Winter Golf

For those of use who live in the North, the onset of foul weather means that a round of golf will be an occasional event from now until March or so. There is a clear divide between golfing seasons. To get ready for the next season, I would suggest that you practice, and practice the money shots. They are:

1. Your driver. Get a lesson instead of just banging away at the range, repeating the same mistakes over and over. This is a hard club to hit well. Only with expert guidance can you hope to master it.
2. Your 7-iron. This is a middling club which if you can hit well, you should be able to hit all your other irons well, too. The goal is to hit it straight. No one besides you cares how far you hit it. Straight, straight, straight.
3. The pitch/chip from 5-25 yards away from the pin. I’ll bet you hit from here at least six or seven times per round. If you can get three-quarters of those shots up and down, that will knock a lot of strokes off your score.
4. The 30-foot putt. This is the distance from which three-putt greens are born. Learn to get these putts kick-in close.

Do some mental work, too.

1. Before every ball you hit at the range, give yourself a target on the ground that you want to hit the ball to. A direction alone isn’t good enough. There needs to be a spot in the ground you are trying to hit, just like when you play.
2. See the shot you want to hit and feel it coming back to you and the feeling of hitting that shoot infusing itself in your mind and body. Then go through your pre-shot routine: grip, stance, posture, alignment. Hit the shot and watch the ball all the way, good or bad. Be unconcerned about the result, good or bad, especially bad. Learn to let your bad shots go without comment or judgement. That will help you keep a level head when you play, and you learn how to do that when you practice.
3. If you get a chance to play, I would suggest playing a practice round. Drop balls where you get a chance to hit the shots you have been practicing, but here’s the catch: you only get to hit the ball once. No dropping ball after ball until you get it right. That’s for the practice ground. You might have practiced this shot for hours, but what happens when you have this shot on the course and you have only one chance to get it right? That’s your mind, and learning to get that part of the game right could make a bigger difference in letting your true talents emerge than just hitting more balls.

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Rules Changes for 2012

The R&A and the USGA completed their quadrennial review of the rules, and yesterday announced rules changes for 2012 through 2015. There is nothing major, it’s still golf, but the biggest news is that two of the more maddening penalties have been eliminated.

Currently, a player has addressed the ball by taking a stance and grounding the club behind the ball. If the ball moves after this has been done, even though the player was not making a stroke, the movement is assumed to have been caused by the player. The ball must replaced and a one-stroke penalty is assessed.

The new rule eliminates this penalty if “it is known or virtually certain that he did not cause the ball to move.” What we have seen several times this year in professional tournaments is the ball moving on a windy day after a player addressed the ball on the putting green. Several years ago there was a controversy concerning whether Scott Verplank’s ball had even moved after he addressed it in the rough. Penalties were assessed in all cases.

Starting in 2012, if outside forces cause the ball to move after you have addressed it, there is no penalty, and the ball is played from its new position.

The second penalty change concerns raking bunkers. Under current rules, raking a bunker before a shot has been made is considered to be testing the sand and incurs a two-stroke penalty. In the future, if pre-shot raking is for the purpose of maintaining the course and has no affect on the shot, there is no penalty.

Say your ball is in a bunker and the rake is in the bunker, too, but at some distance from your ball. You have to go into the bunker to get the rake, exit, then go in again to hit your ball. The problem is that you have two sets of footprints to rake.

Under current rules, you would have to hit the ball before you rake either set of footprints. Under the new rule, you could rake the first set with no penalty. This will speed up play somewhat. Of concern, though, is the player who always seems to be raking the bunker somewhere before he hits his shot.

In addition, there are seven other minor rules changes, and then there are the Decisions. These are the enormous number of rulings on situations that happen once per career, but require clarification anyway. The Decisions book is over 400 pages long.

There are 17 new decisions, three renumbered decisions, 22 major revised decisions, 53 minor revised decisions, and 35 withdrawn decisions. I’ll leave you to your own research one those.

To read more go the R&A rules page.

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

Maybe This Golf Tip Will Work For You

I was reading through the late George Knudson’s book, The Natural Golf Swing, and noticed this tip, which I hadn’t before. Knudson was a Canadian who played on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and had one of the best swings the Tour has ever seen.

Knudson said that early in his development as a professional he would always hit his driver on the heel of the club, breaking the wood on that side and hitting “these ugly little shots.”

“One day, I decided to try to catch the ball way out on the toe of the driver. I set up the ball on the toe and figured that’s where I would make contact, It wasn’t the sweet spot, but setting the ball up on the sweet spot hadn’t been doing me any good either. So what happens? I hit this thing and it flies off the club like a rocket compared to what I’d been doing.

