Practice Chipping and Putting Together

I’ve been doing a lot of chipping and putting this year. Considering my recent history (two spine surgeries earlier this year), that’s about all I’ve been able to do. I have learned a good bit about each stroke, and have gotten much better at each than I ever have been. What’s important, I’ve found, is how you practice.

Of course, you have to learn the shots. That takes hitting lots of putts and lots of chips. Go ahead and do that. Remember, though, that applied chipping and putting comes as a package deal. The chip and the putt work together in a partnership. When you play, you hit the chip, then you go putt it out. That part needs to be practiced, too.

So after you’ve practiced putting for about fifteen minutes, and after you’ve practiced chipping for fifteen minutes, practice them together. Get four balls and chip them to the same hole, but from different locations around the practice green. Then go putt out the four balls. When you get up and down on all four, reverse the drill. Chip to four different holes from the same location.

After you have done that, narrow down the drill. With one ball, chip it and putt out. Pick a different location and a different hole. Chip and putt out. Keep doing this for dozen times or so, giving yourself a different shot every time.

Never hit a do-over chip. Learn to deal with the putts you leave yourself.

It’s one thing to have good technique. It’s another to know how to get the ball in the hole. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend around the practice green, then do only that.

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A Golf Shot’s Four Parameters

Note: The September Recreational Golfer Newsletter will be published this Saturday, September 1. To have it sent to you, please sign up at my home page.

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When you have a shot from the tee or from the fairway, there are four things you can do with the ball. A shot-maker will consider all of them. They are the parameters of shot-making which, when mastered, turn golf into a whole new game. They are direction, distance, trajectory, and curvature.

Direction seems obvious. There’s the fairway, or the green, so hit the ball in that direction. You know there’s more to it than that. Which side of the fairway do you want to hit? Do you go for the pin or give it room because of disaster lurking nearby?

Distance seems obvious, too, but there’s a great deal of finesse in a shot to a pin 170 yards away. Do you want the ball to land hole-high and stop, or land short and release? Maybe you want the ball to fly beyond the hole. Only one of those shots will go 170 yards.

From the tee, it’s the same story. The driver is not meant for you to hit the ball as far as you can. It’s meant to put the ball in a certain place in the fairway. We start driving the ball consistently well when we pick a distance and try to drive the ball that same distance every time.

Trajectory controls placement of the ball upon landing. Pin in front, hit a high shot to the pin that stops. Pin in back, hit a low shot the center of the green that runs to the back. If there’s wind, you need to keep the ball low to give the wind less control of the ball, and you, more.

Curvature is something most golfers have no problem with other than it’s the wrong curvature at the wrong time. Once you learn to hit the ball straight, then you can play with curvature at will to maneuver the ball around the course when needed.

You don’t have to curve the ball very often, though. Nine times out of ten, a straight shot will do. But if you have to hit the ball around something, or there’s a tucked pin you can get to, give it a go.

Admittedly, some of these parameters involve advanced shot-making skills. The only way to learn those skills, though, is to see the need and start developing them based on real-life situations you face every time you play. When the motivation to learn the shot is a real-life problem, you will learn faster, and better.

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An American Golfer in Ireland

Today’s post is written by guest author Jim O’Donnell, who fulfilled a lifetime goal earlier this year of traveling through Ireland with his golf clubs in hand.
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This past spring I finally got to do what four previous trips to Ireland didn’t afford me: I played golf.

The first courses on our itinerary, Claremorris and Westport, both in County Mayo, were good tests and very affordable compared to their more famous links cousins. Several holes on the back nine at Westport provided fine views of salt water and Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain.
Each day of the trip I hit some good shots, but it was the shots between the good shots that did me in, particularly the ones that led me up into the badlands of marram grass that line many of the fairways on links courses. I essentially became one of the goats we occasionally saw. The bright side is that I attained many more vista viewpoints than my playing partners, and those views were terrific.

Par 3 at Westport

Sometimes on the tee we had first to determine the direction in which to hit our drives. It’s easy to get disoriented on a links course and overlook a directional sign to the next tee. My scouting helped in that regard.


At the Old Course at Ballybunion I recall at least four tees that called for us to drive over the preceding green. Good thing we weren’t being closely followed by any golfers that day.

The key thing was adapting to the next challenge. For example, the bunkering around a green might make a longer approach shot all the way to the green a poor option.  

