The Way You Keep Score Could Be Costing You Strokes

Do you keep your score in your head as you play golf? You know it causes you anxiety which prevents you from doing your best, but you can’t stop doing it. So don’t fight it. Keep your internal score. To maintain your sanity, though, keep it in the right way.

The number you see on the scorecard beside each hole is par. Par is the score we are led to believe we should be trying for, and the standard by which believe we should measure our performance. The United States Golf Association defines par, though, as “the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole” [emphasis added].

Reality check: most recreational golfers are not expert players. Most recreational golfers cannot meet this high standard of play hole after hole after hole. When we try to, and I readily include myself in the category of non-expert golfers, we set expectations that are too high.

Oh, yes, we get pars every so often, and hit shots a professional golfer would be proud of. That’s the allure of golf. We’ll never be able to hit a 90 MPH fastball, but we can sink a 20-foot putt, though we know, deep down, that those tour-quality shots are the exception, not the norm. What we have a hard time with is accepting that tour-quality scoring is not the norm, either.

When we keep score in our head in relation to par, we’re measuring ourselves against a standard that is largely irrelevant to the way we play. All that score tells us is what we already know–that we’re not an expert golfer. That’s a pretty negative message to be giving ourselves when we’re trying to have fun.

If you want to keep score in your head, please do. Trying to prevent yourself from doing it might be the cure that is worse than the disease. Keep your score in relation to a different standard, though. Keep it in relation to bogey–par plus one.

Here’s how to do it. Keep track of how you stand in relation to level fives. Assign a score of five to each hole and subtract strokes when you score below five and add strokes when you score above five. What this does is make a four a birdie, and a three an eagle. Sounds better already, doesn’t it?

Instead of keeping track of how many strokes you’re adding to your score, as you do when you compare yourself to par, keep a mental note of how many strokes you’re taking off your score. That’s a much more positive way to look at it.

Thought number one: “If I don’t get a four on this hole, I have to add an extra stroke to my total score.” Thought number two: “If I get a four on this hole, I can take a stroke off my total score.”

Which one do you like?

Who should keep score like this? Any golfer who doesn’t break 80 on a regular basis should keep their mental tally in relation to level fives. Any golfer who doesn’t break 100 regularly should keep it in relation to level sixes.

Isn’t this just fooling yourself? Maybe, but who cares? You’re fooling yourself in a good way, a way that keeps self-imposed pressure at bay and helps you play your best, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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

Wedges–Swing Speed

A few days ago I left you all with a cliffhanger. I was going to experiment with a way to define different swing speeds as the third variable in my wedge game, loft and swing size being the other two. The results are in.

An electric metronome I have left over from my days as a musician (opera) divides tempo into increments of two beats per minute. So I turned on the metronome, started swinging at what I feel is a normal tempo for me, and kept adjusting the dial until I found the setting that matched my swing. One tick at takeaway, the second tick at impact. That turned out to be 52 beats per minute.

I slowed down my swing to what felt to be a repeatable slow swing, that is, a slower rhythm I could identify with in some way so when I wanted to pull out the “slow swing” consistently, this would be it. 44 beats per minute.

Finally, the fast swing, as fast as I thought I could swing and maintain control of the shot. 60 beats per minute.

Mind you, I did not choose these speeds, set them on the dial and swing to them. Quite the other way around. I started swinging and adjusted the dial until the machine matched up. How odd, though, that they came in even divisions of eight beats.

I took these tempi out to the range and hit six shots (full swing at three speeds and half swing at three speeds) with each of my four wedges. What I found was significant overlap. Too much overlap. I dumped the full swing and hit balls through the clubs and speeds again with just one swing size, the half swing, and got results that are still spread out, have a bit of overlap, but ended in more easily understood and remembered combinations that cover 95 yards down to 50 yards.

When I put the rights shots together I have a set of shots that give me clear 10-yard or so increments. Given the relatively few times that I pitch into greens, this might be a good enough place to stop. I’m an optimizer. Further refinement would not be the best use of my practice time.

The real short game for recreational golfers is from about 25 yards in. That’s where we can get our up-and-downs, and that’s where I’m going to spend the bulk of my short game practice time, like I did this morning.

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

Chip or Pitch?

Say you’re in the fairway about 140 yards from the pin, which is tucked behind a bunker on the left. You have two choices. You can play for the center of the green, or you can draw the ball into the pin. There isn’t much else you can try. And generally, a straight shot to the center will never be a bad choice.

