Quit Swinging the Golf Club

There’s an easy way to get more power, and hit straighter shots. Quit trying to hit the ball a long way, and quit trying to hit the ball straight. To do those things, or to stop doing them, you need only do one thing when you swing the club: quit.

One of golf’s major shot-wreckers is starting the downswing too hard; that is, powering into the ball from the top of the backswing. That’s much too soon. What will happen is the club gets thrown off track, the clubface gets out of alignment, and it is actually decelerating by the time the clubhead gets to the ball.

What I am suggesting is that when your hands reach their upper limit, quit. Let your downswing start by gravity alone. Let the club coast into the hitting area, accelerated only by your turn of your body and your arms, carried by that turn.

If you learn how to do this, you will find your clubhead flying through the ball with massive, and seemingly effortless, acceleration, square and in line.

The idea here is that you begin your swing only once. Once it has begun, let it continue to its conclusion. Do not start it again in the middle, which is what you do when you hit from the top. Instead, let the club start downward by itself without you making it go down — without you starting a downward movement.

Let’s go over how this is done. It’s easiest to learn with a chipping stroke. Say you’re about twenty yards off the green and you will chip on with a pitching wedge. You would take the club back until your hands are about hip-high. From there, just let gravity start the club down, using your arms and turn only to guide it. Do not add any power. Once the club gets near the hitting zone, you still won’t need to add any power, because the natural acceleration you have created will be more than enough.

The point of this exercise is that you don’t add any “hit” to the shot, because this one doesn’t need any, but more importantly, you learn what it feels like when you don’t apply power from the start of the downswing. You learn that the shot you get out of it is more authoritative than you might think, and goes straight with clean contact.

Practice this shot a lot until you are comfortable with the feeling, believe in what you’re doing, and learn exactly how to “quit” and get a good shot out of it. Only then can you gradually lengthen your backswing until you’re making a full swing, but with the “quit” feeling to start the downswing.

I think you will find that what happens is that the club accelerates freely and easily into the ball. The swing becomes effortless. The shots you get go straight and just as far as before. You get more from doing less.

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Relax your mind, then hit the golf ball

A good shot in golf requires such a precise hit, it’s a wonder we can do it at all. Just the tiniest deviation will put the ball in the rough or a sand trap. No wonder we get nervous before we swing. Yet, more often than not, that’s the exact cause of those poor shots.

The mind leads the body. The condition of our mind is reflected in the condition of the body. When our mind is calm, the body will be, too, and thus able to perform to its best. If the mind is tense, because of nervousness or anxiety, the body will freeze up in unnoticed ways and fail to do what we have trained it to do.

What this means in golf is, as you step up to the ball, take your grip, take your stance, and prepare to take the club away, you might be getting steadily more anxious. You should be getting steadily calmer.

The reason we don’t do that is we lose confidence in our ability to avoid hitting the ball into the rough or the sand trap. So if you think the shot you’re about to play contains that possibility, choose another shot, or another club. Take anxiety out of your game.

Try this one time. Play a round in which you hit one safe shot after another. You will likely be playing shorter than you usually do, so play from a more forward set of tees. Play one safe shot after another without a care about how it ends up. Don’t even keep score. Just hit the ball and let it go at that.

I would imagine that after about six holes of this, you will get a little restless and want to take on more of a challenge. That’s good. You’ll be taking it on, though, with a more relaxed frame of mind so that when you set up to the ball and are about to take the club back, you feel no concern about the outcome.

That’s the golfing mind you want to play with all the time. Find other ways to train yourself to play this way. Find ways not to care about what happens. That won’t lead to perfect golf, but it will lead to better golf, and a much more enjoyable experience on the course.

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Attack the pin

To revolutionize your scoring without changing your technique on bit, attack the pin. By that I mean to hit the ball from the fairway to hole-high or beyond.

First of all, trouble around the green is usually in front. By having enough club to get to the flag, you’ll take all that out of play. A longer shot that is lightly off-line does not get penalized as harshly as a shorter one.

