The Rules Of Golf In One Page

There are two kinds of golfers – the ones who play by the rules and the ones who don’t. Or is it, there are two kinds of golfers – the ones who know the rules and the ones who don’t?

Actually, there are two kinds of golfers – the ones who play by the rules, but don’t know them, the ones who don’t play by the rules and don’t know them. Of the two possibilities left over, knowing the rules and playing by them and knowing the rules and not playing by them, there are no golfers like that because nobody knows the rules.

The rule book as 97 pages and there is an 457-page book of decisions on arcane exceptions that came up once in a tournament, and even that is not all-encompassing. Our sport is too complicated!

When the rules of golf were first codified in 1744, there were just thirteen rules. They dealt with conditions of the day, such as dogs and horses on the course (no mention of cows, sheep, and goats), clubs breaking, and balls “coming among wattery filth.” One can only imagine what that might refer to, given sanitation practices of the day.

But the idea you get from reading those rules is that you hit your ball, go find it, and hit it again. No excuses. They’re so simple that even your average PGA touring professional would know at least eleven of them.

For golfers who really want to know today’s rules, there isn’t much hope. There’s just too much material and the rules interact in unexpected ways. That’s where The Recreational Golfer comes to your rescue.

Over at therecreationalgolfer.com, there is a one-page set of rules that covers just about everything that would occur in normal play. The hedges are “just about” and “normal.” I’m using 12-point type, and to to condense 97 pages into one, you would need about .025-point type and a microscope, so I had to leave a lot out.

What got left out is mainly the legalistic language the rules have to contain to account for clubhouse lawyers who insist that the letter of the rule apply exactly to their case instead of understanding the spirit of the game. You know the type.

I call my short set of rules, The Rules of Recreational Golf. They’re easy to understand, easy to apply for people who are just out to bat the ball around the course and enjoy their surroundings and the company they’re keeping. For turning in a handicap round, or playing in a tournament, keep to the USGA rule book.

If you want to play by the rules, and I hope you do, try playing by these. If you do, you’ll get it right (except for the ridiculous out of bounds rule, which I changed), and you’ll know a great deal more about the rules than 95 percent of the golfers you play with.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

The David Feherty Show

About four weeks ago, The Golf Channel started a show with David Feherty interviewing notable golfers in his inimitable style.

The first few shows tried out Feherty as a stand-up comic, and yarn-spinner, neither role of which suits him. He is the master of the out-of-nowhere zinger. Later shows feature this aspect of his humor, settling him into what he does best.

The shows began with Lee Trevino, went on to Tom Watson, Charles Barkley, Johnny Miller, and this week, a topical interview with Rory McIlroy. This last one was a masterpiece. Watch a re-broadcast this week if you get a chance. Here is a local boy who made good, with a square head on his shoulders. He knows what fame is getting him into, that his life will change because of it, though not always for the better, and his upbringing has prepared him for it all.

Feherty is a thoughtful and focused interviewer. He has a clear understanding of the question he wants to ask, asks it, then stops talking to let us hear the answer. He is a respectful interviewer, who can ask a pointed question in an honest way that doesn’t smack of gotcha. If he is touching on a flaw, it’s one he has had, too, and his point is how did you overcome it. The conversation is partly about golf, partly about life.

He has had a hard life and speaks about his problems, not to gain pity or encourage support, but to say to us, “This is who I am.” Because of his honest and respectful approach to his life, the people he speaks to open up about theirs, because they feel safe with him, in a way that they might not with another TCG interviewer or Joe ESPN.

I hope you’re watching this show, which is broadcast on Tuesday evening. There are some laughs, some soul-searching, and a conversation between two people who in some aspect of life are in the same club and understand each other on that level.

In a low-key way, this is some of the best television I have seen in a long time.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Another Tiger Woods Blog Post

If you are a regular reader of TRG, you will have noticed a lack of mention of Tiger Woods, a famous golfer who is now famous for not playing golf.

This generation of sportswriters doesn’t know what to write about except him. Tiger wins – 20-point bold head and six pages. Tiger watches at home on TV – lead article with photos (Oh yeah, the guy who won. Might as well give him some ink, too. Picture if you got one.)

Tiger is the story. Not Tiger is the story, too. Good grief.

We have had a long dry spell of Not Tiger, and I have plenty of other things to write about, but I have to break my silence. He fired Steve Williams.

Now that doesn’t break me up too much. I’m not crying for a guy who earned $9M on Woods’s bag, and is now carrying for Adam Scott. I just can’t figure out why it took this long.

