All posts by recgolfer

The Difference That Distance Makes

(. . . and it’ ain’t that much.)

I want to give you, for your consideration, a new way of looking at distance. It’s a way of showing you how little of it you need to shoot good scores.

There is a link at the bottom of this post to a spreadsheet which shows you that on a 6,200-yard course you can hit no shot farther than 120 yards and break 100. Or you can break 90 with no shot longer than 140 yards.

Breaking 80 is a little more demanding, but not by anything huge. If your longest tee shot is 220 yards, and your longest shot from the fairway is 165 yards, you can break 80.

Granted, this assumes that each shot is hit well and straight. And that you take two putts on every green.

But no one does that. So what am I getting at here?

I’m saying that accuracy trumps distance. If you’re accurate you can still score even if you don’t or can’t pound the ball. Being pretty good around the green won’t hurt, either.

Not convinced? Try it. Play a round with nothing longer than your 140-yard club, and just hit it 140 yards, no trying to get more out of it than that, and see what you shoot.

You may download this Excel spreadsheet and put in data for your own courses. Cells with boldface entries may be changed. All other cells are locked.

An Insidious Habit at the Range

I would assume without too much chance of error that every golfer wants to improve. A perpetual 104 wants to become 98. Books have been written, not on how to turn 95 into 91, but 93 into 89, though there is not much difference between the two differences. At the other end, championship golfers are always looking for a little something that will make even more championships easier to win.

So to the range we go, trying this tip or that hunch in search of the perfect shot, or at least a shot that is closer to perfection than the shots we’re currently most proud of. And therein lies the mistake.

We improved to our present point incrementally, never in great leaps. So, we should not be looking for improvement in great leaps. Rather, the best use of our practice is learning how to hit good shots within our present capability, one after another.

We don’t need to hit perfect shots. Golf, thy name is consistency, and hitting the same good shot time after time is the way to play it. This is what we should be schooling ourselves to do at the range.

I should clarify what I mean by “a good shot.” I mean one in which you make clean ball-first, ground second contact and the ball goes straight to where you were aiming it. The distance it travels is not important.

Occasionally the perfect shot does pop out, and we stop, trying to figure out how that happened so we can do that again. So now, instead of enjoying that perfect shot and getting back to business, we begin chasing it.

You might have a good idea of how you hit your string of good shots that preceded this one but you really have no idea about how the great one happened. Trying to figure it out is taking a detour down a dead-end road.

As you keep hitting the string of good shots that you are capable of and understand how to hit them, really good ones will pop out. Let them. Just keep doing what you’re doing. In making the gradual transition from one level of play to another, the really good ones will pop out more often. But you cannot force them or chase them. Let them emerge in their own time.

The best way to practice hitting one good shot after another is to hit them all with the same club, an easy club that you can control, such as your 9-iron. Use a different club if you like, but not if you hit only mostly good shots with it. You’re aiming for ALL good shots. Besides, if you can’t hit a 9-iron consistently well, why would you want to hit an 8-iron at all (or a driver, it should go without saying)?

Hint: The less hard you try to hit a good shot, the easier it to hit one.

One More Hole and You Break 90 (or 100, or 80)

When there is one more hole to go and you can break a milestone score, 90, or 100, or 80, think this way, and ONLY this way. No more, no less.

Think, “All I need to do is get the ball in the fairway and it’s over. I’ve done it.”

From the fairway now, think. “All I need to do is get the ball up to the green and it’s over. I’ve done it.”

From greenside or on the green, think, “All I need to do is lay the ball up close and it’s over. I’ve done it.”

From next to the hole, think, “All I need to do is sink this little putt and it’s all over. I’ve done it.”

That’s four shots, but it’s just an example. Maybe five shots will do. So play five shots, one at a time. However many, let go of the last shot, focus on the next one, never get ahead of yourself.

For each shot, but only one of them at a time, think, “All I need to do . . .” When that shot is over, begin thinking that thought again, and only that thought, for the next one. Be thinking that thought all the way up to the ball for that one shot. Just one.

Keep the task manageable. You don’t need to hit four good shots in a row (or five, or six). Just one. You only need to hit one good shot in a row.

When you have done that, start again. One good shot in a row. Not getting ahead of yourself. Just this shot. This one.

This is not logical thinking, but now is not the time to be logical. Now is the time to make it easy on yourself.

Ball First, Ground Second

I don’t have a 500-word essay for you today. All I have is one little idea.

Lately I had been doing everything right (I thought), but I was still hitting behind the ball.

So, I thought to myself, don’t look at the ball during the swing. Look at a spot on the ground about and inch and a half in front of the ball, and hit that.

Problem solved. The ball erupts off the clubface.

Give it a try.

Your Golf Swing’s Red Line

You know what the red line is. It’s the line on the tachometer of your car that you dare not rev the engine beyond unless you want to ruin it. Shift, already!

Your golf swing has red line, too. Keep your swing speed under it, and your swing will perform the way it is supposed to. Exceed it and, well, . . .

