New Year’s Resolutions

Now I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, you need to understand that right off. Why would you want to wait until the calendar changes to a new year to start doing something that you know is good for you, when you could start any time? If you know it’s right for you, do it now.

Golf is different, though. We have a season that has ended, at least for those of us who live in the cold, rainy north. It’s time to prepare for the opening of the 2011 season, which means New Year’s resolutions are OK.

The point of a resolution is to stop doing what you were doing, and start doing something else that takes you in an entirely different direction. Doing the same thing better doesn’t count. You tried all summer to do the same things better, and where did that get you?

Do something different. Do the thing(s) that you know you should be doing but haven’t had the gumption to try. Those are real resolutions.

I made my resolutions in October, and started working on them. This list includes them and a few things that have to wait for the new year.

1. Play from the red tees in January and February. The shorter course will let my hit scoring shots more often (short irons on down), and shoot better scores. The subconscious mind only knows what  you shot. It doesn’t know the difference between the red tees and the whites. Or the blues. Great for your confidence.

2. Stop playing smart golf. Play the course straight up. If a particular hole demands a shot I don’t have, learn the shot instead of always letting the hole win.

3. Play different courses to get a complete golf challenge. Being good on just one course doesn’t mean you are a complete golfer.

4. Be mentally composed before very shot. Easier said than done, but imperative for playing good golf.

5. Take my game to the course. Meaning, play the shots I want to hit rather than the shots the architect wants me to hit.

6. Look at where I’m hitting into with a clear mind so I see what is really there.

7. Take playing lessons.

Seven is enough. Doesn’t have to be ten. What are yours?

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Count Yogi

People these days are catching up to Moe Norman, the straight-hitting Canadian savant who might have been the best ball-striker to ever live. There’s even a movie coming out about his life. There’s a golfing school based on his swing, called Natural Golf. Moe Norman — the best golfer you’ve never heard of. Except he isn’t.

Count Yogi is.

Real name, Harry Hilary Frankenberg, born in 1906. The story goes that he was standing in a corn field, long before Shoeless Joe, and heard a voice say to him, “your brain is your body’s greatest gift – use it. Watch the ball with your eyes, but put your brain eyes (like a blind person would) on the end of your stick (club head). Take the stick back and return it, circling under to loosen, standing tall and straight with perfect relaxed posture.”

Whatever that means, it meant something to him and he became a marvelous golfer whose list of accomplishments you can read on many web sites.

His five-word mantra about golf was, “Simple game. Nothing to it.” It was all about controlling the clubhead, and “you should always be loose, boneless, muscleless, effortless, because when you are, you can mentally control the clubhead.

The backswing: pull it back “to control,” one of his students said. Farther than that and you’ll lose control.

”I have always been a consistently straight golf-ball hitter because I have eliminated virtually every idea suggested in numerous instruction articles in books, magazines and newspapers. I keep the swing simple and think only of being relaxed, graceful and smooth.”

“I play with an infallible mental routine and have ever since I was a little boy. I don’t play with my hands, my wrists, my arms, my age or my strength. I play with 100% brain.”

He had a five-step setup that was a key element of his swing, which helped him take the body out of the swing, his thinking brain out of the swing, and just use his natural motion controlled by his subconscious mind.

Listen and watch him go through the steps in this video.

Yes, he’s off balance at the end of his swing, but don’t let that bother you. There are other videos of him swinging that I recommend you look for, because they show a swing of great beauty and effect. The key point for me is that he wants you to let your natural instincts take over. When you’re standing over the ball, reviewing your swing thoughts, worried about the result of the shot, whether you can pull it off, and all the other self-talk you conjure up, none of that has anything to do with what you’re about to do—hit the golf ball.

If you can find a way at all to quiet that part of your brain, and just swing, you’ll play better golf and have more fun. You can learn a lot from Count Yogi, the man who made that his life’s message.

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

Your Wrists at Impact

I have a two-page photo spread of professional golfers at the moment impact that I saved from an old Golf Digest magazine (July 2004). I saved it because impact is the whole point of the swing — to deliver the clubhead to the ball square, on line, and with force. I wanted to have this set of of photos hanging around so I can keep looking at them and see what it is that they all do the same way.

Cut now to Ike S. Handy. Ike is a fellow who took up golf late in life (over age 50) and in a matter of a few years was a scratch player. He won senior tournaments in Texas, has many holes-in-one, and reliably shot his age even in his 80s. Why? Because he hits the ball straight. Not real far, but straight. He wrote a book called, oddly enough, How to Hit a Golf Ball Straight, in which he explains how he does it.

I got a copy of that book, and here is the message that hits you over the head in chapter after chapter, page after page. After studying the filmed swing of a dozen of the world’s best players of his day, the one thing he found that they all did the same was that their “hands passed the ball ahead of the clubhead and their wrists were cocked at the impact of clubhead and ball.”

He says this in every imaginable way throughout the book. The hands must pass the ball before the clubhead strikes it, and the wrists must still be cocked at that moment. That is, there must still be some backwards bend in the right wrist.

Back to the photo layout. These golfers pictured are: Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, Michelle Wie, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Charles Howell III, Se Ri Pak, and Ernie Els. There are two things about them that is all the same: their right wrist is bent backwards, and their hands are ahead of the clubhead. Here’s what it looks like when Rory McIlroy does it.