Nor can I figure out why Williams is miffed. Doesn’t he know who he worked for? The guy who will and has fired anybody he chose to further his career. Loyalty is a one-way street in his company. The only sign points to Woods.

What I can’t figure out is why anybody still carries a torch for this guy. He has character flaws to burn and they aren’t well-hidden. Sure, he smiles and knows how to be a nice guy. But at life’s turning points, where you show what you are really made of, Woods fails the good character test every time.

I don’t write him off, because anyone can change. I sincerely hope he does. It would be sad for his legacy to be, “Yes, he won all those tournaments, but . . .” The but being he was pretty much an amateur human being.

He needs someone in his life who he can go to when he’s being a schmuck who will tell him, “You’re being a schmuck, knock it off.” Not sure that will ever happen.

So Williams will, in a few weeks, realize that being released from Woods’s company was a positive career move and will find his life to be much better off for it.

Let’s not close before we mention Rachel Uchitel, one of Woods’s paramours. She’s trying to get out of a consent agreement that keeps her quiet about her affair with the Father of the Year. Will she be able to go public with the lurid details? Would you love to read them? It’s just another act in what’s become a circus, isn’t it?

Back to writing about golf.

Can You Swing Easy and Hit a Golf Ball Far?

Golfers want to hit the ball a long way, and they think they have to hit the ball hard to do it. That’s exactly right. You have to hit the ball hard. That doesn’t mean, though, that you have to swing hard.

If you’ve had the experience of throwing a ball, like in baseball or softball, you know that you can’t be a wad of tension if you want to throw the ball as far as you can. Muscles are certainly involved, but they are involved in a sequence of movements, each one of which plays a dual role. Each movement adds its own contribution to the total effort and at the same time leads into the next movement.

Only when muscles are relaxed can they perform both functions fully. The basic movements are performed correctly and add their full part to the total. They also flow freely to the next movement, the whole sequence building on itself like a chain reaction. Tension introduced at any point is like throwing sand in the gears.

Relaxation builds up speed, but that speed must be kept under control. There is a balance between clubhead speed and swing tempo that must be maintained throughout the swing for maximum clubhead speed to be attained and at the same time precisely applied.

Precise application is the goal of the golf swing, because that is the real secret to hitting the ball as far as you can. The ball will go the farthest when it is hit on the center of the clubface with the clubface square to the club’s path through the ball.

The best way to ensure that happens is to swing easily. Not deliberately, or carefully, but freely, with the movement of the clubhead coordinated with the movement of the body and the arms.

The best way to learn how to do this is to practice slow-motion swings. Make full, flowing swings, maintaining the rhythm of the swing, but slowing down the overall tempo so that correct swing habits are preserved, and giving the mind enough time to govern the proper swing sequence.

Try going to the range and making slow motion swings. Then hit a ball, swinging not too much faster than you were just doing, but definitely slower than you normally do. You might be surprised at how straight the ball goes, and how far. If you want to hit the ball farther, resist the urge to ramp up your swing speed right away. Keep making slow, controlled swings, gradually increasing the speed, never thinking about how far the ball will go, but only how smoothly you can swing.

You will find that this smooth swing delivers a hard hit that will get you the distance you have been looking for.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com.

One Hour At the Driving Range

If you’re a golfer with a busy life, finding time to practice golf is not easy. When you do get a chance to go to the range, every minute counts. These practice plans will let you practice the golf’s most critical skills in one hour.

Plan 1:
Get to the range and buy a bucket of 40 balls.

From the range:
0:00-0:03  Warm up with three or four pitches of 60-75 yards.

0:03-0:25  Hit full shots, in this sequence: 9,9,7,7,5,5,3,3,D. Repeat twice. Hit longer pitches with any remaining balls. The next time out, hit an 8,8,6,6,4,4,2,2,D sequence. If your range has a practice bunker, you can alternate hitting practice bunker shots instead of hitting the pitches to specific distances.

Notice that this is a lot of time to hit less than 40 balls. Take your time, take lots of practice swings, get set up for each ball like you would on the course. Make each ball be worth something.

On the practice green:
0:25-0:40  Using four balls, hit chips from about six feet off the green to four targets of varying distances. Then go putt out each ball. Repeat at least twice. Try this with a 6-iron and with a sand wedge. The 6-iron would be used for a regular greenside chip, and the sand wedge for chipping over an obstacle between the ball and the green. Practice chipping out of the rough. This is a special skill which you might need a lesson to learn how to do correctly.