When you’re ten yards off the green and the entrance is clear, it’s different. Would you run the ball to the pin all the way along the ground? Fly the ball all the way and stop it dead? Fly it in and let it run a little? Fly the ball to the edge of the green and have it run the rest of the way? And if you have all these shots at your disposal, which one should you hit?

This decision can be paralyzing if you don’t have a system, a method, figured out in advance. When you play is the time to play. Work out your options some other time.

This is what I would suggest.

First, check the lie. Fluffy lie, all options are open. Tight lie, chip.

Second, assuming the lie is favorable, check the ball-edge of green-pin distances. If ball to edge of green is greater than edge of green to pin, fly the ball. How far? To halfway between the edge of the green and the pin. Let the ball run out the rest of the way.

If ball to edge of green is less than edge of green to pin, run the ball on. Have the ball land a few feet past the edge of the green, and use a club that will let it run the rest of the way.

The short game is simplified if you master a few basic shots and have a clear idea when to use each one. Standing over the ball, you want to be able to concentrate on hitting the shot, rather than wonder whether this is the right shot to hit.

Practice these shots, commit to their rules of use on the course. You might hit fewer shots right up next to the pin, but in the long run you will get the ball closer more often. In the meantime,

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

Wedges – Covering and Distance Control

Back to the range today. It’s still too wet to play and there’s no end to the rain in sight. The rain is so incessant I have to clean up the water leak in my basement three times a day to keep ahead of it. So it’s out to the range one more time to hit more wedges. I made great progress today.

One of the things we don’t want to do is flip the club at impact. That means we don’t want to turn our right palm upward in an effort to get the ball in the air. That’s supinating the right hand, but let’s not get off on that tangent.

Rather, just know that we want to keep the right palm facing down. Maybe not down down, but at least facing forward.

This is called covering, and it’s how you keep the clubhead coming down into the ball to give you shots that fly through the air with authority and land with bite.

It’s easier to learn this with partial swings than with full swings, so if you want to put this into your swing, hitting wedges is the way to do it. I recommend you try.

There’s a book I like to read, called On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer, in which he talked about being able to hit every club in the bag, with a full swing, 70 yards. That’s pretty hard to do, but you can start out with 100 yards. Try it.

What you will take away is the ability to control distance with the speed of your swing. There’s a red line beyond which everything breaks down. But you can back off merely by swinging slower, hit the ball shorter distances, and still hit fine shots. That’s a great way to control distance with your wedges.

If we start with a full swing with a wedge at normal swing speed, add one faster than that, and another one slower than normal, that’s three variables. Now let’s add on two swing sizes. There’s the full swing, and the knock-down swing, where the shoulders turn fully, but the hands stop at shoulder height rather than going all the way up. And, I have four wedges in my bag.

Doing the math, that’s three swing speeds times two swing sizes times four lofts equals twenty possible distances the ball can be hit. That should cover everything between 100 yards and 40, with a lot of overlap, which is a good thing, because being able to hit a shot 60 yards with different trajectories is a valuable skill to have.

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

Wedges – A New Beginning

It has been raining so hard in the Pacific Northwest since Sunday that it’s like Winter said to itself, “Oh, my gosh! I forgot to rain this winter!” and is making up for it. The course I play at is a soggy mess. Some of the depressions in the fairways are so full of water there are ducks paddling about in the temporary lakes. Time to go to the range.

I got a huge bucket of balls. Two huge buckets. You get unlimited golf balls between 9 and 11 a.m. for $8, and there are about 150 balls in one huge bucket. I got two buckets and I hit wedges. Maybe 15 each of drivers, 6-iron, and 8-iron, and about 250 wedges. Boy, did I learn a few things.

I have come around to carrying four wedges — pitching wedge, 52, 56, and 60. My swing lets me get up to the green in a hurry. My handicap reflects my ability to get up and down. Four wedges.

What I worked on today 250 times, rotating between all four wedges, was this:
1. Clean contact, consistent contact.
2. Consistent swing length. I am a member of the “govern your distance with your body turn” school of pitching.
2a. Developing two distinct degrees of body turn that (a) come at natural stopping places so I can feel them easily, and (b) produce significant differences (~20 yards) in the distance the ball goes.
3. Hitting the ball straight.
4. Covering the ball at impact. Let me explain this point.

