement that is supposed to be a unified whole. That will eventually throw everything else off, which is why swing thoughts only work for a hole or two.

When we’re awake, our conscious mind is in the foreground and will do anything it wants to. It wanders easily. We have to keep it under control when we play golf. We do that by accessing the subconscious mind. That part of our mind directs the conscious mind, but it can only do whatever we have put into it. When we have a particular swing key that we’ve practiced over and over, so much that it’s fully embedded in our subconscious mind, we’ve taken the first step. The second step is to access what we’ve practiced from the subconscious mind in a way that the conscious mind can’t start getting ideas of its own. Here’s how.

Take your practice swing, with the reminders that you think are necessary, but to remind yourself of how you want the swing to feel. Then step up to the ball and hit it right away, riding on that feeling. By starting right away, your conscious mind is captured in the feeling and doesn’t have the time to change to anything else. In addition, concentrating on the feeling of the whole swing gives you something positive to think about, and something that unifies the entire movement you’re about to make.

Do not delay or run through the feeling several times to make sure. Any delay gives time for the feeling fade which gives your conscious mind free reign to start messing you up, and repetitions won’t make it more right.

When you go through this process this every time you swing a golf club, whether on the practice range or on the course, you’ll absorb it. It takes continual repetition over time to get it down, though. You have years of an old way in there. You have to put more of the new way in there, this way, for it to come out when you play.

We’re all looking for something we can rely on shot after shot, that one constant that will never let us down. You won’t find it in your physical technique. Pressure doesn’t affect your grip, for example. Pressure affects your mind. That one constant you’re looking for has to be something you trust to keep your mind steady. Being guided by the feeling of the shot you’re about to hit is that constant. Learn it well.

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A Straight Left Arm – Why Your Golf Swing Depends On It

One of the first pieces of swing wisdom a beginning golfer hears is that you have to keep your left arm straight. What that means, and how it’s expressed in a good golf swing, requires accurate interpretation.

Let’s talk first about what a straight arm is. If you stand up and let your arm hang at your side, you’ll see there’s a slight bend at the elbow. In terms of how humans are built, this is straight. If you stretch your arm out so it is truly straight, it’s full of tension and isn’t of any use in hitting a golf ball. Thus when we talk of a straight arm we mean one that has its natural bend in it. This video shows you what I mean.

The golf swing is built around the swinging motion of the left arm. When you address the ball, this arm and the club form the radius of a circle, the length of which must not change. Now it’s true that the club part of the radius does change as the wrists hinge on the backswing, but that’s all right. The club will return to its original position when the wrists release on the downswing if the left arm has not shortened in the meantime.

Ensure your left arm stays straight on the backswing by pulling it up to the top with your right hand. As you pull, feel as if you’re stretching (but not straightening) the left arm away from the target as it goes up. This feeling will also help you make a complete shoulder turn, a critical part of a good backswing.

On the downswing, feel that the outside edge of your left arm is falling toward the ball while having that same stretched feeling. That, along with the lower body turning into the shot, will deliver the clubhead right back to where it was at address. After impact, the left arm will remain straight for a moment before it folds at the elbow as you come up to the finish position.

Having a sloppy left arm can be a cause of inconsistent ball striking. Tighten that arm up in the way I have described and see if that doesn’t make a big difference in how the ball flies away.

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The Importance of Tempo in Golf

The golf swing has many actions that all have to happen in the right sequence and need their own time to develop. The way for all that to occur is to swing with the right tempo.

Why is this important? Everyone wants to have a consistent swing. To have one, you have to do the same things in the same way every time you swing. To that end, recreational golfers practice this technique and that, to get them down pat. The glue that binds technique together, though, is tempo.

Unless your tempo is the same from swing to swing, and is the right tempo for you, your technique, no matter how well you have learned it, will not be repeated consistently if your tempo is inconsistent from swing to swing or even during the swing. Parts of your swing will be rushed, some will be delayed, others might be skipped over entirely, all because you’re swinging at the wrong speed.