0:40-1:00  With just one ball, practice 2-foot putts from different angles around a hole. Repeat with 3-foot putts. Hit approach putts from 40, 30, 20, and 15 feet, just getting the ball close to the hole. Practice a few breaking putts, uphill, downhill, or sidehill, reading the putt first. Invent putting games of your own to make putting practice enjoyable.

Plan 2:

Get to the range and buy a bucket of 40 balls. 

0:00-0:30 Work on these two shots only: your 150-yard club, and the long pitch. The first shot comes from Harvey Penick’s writings. If you get good at getting down in three from 150 yards in, you’ll score very well. Hitting the green from 150 yards in is the best way to do that. Next, hit pitches from 60-90 yards. The point is to find out which wedges give you predictable distances. See this post for pointers on how to control distances in the range.

0:30-1:00 Practice chipping and putting as above. Always spend half your time at the range around the practice green.

Plan 3:

Get a lesson. There has to be something you need to learn how to do or need to improve on.  A half-hour lesson, followed by a half hour of practicing what you were just taught, is one of the best ways to spend an hour at the range. Once a month is not too often.

Golf is the most time-consuming, practice-driven recreational sport there is. If you’ve chosen to play, organizing your practice is the best way to make the time you spend on the course worthwhile.

See also Two hours at the range.

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

The Social Hazards of Recreational golf

Recreational golf is primarily a social game. The most important part of the day is having fun with the people you’re playing with and making their day as enjoyable as yours. It is possible, though, that socializing can prevent you from playing your best golf. Here’s how to be a good friend and a good player at the same time.

Between shots your mind will be on the people you’re playing with. When it comes time to hit, all your attention need to be placed on your shot. The danger that the social aspects of golf create is that when that time comes, you won’t switch your focus from your friends to your shot.

We don’t want you to spend the round in a little cocoon, of course. But when it’s your turn to hit, that’s exactly what you have to do so that your best performance can emerge.

The requirements for hitting your best shot are first, to figure out what that shot should be, that is, what shot from here makes the most sense in getting my ball up to the hole the quickest and easiest? Next is getting your mind ready to hit that shot by convincing yourself that you can do it. Finally, you set up to the ball, aim yourself, and swing away.

You can’t do any of this while you’re still having a conversation with a playing partner or thinking about something someone else is doing. You really need to spend about forty seconds being a bit self-centered.

Don’t think that this is being selfish, because it’s not. It’s really a matter of respect. By withdrawing from pleasantries to hit your shot, you’re respecting yourself by giving yourself the best chance to play well. By quieting the conversation with another player who is getting ready to hit, you give that person the same respect.

One of the ways we help our playing partners have a good day on the course is to do whatever we can to help them play their best. Golf has a unique set of etiquette rules designed in part to make sure that players do not disturb each other when a stroke is being made. Good golfers know these rules and follow them.

Beyond that is respecting each other as athletes. Golf is a sport that everyone wants to do well at. When everybody in the group understands that, the athletic and social halves of the game combine perfectly for everyone’s benefit.

What do you do if there’s a talker in your group? One day I was paired with one. I stood on the tee behind my ball looking down the fairway. He kept talking and I kept looking. Talking, looking. More talking, more looking. Finally he realized that I wasn’t going to move until he quieted down. I don’t know about the others in our group, but I didn’t have a problem with him again for the rest of the day.

Enjoy golf, enjoy it with your friends. Just remember that too much of the social whirl isn’t what makes you a better golfer. Don’t be afraid to step out of it when you need to.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Avoiding Mental Drift While Playing Golf

Normally, or at least hopefully, you begin your round fully focused and mentally ready to play your best golf. And, for the first four holes or so, you do. Then the trouble starts. Your focus wanders and you have a few bad holes and wonder what happened. You were playing so well and then it just fell apart.

You failed to maintain your focus. The complete attention you gave to your previous shots got lost. You went through the motions of making a shot, but your mind was not on the task.

The way to avoid this let-down is to make yourself see every shot fresh. Treat every shot as if it were the first shot of the day. Re-engage your concentration every time you step up to the ball. How?

When it’s time to hit the ball, your mind needs to be on figuring out the best shot to hit from where you are. This is no time to congratulate yourself on the great shot that got you there, or kick yourself for the bad shot that put you where you would rather not be. Your attention needs to be on this one thought: from here, what is the best play I can make?