Before I go on, let me be clear that when I say swing speed, I mean how fast you pivot and swing your arms. That’s not the same as clubhead speed, which usually refers to the velocity of the clubhead as it hits the ball. This post is about swing speed. Another name for that is tempo.

It might seem that if you want the clubhead to be moving faster when it hits the ball, you need to move faster, too. Although there can be a direct relationship between swing speed and clubhead speed, there can be an inverse relationship.

Oh sure, if you watch many modern Touring pros swing, they swing hard and fast and hit the ball way out there. But we’re not them. If most of us tried to swing as fast as they do, our body would get so tight that we would actually slow down the clubhead.

When you swing at a speed that is right for you, and it’s not going to be as fast as you can, the clouds part, the sun shines down upon you, the violins swell, and golf becomes a simple game.

In my earlier writings, I said to find your swing speed (tempo) you should start slowly and speed up until you have gone too far, then back down. Now I want to suggest trying the opposite approach.

Go to the range, and after you have thoroughly warmed up, hit balls with a 6- or 7-iron, swinging as fast as you can and yet stay in reasonable control of the goings on. Hit maybe a dozen balls this way. Be sure to rest in between shots.

Hopefully that sustained outburst should make you good and tired, so slow things down a little bit now. Try swinging as fast as you can without feeling like you’re swinging fast, with a gentle up and down rhythm. Try hitting a dozen balls with a swing that like that instead of “Hold on to your hats!”

I will not be surprised, though you might be, that the slower swing speed dramatically improves your ball-striking. You make much better contact than before, get better ball flight, the ball goes in a consistent direction, and you get pretty good distance. Did I leave anything out?

Your Hands Lead the Clubhead – Part 3

Over the years, I have talked at length about how to perform perhaps the most important swing fundamental there is–having your hands get back to the ball on the forward swing before the clubhead does. This move is absolutely critical for good and consistent ball-striking.

I put up a video a few years ago that shows you what that means and gave you a drill for your learn how have the hands lead the clubhead.

Last year I said it a different way: the handle and the clubhead both move in the same direction. Of course, there is a video that shows you what I mean.

But now I have a third way to explain it to you. I don’t mean for it to replace the other two, but to add to the ways you might come to understand what to do so one of them might just click.

The latest way involves the left arm (right arm for lefties). Let’s call it the leading arm so everyone is happy.

This is then new way of looking at it: the leading arm never stops moving. If it leads the forward swing down from the top and through the ball without stopping its swinging motion, you’ll have it.

Now that might sound odd. When does you leading arm ever stop moving? When you try to hit with your trailing hand, that’s when.

Try it. Swing down and just before you get to the ball, let that trailing hand take over and hit the ball (the error we’re trying to correct). You will notice that the leading arm slows way down or even comes to a dead stop and starts up again.

If your leading arm keeps moving, it is very difficult to hit with that trailing hand. I mean, you can do it if you really try, but just don’t try.

The easiest way to learn this move is by swinging your heaviest wedge, which would be your sand wedge or your lob wedge, with your leading arm only. Back and forth, just like a pendulum. Over and over.

The weight of that heavy clubhead will create a swinging force such that the swinging arm keeps swinging through the ball and you will learn what it feels like for it to keep swinging.

(The weather in western Oregon is lousy right now, so I’m not going to run outside and make a video. I think you can figure out what to by yourself.)

Try this drill. Try the other two. See which one works best for you and when you find it, drill yourself from now to next Sunday. Really. When you have the club leaning forward a bit at impact consistently, you will know what good ball-striking feels like. It feels pretty cool.

I have two more ways for you to learn this, but…later.

Do You Play From the Right Set of Tees? – part 3

The Play It Forward movement began in spring 2011. The idea was to encourage golfers to play from tees suited to the length they hit the ball, which would make the game more fun, and speed up play. All fine by me.

I have always thought someone read my blog post on the subject, which came out about two months earlier, and stole my idea. But because I am an idea guy, and not a self-promoter, c’est la vie.

You might want to read that post, and this one too, before you continue here.

My idea in the original post was to divide total course length by 25. That is the length of drive suited for that set of tees. I got that figure by finding the average length of courses on the PGA Tour and dividing by the average length of drive on the Tour.

However, it occurred to me that dividing total course length by 25 isn’t quite right. That’s takes into account par 3s, on which you don’t use a driver, and par 5s, on which you do, but having three shots to get to the green puts less of a premium on driving distance.

That leaves par 4s. Judy Rankin once said, “If you can’t hit a 7-iron into some par 4s, you’re playing the wrong tees.” I turned that advice into this test: if there are more than two par 4s per side 400 yards or over, those tees are too long for me. That worked for a good number of years.

But my mind never gives up on these things (drives my wife crazy) and a few days ago I came up with this more accurate way of determining which tees to play from.

Add the length of your average drive to the carry distance of your 7-iron. Let’s call that your cut-off distance. For example, my drives go 235 yards, and my 7-iron goes ~140 yards. My cut-off distance is 375 yards.