Many of the courses, unlike American courses, had the grass next to the bunkers shaved so that any shot that didn’t land at the perfect spot at the front of the green would roll down into a bowl-shaped bunker which was essentially a one-stroke penalty for “average” bunker players like me.  

A better strategy if I were hitting a mid-iron or more would often be to leave the ball short of the bunkers and hope for an accurate pitch or chip for par.  

Another strategy I employed frequently after a few days was hitting less than a driver off the tee on par 4s and 5s. A caddy at Lahinch initially directed me to do this to avoid some unseen fairway bunkers, and I surprised myself by hitting the shots he envisioned for me.

Later, on other courses, I decided to do this often, pretending there was a bunker in the middle of the fairway some 250 yards out and I had to stop my ball just short of it. The results were quite satisfying.

As for the short game, yes, I did putt from the aprons and fairways often, as I had been told was wise, although when playing in the moist morning grass I would have been better off chipping with my usual 9-iron for chips I wanted to run and a wedge for chips I wanted to check up.

Wind and rain are staples of Irish golf, but we were fortunate with the weather except for one cold, windy morning at Murvagh in County Donegal. I remember that we all hit a driver on an upwind par 3. Playing the ball back in the stance to keep its flight low is, of course, the best policy.

And you need to take along a quality rain/wind suit and a stocking cap to stay comfortable in windy conditions, even if the rain is negligible. Adapting to conditions is how you will survive. It’s also how you will best enjoy Ireland, on or off the course.

Jim Awaits Drive at Ballybunion

In all, we played a lot of golf. Besides the courses mentioned above, we played at the Ballybunion Cashen Course, Strandhill, Rosses Point, Enniscrone, and Carne. Twelve rounds in ten days, all on foot, most while carrying my bag. It was too much, frankly, for a 66-year-old, but in retrospect I don’t regret a single day.
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Thanks, Jim. Have any of you played golf in Ireland? Please Comment below about your trip.

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Bobby Jones on Management

Bobby Jones’s most famous book is titled, Bobby Jones on Golf, and has a deservedly sterling reputation. It is a compilation of selected columns that he wrote for syndication to daily newspapers from 1927 to 1935.

A book he wrote later, as a book, titled, Golf Is My Game, is equally rewarding. The instruction portion is more to the point in many places, and reads as a unified piece of instruction rather than a collection of thoughts on various subjects.

Chapter 8 is titled “Management.” He means both management of the course and management of your temperament. He has a bit about expectations that, if absorbed by any golfer, will make every outing much more enjoyable. I quote:

1. I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
2. I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
3. I must expect to have to so some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal.

End of quote.

These admonitions come at the end of an extended section where Jones explains that in an average round (for him) of four to six under par, there would be only one or two shots “that had not been mishit to some degree,” and in his best rounds, only five or six.

By keeping expectations reasonable and accepting the course and the playing skills you bring with you that day, it is entirely possible to become someone who always gets more out of his or her skills than would seem possible.

What more can any golfer do than that?

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

Golf’s Distance Gap

I suspect that most recreational golfers feel comfortable playing into a green from under 160 yards, maybe as far away as 170. I also suspect they feel all right playing shots of about 200 yards or longer into fairways. That 30-yard gap in the middle, however, is the problem that many of us have yet to solve.

If we face a shot from within that gap, we’re trying to hit a green. Not many of us can hit a green reliably from that distance. It’s not just us, either. Touring professionals have a gap as well. It’s just that their numbers are different than ours.

There’s a chart in the book, The Search For the Perfect Swing that shows the percentage of greens hit, from which distances, in a professional tournament in England in 1964. The data show that the percentage of greens hit from 150 to 180 yards was fairly consistent at 75-80 percent. At the 190-yard mark, the percentage of greens hit dropped to below 50 percent. Remember that in those those days that they hit to 180 yards with a 4-iron.

So at some distance, there’s a sharp drop-off for everyone, and it’s sharp. What do you do about it?


1. Learn to hit the long clubs straighter. Obvious on paper, but pretty difficult to do in real life. If the pros can’t do it, we can’t either. Let’s try something else.

2. Sharpen your short game. This is better. You’re probably going to miss the green from such a distance, but if you can get up and down you’ll be O.K.

3. Lay up. If there is real trouble around the green, bad trouble, it’s a losing bet to think you can avoid it from a long distance. Play short of it and trust your greens game (chipping and putting). By real trouble, I mean water, and bunkers, especially if you’re not a good bunker player or they’re deep and plentiful. You might take four shots to get down from the fairway following this strategy, but if you can guarantee that, it’s better in the long run than trying for three and most of the time taking five or six.