In other words, given my skills, where should I play the ball so I’m in the best position for my next shot? Take some time to figure this out. Set your mind, even, to playing two or three shots in advance.

For example, say my drive ends up on the right side of the fairway on a par-5 hole. Getting to the ball, I can see that the pin is on the right side of the green, tucked behind a bunker. If I play straight for the flag, I’ll have to pitch over the bunker for my third shot.

But I also see that if I play my next shot to the left side of the fairway, the green is fairly open and even if my pitch is short, it will still be on the green. So I hit my ball up the left side of the fairway.

Getting to the ball, I can see that the pin is in the back of the green on ground that is fairly level. The front portion of the green slopes toward me, so I’ll have an uphill putt if my pitch is short. Better to err on the long side with my pitch. And that bunker is now on the right, so best to be a bit left with the pitch. Left and long is the shot.

It’s thinking like this before every shot that will keep your mind actively engaged with the game.

Finally, go through a pre-shot routine before each shot. That routine can take any form. There is no sequence of steps that is more right than another one, nor any required elements except for making sure you’re aimed correctly and that your mind is focused on what you’re doing.

What you’re doing, by the way, is literally that. What you want to have happen, what you don’t want to have happen, whether you might not be able to do it, these thoughts are not included. Put your mind on being confident that the stroke you’re about to make will be the good stroke that you know is in you.

The last step is to accustom yourself to keeping this process going for a four-hour round. It’s not easy, and it will take work. Good luck.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Fixing Golf’s Incorrect Scorecard Rule

I guess I’m on a rules roll this summer. A few weeks ago I proposed a way to fix the abhorred out of bounds rule. I haven’t heard back from the USGA yet, but they know how to get in touch.

Today I want to inject some sanity into the scoring method the rules call for in tournament play. Too many golfers have been hurt unnecessarily by the rule holding a player responsible for his or her own score.

The earliest notable example I know of was when Jackie Pung shot the winning score in the U.S. Women’s Open at Winged Foot in 1957, but signed for a lower score on the fourth hole than she actually took. DQ.

The linked article recalling this incident repeats a common misunderstanding regarding incorrect scores, by saying that a player who signs for the wrong score is disqualified. A player signing for a score on a hole that is lower than actually taken is disqualified. If a higher score is signed for, the score stands and the player’s standing in the tournament is adjusted accordingly.

Also, players sign for scores on each hole. They do not sign for the total of all the hole scores. Rule 6-6d.

The next case to cause a stir was at the Masters in 1968 when Roberto De Vicenzo signed for 4 on the seventeenth hole instead of a 3, and lost by one stroke the chance to play off with Bob Goalby the next day for the title.

In the past few years, it has become not uncommon for a player in a professional tournament to be DQ’d for signing for a lower score. Sergio Garcia was a victim twice in the same year, and Boo Weekly was the playing partner who wrote down the wrong score each time. Once was in the 2007 PGA Championship, and the other time was three weeks later in the Deutsch Bank Championship. Garcia was DQ’d from the PGA, but the error was caught by tournament officials the second time before Garcia signed.

Here’s the problem. Golf is the only sport that doesn’t have an official scorekeeper. Tennis players don’t keep their scores. Shot-putters don’t have to sign for the distance they toss. Sprinters don’t have to carry their own stopwatch. Yet golfers are expected to be competitors and tournament officials at the same time.

Yes, golfers are expected to enforce rules, because many times the player is the only person who knows that a rule was broken. When the game is played on a 150-acre field instead of in a much smaller arena where an official monitors an area the size of your back yard, this is necessary.

But not for scores. That information is pretty public. When the world knows that DeVicenzo made a 3, nothing should get in the way of that score being posted.

The solution, then, in tournaments where markers accompany each group, is for the score recorded by the marker to be the official score for the players in that group. A player would be allowed to appeal a score if there was a disagreement, but otherwise the marker’s score would stand.

In tournaments where markers do not accompany each group, the players would keep each other’s score. If a player signed for a higher hole score, that score would stand, as it does now. If a player signed for a lower hole score, the correct score would be replaced and a two-stroke penalty added on the infraction.

Earlier this year the USGA and R&A issued a ruling preventing a player for being disqualified for not including penalty strokes when the player was not aware,until after the scorecard had been signed, that a rule had been broken. The basic issue remains unaddressed, though. Let’s get real on wrong scorecards and let’s have the punishment fit the crime.

Does anyone want to lay odds over which of The Recreational Golfers’ brilliant Rules suggestions becomes official first?

