The Square Downswing

In my last post, I talked about a square backswing. If you tried the exercise and got used to it, you might have a problem. The position you’re in at the top is quite new and you wonder how to get back down to find the ball again. I’ll give you some directions how, and tie it all up with one word.

Really, you’re in exactly the right spot and all you have to do to hit the ball better than you ever have is to turn back into the ball. Most recreational golfers hit the ball with their hands, it’s time to hit the ball with your swing.

Think of your left forearm, left hip and the outer side of your left leg all turning together back into the ball. Keep the angle between your forearm and the clubshaft unchanged until momentum forces the club to release into the ball.

Just like the backswing you learned that will keep the clubface square going back, this swing will keep it square going back into the ball. And the one word you need to pull this all off is: trust.

Trust that this swing will work. Give up manipulating the club with your hands. Just you swing the club, let your 5-iron be a 5-iron, and let the ball be a ball. That’s all the harder it is.

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Keep Your Left Arm Square

I’ve been working lately on keeping my left arm at the same position and shape throughout the backswing as it was at address. That is, the orientation of the clubface and the back of the left hand do not change at any time. This is how you keep the clubface square.

It’s a learning process, or rather a re-learning process, because what feels comfortable for me to do with my left arm and wrist ends up closing the clubface dramatically. I feel laid off when it’s right, but that’s getting used to a new feeling.

How am I doing it? I stand in my address and take the club back, keeping my left arm from doing anything but sweeping upward, and at the same time I turn around (move my feet!) until the left hand is in the exact place in space and orientation it should be during the swing. Repeat nine times. Then I swing back and watch the hand all the way, but keep my feet in the same place. Repeat nine times.

Then I swing back, but stop turning my head halfway back while I let everything else continue to the top. Repeat nine times. Finally, I keep my head facing the ball as I take a normal swing. Having moved my left arm CORRECTLY thirty times already, it is easy to continue the proper motion in a proper swing. Repeat nine times. Do the entire exercise four times a day.

What about the downswing? That will be in my next post in three days.

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Going to Oakmont

My wife and I made reservations last week to go to Pittsburgh in July to see the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont. This is one of those “ever since I was a kid” wishes, that I could walk around this course and a few others of its stature. I did Pebble Beach in 1960, and Merion is on my calendar for 2013.

This course is one of the hardest courses in America, featuring more bunkers than you can count, and dipsy-doodle greens that are slicker than (you know what). The Church Pews bunker between the 3rd and 4th holes is forty yards wide at its widest and 60 yards long. You can get the shakes over a one-foot putt.

We’re going to spend two days there, the Wednesday practice round, and the first round of competition on Thursday or Friday. On Wednesday, we’ll get to walk all around the course and take lots of pictures. I figure this is the only time I’ll get to be on this course with so much of the course showing (small crowds).

On the competition day we go to, we’ll start off the first tee with a group of interest, follow them for a few holes, then park ourselves at a green until a few more groups go through and someone else is worth following comes along. In about six hours, we’ll have made a restful tour of the course and have seen a lot of players.

This is going to be fun. I’ll keep you posted come July.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

Reading the Green From Behind the Hole

I was out at the range yesterday. I hit my usual small bucket (30 balls) in about 20 minutes, then went to the practice green. Truth be told, I would rather spend all my time on the practice green, but I’d feel guilty about not paying anything to use the practice facility, so I always buy a token.

Every time on the green there’s a new lesson to be learned, and yesterday’s was good one. I find it hard to read downhill breaking putts. The contours don’t stand out like they should. So I walked around once behind the hole and took a look. Wow!

I could just see the putt rolling down and curving into the hole, and I could see how fast it would be rolling on its way. Line and speed in one glance.

I got my starting line, walked back to the ball parallel to it, put my putter down square to it, and was ready to go.

Now I‘m not going to say I made everything I looked at, but I was much more at ease over difficult putts, and I did make more than my share. I tried lining up from behind the hole for every putt, and got much better results.

