The Recreational Golfers’ Best Posts of 2012

In only five more days 2012 passes into history. The blog posts I’ve written, however, remain current. All you have to do is know what you’re looking for. To make that easier for you, I’ll show you where the best posts of the year can be found. A few of them might not make the most popular list, but all of them will make a big difference in how well you play.

Good golf begins in the mind. So does your golf shot. The True Beginning of a Golf Stroke. January 8.

Your elbows, left arm, and right leg build a good swing if they are managed correctly. This video lesson shows you how. The Golf Swing – Elbows, Left Arm, Right Leg. March 1.

The best golfing advice you ever got. If you can do this, you are on your way to low scores. Not better ones, low ones. Ball First, Ground Second. March 28.

Instead of trying to fix your golf swing, start over. Same for your short game and putting. Maybe You Should Start Golf Over. April 10.

A positive mind is the best tonic for better golf. Always Be Positive. April 30.

Many recreational golfers try to flip the ball in the air with their right hand. Death move. Here’s how to stop. The Golf Swing Move That Changes Everything. May 28.

Short game technique needs to have a plan. Here’s one. A Short Game Framework. June 25.

Your best shots will be wasted if your swing isn’t pointed in the right direction. It’s simple. Align Your Golf Swing This Easy Way. July 9.

Still can’t get out of bunkers? Let fix that right now. Getting Out of a Greenside Bunker. August 8.

A little detail, ball position, can make all the difference regardless of what else you do. Why Ball Position is Important. September 13.

Never be too proud to take a golf lesson. I know a few golfers who are. When Do You Need a Golf Lesson? October 22.

O.K., distance. Here’s how to get more, and it couldn’t be simpler. Two Simple Ways to Get More Distance. December 17.

I can’t wait for the 2013 season. It’s going to be my best yet. And you?


Your Playing Set of Golf Clubs

When I began playing, a set of clubs was four woods (1, 2, 3, 4), nine irons (2-9), a pitching wedge and a putter. Most people swapped out their 2-wood for a sand wedge. A few people traded their 2-iron for a 5-wood. That was about it.

A half-set for beginners was sold, consisting of a 1- and 3-wood, the odd-numbered irons, and a putter. I don’t think half-sets are sold anymore, though they should be, to make it less expensive for beginners to get into the game. As far as the composition goes, you could trade the 3-iron from a modern set for a 21-degree hybrid and you would have it.

Whatever clubs you have in your bag, make sure there is a reason for every one of them to be here. You’re allowed fourteen clubs, but you don’t have to carry fourteen. Also, every club except maybe the driver should be able to multi-task. If not, either learn how or get rid of it.


A Winter Improvement Plan – Ball First, Ground Second

Nine months ago, I posted what might be the most valuable advice I have ever given you about the golf swing. It is to hit the ball first, and the ground second. If you would like to read that post again before going on, here it is.

“Ball first, ground second.” You would not be undone by making this a mantra. On every shot except the ones you hit with a driver and a putter, this is the basis of a good shot. You cannot get too good at this.

The post has a drill you can use to teach yourself this move. There are training aids that help you learn it. You might even take a lesson, which would be the best way to go about it.

There isn’t more that I can say about it, except that if you want to be a different golfer by the time the 2013 season opens, learn how to do this. It might take that long, but your effort will be worth it. It truly turns golf into a different game.


One Club at a Time

I’m slowly getting back into my swing after my surgeries earlier this year. My pro and I have developed a healthier swing, which I spent a few months learning. Now I am putting it into my game, one club at a time.

I started with a 9-iron and worked with it exclusively for about three weeks until I got consistent (-ly good) results with it. Then I started easing in the 8-iron. It has taken about ten days for that club to come up to speed, so later this week I will introduce my 7-iron to the practice plan.

I might help you to try the same thing in the next few months. Start with your 9-iron and keep at it until at least three out of five shots are exactly like you want them to be. Then keep hitting the 9, but hit a few balls here and there with the 8 — just one or two, then go back to the 9. Ease the 8 into your practice until it is performing like the 9, then you can introduce the 7.

