Five Lessons by Ben Hogan

There are so many books of golf instruction that it seems hard to know where to start. Actually, the choice is easy. Get a copy of Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

Read it, study it. As Hogan’s swing was in a league of its own, so is this book. I have read countless instruction books and can say that no other book speaks with such authority on the matters it covers. No other book is even close.

Five Lessons is about the golf swing, nothing else. There’s one chapter on the grip, one chapter on stance and posture, and one chapter each on the backswing and downswing, and a review. Five chapters, five lessons.

Every step is illustrated with crystal-clear drawings by Anthony Ravielli that are works of art in themselves.

Warning: Hogan’s instruction concerns what worked for him. It’s not for everyone, and Hogan was the first to admit that. That means in many places you have to take his instruction as a point of departure.

That will be easier to do if you acquire a companion book, The Fundamentals of Hogan, by David Leadbetter. Hogan’s teaching is explained, and modifications for golfers lacking his strength, flexibility, and stature are suggested.

Five Lessons is the only book I trust concerning my swing. I relearn the fundamentals every year by going slowly through this book. You should, too.

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Distance in Golf

If you would like to hit the ball farther, raise your hand. I thought so. If you didn’t raise your hand, then thank you for visiting, but you don’t play golf, do you?

Everyone who plays golf would like to hit it farther. Most of all just for the fun of it. But also because you play holes on certain courses that would be a lot easier if you could tack twenty yards of carry onto your drive, or could approach the green with a 7-iron instead of a 5-iron.

The farther you hit the ball, the easier the game is, and the more fun. That’s why every golf magazine has headlines on the cover for articles on how to hit the ball farther. Every month they do that. Oh, sure, sometimes they’ll talk about hitting it straighter, but farther is sexier than straighter, and sex sells, so it’s distance all the way.

Here’s the truth about distance, though. Distance is a talent, not a skill. Good technique will let you realize your distance potential, but if your potential is not to be a long hitter, there’s little you can do about it.

What that means is that any swing change you want to take on should only be for hitting the ball straighter. And guess what? When you make centered hits, with all the clubhead geometry lined up, you will hit the ball a long way. That’s why the diminutive LPGA pros hit the ball farther than you do. They’re certainly not stronger. They’re much more precise. They are the model for recreational golfers to follow.

If you go for straight, long will take care of itself.

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Professional Golfer’s Practice Plan

I retired five years ago. In my last few months on the job, I didn’t have all that much to do. I would spend a few moments here and there combing the Internet for good golf tip web sites. One in particular that I liked is

There’s a tip on it that I want to call your attention to. The site’s author, Neil Wilkins, a teaching pro in Texas, made up a daily practice plan for a mini-tour player.

The plan goes through putting, chipping, bunkers, pitching, and the full swing. Different drills are laid out with the number of shots for each drill specified.

I counted the number of putts and short game shots in the plan, and compared it to the number of shots allotted to the full swing. Every day, there are three times as many putts and short shots as there are full swings. Three times!

If you saw me hit the ball, you would think I shoot in the 70s. Yet, I shoot in the mid- to low-80s. Guess why? Guess what I need to practice more? Guess what you need to practice more?

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

Putt a Bucket of Balls

In the interest of keeping my putting practice fresh, I invent new drills from time to time. This one is my latest.

I practice in my back room, which is covered with deck carpet. The lid of a can of whole tomatoes, which is 4” across, acts as the hole that I putt to. I put a dozen golf balls in an old quart-sized cottage cheese bucket, stand over the lid, and gently roll them out of the bucket. They’ll end up anywhere from two feet to six feet from the lid.

The drill is to putt them all out from where they end up. You might have to move one or two out of the way to hit another ball. The catch is that if you miss one you start over. Don’t quit until you’ve putted out all twelve.

In addition to working on your stroke, this drill teaches you to putt under pressure. Every putt counts, so you have to take every putt seriously. By the time you’re putting those last few balls from five to six feet, you’re teaching yourself how stay composed when you face the same putt on the course.

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A Bucket of Balls

If it’s too wet to play, you’ll no doubt be spending a few sessions at the range to keep your swing in shape over the winter. When you do, be intelligent about it. Here are a few good ways to go through a bucket.

Use one club. Your 7-iron is a good choice. Your driver is the worst choice. When you hit the same club over and over, you can concentrate on making the same swing over and over. The only way to learn a repeating swing is to swing the same way repeatedly.

Gradually go through the bag. Hit three shots with your pitching wedge, then three with your 9-iron, three with your 8-iron, and so on through the driver. No do-overs allowed. This scheme makes sure you don’t neglect any one club or favor others.

Take a driver and a half set, say, your 9-, 7-, 5-, and 3-irons, and your wedges. Hit your driver, then an iron, and a pitch with one of the wedges. Start over with the driver, then a different iron, and a pitch with the other wedge. This scheme makes you hit a different club with every swing. The next time you go out, bring your even-numbered irons.

Pretend you are playing your favorite course. Tee off, hit the iron you usually hit your approach with to the first green. Play every hole using the clubs you normally do. Throw in a few pitches. If the range is close to the practice green, walk over, drop a ball at some distance from the hole and putt out. Go back to the range and “tee off” on the next hole.

The one thing not to do at the range is work on swing changes. Work those out at home using the drills the pro gave you. Use your time at the range to hit balls just like you would hit them on the course. Take each shot seriously and make every swing count.

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Golf in Hawaii

The PGA tour starts next week, with the SBS Champioship on Maui, followed by the Sony Open in Oahu. While there’s rain, snow, and cold outside your living room window, you can watch the pros play in the perfect golfing environment.

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you know why it’s perfect. You get off the airplane and the heat and humidity make you feel like Gumby. It’s marvelous.

I played golf in Hawaii about ten years ago, at a little course called Kukuiolono Park. This course is the biggest golf bargain you will ever get, situated on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the most restful of all the Hawaiian Islands – Kauai.

Kukuiolono Park Golf Course (pictured above) is on the estate left in perpetuity to the residents of Kauai by sugar magnate Walter D. McBride for their recreational enjoyment.

The course has only nine holes, but alternate tees allow you to play a front nine and a back nine of different lengths. The overall length of the combined eighteen is 6,154 yards, rated 68.8/115.

The 2nd hole is 580 yards long, but it goes downhill so sharply from tee to green that getting on in two is not out of the question. Unfortunately, the short 330-yard 3rd plays back up the same hill and it takes two mighty shots to reach the green.

The views from the 4th through 7th holes overlooking the ocean and surrounding area make it difficult to keep playing. But no problem. Green fees for an entire day are only $9! (I said it was a bargain.) Just play it as many times as you like so you can keep coming back for another look.

Kukuiolono Park GC is not in the same condition as the high-priced resort courses elsewhere on Kauai, but it is in good condition, plays well, and if you get paired up with some local golfers you’ll have the time of your life. When you travel to Kauai, play here first. You won’t regret it.

The course does not have its own web site, but this link will help you find it.