What I learned at the range – 3

I went to the range last Tuesday and was having a problem with all my clubs. I got reasonably good ball flight, but the shots went all over the place.

I had a bucket of 30 balls, and hit only about four or five each with my driver, 24-degree hybrid, and my 7-iron. I got a lot of missed fairways and missed greens.

So I put down those clubs and hit the rest of the balls with my wedges, to work on those important shots. All went well.

Actually, I stopped hitting wedges when there were three balls left, I took out the long clubs again for one swing each. One drive, a draw to the left side. Hybrid, center of the green. 7-iron? As Gary Player says, I hit it so straight you had to lean to the side to see the pin.

Now you could say that I hit those last three so well because I was finally warmed up. I think it’s because of all those wedges I hit.

Try it yourself and see.

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

2013 rules review

You don’t have to know all the rules, but there are a few that come up so often that should know them. After all, golf is your game, and you should know how it’s played.

If you’re playing by yourself, and absolutely nothing ever goes wrong (you hit every fairway, every green, and putt out), you still need to know these rules:

Equipment (rule 4-4a). You may play with a maximum of fourteen clubs.

Stroke (Rule 14-1). The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and and may not be pushed, scraped, or spooned.

Artificial aids (Rule 14-3). An artificial aid that assists you in making a stroke may not be used.

The tee shot (Rule 11). Defines the area in which you can tee up your ball.

Play the ball as it lies (Rule 13). Prohibits moving the ball, or anything in your line of play or swing; prohibits removing, bending, or breaking any growing thing except in fairly taking your stance or swing.

The putting green (Rule 16, 17). You may mark, lift, and clean your ball. A putted ball may not strike the flagstick.

Holing out (Rule 3-2). You must hole out the ball or you are disqualified.

Impediments (Rule 23) and movable obstructions (Rule 24-1). You may move a loose impediment or movable obstruction without penalty. If the ball moves while moving a loose impediment, there is a one-stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced; if moving a movable obstruction, the ball must be replaced, but there is no penalty.

Abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1). You may lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief without penalty.

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When other players are along, and when things do start to go wrong, a host of other rules come into play. I won’t go into them, because that book has already been written. However, you should know what to do in these cases:

– the ball goes out of bounds or you think it might not be found,
– the ball goes into a water hazard,
– the ball goes into a bunker,
– the ball is unplayable were it lies,
– the ball is embedded,
– your ball was at rest, but you (not while making a stroke at it) or someone or something else moved it,
– your ball was in motion but it was deflected or stopped by somebody or their equipment,
– another ball interferes with playing your own,
– you play the wrong ball or someone else plays yours,
– your stroke is interfered with by an immovable obstruction (this includes cart paths),
– you have found a ball, but cannot identify it as yours as it lays.

You need to know how to properly lift and drop a ball, identify the nearest point of relief, and how to mark off a club length. In every case, if you get relief without penalty, you may drop one club-length from the nearest point of relief; if being penalized, two club-lengths.

Last summer I posted a series of detailed descriptions of all this stuff. Search the blog on the “rules” label to find the posts, or better yet, get a rule book and read it.

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

What I learned at the range – 2

The last time I went to the range to hit balls, I thought I should practice a few non-swinging fundamentals before I started to hit golf balls. I used the procedure below, and it worked out so well, I think I’ll do it every time.

1. Tempo and rhythm. It doesn’t matter how good your swing is, if these governors are off, you won’t hit good shots. I believe this pair is the bedrock fundamental of every golf shot. Figure out how to do it right by reading this earlier post on rhythm, then practice them the same way. It will take care of tempo, too.

Make about twenty swings, concentrating on just your tempo and rhythm. Count to yourself if you need to. Step away between each swing and set up again like you’re hitting a ball. Take your time. You want to think about this each time you swing, not rush through it in a groove.

After those twenty swings, you’re not ready to start hitting balls yet until you’ve practiced:

2. Aim. The shot will only go where you aim it, and most of the time you’re aiming to the right of your target.

Get an alignment stick and place it on the ground behind your heels. Put a ball on the ground and line up your shot. Reach behind you with your club and pull the stick toward you until it is against your heels. Step away and look at where the stick is pointing. That’s where you were aimed.

The perfect direction is to the left of the target, but parallel to the line through the ball to the target.

Practice this about twenty times, aiming for a different spot each time. Use different clubs. The different length of shaft puts you in a different posture, which does make a difference in how you perceive the proper aim.

After you’ve swing the club twenty times, practicing tempo and rhythm, and checked your aim twenty times, you can start hitting balls. Before you hit each one, review the feeling of the right tempo and rhythm, and every fourth ball or so, check your aim with the alignment stick.

This is how you build good habits in two things that are critical components of good shot-making.

