Ride a Hot Hand on the Golf Course

You practice lots of shots with different clubs so you’ll know just which shot to hit with what club for each situation you’ll find. Most of the time, that’s the smart way to play. Unless there’s no option, the pros won’t play a shot they haven’t practiced many times before.

On the other hand, sometimes you hit a shot that turns out uncommonly well. It felt easy, and it feels like you can do it again and again. So go ahead.

Did you just hit a pured 6-iron? Believe in this club and hit it again as soon as you can. Did it work out again? Now hit that club as often as you can the rest of the round. Give yourself opportunities by laying back on shorter par 4s and on the par 5s.

Did you just fly a chip to a few feet from the hole with a lofted wedge? Keep hitting it that shot with that club, even if you would normally do something else.

Performance is all about confidence. If you find something on the course that gives you confidence, ride it for all it’s worth. It could be a shot, or a club. It could be a thought. Just take every advantage of what helps you perform your best.

The next time you play, try that thing again, but if it doesn’t work, let it go and start looking for the next one.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

Visualization In the Short Game

A few summers ago I hit my tee shot short of the green on a par-3 hole. This green sits on a shelf that slopes sharply downward in front. The ball was five feet below the level of the green and about 30 feet from the pin.

I looked the situation over and through no conscious decision-making process, absorbed it, and thought, “Sand wedge, two feet.” My mind and body shared the knowledge of what to do and performed as one. As I hit the shot, a feeling of calmness and confidence was strong from address through follow-through. It was that simple.

Visualization is allowing what you see between yourself and your target to create an impression in your mind that spreads through your body. The impression carries the exact feeling of what shot to hit, and how to hit it, that will get the ball where you want it to go. The process takes only a few seconds once you get used to it.

When you plan a shot by drawing on your experience in a logical way, you’ll be off the mark. Every short shot is different, and generalizing from the past will prevent you from seeing what is there now. There might be bumps and rolls in the ground to account for, meaning you would have to fly the ball to the hole instead of running it there. You might usually hit this particular shot with your sand wedge, but now a 9-iron would be a better choice. And so on.

After acquiring a basic grasp of how to hit different short shots, it all comes down to feel, because each short shot situation has unique demands. If you spend a few moments just looking at what lies in front of you, without pre-judging how you’re going to deal with it, the right solution will present itself to your mind and body, every time.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

What’s In My Bag? – Update

Ever seen that behind-the-back shot where the pro stands facing away from the hole and swings his club backwards at the ball? He does that when the stance from the usual side isn’t possible or is impossibly awkward. There’s a better solution.

I went to a used sporting goods store and bought a left-handed golf club. It’s a junior-sized 9-iron, about 28” long. I just bend down holding it with my right hand only, and swing it back-handed. Works like a charm.

I only carry this club to courses that have deep bunkers. On those days, I make room for it by taking out one of my hybrids, whichever one I won’t need to use on a par 3.

A few years ago I bought a Hogan Sure-Out sand iron. It’s now in my bag doing sand duty and taking the place of my Al Geiberger gouge wedge (see my October 9, 2009 posting).

There’s a new driver, too. The old 975J hits moon shots, the D2 hits line drives.

So now my set contains:
Woods (1): Driver Titleist 907 D2 10.5-degrees
Hybrids (2 or 3): Ben Hogan Edge CFT 19-, 21-, and 24-degree
Irons (6): Ben Hogan Apex 5-E (blades)
Wedges (3 or 4): Titleist Vokey 54- and 60-degree, Ben Hogan Sure-Out, lefty
Putter (1): Acushnet Bulls Eye

The putter is new to the bag, too. I got it at the same used sporting goods store last fall and have putted great with it every time out. These babies were the cat’s meow in the 60s, when every pro had one and every wanna be had one, too. It has marvelous balance, wonderful response off the sweet spot, and just feels like a partner in my hand.