Here’s a simple drill to learn how to get those wrists in the right place. You don’t even need a golf club at first. Put your right hand in front of you like in the photo and swing that arm back and forth. Get used to the feeling of that right wrist passing in front of you still bent backwards a bit. Then start putting with that motion through the ball. Then chipping, then pitching, and finally your full swing with that same bend in your right wrist. It might take a while to get this down, but the effort you put into it will pay off handsomely.

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

The Golf Swing by Cary Middlecoff

One golf book I read through once every year and then browse through continually is The Golf Swing, by Cary Middlecoff. It is a review of the development of the golf swing from Harry Vardon to Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus.

The meat of the book, though, is what he says about developing your own swing, advice contained in the chapter titled, “Your Swing.” He says little about the particulars of the swing, save a few fundamentals, but much about how to practice your swing for maximum return. I’ll summarize his advice for you.

– Every session should have a purpose, every shot should have a target, and every swing, good or bad, should be analyzed afterward. Accepting good shots without question is, Middlecoff says, “a tendency that should be resisted.”

– Keep a notebook so you can start the next session where you left off the last one, so you can take your last session’s successes and carry them forward.

– Make every shot real. Imagine a spot on your home course and hit this ball to that spot.

– Make sure you grip the club consistently. Subtle variations in the grip cause more mis-hit balls than you might realize.

– Work on the backswing alone in order to bring the club back to the same spot time after time.

– From there, learn how to start the downswing with the turning of the hips alone. “Get it clearly in mind that the hip movement automatically lowers the hands to just above hip level and starts the shoulders moving.”

– Practice without a ball so as to learn how to free-wheel the club through the “hitting segment of the swing.”

– “Program into the swing” that both arms will become straight only a few feet past where the ball was. At impact, the right arm is still bent and the right wrist has not fully released.

– Practice the parts so they become automatic. Then put them together into a full swing that allows you, when playing, to forget about mechanics, and concentrate solely on hitting the ball.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Hit the Golf Ball Easy

Well, it really should be an adverb, easily, but you get the point. There’s no need to pound the ball, no need to launch it. Smooth and sweet works every time. I know. I found out for sure yesterday.

I’ve been practicing different shot shapes, and one of them is to hit the ball on a low trajectory. This will help the ball get through wind. My ball striking at the range yesterday was pretty inconsistent, to be honest, going through my bag just hitting whitebread shots. When I got to the low shots part of the session, everything changed. Every shot was hit flush, went straighter, and believe it or not, went farther. Why?

Because to hit a low shot you don’t want to hit it as hard. Hitting the ball hard adds backspin, making it rise up higher. So to keep the ball down, just don’t hit it as hard. You don’t need to make that much of a turn away from the ball, either, at least, not like you’re cranking up as much as you can. Just get the club back into a hitting area and swing back through the ball. That simple, and oh, so much more effective.

I know you’ve all heard it before, not to overswing. But do you pay heed? Remember that the only time clubhead speed counts is when the clubhead meets the ball. It doesn’t matter a bit on the backswing. It doesn’t matter a bit when you start the club down.

Here’s the secret. If you don’t rush things, speed will build up by itself and will be all the speed you need at the time you need it. You’ll stay relaxed, tension-free, and get everything you can out of your stroke.

The pros hit the ball hard, yes they do. But they’re insanely gifted golfers, highly trained, strong, flexible and so forth. You’re not. I would like to swing at the ball like Bubba Watson does, but I can’t. He’s to be enjoyed, but not to be made my model.

If you would take a 5-iron and swing it like you were warming up with a 9-iron, you would probably hit the finest 5-iron you were capable of. That 5-iron is designed to do a job. Don’t get confused over what hits the ball. The 5-iron hits the ball, not you. Just put the club into the position where it can do its job and you’ll be fine.

Hit it easy.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Winter Practice Plan

After my latest lesson, the pro asked me to make up a practice plan covering the material we have worked on so far. Here it is.

Full swing
Ten shots with each even-numbered iron, the next session with the odd-numbered irons.
Ten shots with the driver, the next session ten shots with the fairway wood.
Five pitches to 30, 50, and 70 yards, the next session to 40, 60, and 80 yards.
Five shots each: high fade, low fade, high draw, low draw, medium fade, medium draw. The next session, five shots high straight, low straight, uphill lie, downhill lie, ball above feet, ball below feet. Do one pair of sessions with a 7-iron, the next pair with a 5-iron.

Short game
4 chips from one spot (one set) to different holes. Putt out. Continue until all 4 balls get up and down, minimum of three sets.
4 chips from 10, 20, and 30 yards (in different sessions) to different holes. Putt out. Continue until 3 balls get up and down, minimum of three sets.
Toss 5 balls into greenside rough and get 3 up and down. Repeat.
10 shots from greenside bunker, 5 full swings from [fairway] bunker.

Putting
12 3-foot putts in a circle around the hole.
10 putts each to 6, 9, and 12 feet without looking after each putt. Next session from 15, 18, and 21 feet. To learn distance control.
10 lag putts from 30, 40, and 50 feet.
10 8-foot putts in a circle around a hole on a slope. To practice green reading.

All this takes about 3 hours. Three times a week.

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