How to Play Par 3s

Par 3s are golf without the driver. As from the fairway, the key to a good score is choosing the right club to hit off the tee.

That means, first of all, you have the right club in your bag. I have room in my bag for either a 21-degree or a 19-degree hybrid. I look at the scorecard of the course I’m going to play and take along the one that suits the longest par 3 best.

Base your club selection on the listed yardage plus seven yards. That’s the yardage to play the hole at regardless of where the pin is, unless it’s a deep green. Say it’s a 148-yard hole. Your 150-yard club will be short. Take one more club to get hole high.

Tee up the ball. Never hit it off the ground. The height of the tee should be no more than a half inch. Less than that is better. All you’re trying to do is give yourself a good lie.

The green on some par-3 holes is surrounded by hazards – mounds, bunkers, high grass. Most of that will be in front of the hole or to the side. Forget the pin. Take enough club to land the ball on the green beyond the trouble.

Unless you hit the ball pretty straight, consider deliberately playing short and chipping on if it takes more than 5-iron to reach the green. Such a long par 3 is more likely to be a bogey hole than a par hole, and laying up like this could keep a double bogey off your card.

If the green you’re hitting into has no safe place to bail out to, hit a knockdown shot. Take one more club, and swing it back three-quarters. Think of keeping the clubhead low on the follow-through and continuing straight toward the target after contact. Finish with your hands in front of you.

If there is water in front of the green, find out exactly how long that carry is and take TWO more clubs from there. Grip down halfway and swing normally.

When you miss the green, think carefully about the chip. Start by finding a spot to chip to from where you can easily two-putt, and zero in from there.

Have an overall strategy for the round, too. You can break 90 by parring one par 4. You can break 80 by parring two. (In addition to what you do on par 4s and par 5s, (q.v.).

Don’t leave that to chance, though. Pick the ones you can handle and and go after those.

Final thought: the night before you play, spend some time with a pencil and paper and practice writing 2s. Nice, clear, florid 2s. This is mojo that will pay off the next day.

Swing Speed

A few days ago, I was on a course which in one spot has the tee boxes for consecutive holes right next to each other. One is a par three, which you play, then walk back to where the next tee is, a par five.

There was a group on the tee of the par five, so when we got the other tee, we waited until they finished teeing off, sitting down on the bench to watch the show.

One guy tees off with a long iron (there’s a pond across the fairway such that if you have even moderate length, you’ll hit into it), takes a vicious swing, and cold tops a 40-yard dribbler. You have never seen so much effort deliver so little result. Well, maybe you have.

Anyway, he says, “I’m going to hit another one.” I think to myself, “Yes. Please. Hit another one.”

So he tees up another one, puts this graceful swing on the ball and just kills it. Beautiful, powerful shot, straight down there.

He picks up his tee and says to his buddies, “You know, it’s amazing how well you hit the ball if you just slow down your swing a little bit.”

Thus endeth the lesson.

The Vertical Dimension of Impact

Impact is the big thing these days. We have all learned that the bottom of the swing should take place somewhere in front of the ball.

How deep the bottom of the swing should be is another discussion — do you take a divot, or do you sweep the ball off the grass?

There is a third dimension, which describes hitting the ball off the heel or toe, but we’ll skip that one here.

I’ll be talking about depth today because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it is of vital importance to consistency in shot-making. First, a story.

Last summer when I had a playing lesson in which one of the shots was hitting an 80-yard pitch into a tight pin.

I took three rehearsal swings, each one of which felt good to me. The pro stopped me before I hit the ball and said each swing had been to different depths, which would send the ball to different distances.

He said if I wanted to master this shot I had to learn how to come through the ball at the same depth every time. Here’s how I’m doing it.

I have a piece thick-pile carpet and practice swinging across it with a half swing, making the same sound each time the sole of the club brushes the carpet. That means the club swung down to the same depth.

Here’s a way you might go about feeling your swing so this happens.

As you stand over the ball, feel like your arms are hanging from your shoulders like a shirt would hang down on a coat hanger — no tension, very relaxed.