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

Predictability in the short game

When you have a 6-iron from the fairway, there isn’t much else to do but hit the ball straight at your target. Once in a while you might fade or draw it in, hit it a little higher or lower, but nine times out of ten a straight shot will do.

Around the green, it’s different. You’re trying to get the ball as close to the hole as you can, with obstacles along the ground that get in the way.

Right off, you can see what the two problems are, and they are different: (1) get the ball close, and (2) overcome obstacles.

Solving the first problem is a matter of technique. Solving the second involves imagination. You need them both to have a functioning short game. This article is about solving the first problem.

There is nothing about the shots of the short game that cannot be reduced to a science. Take greenside chipping, for example. It is quite possible to develop a chipping stroke, apply it to a number of clubs, and wind up with a shot that leaves the ball kick-in close more than half the time from a given distance. See my previous post on how I did this.

You can do the same for pitches from 45 to 100 yards. If you have three wedges or four, hit them all with the same swing length, but with three different swing speeds, and now you have nine or twelve different distances you can pitch the ball, guaranteed.

For the shots in between, do the same. Find a stroke for that shorter distance, then insert clubs and swing parameters that give you a variety of guaranteed distances.

All you need to do then is decide which shot you’re going to play, and determine the distance it needs to cover. That tells you immediately which club and which swing to use. You don’t even have to think about it, and you’ll lay the ball close to the hole just like the pros do.

By following a routine like this, you do your thinking in advance. The less thinking and deciding you need to do when you play, the easier it is to play good golf.

Creativity and imagination are overused in the short game. You don’t have to figure out every shot from the ground up.

There’s no need to go through an intuitive process if you know that when the ball is just off the green, 23 yards from the hole, you can use your standard chipping stroke with your gap wedge to park the ball next to the hole, all things being equal.

Things are not always equal, though. There are those obstacles I mentioned, such as little changes in elevation on the green. Mounds to hit over and downslopes the ball will land on. Less than ideal lies, and so on.

You solve these problems by starting with a standard technique and modifying it as necessary for the shot at hand. You imagination will tell you how to do this, but starting from a know technique. That’s the important part.

Deviating from a known solution works out much better than making up the whole thing at once.

But going back to the original point, the more short shots you have that you know exactly how they will turn out, the better your short game will be because it will be predictable.

Spend a few hours around the practice green to get this all worked out and you won’t believe how easy golf just got.

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

Build your golf swing around your wedges

A teaching pro once told me that when he was getting ready to play in a tournament, he did nothing but putt and hit wedges. Lots of wedges. He explained why, but I didn’t really get the point until about two years ago.

Take this self-test. Go the range and get ten golf balls. Take out your sand wedge and hit a pitch with a half swing. It will go about 70 yards or so. Now hit nine more, with identical results. Identical. Carbon copies.

If you hit the first few O.K., but then they start going every which way or you start having contact problems, something about your swing is missing or needs tightening up.

Get a lesson if you need to (and you probably do) to learn how to hit a 70-yard pitch in a way that you can pass this test.

One of the major flaws the test will uncover is that your hands are behind the ball at impact. Pick a bad shot type, fat, thin, slice, and this flaw is a likely cause of it.

There might be other things wrong, but by getting this flaw corrected, other swing flaws get patched up, too.

There’s a story that when Tom Watson first went to see Byron Nelson, the first thing Nelson wanted to see is Watson hitting a few pitches. If there were problems with that shot, then there was no point in moving on to any of the longer clubs.

I have a mat in my back yard off which I can hit plastic golf balls. I spend almost all of my time there hitting them with my 70-yard pitch swing.

It’s the same with you. Once you have the pitch swing down cold, you not only have a deadly scoring shot in your bag, but you’ll have mastered the key to your full golf swing.

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

What I learned at the range – 1

Every time I go to the range I learn something new. This is the start of a series of posts telling you what that was so you can go try it out for yourself.

1. Reading subtle breaks
I have noticed that I can stand to the side of someone putting and tell if they will miss to the right or left. I’m always, correct, too. I got to wondering what it was I was seeing from that angle. Maybe it was something difficult to see from behind the ball, which was why all those putts were missed.

I set a ball down on the practice green about fifteen feet away from the hole on a flattish surface and looked at the putt from both sides (at a right angle to the line of the putt). It was clear that on one side I was looking into a slope and on the other side I was looking down the slope. That was not clear when I looked at the putt from behind.

Then I stepped behind the ball and looked toward the hole. Like I say, the ground looked flattish. So I took one big step to the right and saw the ground coming toward me. I went to a point one step to the left of the ball and saw the ground falling away from me. It could not have been clearer.

This meant the putt would break to the right. I aimed inside left, and the ball went in. Easy as that.