“…suddenly, after setting the ball up on the toe, the ball was coming off the face solidly. I decided that the clubhead must be pulling out, and accepted that. … I didn’t know that I was suddenly catching the ball in the centre of the clubface because of the centrifugal force that was pulling the clubhead out and down.”

What Knudson is getting at is that the centrifugal force of the swing pulls your arms and they straighten out a bit – they get longer. When they carry the club into the ball, longer, the center of the clubface will be lined up with the ball.

I of course had to run out and try this in my backyard, and it worked great. Then I played nine holes yesterday and every time I remembered to do it, it worked. I got a nice, flush hit, and good distance without any effort at all. The key to distance is a centered hit, and this is a great way to get one. And straight? Are you kidding? That’s all I hit!

Now I give you this tip with a reservation, because it might not work for you. I try to put up tips that will work for anyone. This one did fine with my swing, but it might be swing-specific, so I don’t know about yours. So give it an honest try and if it works, say Thank You to George. If it doesn’t, oh, well . . .

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What Your Practice Swing is For

I put “practice swing” in the title because that’s what everyone calls it, but a better name for it is a reminder swing. You’re reminding yourself of how you want your swing to feel, and hopefully you can step up to the ball and copy that very swing.

The other thing you’re reminding yourself of, and this is even more important, is to stay calm and just let the shot take care of itself. You’ve programmed distance, direction, shot shape, trajectory, all that, into your subconscious mind. That part’s done. Now just let it all go and remind yourself how to swing with a mind that isn’t all balled up in calculation, and is unconcerned about results.

Let me point out that the feeling of how your body should move through the swing and the feeling of swinging with a calm mind are one feeling, not two. The mind and the body operate as a package. Use your reminder swing to remind yourself of that.

The reminder swing is also a lie detector. If for some reason this doesn’t work, in that your mind just won’t settle down when you take your reminder swing, it’s a sign that you have picked the wrong shot, the wrong destination, or are using the wrong club. Your conscious mind can talk you into anything, but your subconscious mind knows the truth. Step back, look again on a subconscious level, without analyzing, and let what you see tell you what to do. Then make the change you need to make.

Your subconscious mind also knows that it’s time to get your copy of Better Recreational Golf. So what are you waiting for?

The 20-Hole Golf Course

This morning my wife and I talked about going up to Portland so she could go shopping. Fortunately for me, there’s a golf course less than a half mile from the mall, so I said Sure, you shop and I’ll hit balls. She said, Can you hit balls for two hours, and I said, I can do that.

Spending two hours at the range is pretty easy for me. I can spend about 45 minutes hitting a bucket, then the rest of the time around the green. But what about this?

I practice for about an hour and a half, then play two holes. Wouldn’t that be great? The first tee, seventh green, eighth tee, and ninth green at this course are all in a line right by the clubhouse. I could go over to the eighth tee, play away, then play back on the ninth hole. A little practice, a little play. What could be better?

Except that I can’t do that. There are people playing their round, and you can’t squeeze the odd single in the middle of the groups going nine or eighteen. Then the brainstorm hit me. Build a 20-hole golf course. Eighteen holes for play, two holes for practice.

After you practice something, you want to try it out. Why not? That validates it, or tells you it works on the range, but not in play, so back to the drawing board. And not even that. We practice to play golf, we don’t just practice golf. So why not cap off a practice session with a few holes? It would make practicing a lot more fun.

Another reason you would want to have practice holes is that golf is not about hitting shots. It’s a game you play. I don’t know how many times I could have broken 80 if I had thought better about hitting four or five shots. Not hit better shots, but hit the right shot or used the right club. Part of getting better is learning how to play, how to think your way around the course. Why not make that part of your practice?

All we have to do now is convince a designer to build two extra holes. I think it would be a big hit. One, it would make a great practice ground, like I said. Two, it would be great for playing lessons. (Have you ever had a playing lesson, by the way? They are the best lessons I have ever had.) Three, if you didn’t have time for nine, you could warm up and play these two. I can’t but imagine those two holes would booked up solid, generate a lot of revenue for the course operators, and get lots of people interested in the game.

What do you think?

How Many Wedges Should You Carry?

If you can hit the ball reasonably well from tee to green, most of your handicap is built from 30 yards and in. In order to hit the variety of short shots you are faced with, and hit them well, you have to have the right talent, but also the right clubs.

Which clubs you really need to hit to save strokes from close in is a question each golfer should ask and answer.

Everybody has a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. The question is whether to add a gap wedge of 52-54 degrees and/or a lob wedge of 58-60 degrees.

