My Wife Went Shopping…

…so I dropped her off at the mall and went to the driving range about a half mile down the road with my pitching wedge and two putters.

I got a bucket of about 60 balls and hit pitches in the 90- to 40-yard range. Not only does that instill sensitivity to those distances, but it instills the proper action though impact.

The last 20 balls were used to work on my swing. I took a half swing, and made four swings that were gradually larger until I got to a full swing. Then I hit the ball, but the important point is, with a pitching motion, just a big one. Extending your pitching swing is a wonderful way to develop a full swing.

After the balls were gone, I went to the putting green and practiced 1-, 2-, and 3-foot putts with a Wilson Billy Casper mallet, and approach putts from 15 to 35 feet with an Acushnet Bullseye.

I put my car keys on the green and putted at them, instead of a hole. That’s especially important with the short ones. I never saw the ball go past an empty hole. That’s not an image I want to put in my mind.

Good session. Find a way to say Yes when your wife asks if you want to go shopping.

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

New set of irons

I bought a new set of irons today, off eBay. They’re Ben Hogan Apex Red Line, made in 1988. Can’t wait for them to get here. I play 1998 Apex’s, and I thought it would be a good idea to have practice set and a playing set.

Who knows? The Red Lines might turn out to be the playing set.

Don’t think I’m getting carried away. I know of a guy who has 25 sets of Hogan irons. Collector, maybe, I don’t know.

But what’s the big deal about Apex’s? I’ll tell you.

When you hit the ball just right it feels like you didn’t hit it. Maybe like you hit a stick of soft butter. There’s this soft, delicate thud, and the ball takes off like a rocket. I’m not kidding. You ask someone else who plays them what it feels like when you hit it right, and they’ll say, “Buttery.” For some reason, it’s the word we all come up with.

They’re also the best-looking clubs out there, too. The tuxedos of the iron world.

Every now and then I get paired up with someone I haven’t played with before, he sees the Hogans in my bag, and he goes “(sigh) I used to have a set of those.” I ask, “Did you like them?” He says, “Loved ’em.” I think, “Then why don’t you still have them??!!”

Today marks two more shopping months until my birthday. I’ll call these an early birthday present.

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

Make your golf game your own

Yesterday I mentioned that I have begun, with smashing success, to hit all my long pitches with my pitching wedge. It feels good. It feels right. I feel in full control.

Yesterday I hit one from 60 yards, and one from 35, and both of them ended up less than three feet away. The second one almost rolled in.

This brings to mind that we have a lot of clubs in the bag we can use to hit a lot of different shots. It should not be said that you have to use this club for that shot, or that shot has to be hit with this club.

You should feel free to hit any shot you want with the club that you want to use. Not the club that everyone else uses, or what the pro says to use.

The reason is that when it comes down to putting the club to the ball, it has to feel to you like the right thing to do. You need to feel at ease with it in the same way that you write with one hand and not the other. It has to feel like your shot.

Let me give you an example. I have a stroke of one particular length and firmness that I use when I chip. Every time, for every chip, the same stroke. For some reason, that’s the way I like to hit those little shots. This stroke turns on the artist in me.

So to chip the ball different distances, I use different clubs. I make little adjustments to fine-tune the distance, but it’s basically the same stroke every time.

To play golf, you need
a tee shot,
an advancement (fairway) shot,
a pitch,
a chip,
a long putt,
and a short putt.

If you can find your way to hit each of these shots, with the clubs you like, your golf will improve immediately, because it will be your golf.

P.S. I sometimes use two putters. One for long putts and another for the shorties.

See also Play a Difficult Course

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

Keep the short game simple

The short game is complicated. So many clubs, so many shots, it got all too much for me. I just needed to get down to the basics.

So I got rid of the extra wedges in my bag. There were three, and I took out two and put a different one back in. Two are all I really need.

For the last month, I’ve been using the PW for everything over 30 yards, and the SW for the shorter pitches and chips that need some air time.

And you know what? I have more confidence and am hitting them closer. Sometimes scary close. With only two choices in the bag, I need only concentrate on how to hit the shot, not on whether I’m using the right club.

The fewer variables we put into our game, the easier it is to make good decisions and execute the decisions we do make.

There are people who have four wedges in their bag. They’re touring professionals, who have the time to learn how to hit the head of a pin from any distance you can name. That’s not us.

There are also people who would love you to have four wedges in your bag. They’re the people who make the wedges that they hope you will buy. But what makes them happy doesn’t make you a better player.

Take a few wedges, learn how to hit a few basic shots with them, and hit those shots over and over. That’s all you need to do to shoot good scores.

Oh, yes. This is my 100th post to The Recreational Golfer. I hope you are enjoying the ride as much as I am.

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

Chipping practice

I don’t practice chipping. I haven’t for a long time. I used to, though. I used to drop a dozen balls greenside and chip them all up to a hole, pick them up and chip them all up to a different hole.

The trouble is, when I got to the course, no matter how good I was in practice, I still wasn’t getting the up and downs that I should have. So I decided that if the up and down was what I needed to get on the course, that’s what I should practice, because the chip is only one half.

I started a practice routine to drop four balls on one spot, hit each one to a different hole on the practice green, and putt each one out. I move to a different spot only when I get the four balls in the hole in eight strokes or less.