In golf, swing tempo is governed by the speed at which the hips turn back and through. That speed needs to be the same in both directions, and it needs to be a speed that makes sense to how you swing a golf club, not to how Ernie Els or Nick Price swing.

Find the tempo that’s right for you by listening to a ticking metronome as you swing. One tick is the signal for you to start swinging. The next tick marks the moment when the clubhead returns to impact. Start with the metronome set at 48 and take a few swings. That setting will probably be too slow. Move the dial on the metronome one setting faster and take a few more swings. Keep moving the dial to faster settings until you get to one that’s too fast. Slow back down until you find the setting that feels just right. It will probably be in the 52-56 range.

Go to the range now with your metronome and hit a few balls at each tempo within that tempo range. There will be one that clearly yields better shots than the others. That’s your own tempo. Now practice your tempo by concentrating only on turning your hips back and through at the same pace, your pace, when you swing. Let everything else take care of itself. I think you will find your ballstriking improving right away.

This tempo is not limited to your swing. Hit every shot with the same tempo, from drive to chip to putt. Using the same tempo for every shot builds in a constant that links up all your shots and has the effect that each shot reinforces the success of the others.

If you find your swing breaking down in the middle of a round, or any other shot not performing well, especially your putting, check your tempo. I would guess get it has gotten too fast. Slow it down to where it suits you, don’t speed it up going into the ball, and you should be fine again.

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Golfers: Manage Your Mind, Manage Your Expectations

I played a round a few weeks ago on a day that was going to be pretty hot, so my playing partner and I teed off at 7:00 a.m. We had the course to ourselves. The range hadn’t opened by the time we started, so a few practice swings to get ready, and away we went. We played fairly well for the first three holes; we were both relaxed and loose.

On the fourth hole, a 174-yard par 3, I put my tee shot just off the back of the green, twenty-five feet from the pin. Beautiful shot. I chipped to 18”. Tour-quality chip. I missed the putt. Nice par, down the drain. My partner was more disappointed than I was. Since I wasn’t too upset about it, he asked me how I handle missing a short putt like that. I said that I might or might not miss the next one that short, but stressing over this one guarantees that I will miss it. The best way to make sure it doesn’t happen again is to chalk it up as a bad shot, forget about it, and play on.

This kind of thinking can be applied anywhere. The same golfer who can hit a pin-seeking missile from 160 yards on one hole can yank it 20 yards left on the next. We expect to hit our best shots all the time, but we don’t. Touring professionals don’t. No amount of practice will let any golfer do that. Realize that you’re as good as your best shots and worst shots put together, and they all even out. I’ve never had a score, good or bad, that I didn’t deserve. If you can make peace with that fact, golf becomes much more enjoyable. And you’ll score better, too.

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The Finish Position of the Golf Swing

One spring morning I showed up at the course for a 9:30 a.m. tee time to find the first tee full of players. There had been a frost delay, so about eight foursomes ahead of us had yet to tee off. I hung around the first tee to watch everyone swing. This is what I saw. A clear majority of the players ended their swing with their weight firmly on their right foot, if not falling backward in that direction. You can imagine what their shots looked like.

How a golfer finishes the swing is a clear indicator of what went on before. It takes only a half second to get from impact to finish, in which time the golfer decelerates the clubhead from about 80-90 miles per hour to a full stop. The state of the swing at impact will thus directly influence the state of the finish position. When a good finish position is your goal, you will find yourself modifying your swing so you can get there, and the changes you make will be for the better.

Finish your swing standing comfortably upright, facing the target squarely, with your weight on your left foot, and your right foot balanced on the toe tip. You should be able to lift your right foot off the ground without disturbing your balance. Both hands will be to the left of your head and the club will be behind your head on a line that connects your ears. Your right shoulder should end up near your chin, but this depends in part on your flexibility.

Practice your finish by making shortened swings with your driver, no ball. Take the club halfway back and swing smoothly through to a full finish. When you get to the finish position, hold it there for a few seconds to let your mind absorb the process of your swing leading you into that position.*

The next time you watch a tournament on TV, watch where the players end up and how they get there. Or, if you have a chance to see a professional tournament in person, go to the range and watch the players warm up. In every case, the finishes you will see are graceful and balanced. That’s your model. There are things the pros do that we can’t, but this is not one of them. Build a good finish into your swing and watch the rest of your swing improve.