Do you think there are short shots you frequently hit that would turn out better with a different wedge, or wouldn’t be so much work with a different wedge? If so, read on.

Different courses place different demands on your short game. If the course you play on finds you having to hit into the green from under 100 yards more than a few times, then four wedges, calibrated to known pitching distances would be a good way to go.

Another way to answer the question is, how much work are you willing to put in to learn what that extra club can do for you? I don’t mean hours and hours, but I do mean at least a few honest hours at the practice green learning how to differentiate this wedge from the others you already have.

From the same place, a different wedge makes it a different shot. Knowing that difference is what will save you that extra stroke or not.

If you won’t put in this time to learn the uses for each wedge, the extra wedge will only add confusion and frustration to your game.

Realize in addition that if you add a fourth wedge to your bag, you have to take out a club, which would likely be a long fairway club of some kind.

To make the trade, consider whether adding a wedge will save you more strokes than you might lose by removing the longer club. Golfers who are long and accurate might not benefit.

There is no pat answer on this issue. It all depends on your playing skills, your style of maneuvering the ball around the course, and the amount of time you can devote to short game practice.

In the end, look at it this way. If you think the extra wedge will save you a stroke or two every round, add it. If it’s a stroke or two every month, don’t bother.

However you build your set of wedges, try to keep the gaps of loft consistent.

For example, if a pitching wedge has 48 degrees of loft, a good three-wedge set is 48-54-60. 48-56-60 would be OK, but a set running 48-58-60 has too much of a gap between the PW and the sand wedge, and too little difference between the SW and the lob wedge.

A good four-wedge progression would be 48-52-56-60.

Then there’s bounce and sole width to consider, but that would be turning this article into a book.

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

Just Play Golf

A while ago I read a piece about what professional athletes think about when they’re competing. They go through drills, plays, teamwork exercises, and all of that in practice. They learn everything they can about what might come up during a game and what they should do when it happens. That needs to be in their head. Actual play, though, is different.

John Stockton, the legendary point guard for the Utah Jazz, when asked about how he analyzes what’s going on during a game so he can take advantage of how he had prepared himself, said, “I never think about that stuff. I just play basketball.”

This is what everybody keeps telling us as golfers, and it’s what we find so hard to do. Stop thinking about your swing technique, and just hit the ball. Stop running through your repertoire of shots. Look at what’s facing you and hit the shot it calls for.

Just play golf. All of what you have practiced and learned is in there. Let it come out on its own.

For example, you’re on the tee and, of course, you want to put the ball in the fairway. Instead of thinking about your swing technique that you know makes you hit the ball straight, see where you want the ball to go and let your subconscious mind take over. That’s the mind you can’t have a conversation with, the one that doesn’t talk to you.

Look at the shot, get connected to the shot, and hit it. That’s all there is to it. That’s what happens when I play well. There’s no reason, if you discipline your mind, why that can’t happen every time you play, and on every shot.

The philosopher Krishnamurti said that life is complex, but it must be lived as if it were simple. Golf is the same way. Get the complexities worked out during practice. On the course, keep it simple. Just play golf.

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A Round of Golf Analyzed

I’ve written before about analyzing your round stroke by stroke in order to learn how to make better shot selection decisions, and to identify which strokes need work next time you go the range. Here’s my latest round analyzed, with par in parentheses.

1. (4) 2H, 9i, sand, putt, putt. Hit the 9i thin, first iron shot of the day is always difficult. Think about the destination, not the task.

2. (4) Driver, 8i, putt, putt.

3. (3) 8i, chip (30 yds.), putt, putt, putt. First putt went way past the hole. The greens are faster than they look.

4. (5) 4H, 4H, 7i, putt, putt. Par 5, no need to try for too much off the tee.

5. (5) 2H, 2H, 6i, chip (30 yds), putt. Hit both the 2H pretty poorly. 8i chip didn’t get in the air enough – clipped a mound. ~35-foot putt.

6. (3) 9i, chip (10 yds), putt, putt. Pin in front, eased off on the 9 too much. Get on the green, beyond the flag is OK.  Hit the chip more firmly. As with the 9i, past the flag is OK.

7. (4) 6i (there’s a ravine you have to lay up to), 3i, chip, putt, putt.

8. (3) 7i right, putt, putt.

9. (5) 2H right, 4H (sand), 9i right, chip left (15 yds), putt, putt. 9i – alignment issue that would keep showing up for a few more holes; chip – align, align, align!

10. (4) Driver right, 9i, putt, putt.

11. (5) 2H right, 4H, PW, putt, putt.