By getting reacquainted with the clubs in your bag this way, one club at a time, slowly, and only when you’re ready, you’ll improve your swing by quite a bit.

What we normally do during the golf season is spend time at the range hitting the clubs we want to hit, or trying to fix problems. Do yourself a favor by starting over. Learn to hit an easy one well. Then take the one next to it and learn to hit that one well. And so on.

It wouldn’t hurt to suspend playing until this exercise is over. It night take a few weeks with each club at first, but once you get the hang of how to make transitions, it will proceed more quickly.


A Winter Improvement Program – Centered Contact

If you don’t play a lot of golf or practice all that much, you’re going to mishit the ball more often than not. Practice at least enough so that your mishits are playable.

By a mishit, I mean hitting the ball elsewhere than the center of the clubface. No one hits it flush all the time, not even the pros. But the more you can, or the tighter your dispersion is around the center in general, the better your ball-striking will be.

You might think I’m talking about the full swing, but this rule applies to every shot. Predictable distance control in the short game depends largely on hitting the ball off the same spot of the clubface every time. Putting becomes reliable only when all your putts come off the sweet spot.

We’ll save putting for another day. Today’s post is about centering your hits from simple chips to your fullest swing.

My second golf book, which I got for my birthday when I was 15 (my first was Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, which my Dad got me for my 11th birthday) was Shortcuts to Better Golf by Johnny Revolta.

In this book is Revolta’s ball-striking drill he called the quickie rhythm (no jokes, please). This little drill teaches your hands what to do in the hitting area. It starts off small, making it easy to achieve centered contact, which is our goal.

Revolta spends several pages explaining the exercise and its purpose, so I’ll try to summarize as completely as I can. I find this to be as valuable a drill as Revolta thinks it is, and I encourage you to find a copy of his book and learn more about it.

1. Address the ball with a 7-iron, setting up for a greenside chip. Swing the club back from the ball about two feet with the wrists straight (but not rigid). Return the club to the starting position. Do this one more time. Nothing moves except your arms and the club. And again. The fourth time, instead of returning the club to the ball, swing through. Keeping your wrists straight is essential. It should take no more than five seconds to complete the drill.

2. Now do the drill ten times.
One, two, three, swing
One, two, three, swing
One, two, three, swing.

3. Take a rest for about five minutes. Power and timing come through proper hand action. That’s what you’re learning to do. Now do the exercise ten more times. You might notice a little give in your wrists as you hit the ball on the fourth part of the drill — not much, but just a bit of loosening as you come through. Think that your wrists stay straight, but let them relax on their own as you swing through.

4. After resting for a few minutes, do the drill ten times again, but with a backswing of about three feet.

By doing this drill hundreds of times, you’re teaching yourself how to take the club away from the ball, and how to have your left arm and wrist, and the club shaft, in a straight line when you hit the ball. That is what leads to centered hits. That is the basis of power and accuracy.


Two Simple Ways to Hit a Golf Ball Farther

Everyone wants more distance, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t get it. Here are two simple ways to add a few more yards to every full shot.

1. Get your rhythm right. Last week’s post on the subject tells you how to do that.

2. Lighten up your grip pressure. There’s no need to squeeze the club. How hard do you hold when you shake hands with a child? Or how tightly would you hold a pretty woman?* That’s how hard you should hold the club, and try to keep it that light all the way through the swing. Holding too tightly makes your muscles work against you, slowing down the swing.

*My wife says I hold her like a golf club.


A Winter Improvement Program – Rhythm

Last week we talked about tempo. This week we’ll talk about rhythm. They’re not the same thing. Tempo is the overall speed of the swing. Rhythm is the temporal subdivision of the swing into its component parts. Two swings can have different overall speeds, but feature the same rhythm.

For years, golf pros told you the rhythm of the golf swing was 2:1 — two parts backswing, one part downswing. This, however, is not correct.