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On Learning Golf by Percy Boomer

This is the title of a book published in 1946 by Percy Boomer. You have never heard of him, have you? He was British teaching pro who did most of his work in France, and had moderate success as a tournament player in the 1930s.

On Learning Golf is the first book written on how to feel the golf swing. Boomer’s instruction is based on two principles.

First, learn basic swinging movements and apply those movements to as many shots as possible. That makes all shots fundamentally the same. Second, the golfer must develop a set of controls, or feels, so the swing is governed by the remembered feels rather than by thinking.

This is not an easy book to read, in that comes at the golf swing from a completely different point of view than you are used to. You have to learn a new conception of movement and how that conception is applied to the golf swing.

The effort will be worth it. What you will happen if you build your swing along the lines Boomer suggests is that you will get the details right automatically because you will be moving in such a way that you can only get them right. You don’t have to put together pieces. The controls will result in the correct movements emerging.

If you read this book, study it, and apply it, over time you will realize how easy golf can be and wonder why everybody else made it so hard for you.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

First Round of the New Year

Yesterday I played for the first time this year. It’s been rainy all winter, but we start turning in our scores March 1, so I had better get ready since I haven’t played since last October.

I played nine holes on my home course, starting each hole from where I normally hit my approach shot. I also dropped balls around the green in places where I usually miss. I want my first impressions of golf to be about getting the ball in the hole.

The fairways were soggy, which meant that I had to take easy swings in order not to lose my footing or hit the ball fat (or both!). That’s how we should hit irons all the time—easy.

Sometimes there’s a short shot that is unique to a particular green complex. You can’t practice it because there’s only one place you’ll come across it. Go there and be creative. Drop five or six balls and keep hitting them until you figure out what to do.

The greens were covered with dew, so there was no point in working on the speed, but I learned a lot about green-reading. The ball left a line through the dew showing me where the ball really went. A few putts that I played to break didn’t move. Taking another look showed me why.

I’ll play a few more practice rounds, easing myself into the game. Now’s the time to get a few practice rounds under your belt. They will really pay off.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

Sustained Excellence in Golf

I don’t write about professional golf very often because there is so much ink in magazines, and electrons in blogs, all repeating each other. There’s only so much news to report. So I wait until I see something different. Like this.

We tend to judge professional golfers by how many major tournaments they have won. The label nobody wants is “The Best Golfer Never to Win a Major.” One day I’ll write about the “The Worst Golfer Ever to Win One.” But not today.

Today I want to talk about sustained excellence. Competition at elite levels is boggling. The difference between success and failure is so fine that you almost can’t see it.

Here are eight golfers who have one thing in common: Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, and Padraig Harrington.

Each of them has been in the top 50 of the world rankings for over 500 consecutive weeks. The list is in order by duration. Vijay has been in the top 50 for 911 weeks. That’s over 17 and a half years! Harrington will hit the ten-year mark, 520 weeks, the first week of April.

Each of these golfers has been able to be the best of the best year after year. So many golfers have come and gone in that time. These eight are still at the top and show no signs of slacking off.

Think of how variable your game is. Think of how hard it must be to maintain your game at an elite level when there are new guys coming out all the time trying to beat your butt.

To be so good for so long is a real accomplishment. Sustained excellence, to my mind, is a better way of measuring greatness than by the list of tournaments they might or might not have won.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

Insane distance from the tee

Several weeks ago I wrote in this space about not getting lured in by golf magazines that promise you more distance if you just follow their recycled tip. Two weeks later, I still believe that.

But if you have something to say on the subject, I’ll listen.

So the day before yesterday I was in our local library looking over the magazines people leave to be taken, free. I always look for golf magazines, of course. There was only one and I picked it up and read the banner across the top of the cover. “217 ways to add 15 yards,” it averred.

Doing some quick math, I figured that if there were 217 tips and I did all of them I could hit the ball 3,255 yards. That means if I can get the up and down (don’t expect to hit the green from that distance) I could play the front nine in 3.