*Your finish position can subject your back to considerable twisting. I would recommend that hold your finish position infrequently as a check, and never routinely when practicing or playing. Always release yourself to a neutral upright position with your hands in front of you as you watch the ball, just like Phil does.

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How To Sink Short Putts

Short putts are the ones from four feet and under. They’re the ones you just have to sink and are so afraid of not sinking. So you miss. Is that you? That was me. Here’s how I solved the problem.

The hole is a negative space. We’re trying to hit the ball at something that isn’t there. How can you hit something that isn’t there? That doesn’t make sense to me. What does make sense is to hit the ball at something that is there. That gives our mind something positive to aim at, something much easier to hit.

Whenever I practice short putts, I put a water bottle in the hole, and practice hitting the bottle. It’s so simple it should be a crime. Really. You can’t miss. Instead of trying to ease a ball into a tiny opening in the ground, you’re aiming at the broad side of a barn and actually hitting it. There’s a real target to aim at, and that takes off all the pressure. Try it.

Best of all, you will never see the ball roll past an empty hole. Never. That implants a wonderful affirmation: “I never miss the hole.” Now your conscious mind might say, “That’s because you never hit at one!” but we don’t listen to that mind. We’re training the subconscious mind, which knows only black and white. If it never sees the ball miss the hole, it comes to believe, “I never miss.”

After you’ve practiced this way for long enough, the image of an object sticking out of the hole sticks with you. When you’re playing, even though you’re looking at an empty hole, you see the bottle sticking up out of it. In your mind, the task becomes, hit the bottle. If you do, since there’s really no bottle there, the ball goes in the hole. Simple.

If the short ones give you fits, if you’d rather putt from six feet than two, try putting at a bottle on the practice green for a few sessions. Warm up this way before you play, too. It will change everything.

Your Golfer’s Back

Everyone who plays golf is an athlete. Golfers make movements specific to the game which have little to do with how they move in daily life. Part of learning to play golf is learning how to make those movements to play effectively. The other part is learning to how to make those movements to avoid injury.

Golf injuries of the lower back have been extensively studied. The lower back is stressed most in making a swift and violent turn into the ball on the downswing. Current swing theory directs that the difference between the hip turn and shoulder turn on the backswing. The greater the difference, the more the lower back is loaded with unnatural pressure. The inconsistent swing which is characteristic of recreational golfers can cause a sudden, unexpected, and excessive load to be applied to the lower back. A lack of physical fitness leaves the body unable to resist these stresses which leaves the body open to injury.

My lower back is in terrible shape, yet I have played pain-free golf for years. This is how I do it. Please consider these ideas for yourself, regardless of the state of your back.

The foundation of my full swing is tempo. Tempo is the speed at which the hips turn. It must be the same swinging back and swinging down. When the tempo of the hip turn stays constant, not only do you hit the ball better, but you prevent sudden stresses from being applied.

I take my stance by bending from my hips, not from my waist. Bending from your waist throws weight onto the lower back.

On the backswing, I turn my hips so the maximum difference between my hip turn and shoulder turn is about 20 degrees. (Professional golfers have a difference of 45 degrees or more.)

My swing itself is led by a full body turn and powered by holding on to my wrist set until the momentum of the downswing naturally releases the clubhead into the ball. I see so many recreational players lurch into the ball as a way of hitting hard, that I wonder just when the shoe is going to drop, if it hasn’t already.

Your finish position can subject your back to considerable twisting. I would recommend that hold your finish position infrequently as a check, and never routinely when practicing or playing. Always release yourself to a neutral upright position with your hands in front of you as you watch the ball, just like Phil does.

In addition, you can do these things to protect your back.

Warm up carefully. Stretch and turn lightly and gently before you even pick up a club. Begin to swing by taking a driver and making long, slow, and I mean slow, swings, to gradually warm up your turning muscles.