I tried reading the break in this way on many different spots around this rather large green, and the two looks from just off to either side always told the truth.

Now most of the time it’s obvious that the green breaks one way or another. But there are times when you can’t tell. This method fixes up those putts that you swear will go straight in, but miss to one side by two inches.

2. Problematic chip
I had a shot around the green in the last two rounds I played that gave me fits. It was a short chip over a mound to a tight pin. I have 8-10 yards of mound to carry, and about half that distance to stop the ball. Long story short, here’s the shot I came up with.

Take out a lob wedge. Play the ball back of center. Take the club generous distance back for this short of a shot, and let the clubhead fall into the ball. Don’t swing the club, just let it drop in a controlled way. Hit down on the ball and there won’t be much of a follow-through.

The ball pops up and lands with enough roll left to get to the pin. When I tried this with a sand wedge, the ball rolled out too far.

Hope this all helps.

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

Two hours at the driving range

Commentators wonder why, with all this new equipment, the average handicap of recreational golfers hasn’t budged over the past decades. Well, it’s the singer, not the song. The best equipment still has be used by someone who knows how to use it.

If you are in the middle of your working career, you probably don’t have the time to get to the range more than once a week. That’s not enough practice to become the best golfer you could be, but if you practice the right things, you can still play a creditable game.

Here’s how to spend two hours on Saturday morning profitably.

Get about 60 golf balls. Depending on the range that’s one bucket or maybe two. Half of those balls will be used on your swing. The other half will be used to hit pitches from 40-100 yards.

You don’t have to hit every club when you practice your full swing. Hit a short iron, a mid-iron, a hybrid, and your driver. The next time you go out, you can pick a different club out of these categories, but still only four.

Have something in mind when you swing the club. It could be tempo. It could be the transition into the downswing. Let there be something specific that you want to practice.

Take lots of practice swings before you hit a ball. The ball is a test, an indicator of whether you can do what you’re practicing when there is a ball in front of you.

IMPORTANT. If you hit a bad shot, do not give up the thing you were practicing so that you might hit a better shot. Clinkers happen. Don’t change a thing. This takes a lot of mental discipline, and that’s good training, too.

When you get to the driver, do these two thing: hit only five balls, and never more than two in a row. I know this is an important club, but it will seduce you to pulling yourself out of what you have been practicing, in your desire for maximum distance.

Actually, do a third thing. Before you hit your driver, hit three short irons. Then replicate that swing. Do not try to hit the ball a long way. Put your normal swing on the ball and let the club deliver the distance. That’s what it’s designed to do.

With the remaining 30 balls, hit pitches. Pick a target at a known distance and find a combination of club and swing length that gets the ball near that distance.

You can cut this as fine as you want to, but you should strive, over a series of sessions at the range, to at least find combinations that hits the ball to 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 yards. That’s seven shots that none of the other members of your group have.

Next, go to the green. Practice short putts, from five feet and in. Start with two feet and make a bunch of those. Then go to three feet and make a bunch of those. Work out to four feet and five feet, and make a bunch of those. If at any time you miss two in a row, get back down a shorter distance so you can start making putts again.

Now find a flat part of the green about 40 feet long. Drop four balls at equal intervals between 20 feet and 35 feet. Practice until you get them all within two feet of the hole. Then drop them at equal intervals from 25 feet to 40 feet, and do the same.

Move on to greenside chips. Assuming you have calibrated your chipping clubs, pick three different distances and practice with one ball, chipping to that distance and walking up to putt out.

You must learn to think of a chip as a two-shot event. Your chip is only as good as your putt.

Try making up some putting and chipping games as you go, to keep up your interest.

As far as time goes, you can spend about 40 minutes hitting balls on the range, and the rest of the time around the green.

If you do something like this every week, you’ll be able to maintain basic skills.

If you still have some time, go get another 30 balls and work on curving the ball right or left. High or low. Practice hitting from uneven lies if you can. Greenside bunkers. Fairway bunkers. Learn some specialty shots.

Like I say, you won’t get great, but you will develop a solid game by following a practice plan of this kind.

See also One hour 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.

Play to your handicap

A good way to reduce self-induced pressure is to accept that you’re a handicap golfer. You don’t make a par on every hole.

When you try to get a low score on holes that are too difficult for you, you force your game to produce more than it can deliver. You risk taking a high score by pressuring yourself to play better than you know you can.

Professional golfers know on which holes they can attack and on which holes they need to ease off. Recreational golfers need to play golf the same way.

Your handicap gives you an allowance for holes where playing for par, or even for bogey, depending on your handicap, is asking too much.

Take advantage of that. Play to take an extra stroke on the difficult holes. Take what is yours and let the golf course have the rest.

As you improve, you can start challenging the holes that used to challenge you.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com