Swing Through to the Finish

If you get a chance to go to a professional golf tournament, men’s or women’s, go to the practice ground and watch the golfers warm up. You will be stuck by the apparent ease with which they swing the club.

No one is pounding the ball. Everyone is just swinging the club. There is no hint of forcing the shot in any way. You could watch this all day.

Here’s the difference between us and them in a nutshell. We think the swing ends when the ball is struck. They think the swing ends when the club stops moving at the finish. That difference makes all the difference.

Golf swing instruction in almost any book you read, instructional videos and Internet videos you see, breaks down into four areas: pre-swing fundamentals, backswing, downswing, and impact. There is little, if any, instruction on the finish.

So, I’m going to give you some. It’s in the form of a drill that focuses on the finish.

Make shortened swings with your driver, no ball, in this way. Take the club halfway back and swing smoothly and slowly (emphasis on “slowly”) to a full finish, just like you see the pros do. When you get there, hold that pose for a few seconds to let your mind absorb the process of your swing leading you to this place.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. This drill makes you aware that the finish is a part of the golf swing, not residue of what came before.

When you play, instead of taking your stance and thinking about how you’re going to hit the ball, send your mind to the end of the swing, and beyond that. Let impact be another thing you breeze right through on the way to your finish.

In a sense, it feels like you’re giving up control of the shot. What you’re doing is getting more control. Try it.

Long Chip Shots

Chips from twenty yards or so can be the most troublesome shots in golf. They come in four varieties, based on the ratio of distance to the green and distance from there to the pin. I’m going to tell you how to hit each one.

1. Ten yards to the green, ten yards to the pin. Here, the distances are equal, but they are long distances. You need a moderately-lofted club, like a pitching wedge, to get the ball to the edge of the green but not run out way past the hole.

2. Ten yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a gap wedge to get the ball to the edge of the green and sitting quickly. The stroke is specialized: hit the shot by sliding the club underneath the ball, keeping the clubhead low at all times, especially on the follow-through, to get maximum spin.

3. Five yards to the green, ten (or more) yards to the pin. Use a 7- or 8-iron to get the ball on the green and running up to the hole.

4. Fifteen yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a sand wedge. This another specialized stroke. Power the downswing only with gravity, using your hands to guide the club into the ball. Emphasize hitting the ground directly underneath the ball with the sole of your club. When struck properly, the ball floats up, floats down, and dies right away. This shot takes practice.

If you have a tight lie for any of these shots, odds are you have good ground all the way up to the green. If so, and there are no obstacles to hit over, use a straighter-faced club and run the ball all the way to the pin.

With a tight lie and something you have to hit over, like a bunker or thick grass, play the ball back in your stance. Pinch the ball off the turf with a lofted wedge. Think only of getting the ball on the green so you can start putting.

Hit Down With Your Irons — Not

Hit down on the ball. You can’t get away from this advice. It’s like bad weeds in your garden that you spray and dig up and think you’ve gotten rid of them and a month later there they are again.

Why do you keep hearing this nonsense? Because it kind of makes sense.

The club is way up there in the backswing and it has to come back down to get to the ball, so in that sense you are hitting down on the ball.

But that is not the sense that too many golfers interpret the words. They think it means to be hitting down steeply. That is the sense that leads to frustration because they end up chopping down.

I’ll admit if you hit down like that, you can get some pretty good shots out of the effort with the short irons.

But with the lesser-lofted irons, it doesn’t work so well. Forget about it with your fairway wood, and don’t even mention your driver.

Instead of hitting down, think about the spot where the club travels level with the ground, because it does that eventually. With an iron, it’s then just a matter of addressing the ball so that it lies a little bit behind that spot, and a ball on a tee is positioned a little ahead of that spot.

That’s all there is to it.

Remember “13 clubs, 1 swing” from a few months ago? Remember about hitting the ball forward?

There’s no “hitting down” in any of that. Don’t hit down. Hit forward.

Calibrate Your Pitching Game

The shots from 50-100 yards are hard to get right. You’re close enough that you’ll get the ball on the green. What’s hard is hitting the ball next to the pin. That means hitting it the right distance.

You can do it if you calibrate your pitching game. You’ll need a laser rangefinder and a notebook. Go to the range when there aren’t a lot of people there, because you will be switching mats all the time.

The idea is to hit your wedges with two basic strokes and find out how far the ball goes with those strokes and each club.

One stroke takes your left arm back to parallel with the ground. That’s your full pitching stroke. The other stroke takes your left arm back halfway that far. That is the short stroke.

Get in front of a marker in the range that is 60 yards away. Take out your sand wedge and pitch to it with the full stroke. Hit four or five balls with that same stroke and the same force.

If they all go too far or not far enough, keep moving to other mats until you find the one from where you pitch exactly to the marker. Then take out your rangefinder and find the distance to the marker. That’s how far you pitch your sand wedge with a full pitching stroke.

Now do the same exercise with the sand wedge and your short pitching swing. When you’re finished, you have two guaranteed pitching distances with your sand wedge. Write them down in your notebook.

Repeat both exercises with each of your other pitching clubs. I have five: 9-iron, PW, 52, 56, and 60.

When you’re finished, get a 3X5 card and write down these distances, in descending order by yards, with the club/swing combination alongside that gives you that distance. This card goes into your bag for when you play.

When I’m 78 yards from the hole, for example, I look on my card and see that the shot calls for a PW with the short stroke. And when I hit that shot, the ball stops within 10-12 feet. If it doesn’t, I mishit the shot.

Pitching close shouldn’t be guesswork. It’s easy when you know what you’re doing.