12. (4) Driver, 4H, 4H, chip (30 yds), putt, putt. Hit the driver and the first 4H very thin. The chip was way to tentative.

13. (3) 6i, putt, putt, putt. First putt was downhill and to the right, played far too much break. Second putt from four feet played outside the hole and it stayed outside. Don’t give away the hole!

14. (5) 2H, 4H, PW, putt, putt.

15. (4) Driver (duck hook), 5H (sand), pitch, chip (20 yds), putt, putt. 5H – went for the green, should have played a 7i to the front of the green. Hit the pitch real fat – that happens.

16. (4) Driver, 3H right, sand, putt. I would have taken a bogey, but a ~30-foot putt went in.

17. (3) 7i, chip (6 yds), putt, putt. 7i was long, and a 6i chip out of the rough was tentative. Should have chipped with a PW, but should have hit an 8i off the tee, which I had thought of. Short would have still been on the green.

18. (4) Driver, 6i, putt, putt.

There are a normal amount of lucky shots and ones that I should have hit better, but the parts that stand out are the playing errors. On 1, I was worried about making clean contact. Just hit the ball. (More on that in a coming post.) On 6, I had enough club in my hand, but played it too fine. No. 9 -align the chip! This one finished hole high – exact distance, six feet to the left. On 13, I over-analyzed the first two putts. On 15, I chose the wrong shot out of the bunker. On 17, I chose a club to chip with that did not give me confidence.

Could you say that I gave away six shots because or poor thinking? Yes, you could. Also, those intermediate-length chips need work, too. They all ended up short. I might have gotten one stroke back, maybe two, by being better with that shot.

So you see that there are seven or eight shots that I could have saved, and there’s no reason why I can’t learn to get them. If this is a typical round for you as well, let’s both lower our score by thinking better so that all the work we do at the range finally pays off.

That chip on 16? I went to the range yesterday and figured out how to hit it with a gap wedge. Problem solved.

Perhaps, no, not perhaps, but really, your score could go down just by learning how to play the game and make better decisions. I’ve been writing these tips for two years now. If this is the only one you pay attention to, that would make me happy.

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Curving the Ball to the Left or the Right

Last month I discussed the reasons why the golf ball curves. This impact geometry needs to be clearly understood by every golfer. Only then can swing problems be corrected, and can a golfer curve the ball at will to advantage.

Let us review. The direction the clubface faces at impact is the major determinant of the initial direction the golf ball starts along. The ball will curve if the clubface is not square to the path the clubhead is moving along at impact. (A left-hander’s version of this post is found here.)

To fade the ball:

  • Set up (small oval) to the left of the target (point A).
  • Open the clubface so it faces between point A and the target (point T) (dotted line).
  • Swing normally toward point A.

The ball will start right and curve further right.

To draw the ball:

  • Set up (small oval) square to the target (point T).
  • Pick a spot to the right of the target (point A).
  • Open the clubface so it faces between points A and T (dotted line).
  • Swing into the ball from the inside out toward point A.

The ball will start right and curve left. Even though the clubface is open, if it is closed to the club path, the ball will draw. This push-draw is easy to hit and gets the ball in the air. It avoids the risk of smothering the ball, which might happen if the clubface is closed at address to create the draw spin.

These drawings demonstrate relationships. They do not show the actual
amount of adjustment necessary. That must be determined by your own
experimentation.

I also assume that you have a reasonable command of hitting the ball straight. These corrections won’t work if you always curve the ball one way or the other as a normal shot.

These corrections to your setup and swing are tiny ones. The clubface needs to be opened only two or three degrees. That isn’t very much. The inside-to-out swing for the draw does not need to be exaggerated. You must experiment with the variables for both shots to determine how much of an adjustment you need.

These shots are not to be hit for the asking. You must practice them. Hit ten balls each way every time you go to the range.

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A Simple Putting Tip or Three

About five years ago, I had a streak of 48 consecutive holes without a three-putt green. Now unfortunately, I like to play around with golf and go astray from what works. That’s why I write down what I’m doing when things go well so I can always go back to it.

What I was doing then, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why I ever stop doing it, it this:

My upper arms rest firmly, but not tightly, against my torso.

This does several good things:
– my hands get taken out of the stroke
– my arms don’t wander
– I stay relaxed, since it’s the big muscles that are moving the putter.

Two other fine points that seem to make a big difference are:

I keep the putter low to the ground on the follow-through.


I don’t look up with my head or my eyes to follow the ball for about two seconds after the ball has been struck.

I believe that if you try these three things, which can be installed in your putting game in a few minutes at most, you will putt better.

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