Golfers who read Hogan’s Five Lessons like to talk about pronation and supination. What those terms mean is: pronation means turning the something down toward the ground, supination means turning it toward the sky. The easy way to remember which is which is the alliteration of supination and sky.

When you hit the ball, you want the palm of your right hand (left hand, for left-handers) to be pronated — turned down. Actually, it isn’t turned down, it’s facing forward, but what you don’t want to do is supinate it — have it facing the sky. That you can easily do. Pronating the right hand at impact traps the ball between the club and the ground giving you a clean, sharp hit with lots of spin. This is how you hit crisp wedges that hit and stop. It’s also how you hit irons with authority in the air and bite when they land, and hitting lots of pitches with a pronated right hand is how you learn to build that move into your swing.

So what I did was take the first steps in learning how to hit accurate pitches to any distance inside 100 yards. At the same time, I was working on a key impact move in my full swing. The 6-irons I hit after all this wedge work were new and tremendous, by the way.

The only way to get good at something is to do lots of it. Not a few times, but lots of times. Rain continues to be forecast, so I’ll likely be hitting wedges at the range Thursday morning, too.  In the meantime,

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

A Morning at the Range, A Morning at the Course

Last week I played and I guess you could say I didn’t play so good. Time to go to the range and work a few things out.

I went Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and quite frankly I forgot what I did on Tuesday except work on my short game after I hit a few buckets.

Thursday, I remember. Our range sells tokens worth 33 balls, and I got three. With the first bucket, I hit my 8-iron, a lot of 5-irons, and a few drivers.

With the second bucket, I hit pitches between 40 and 95 yards.

With the third bucket, I rotated shots in this way:
Driver, 3-iron, 80-90 yard pitch
Driver, 5-iron, 60-80-yard pitch
Driver, 8-iron, 40-60-yard pitch
Repeat.

Every shot got real good. Then I went to the putting green and putted for an hour, emphasizing approach putts.

The next day, yesterday, I played. Shot an 81 from the forward tees (~5,900 yards). Hit lots of good shots, only left three on the course. No double bogeys!

Here’s a tip. Bring a notebook with  you the next time you play. When you notice something that will help you play better, or make a mistake that you want to correct later, write it down as it comes up. Otherwise, you will probably forget.

Here’s what I wrote down yesterday.
1. The green from close in looks foreshortened and difficult to pitch into. It’s really very deep. Fire away.
2. Have a feeling of calm confidence before you hit any shot. Make this a habit.
3. Swing thought — “center hit.”
4. If you think you have to be delicate on a short shot, choose another club or another shot.
5. Take no shot for granted. Give every one your full attention and best effort.
6. If you stand over a putt and think, “I don’t see how this will go in,” it probably won’t.

Can’t wait for Monday to roll around. I hope it isn’t raining too hard.

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

My First 18 of the Year

My first 18 where I had to turn in the score, I mean. That changes everything. No more do-overs, no more experiments. Straight golf. It wasn’t pretty. I shot an 86, and looking over the round, without much effort and a bit of clearer thinking, it could have been a 79.

Here’s how I broke it down. Skanked my drive (skanked, not shanked) on the first tee and tried to get to the green with a 4-iron. The trouble is, a creek runs across the fairway about 30 yards in front of the green. If you skank your 4-iron, you won’t clear the creek. I did, and the ball didn’t. From bad to worse gave me a triple on the first hole. A layup second would have given me an easy bogey.

I settled down and played the next six holes in two over, but on the eighth I made the classic double bogey: three shots on and a three-putt. The problem? I got too cute on the 35-yard chip and the ball checked up way too soon.

A swing flaw resulted in five topped irons overall, one of which went into a water hazard, and three others turned easy pars into unnecessary bogeys.

Throw away all the stats you keep about fairways hit, GIR, number of putts, and all that. Just go over your round and see where you lost strokes. If it’s bad thinking, note what it was and don’t make that error in judgement again. If there’s a swing flaw, fix it.

Most of the time you’ll find your errors came because your head wasn’t in the shot and your skills were thus prevented from coming out. When you learn to play with a calm mind that is clearly in tune with what you’re doing, you won’t dribble away shots that you know should be yours to keep. In the meantime,

visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com.

Custom-Made Driver?