Recreational golfers should emphasize 2 and 3. These are two ways to play within the capabilities you now have and that you can likely attain to. I don’t mean for you to play timid golf, and this isn’t doing that. It’s getting the most out of the game you have and not asking more from it that it can deliver.

What do you do when you have a shot that falls inside your distance gap? Post your solution in a comment below.

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When to Leave Your Driver in the Bag

The Big Dog gets you in trouble sometimes, and you have this nagging feeling every now and then that you shouldn’t be using it. How do you decide which times those are? These four questions can help. First, be honest and decide what score you expect to get on this hole. Then go down the list. At the first No, leave the driver in the bag and hit something else off the tee.

1. Is your expected score on this hole a par?
2. Think of the longest club you feel confident about hitting into a green. Will your average drive get you to at least the distance from which you can hit that club?
3. Do you need to hit a driver to have a short iron or less into the green?
4. Think of the trouble off the tee. If you hit into it with a driver, can you still make one stroke over your expected score with average play?


Here’s how this works out in practice. There is a hole on a course I play several times a year, 386 yards uphill, par 4. In the nearly twenty times I have played this hole, I have parred it twice. It’s an easy bogey for me, but a hard par. A perfect drive (what’s the chance of that?) leaves me with a hybrid club off an uphill lie to hit the ball onto the green (what’s the chance of that?). The answer to question 1 is No. I don’t expect to par this hole.

I play a hybrid club off the tee, advance the ball with a 6-iron, pitch on, and get my bogey. Keeping the driver in the bag lets me hit three easy shots into the green instead of two hard ones. Double bogey never gets put in play, and there’s an outside chance of making par if my chip gets close enough.

The very next hole, on the same course, is a 391-yard par 4. It’s longer, but I always use a driver. Why? Par is a reasonable expectation for me here because the fairway slopes downhill, making the hole play shorter, and angles to the left, favoring my shot shape (question 1 is Yes). Catching the slope will leave me with a short iron into the green. (question 2 is Yes).

Question 3 is Yes; a shorter club off the tee will leave me with a mid-iron to the green. As for question 4, the trouble on the right is easy to play out of. Sometimes I have made par from there, so the answer is Yes. Out comes the driver.

You don’t have to use your driver just because it’s a par 4 or a par 5. Make that club work for you when it’s to your advantage. Otherwise, try a different option off the tee.

See also: Keep the Long Clubs at Home

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A Simple Golf Distance Generator

We all want more distance, not because we need it to score well, but because it’s fun to hit the ball a long way. If you want more distance that you have now, you have to do something different. Here’s a little change that doesn’t take too much practice to get down and does get you extra distance.

Instead of starting the downswing from a full pause, begin it with your body before your hands and arms have finished the backswing. For a split second, your body is going in two directions at once.


This is not a large disconnection. It might be so subtle that someone watching you wouldn’t even notice it. Just an instant before your hands come their pause at the top to change direction, your hips start turning into the ball.

This move has to fit in with the rhythm of the swing. A little bit of experimenting will show where it fits. If it feels artificial, you’re doing it too early.

This is much like casting a fly rod. When you snap the rod forward, the very end of the line is still going backward. Then it has to catch up, and that catching up is free acceleration, more acceleration that you could impart from a dead stop.

Golf is the same way. Now that your hands are lagging behind the movement into the ball, they have to accelerate to catch up. This acceleration is natural. You don’t have to make it happen for force it. All you need to do is control it.

If you wish to integrate this move into your swing, start small. Hit half wedge shots. Since the arm swing is so short in relation to your hip turn, just stop the arms at the end of their backswing and turn back into the ball, letting your turn start up the arms again. This gives you the feeling of the arms hanging behind the turn at the beginning of the move into the ball.

Continue on with longer swings. You will get to the point where you can comfortably keep swinging your hands and arms back as you turn the other direction. Remember this is a little move, and it must fit into the rhythm of the swing. It is almost dance-like.

Once you get to that point, you will fee the free clubhead speed that you’ve added on. Let that speed carry itself into the ball and enjoy the ride.

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A Few Ways to Play Golf Faster

Most golfers understand the need to keep their group moving. If you play ready golf, thank you. Let me add a few items to your ready golf list.