Now swing the club from the point where the coat hanger is suspended, on your spine at the spot level with the top of your shoulders. Just swing back and forth with that spot as the pivot, with a good rhythm and an easy tempo, and let your arms and hands follow.

Keep a relaxed feeling in your arms the entire time. All you want in them is enough muscle power to move the club and be in control of the clubhead — no more. Don’t try to control your stroke consistently with your arms. You can’t do it, and it all gets frustrating pretty quickly.

As you repeat your swings, key in on that consistent sound of the sole of the club brushing the carpet.

Admittedly, this is all fine tuning that you don’t need if you just want to get the ball around the course. If you want to get GOOD, though, start attending to this detail.

Not to mention, after a month or so you should have a new and effective pitching stroke that will bleed over into your full swing as well.

2016 Masters Preview

Every time I write about the Masters I get in trouble. One time at The Sand Trap I tried to defend my contention that the Masters does not deserve to be considered as a major championship. After politely brushing aside one irrelevant invective after another, the forum owner locked down the thread.

Last year, when I wrote in this space that Augusta could become obsolete within a decade or so, people at The Hackers Paradise responded as if I were advocating kicking stray dogs and knocking down old ladies.

I just don’t get it. For so many people this tournament sits at the right hand of their supreme being of choice. So if I haven’t stepped in a big enough cow pies already, let me move onto this year’s tournament and try to offend people in newer ways.

Right off the top, it does no good to predict a winner. Bubba Watson is halfway though Arnold Palmer’s run of winning four times in consecutive even-numbered years, but Bubba has too much competition now. And Bubba is not Arnold Palmer.

Jason Day? Probably not, especially if the tournament committee has the cajones to give him slow play penalties like they did to some kid from Asia three years ago.

But since they didn’t flinch when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop on the 15th hole several years ago, Jason can take all the time he wants to visualize his shot.

Jordan Spieth? He’s enough off his game right now that he can contend, but not quite get there.

Rickie Fowler? Really.

How about Phil? Will Tiger show up and try to play? Arnie won’t make a ceremonial first tee shot. Gary will hit one and then do 400 crunches on the spot. Jack will split the fairway without even trying hard.

But what I really want to talk about is the thuggery that lurks behind The Perfect Tournament.

We all know that the Committee puts up with no nonsense. Gary McCord and Jack Whitaker were bounced from the premises permanently after using phrases like “bikini wax” and “mob” on the air.

Then there is the tournament’s own brand of Sharia law.

Golf writer John Hawkins said he was almost removed from the premises once when he stood on a golf cart to try to see above the mob. Sorry, gathering of fans. Sorry, patrons. What he was removed from, physically, was the golf cart.

This month’s Golf Digest has a column by The Undercover Pro about all this. About players. Cell phones on the practice tee? “…it’s not worth the potential aggravation.”

His coach took a video of TUP’s swing with a Blackberry and spent the rest of the day enjoying the sights of downtown Augusta.

To make a long story short, TUP’s Dad tried to use his phone on premises to check on a credit card that had been declined. “…two guards [!] grab him by the shoulders and usher him out…into a small room and I have to go and get him…there’s no sense of sorry for any misunderstanding.”

Then there’s the killer finish. “Tons of players have stories just like mine, I’m sure. Nobody talks about them because life’s easier when those stories don’t get out.”

As long as I’m digging myself a hole here, I might as well dig all the way. I would love to see the numbers on how many people attending the tournament are ejected and for what transgressions. But that’s a more closely guarded secret than which Tour players have been fined for profanity.

What I would also like to see is, just once, for the USGA to set up the course in U.S. Open style and see how it would hold up. I mean, it no longer plays as it was designed, so why not? You know. Rough? Narrow fairways? Pins you don’t dare shoot at?

As for me, I’ll watch the final few hours of the broadcast on Sunday afternoon. Something historical could happen. But on the other days, I’m going to worship at the golf course of my choice, and it ain’t Augusta.

Can’t hardly wait for the U.S. Open in June.