Start going through your bucket by hitting a few pitches with a half swing. Work your way through the bag from your short clubs up to your driver.

During the round, stretch out every four holes or so. You make a full swing only every few minutes and you can stiffen up before the round is over.

Walk around the course with your clubs on a pull cart. Carrying your clubs compresses the spine. Riding in a cart can subject your spine to impact stresses when the cart goes over bumps.

Golf is our recreation, not our livelihood. Play it so it introduces joy into your life instead of pain.

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Record-Keeping

Many players write down not only their score on their scorecard, but notes on the quality and quantity of different shots. They might take note of whether their drive finished in the fairway or not. Whether they hit the green in the regulation number of strokes (GIR). How many putts, and so on, and adding on whatever level of detail they can make use of.

Here is a system to try. It’s easy to mark down, easy to read and interpret. For each hole, write down three numbers: the number of full swings (FS), short shots (SS), and putts (P). Make a note of penalty shots and recovery shots, but don’t put them in any of your counts.

The number of full swings on a hole should equal par minus two, though on par 5s, your third might be a pitch. Every time you miss a green there will be a short shot. For example, 202 is a green hit in regulation, but 211 means you missed the green and made par with an up and down.

There should be only one short shot per hole. Short shots plus putts should add up to two per hole. No fours! 211, good. 212 OK, 222 bad.

Three-putt greens (213) generally mean your approach putting is weak. One-putt greens are usually the back end of a short shot and show your short putting is strong (211 or even better, 201).

For the round, if full swings add up to 40 or less, or if short shots plus putts add up to the same, that’s pretty good. If either of these totals are 45 or more, get to work! Ideally, the short shot total would be zero, but less than nine is pretty fine. 32 putts is a good goal. 38 or more is telling.

By looking at the totals (FS, SS, SS+P, P) over time, trends might emerge. The number of full swings going down indicates improvement in their overall quality. Further improvement would be indicated by a lower number of short shots. A decrease in the number of putts could mean improved putting or improved short shots. Practice everything, but spend most of your time at the range on the number that isn’t going down.

After you get home, you can write down every shot and record the particulars according to this system. Keep it simple while you’re playing.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

What’s In My Bag

In every golfing magazine these days you can read about what clubs are in a touring pro’s bag. Here’s what’s in my recreational set.

Driver – Titleist 975D, 11.5°, regular flex shaft. Bought used for $89. Would a fitted driver do me better? Probably, but I hit this one pretty darn good and the difference in price between it and a new one costing $399 equals a lot of extra green fees.

Hybrid irons – Hogan Edge CFT, 2(19°), 3(21°), and 4(24°), and 5(27°). The 2 gives me the same distance off a tee as the fairway wood I used to carry, and I hit it much better off the fairway. The 4 is my bread and butter club. When I take it out of the bag I know something good is going to happen. Replace your long irons with hybrids. I don’t care how well you hit your long irons, hybrids are so easy to hit it’s almost cheating. I can still hit a 5-iron, but the 5-hybrid is so much easier, why not?

Irons – Hogan Apex Red Line, 6-E(PW). Blades, beautiful and responsive. The pitching wedge is labeled E. Hogan called his pitching wedge his equalizer, because, he said, if you can pitch, there is no pin they can hide from you. The shafts are plus one inch because of my height (6’6”), and the heads were bent a few degrees upright.

Wedges – Titlist Vokey Spin Milled 52°/10°, 60°/8°, and Hogan 56°/8° Sure-Out. The numbers on the Titleist wedges are the loft and bounce. These lofts give me a consistent six-degree difference throughout my wedge set. Their shafts are plus one inch. The Sure-Out has a huge hunk of metal underneath the clubface. If I have to hit out of tall grass, this clubhead will not be denied. Loft unknown; doesn’t matter, really.

Putter – Ping G2 Tess. It’s fitted with a 38” shaft, is more upright than normal, and is toe balanced. It has a simple design because I don’t want to look at something that came off a spaceship when I putt.

Ball – Bridgestone e5. Distance? My swing takes care of that. Throw this ball at the pin from 30 yards, though, and it hits the green and slams on the brakes.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.