Once I thought if I followed every mileage tip I could find that said I could raise my mileage by 2-3 mpg I’d get about 78 mpg. Didn’t work out, though.

Do you ever see the articles that say, “Add fifty yards to your drives”? Read the tip. The only way you could get fifty more yards by doing that is if you only hit your driver 125 to begin with.

Well, with 217 ways to add 15 yards, I figured at least one of them would resonate. The problem was that I couldn’t find them. I studied every page of the magazine, including the ad for a sleeping compound with the full page of fine print on the back warning you that one of the side effects of taking a sleeping medication is drowsiness. Really. It said that.

I did find four distance tips, though. They were on a two-page spread saying that if you sped up your swing you would hit the ball farther. Made sense. And there are four ways to do that. Good start, but I never could find the next 213.

Maybe you take those four tips to the range and hit fifty-three balls with each one, and use the 213th ball to celebrate finding the method that works best.

I don’t know. Maybe they just wanted me to buy the magazine. Do you think?

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How To Master Difficult Golf Holes

If you keep a record of your golf scores on the courses you play, you might find there are holes you make a bad score on more often than you should. There is a hole that lures you into trying to hit shots that you really can’t hit that well. Or you’re on the edge of your ability with no room for error.

The way you play the other seventeen holes on the course doesn’t work on this hole. You need a different strategy. That strategy is to figure out the hole in reverse. Architects design holes to look as frightening as possible in the direction they are played. But when you look at the hole in reverse, you can see there is lots of room and several safe places you can hit the ball to.

So from the fairway, find a safe landing area for your tee shot, and hit it there. You’ll have to make note of the line from the tee to that spot, as well as its distance. Look for a safe place near the green. Note how far away it is from the green so if you have to hit to that spot, you’ll know which club to use.

This strategy might mean you’re playing for bogey and you’ll only get a par with a great chip and a great putt. That’s OK. You’ll have taken the big number out of play, and that’s how you shoot a good score.

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Lower Your Golf Score Without Practicing

Yes, I mean it. Here are four ways to lower your score that you don’t take weeks of pounding balls at the range.

1. Grip down. I’ll bet you hit your short irons—PW, 9-iron, 8-iron— pretty well. The longer clubs give you problems. The solution is to grip down on the longer clubs so they feel like a short iron. Hold the club with about 1¼” to 1½” of the shaft extending beyond your left hand.

Get a club and try that right now. The balance of the club will change dramatically. You’ll feel connected to the clubhead and in full control of the club. You will hit a very good shot.

2. Slow down. You swing too fast. I don’t have to see you swing, I know you swing too fast. By that I mean on the downswing. Your downswing doesn’t flow naturally out of your backswing. You swing back OK, but you rush down into the ball.

Swing like you’re chopping wood, in that taking the axe back and bringing it down on the wood are part of the same motion. The striking movement, while faster than the upstroke, is a natural continuation of the upstroke. Slow down. Let clubhead speed build up by itself.

3. Take a religious vow to develop a perfect setup, then do it. That’s grip, stance, posture, and alignment. OK, you’ll have to practice this, but the first three you can do in your living room any time. The pros work on this constantly because they know that a good shot will not come out of a bad setup. Don’t guess. Get a lesson if you have to. It takes no athletic talent to set up correctly—only knowledge and perseverance.

As for alignment, when you hit balls at the range, hit every ball at a different target and align yourself each time. The pros work on that constantly, too.

4. Learn to play the game. Knowing how to hit good shots is only half of golf. Knowing which shot to hit, with which club, and to where, is the other half. I know you know how to play the game when I see you don’t always pull a driver on every par 4 and par 5. Sometimes a shorter club off the tee is the better play. Or when you play short of the green on a long par 3 to chip on for a sure bogey or a possible par.

In other words, play a recreational game within your skills instead of mimicking a pro game that you don’t have.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com.