Now look at the scorecard for the particular set of tees you want to play. There should be between four and six par-4 holes at your cut-off distance or shorter. If there are fewer than four, those tees are too long for you. More than six, and those tees are too short.

I took out the scorecard for the course I play most often with the tees I play from and arrayed the length of the par-4 holes from shortest to longest: 325, 335, 366, 372, 375, 380, 395, 400, 423, 431. You can see that 375 gives me five par 4s that are short enough. I’m playing the right tees on that course.

If I had divided overall course length, 6,402 yards, by 25, I would have come up with a driving distance of 256 yards which makes it look like those tees are way too long for me. But they’re really not.

On this course from the blue tees, one tee box back, the par 4s look like this: 358, 371, 390, 407, 420, 421, 423, 438, 439. Those are definitely too long. I would get only two 7-irons all day if I played from there. I actually did that once, just too see. I survived, and said, never again.

Now once you have figured it out, play from the right tees! Really! You’re out there to have FUN and pars and occasional birdies are more FUN than bogies or doubles. At least I think so.

My Spring Golfing Tuneups

We are starting to have sunny days in western Oregon now. It might even get warm enough to let the overnight dew dry off the course before a 10:00 a.m. tee time so we don’t have to play on a wet golf course.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my winter practice to be ready to go from the very start. Here’s what I’m doing.

As usual, I’m practicing rhythm–three beats up, one beat down. I don’t care how sound your swing is otherwise, if this part is off it’s usually three parts up and a half beat down, nothing else will save you. And rhythm is never something you can say you have once and for all. It takes continual practice.

To avoid letting my right hand take over in the forward swing, both when starting the club forward, and as it comes through th ball, I’ve taken to starting the forward swing with the left arm. More specifically, the left upper arm. The left forearm and left hand are not included. That arm stays in control through the ball.

This is something the Manuel De La Torre taught. I’m finding to be very effective, once I figured out how to do it.

This doesn’t mean I’m taking my right hand out of the swing. This move merely prevents it from making a premature contribution. The instant before impact I have a strong hitting feeling with the right hand, but it is something that is generated naturally by the momentum of the swing, not by anything I’m deliberately doing with that hand.

My right elbow has a habit of flying out instead of staying tucked in where it should be in the forward swing. This causes me to swipe across the ball and hit really bad-looking hooks. To fix that, I concentrate on keeping my elbows close together. That is, I maintain the feeling of closeness they have at address throughout the swing. Though they might not be that close all the time, as long as they feel like they are, everything is fine.

Lastly, my hand-eye coordination is pretty good. Not outstanding, but I generally hit what I aim for. This is a big problem if I aim for the back of the ball when I swing. If I am just a little bit off, I’ll hit the ground just a tiny bit behind of the ball, or just underneath it. You don’t get much out of either one of those.

The fix, I have found, is to look at a spot on the ground about an inch ahead of the ball and aim for that. Works like a charm with my irons. Even with my driver. If I look at the ball with my driver I want to HIT IT (and you know what that leads to), but looking at a spot ahead of the ball slows me to SWING THROUGH it, giving me much better results.

And, of course, there’s putting. I practiced 2-footers every night in my back room, and I never missed. Now I think putting is easy. A lot of putting is about confidence.

Hitting the Ball Hard

One of the best ways to introduce errors into your golf swing is to try to hit the ball as hard as you can. In general it is better to ease off and hit it straight than far. Your best drive in the fairway beats 30 yards farther in the rough all day.

However, just like there’s nothing wrong with being rich, there’s nothing wrong with being long off the tee. Let’s talk about how to get that done. (The second one. I haven’t figured out the first one yet.)

I have seen this idea expressed in different places, and have never seen it contradicted: swing the club as fast as you can while still being able to hit the ball on the center of the clubface. In other words, swing as fast as you can while keeping the club under control.

Two principles of hitting hard must be observed: the one just stated, and this.

You will swing as fast as you can only if you are completely relaxed during the entire swing. Tension always slows you down.

And one hint: speed only counts through the ball. It means nothing in your backswing.

Now for the lesson, which comes from Jim McLean in the April 10, 2010 edition of Golf Digest magazine.

“The late Gardner Dickinson, a terrific tour player in the 1950s and ’60s who happened to have a slight build, once asked Ben Hogan what he could do to get longer off the tee. Hogan told Dickinson to stop at the range after every round and hit 30 drivers as hard as he could. He told him not to care where the shots went, but to try to hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

“Hogan emphasized to Dickinson the importance of sheer swing speed. Thirty drives might be a lot for you; 15 might do. But a little violence in the swing is healthy and will help you develop more power. You’ll never hit it far without ripping it.”

There you have it.

Practice this with plastic golf balls at first if you can, because they go only so far no matter how hard you hit them and you won’t be seduced into overswinging.

Once you’ve got it down, work on it at the range. Once you’ve got that down, practice saying, “You’re away” in a pleasant tone of voice, so you can say on the course without upsetting anybody.