Here’s what happened:
1. I learned how to deal with the too-long putts a bad chip left me.
2. I got the motivation to chip the ball closer so I wouldn’t have to deal with those too-long putts.
3. I learned how to put the ball where I would be left with an easy (uphill, no-break) putt.
4. Finally, I learned to see all this as one event, not two unrelated shots. The chip is only as good as your putt, and the putt is just a continuation of the chip.

Did it pay off? I should say so. I get up and down a lot. A lot.

I still don’t practice chipping. I practice chipping and putting. That makes all the difference.

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

Feeling Your Golf Swing

No, not how I react to good shots and bad ones, but how I make good shots and why I make bad ones.

All the technique you read about and try out gets reduced to a feeling. Actually, any physical skill you learn is the same way. You have to learn, step-by-step, the right thing to do, and work from there to (a) repeat it, and (b) attach a reliable feeling to it, so when you feel X, you know that means you’re doing it right.

One of the problems with trying to find the feeling too soon is that as you adapt and get used to the right movement, the feeling changes. As you learn to perform the movement more reliably, the feeling is quite different from the one you had when you first started.

I have many examples from my own investigations in golf, but my current one is getting a flat left wrist at the top of my backswing. I’ve been working on it for about six weeks now. At first, it felt like the left wrist was curled over, but that was a reaction to my habit of the wrist being severely cupped. Now, if I put that same feeling in the left wrist at the top, it is curled over. The feeling of doing the movement correctly is now more subtle.

The final step in getting the feeling right is to have done the movement correctly so many times that it feels like the natural thing to do and you don’t have to check on it anymore. You can rely on it always being right.

That, of course, takes many thousands of repetitions. And that doesn’t take skill, it takes perseverance. but that’s another post.

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

Chip shots: the air or the ground?

Yesterday I played and chipped dead to the pin twice with my 7-iron. The first time was from about 35 yards and the second time was from about half that.

I like to chip with my sand wedge, but in my warm up, I laid a few with the 7-iron right next to the cup. So I went with it that day. Good thinking.

Playing the short game in the air is sexy, but getting the ball next to the hole is what counts. When we have one chance, we always fall back on what we believe in. I guess I’m a ground guy at heart.

It’s not surprising, though. My favorite tournament is the British Open, because lots of the golf is played on the ground. That for me is fun. As long as there’s good ground to roll the ball over, then that’s my shot.

One more thing. You read a lot about hitting the chip off the toe of the club to get a purer roll. I hit my chips off the sweet spot. One, I get consistent performance off the clubface.

Two, this maintains the habit of always hitting the ball off the sweet spot. Even if it’s just a little chip, the way that contact feels gets into your subconscious mind and comes out in the full swing.

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

3-club day

The men’s club I play in had its annual 3-club + putter day. We all go out and play nine holes with three clubs of our choice and a putter, shoot the same score we always do, and wonder why we bring the other ten clubs. Works that way every year.

You would be surprised at how well you can do with a limited set of clubs, and how limited that set can be. You have to have a different strategy for getting the ball around the course, and it usually means you hit only shots you feel good about hitting.

It makes golf real simple.

If you look at the famous picture of Francis Ouimet and his caddy at the 1913 U.S. Open at the The Country Club in Brookline, MA, you can count the seven clubs in his bag he used to shoot a 72.

So which clubs did I use? My 19-degree hybrid, 7-iron, sand wedge, and putter. Shot a 40, two strokes under my 9-hole handicap. And I only hit the sand wedge once.


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

Old Putters

I like putters. I like finding old ones and even use them. My first good putter was a Wright & Ditson Cash-in that I got in about 1960. It was commonly used in the 1940s and 50s and is the kind Horton Smith, no slouch on the green, used.

When I was growing up, the Bulls Eye was the putter to have. All the pros used one, and all the amateurs who wanted to be cool had one. It was the Scotty Cameron Newport of its day. I found one in the used putter bin last fall and bought it ($9.99). It was a little bent up, so my pro straightened it out and it’s the putter I’m currently using.

I love it. It’s pretty brass color is unique (my snob appeal) and it just feels like it puts me into partnership with the ball.

A few days ago I was browsing through another used putter bin and found a Wilson Billy Casper model (also $9.99). This is a mallet putter that he used to putt the lights out. It to feels very nice, and the rebound from the sweet spot is fabulous. I might play a few rounds with it, but I’ll stick to the Bulls-Eye unless I get around in 28 putts with the Casper.

Old gold clubs put me in contact with golf history, and that’s part of the enjoyment of golf for me. We’ve gone way past wooden drivers and the clanky irons, but the old putters still work, and I’ll keep looking for them.

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

Learning a new golf shot

I read an article last year that said Lorena Ochoa would work on a new shot for three weeks to learn the mechanics, then use it for three weeks in practice rounds, before she took it into competition.

Let’s keep this in mind when we’re learning something new. One good day at the range doesn’t mean you got it down. It needs to be done over and over and over before it’s ready.

Why? Because it has to be installed in your subconscious mind and well as in your hands.

When we play we revert to what we believe in, what we know we can do, even if that isn’t very good. It takes a lot of repetitions to come to believe in a new habit.

So when you’re working on something new, work on it every time you go to the range, find a way to work on it at home, to get those repetitions.

You’ll know the new shot, or the swing fix, is ready when you go to the range and start hitting the shot and feel like you own it instead of you’re learning it.

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