Earlier this week I called a club fitter/maker to talk about having a new driver made for me. I had read a book about how important a personally fitted driver is, and I guess I drank the Kool-Aid. Made the call, set up the appointment, hung up, and began having second thoughts.

The first was the price. I won’t get specific, but this would have been a very expensive golf club. That made me think, how much bang for all those bucks would I be getting? Would it really let me hit the ball 20 yards farther? That much straighter? Does my low-90s swing speed really demand a tailor-made club? How many strokes would it take off my game?

That last question is the one. How many strokes would better driving take off my game? I keep track of these things. It takes me 38-39 strokes right now to get the ball green-high in a round of golf. The rest of them are used in getting the ball into the hole from there. My handicap is built on getting down in three instead of two. The driver isn’t going to help me one bit with that.

I had a lesson last fall to learn how to hit those 25-35-yard chips that you have so often on par 5s and sometimes long par 4s. And I’m getting good at that shot. One-putt good.

In addition, this year I added a gap wedge to my bag and started practicing. With my pitching wedge, the gap wedge, and a sand wedge, I’ve got pitches at 10-yard increment down pretty well. Soon I’ll be working in cutting those intervals in half. Now it doesn’t do you any good to be able to hit a pitch on demand 70 yards instead of 75 if you don’t know exactly how far away the pin is. Rangefinder.

I guess I talked myself out of it. I can see the improvements in my short game, along with knowing exact distances, cutting 3-5 shots off my score. Can’t see that with the driver. I can with the rangefinder, though, and that’s where I feel justified in spending the money.

So I guess I’ll be calling to cancel the fitting appointment and hitting more short shots, just like you should.

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

Lighten Up on the Golf Course

I just got back from a day at the range. It’s been raining hard here for the last few days, so the putting green was closed. The only thing to do then was to hit balls off the practice tees. Sometimes I just go through the motions on the tees because I like the green better. Tees, beets. Green, chocolate pudding. Since the option of the green was taken away today, I focused a lot better than usual on my full swing. Here’s what I took home with me.

Lighten up your grip pressure. You hear this all the time. Don’t squeeze the handle. Relax your hands. Yet you don’t. Why? Because it doesn’t make sense that a grip that light can hang onto and control the club during such a violent act (more on that in a bit) as the golf swing. Well, it can.

Try this. Pick up the club and hold it so it sticks straight out in front of you. Relax your grip to where the club starts to fall out of your hands. Now tighten up your grip pressure again just to the point where that does not happen. That is how much pressure you should have on the club when you hold it. Any more pressure in your hands will start locking up muscles throughout your body, preventing them from moving freely to build up the clubhead speed that you want.

Then there’s that slash at the ball you call your swing that makes the ball go everywhere but straight and long. There might be nothing wrong with your swing, it’s just that you’re overdoing it.

Here’s another thing to try. Swing at your normal speed, but feel like you’re swinging in slow motion. Imagine that you’re watching yourself swing, from inside your head, and you want to go slow enough so you can see everything. That will feel slow, but it won’t be slow. The result will be a swing with all the clubhead speed you need.

Lighten up your grip pressure, lighten up your swing. Especially with your driver, but that’s another post. Do those two things and see what a difference it makes. A good difference. And in the meantime,

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Opening Day

Golf season started in Oregon yesterday. Here in the Willamette Valley, it was below 40, rainy, and windy. So I stayed at home in my warm, dry living room and read a book about how to play golf. I like to have fun when I play golf. Cold and wet isn’t fun.

The thing about golf that keeps many of us coming back is that we find a little thing to change in our swing that makes us think, “This time I’ve really got it!” I found one a few days ago.

I tend to hit left. The ball starts out fairly straight, but curves left. After trying this and that for years to correct it, I finally noticed that when I take the club back, my right elbow doesn’t bend right away. This jams my left hand, closing the clubface. So three feet into my backswing I’ve already set up my hook.

I’ve been practicing letting that right elbow start folding as soon as I take the club back. It feels good, and the clubface stays square. I can’t wait for the weather to get better so I can try it out.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast is along the lines of, “You thought it rained hard yesterday, you should see today!”

Maybe by Friday. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime,

visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

BTW: I’ve started work on my next book, Advanced Recreational Golf: How to Become a Single-Digit Handicapper. The book will integrate text and video, and will come out in Spring 2012.