John Novosel came out with a revolutionary book in 2004 called Tour Tempo, in which he pointed out that the rhythm of the golf swing was 3:1. Three counts to the top of the backswing, one count to impact. He based his finding on video analysis of the golf swing of Tour players.

Young-Tae Lim and John W. Chow, in a 2002 study of lumbar spine loads during the golf swing, graphed the phases of the golf swings of five low-handicap college golfers. The time dimension of the swing was normalized to 100, with 0 being the start of takeaway and 100 being the finish. The end of the backswing was centered narrowly around 52, and impact was likewise centered around 68. That’s as close to 3:1 and you could ask for.

While Novosel was right about the 3:1 ratio, he got it all wrong when he created an audio track to listen to alone or to accompany a video of a golfer swinging. The audio track is a 2:1 rhythm. If you count the audio beats, starting with 1 at takeaway, the end of the audio sequence comes at the fourth count. That’s three beats, not four: two beats to the top, one beat to the ball. Right idea, wrong execution.

Let’s try using a tune most of you are familiar with, Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube waltz, to feel the correct 3:1 rhythm. Those of you who are musically inclined can see how this works from the music displayed below. Takeaway starts with the pickup note (and). The next three notes take you to the top of your backswing (1, 2, 3) and the first note of the second measure indicates contact (4).

I included the rest of the musical phrase just to be complete.

If the music notation is no help, or you’ve never heard the piece, I’m sure you have a friend who can whistle it to you or pick it out on a piano. It starts with two repeated notes. The first one signifies takeaway of the club. The next three notes, which ascend in pitch, take you to the top of the backswing. The last of these three notes is repeated, and that second note of the pair is the count for impact.

You can also set a metronome to about 168. When the metronome ticks, count One and begin your swing. You should reach the top of your backswing at the fourth tick and have swung back down to impact at the fifth.

Get used to this rhythm and then hit a ball or two. You might find that good golf just got a whole lot easier.

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

Golf Rules in Plain English

Yesterday morning I was trying to find a subject for today’s post and coming up empty. Normally I write these about a week ahead of time, but by December 9, I had nothing for December 10. So I decided to take a trip to the library and browse the golf section to see if I could get inspired. Bingo.

As I was browsing through our golf collection, I saw a small book titled, The Rules of Golf in Plain English. That sounds good to me. This is a new book, written by Jeffrey S. Kuhn, an attorney and volunteer USGA rules official, and Bryan A. Garner, also an attorney and one who gives seminars to lawyers on how to write in, you guessed it, plain English.

Now this is something I have always imagined myself, doing, but I’m not that good of a technical writer, and the project really needs someone who has an expert’s grasp of the rules. Not me, either.

This book is so great. First of all, they changed the passive “the player” to the active “you.” It’s not “the player” who can and can’t do these things, it’s “you!” And they let that be said.

Let’s take a complicated rule, playing the wrong ball. Here’s how the USGA says it:

15-3b. The competitor must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules. If he fails to correct his mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fails to declare his intention to correct his mistake before leaving the putting green, he is disqualified.

Here’s how Kuhn and Garner say it:
15-3(c) You must correct the mistake by playing your ball. If you don’t correct your mistake before you make a stroke from the next tee–or, in the case of the last hole of the round, don’t declare your intention to correct your mistake before leaving the putting green–you’re disqualified.

Subtle differences, yes, but the second one is more direct and makes it simpler to understand exactly what YOU have to do.

At the start of every rule, the defined terms it refers to are explicitly listed instead of being highlighted in the text. Rule headings are re-worded. Rules themselves are broken up and reorganized so you don’t have to wade through what you don’t need to read to find what you do.

The general penalty for violation of a rule is two strokes, or loss of a hole, but there is an appendix which lists the one-stroke penalties. That is very convenient.

Keep in mind that this is not an official rule book. It has no legal status on the golf course. You should have an official copy of the rules in your bag and refer to it when there are questions. You should also carry a copy of The Rules of Golf in Plain English with you to be sure you understand what the rules actually want you to do.