Another advantage of reading from behind the hole is that you get a clear picture of what’s happening around the hole, which is a key factor in leaving the ball close.
Try it yourself. Just because everyone reads the green from behind the ball doesn’t mean you have to. Whatever works.

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Short Game

There was a time when I thought that golf was about swinging and putting, and the short game was for the times when your swing didn’t work that well. Damage control, I called it. No longer.

About twice a year, my swing goes on automatic and I turn my 82 into a 77. I finally figured out that with a better short game I could turn those 82s into 77s every time out. Score when my swing isn’t on fire. If I hit nine or more greens in regulation, I’ll score low. I usually hit six, but I could still break 80 by getting more up and downs if I work on that part of the game.

The point of golf is to get the ball in the hole, not to hit good shots. Why wait around for those golden days to have a low score? Why not have a good enough short game to shoot a low score most of the time? And when my swing is clicking, it could take me down to par.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

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One Question

Wherever you are on the golf course, wherever the ball is, there’s only one question you need to ask yourself. One question that will help you shoot the best possible score. That question is, What’s the best shot I can hit from here?

What is the best shot I can hit from here, given my skills and what I have to do to get the ball in the hole as quickly a possible from here. That’s the long version, but that’s the question.

The question is not, What’s the best shot Arnold Palmer could hit from here? The question is also not, What if I hit my 5-iron like I did two months ago one time? It’s, What’s the best shot I can hit from here, right now?

Brad Faxon once said that you should play conservative shots with a cocky attitude. He meant to play shots you know you can hit, with all the assurance you can muster.

If you have 160 yards from the fairway into a well-defended green, and you know you can get the ball there, then hit the shot. If you have 160 yards into that same green, but from the rough, the best shot you can play from there might be a layup to your favorite chipping distance.

Attack the course with the best shots you have, and you’ll get the most out of your skills and have the most fun.

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Masters Musings

The Masters will begin tomorrow, the first men’s major of the season, although why it’s a major escapes me, because it’s not the championship of anything. Kind of like the Kraft Nabisco on the LPGA circuit.

I’m picking Sergio Garcia to win this year. It’s about time for him to win his major, so let’s get it done. Since you can’t win the Masters without putting the lights out, a win here would be a big monkey off his back.

My other favorite is Rory Sabbatini. He does things for people behind the scenes that are exemplary. He should be rewarded for that with a big win.

Were I the defending champion, I would select this menu for the past champions dinner:

Potato-leek soup
The romaine salad they serve in the restaurant of the OGA course in Woodburn, Oregon
Spring chinook salmon (you have never tasted fish this good)
Polenta
Green beans
Reine de Saba cake (see Julia, volume 1, page 677)
Wine by St. Innocent of Salem, Oregon

Let’s eat, let’s play.

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Keep Playing, Don’t Quit – 2

I addressed this point a few months ago, but it’s so important, I want to touch on it again now that a new golf season has begun.

There is a tendency to quit after a bad shot. After all, the hole is ruined, and you’re shooting for bogey at best, and maybe a double. But the thing is, that’s not true. Keep playing. Don’t add up your score until the ball is in the hole.

Remember the 2009 Masters, when Angel Cabrera, contending, hit his tee shot on the 72nd hole into the trees? Usually the pros find a little gap and hit a rifle shot straight through it onto the green. Not him. He truly had no opening.

He did all he could do, which was chip out into the fairway. His third shot was an 8-iron that ended up 12 feet from the pin. He sank the par putt, got into the playoff, and won the tournament on the first playoff hole.

As long as you can keep hitting the ball, there’s a chance. I’ve made par from a tee shot into the weeds. Not the rough, the weeds. I’ve made par from a tee shot into the water.

So when you hit a bad shot, don’t kick yourself. There will be plenty of time for that after the round is over. Instead, start thinking how you can make your next shot count – how you can make a bad shot part of a good score, and not the cause of a bad one.

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