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

2011 British Open Preview

The U.S. Open is the most important tournament of the year, but the British Open is the most fun. This is real golf. Hit the ball in the air, run it along the ground, just find a way to get it in the hole. You see more creative shot-making in this tournament that in all the others combined.

It’s also the most cosmopolitan tournament of the year. Entrants come from more countries to play in the Open than in any other tournament. You might say it is the World Open.

This year the championship is being played at Royal St. George’s, on the south England coast. This is where Ben Curtis won in 2003. I remember tuning in early to see the fourth round, and the composed look on his face just gave me the notion that he could win. I called my Dad, who lived in a another city, and who I knew was watching, and said, “Pay attention to this guy. I think he could be our winner.” With a little help from Thomas Bjorn taking three strokes to get out of a bunker, he was.

There are two other Open-quality courses right next door to RSG, Deal and Royal Cinque Ports. It would make a great golfing vacation to pay all three.

In the early days of golf, course designers liked blind shots. There’s the vestige of one at RSG between the 5th and 6th holes. The 5th is a par 4 that doglegs left. the 6th is a par 3 that runs in the opposite direction. Between the 6th green and the spot where the 5th makes its bend, there is a 40-foot hill called The Maiden.

In the original routing, the 6th tee was at the bend, and your shot had to go over The Maiden, carrying a distance of 190 yards. A small post on top of the hill served as a directional marker. Woe betide you if you didn’t make the carry.

If 190 yards doesn’t sound like much, remember this: the hole was built in the 19th century when players used gutta percha ball and wooden clubs. The equivalent with today’s equipment would be a 250-yard carry with the peak of the hill at the 230-yard mark.

“Maiden,” by the way, derived from the original name of the hill, “Jungfrau,” a mountain in the Bernese Alps. Look for this bit of history if the broadcast lets you.

Now for the part you’re all dying to read. Who am I picking to win? Though McIlroy is the easy choice, lightning can strike twice, but not three times. The course isn’t that long at 7,211 yards, so short hitters won’t be left out. This is my birthday month. The day is the 28th. The #28 player in the World Rankings right now is Miguel Angel Jimenez. There’s your Open winner.

I might miss the tournament this year, since I’ll be in Japan during Open Week. Because of the time difference, I’d have to watch at around midnight. Probably won’t happen.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Golf Course Management In a Nutshell

Good golf is not only a matter of hitting good shots. If it were, we would play it on the driving range instead of the golf course. Golf is about getting the ball into the hole in the fewest number of strokes. That’s such an obvious point, but the way I watch some people play, you would think they didn’t know that. Here’s how not to be one of them.

Let’s expand that statement about golf a little bit. The question is, from here, from where you’re standing now, how are you going to get the ball into the hole in the fewest number of strokes, given your skills? That’s what you have to be thinking, and if you are, you’ve come up with a shot sequence from tee to green that you will attempt to play out. The wrong way is to hit the ball somewhere and then decide what to do next when you get up to it.

To create this plan, work from the hole backwards.  From where on the green do I want to hit my approach putt? From where on the fairway is the best place to hit the ball to that spot on the green? True, you might not be able to see from the tee where the pin is, but most holes have a preferred angle of approach, and you can try for a spot off the tee that gives you that angle. Once you get to the fairway, you can complete your plan.

Few of us, however, are good enough to put the ball exactly where we intend. When you miss the spot you were aiming for, you might have to modify your plan. Here are three scenarios that illustrate the point.

1. On a fairly easy par-4 hole, you planned a drive into the fairway and a short iron onto the green. But you muffed your drive, and now you have 280 yards to the green. You could bang away with a fairway wood and pitch on, or hit two 7-irons and cover the same distance.

2. You wanted to stay left off the tee of a par 5, but you went right and now must hit dangerously close to water to have the pitch onto the green that you planned on. Or, you can advance the ball to the left and away from the water, but you’ll have an 8-iron into the green.

3. You’re about 40 yards off the green and the pin is behind a deep bunker on the left side that you’ll have to pitch over, off a tight lie. Or, you could chip the ball to the center of the green, which is wide open to you, and get down in two putts.

Again, the question you should ask yourself in each case is, which sequence is the most likely to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes, given your skills?

When you play like this, golf becomes a game of strategy, rather than a game of this shot followed by that shot. Now you’re thinking all the time, connecting your shots into a single plan so that they work with each other, feed each other. By doing so, you get more out of the skills you have, you become a better player, and the game just gets to be more fun.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com