Second, the only way you can get the ball in the hole is to get the ball to the hole. Do I expect you to start sinking 5-irons from the fairway? No. But I do expect you to open up the possibility, and leave yourself with a makable birdie putt when you don’t.

Even when you’re pitching or chipping, get the ball up to the hole and past it. A chip that stops three feet short is nowhere near as good as one that went three feet past. The second one might have gone in.

One of the problems with the strategy is that it doesn’t look, from the fairway, like there is that much room behind the pin to miss long. There is, but the low angle of view you have foreshortens the green, making the pin look closer to the back than it really is.

Play to the pin and don’t worry about what you see.

If you carry the ball over the green every so often, so what? There aren’t any lions lurking back there to devour you. Just chip on a start putting. Besides, if you do fly the green, you were probably shooting at a pin that was in back anyway, meaning you have a short chip and a good chance for an up-and-down.

How do you do this? From the fairway, figure your distance to the pin and add three yards. Then pick your club. That’s not a big adjustment, but it is enough to set your mind past your target. Too often, if we think about hitting a target, we end up short of it.

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Swing the club already!

You probably know that the success of a shot is largely determined in your setup, before you even start the club back. One of the worst habits you can fall into is freezing after you address the ball.

Have you played with the golfer who goes through a pre-shot routine, sets up to the ball, and just stands there? And stands there? And stands there? I’ll bet you’ve never seen a really good player do that.

I don’t know what’s going on when some one freezes, probably a lot of mental stuff, but none of it is helping. The golf swing is an athletic act. Like any athlete, a golfer must be moving as that act begins. Watch players in any other sport — baseball, football, what have you. If the rules allow, they’re all moving before they make their payoff move.

Watch professional golfers get ready to hit the ball. Everyone of them has a series of movements they go through, then they touch the club on the ground and go, with no hesitation. If it looks like they stopped, they didn’t. It’s just that the movement is too small for you to see.

Starting up from a dead stop is hard to do physically and still flow into a graceful, well-ordered swing. Mentally, you got primed to hit the shot, and standing there only gives you time for that feeling to fade away, leaving you with nothing.

I’m not saying to rush, but find a pre-shot routine that contains come kind of movement that leads you right into your swing. I know you’ll be better off for it.

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Confidence is the key to good golf

The longer I play golf, the more I become convinced that the key to playing well is not any technique you might have learned, but confidence.

A few weeks ago, I hit into a green about thirty feet to the right of the pin. To go right at it meant playing over a bunker, so this was exactly where I wanted to be — easy approach putt and a tap-in. Except I left my approach putt twelve feet short. The greens had been sanded the week before and were a lot slower than I felt comfortable with.

So! I was not going to three-putt. I read the green, looked at the putt, and said to myself, “This is going in,” as if there were no choice in the matter. And it went in. That’s confidence: not in knowing we’re good enough to sink the putt, but knowing as if doubt didn’t exist and the only possible outcome is for the ball to go in. Big difference.

We can’t gin up that kind of motivation for every shot, though. Fortunately, we don’t need to. If we’ve felt it once, or twice, or more, that feeling in in us. All we have to do is pull it out. Get comfortable with the shot you are about to hit and that feeling of confidence will be there.

If that sounds too easy, it’s because you are used to making golf hard. You have trained your mind to see the possible mistakes surrounding the one success that’s in there somewhere. Retrain your mind. See only the success, just like in those golden moments, and hit the ball.

Now here’s the key. File away successes and throw away failures. Every time you visualize the fairway on the eighteenth tee and hit it, file that away. Every time you hit into the pond on the right instead, throw that shot away. Never happened.

Acquire the mental strength to not let setbacks change your mood or your belief in the power of your mind to lead you to your best golf. This takes practice, lots of it. Remember how long it took to learn how to hit the ball reasonably straight, though, and you put in that time.

For a detailed program on how to accomplish this, see my latest book, The Golfing Self, at www.therecreationalgolfer.com.