On the tee: If you’re next to hit, be standing beside the tee box, club, ball, and tee in hand as the player ahead of you is hitting. As soon as the ball is struck, you may step into the tee box and begin preparing for your shot. The wrong way is to be standing beside your cart, watch the ball being being hit until it comes down, then get out your club, ball, and tee, and walk into the box. Being ready could save fifteen seconds per shot. If you’re in a foursome, multiply that by three people and eighteen holes and that equals thirteen minutes.


From the fairway: After you hit your ball, don’t clean your club and put it back into the bag. Grab your cart and go, carrying that club with you. That gets your group moving down the fairway without delay. When you get to your ball and are waiting for your turn to hit, you can then clean the club you’re holding, put it in the bag, and take out the one you’re going to be using for the next shot.

From the fairway: Not everybody in the group has to watch the shot that’s being played right now. If you’re the next player to hit, as soon as the player ahead of you takes his or her stance, you can begin your pre-shot routine. Unless that person is one who freezes over the ball before starting to swing, the stroke you end up taking won’t interfere with theirs. That could save you at least fifteen seconds per shot, or if everyone in your group does it, about seven minutes in the round.

On the green: Putt out. I play behind foursomes of old guys who seem to play as fast as a twosome. You know how they do it? They putt continuously until they have putted out. They don’t spend a long time reading the green, either. They take a look, and they go. (They do the same thing from the fairway, too.) I don’t know how much time that would save, but fifteen minutes per group per round might be conservative.

If you’re falling behind: Say you’re falling behind the group ahead of you anyway. No blame. A good way to catch up is to split your group between the green and the next tee. The first player to hole out goes to the next tee right away to tee off. The second player to hole out does, too. You only need two players to stay on the green–one to putt and the other to take care of the flagstick. By the time they get to the next tee, the first two players of the group will have already teed off.

8/30/2012 — On the green: When you putt out, leave your ball in the cup. The last member of the group putts out, that person can take the balls out. This saves the time it takes for everyone to walk up to the hole and get their ball. Don’t worry about your ball bouncing out of the hole when it hits the balls that are already there. The cup is too deep and the ball doesn’t fall in with enough speed to ricochet back upward.

What’s your favorite way to speed up play? Post it in a Comment below.

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Happy 100th Birthday, Ben Hogan

For those of you in the Ben Hogan fan club, today is your day. It is the 100th anniversary of the Master’s birth, in Stephenville, Texas (about 60 miles SW of Fort Worth). Hogan is the ultimate self-made player, winner of five U.S. Opens (the Hale in 1942 counts), numerous other major titles and PGA titles, and probably the most iconic golfer of all time.

There is so much to be said about him, that I don’t know where to begin, and you probably know all of it, anyway. I’ll just let some famous pictures do the talking.

Hitting a 1-iron into the 72nd green at Merion in 1950. Photo by Hy Peskin.

This is how it’s done.

 

The Hogan downswing from the Wonderful World of Golf episode in 1965 where he hit every fairway and every green.

 

Ben Hogan (1912-1997)

See this video of his swing on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5s7o2HFbh4

Ben Hogan biographies:
Ben Hogan: An American Life, by James Dodson
Hogan, by Curt Sampson

See also:
Miracle at Merion, by David Barrett
and
Afternoons with Mr. Hogan by Jody Vasquez

For the 85 photos that were used as models for the Anthony Ravielli drawings in Five Lessons,
The Fundamentals of Hogan, by David Leadbetter

and finally,
Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, by Ben Hogan

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Know the Rules: Local Rules

Though the golf course management may not contravene any Rule of golf on its own, if a local condition interferes with the proper playing of the game, it may modify a rule with the approval of the USGA.

Local rules are shown on the back of the scorecard and should be read before you start your round. You might find things like identifying particular objects which can be treated as immovable obstructions. Special areas where the operators do not want foot traffic or balls to be hit out of might be designated as an area from where a free drop may be taken.

Some courses have power lines running low across a hole and say what to do if your ball hits one (generally, play another from the same spot without penalty).

Special drop zones might have been set up on certain holes for certain hazards. Special drops might be awarded for the protection of young trees.

If there is habitual temporary wetness, a special procedure can be established.

The meaning and location of stakes marking water hazards and out of bounds may also be described in the local rules section. Note especially if there is an out-of-bounds area within the perimeter of the course. If a hole borders the practice range, expect the range to be marked as out of bounds.

Read the local rules on the back of the scorecard. They are there to help you play better and take care of the course for the golfers who come after you.

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