All posts by recgolfer

A Key to Hitting a Golf Ball Straight

There are lots of things you have to do hit a golf ball straight. If there were only a few, everybody could do it, and we know that’s not the case.

I want to talk about just one of those things today, and it’s something I have never read about anywhere.

The clubface is a proxy for the right hand (left hand, for left-handed golfers). The right palm, however it is oriented on the handle, controls the orientation of the clubface throughout the swing.

Try this once. Grip a club and put the right hand loosely against the left, like you probably do now. Without moving the right hand to a new place on the grip, just wiggle it from side to side.

See how loose the right hand is, and how much freedom it has to wiggle in either direction? Notice how that’s enough to get the clubface out of alignment.

If the right hand wiggles a bit to the right (clockwise) during the swing, the clubface opens. If it wiggles a bit to the left (counter-clockwise) during the swing, the clubface closes.

It’s hard to sense the right hand moving this way during the swing, and believe me, once the alignment has been upset, you won’t get it back in place before you hit the ball.

We solve this problem by making sure the right hand cannot wiggle at all, so the clubface stays in its original square orientation.

How do you make sure there’s no right hand wiggling? Easy!

When you place your hands are on the handle, turn the left hand slightly to the right so the left thumb presses gently into the pocket formed by the right palm. Left-handers will press the right thumb into the pocket formed by the left palm.

Or if you want to, you can turn your hands tightly toward each other.

Try that and see how it feels.

Since the right hand feels the pressure, if it relaxes and drifts rightward that release of the pressure lets you know right away something is wrong.

Also, the right hand can’t wiggle leftward because the left hand already will let it go no further.

What we now have is a right hand that’s stuck in place, and that’s what we want.

They key to making this work in the swing is for the light feeling of the hands pressing against each other to be the same, unchanging, throughout the swing. That’s your sign that the right hand is behaving itself.

So now you have this part of hitting the ball straight taken care of.

Your Next Golf Lesson

This is your next golf lesson.

Schedule a lesson and tell the pro you want to learn these three things:

1. What do I do if I can miss left, but I can’t miss right?

2. What do I do if I can miss right, but I can’t miss left?

3. What do I do if I absolutely have to hit the ball straight?

The answers will all involve things you need to do with your swing. I had this lesson about nine years ago, and it is one of the most useful lessons I ever had.

how to get good

Golf is a vast game. There are more different kinds of shots to be hit than anyone can master, much less a recreational golfer for whom golf is a part-time hobby.

Yet, when we practice, we hit a bucket or two of balls, spend a little time chipping around the practice green (if you can find one that allows chipping!) and spend a few minutes putting.

And wonder why we don’t get better at it.

To explain why, I would like to refer you to this interview with Bill Evans, a legendary jazz pianist, talking about this very problem in regard to learning his craft.

Listen.

That’s it, isn’t it? We try to take on all of golf all at once and as Evans said, that only leaves us confused and with nothing to build on.

If you’re reading this post, odds are you aren’t a beginner. You have been playing golf for a while and have your own ideas of how to hit the various shots that are necessary.

But if sometimes they work and other times (most times?) they don’t, there’s work to be done that won’t get done by going to the range one more time and doing what I described above, one more time.

Or however many more times.

You have to pick one thing and work on it until know what you are doing and are really good at it, before you move on to something else.

Let’s start with greenside chipping. This is the easiest shot in golf to get good at.

Get a lesson. If you taught yourself to chip, you really don’t know how to chip. I had been playing golf for over fifty years before I had my first chipping lesson. Nothing the pro taught me was what I had been doing, and what he taught me worked.

Next, prepare to spend fifty hours practicing what you learned. If you have a full-time job, it might take you three or more months to get to the range for that much practice.

And when you get to the range, practice chipping only. Don’t worry, your swing won’t go away. It’s just that if you hit a bucket of balls first you will use up some your concentration on that and that’s not why you came to the range.

Keep going, not until you reach being good, but have settled into being good. You know what you are doing and you know you can chip close from anywhere. Then you can move on to something else.

Choose from pitching, bunker play, putting, short irons, medium irons, fairway woods or hybrids, driver (save the driver for last–it’s a distraction, and you don’t need a driver to play golf, anyway.)

Take these skills one at a time. Spend the time it takes to learn how to do each one the right way so you’re good at it. As Evans said, make your practice real and true.

I promise you be playing a different game than before.

After you have these basics down, then you can move on to working the ball with your swing, learning a variety of short shots, and so forth, and all of it will work because you are building them on a solid foundation.

Cypress Point Flyover

The one golf course I would love to play on most is Cypress Point on the Monterey Peninsula.

Golf Digest made a flyover video of the course. None of us will ever get near the grounds, so this is your chance to see one of the finest and most beautiful golf courses in the world.

Click here to watch the YouTube video.

Jim Nantz narrates. (That’s a warning for some of you.) He goes on for a while at the start of the video. The flyover begins at 1:22.

Bob’s Living Golf Book – January 2020 Edition

The January 2020 edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book is now online.

Significant updates, additions, and new sections:

B4. Holding the Club (addition)
E4. The Long Pitching Stroke (addition)
F5. Putting Strategies (addition)
G14. Saving Strokes (re-write)
H2. Your Scoring Potential (re-write)
H29. Get Good, One Shot At a Time (new)
H30. Casting (new)
I1. Don’t Play Faster, Play Efficiently (addition)

…and minor items scattered around the book, all of them in blue type.

Play well, and have fun.

Many clubs one distance drill

Being able to play golf at a top level is all about knowing how to control the club. Last week I gave you a drill designed to teach you how to control the clubface, in order to be in command of trajectory and curvature.

This week the drill is about controlling distance.

One of the things my pro taught me to do, or rather, suggested I learn (teach myself) how to do is to be able to hit a ball a given distance with three different clubs.

For example, hit the ball 125 yards with a 9-iron, 8-iron, and 7-iron. Can you do that?

There are uses on the course for each of these shots, but what this was was another way of being able to control my swing.

So I learned how to do that.

Perch Boomer, a legendary teacher and author of On Learning Golf, the first book ever written about the feel of the golf swing, talked at one point about a drill he accomplished once after considerable effort.

I’m going to quote at length from that part of the book because it makes the point of what becoming a golfer really means. Or as Johnny Miller would say, a player. [Boomer’s emphasis follows.]

“We can play—or we should be able to play—the three-quarter shot with the full swing or a full shot the three-quarter swing. I realize that this conception may be difficult to grasp, but it lies at the root of the superiority of the really great golfer.

“I say a really great golfer because there are many well-known and successful players who can play nothing but full shots; a controlled shot is right outside their golfing range. Yet the great golfer plays every shot controlled, that is he plays every shot with what he feels to be the correct degree of power not at full pressure. This control is the secret of his greatness.

“The test of a golfer’s control is in his ability to play a shot of 70 yards with every iron club in his bag. Think that out; it will give you an idea of what control of power really means. Every shot will be played firmly, but the power applied will obviously have to be varied greatly with the different clubs.

“I do not claim but I was ever a great player but I did teach myself to perform this tour de force, for a tour de force it is. It took me most of my golfing life to learn how to do it. ‘And why,’ you may ask, ‘should you expect us ordinary golfers to be able to do a thing which it took you, an expert, your lifetime to learn?’ Well, I did not say I expected you to be able to do it . . . what I do say is that understanding how it is done and endeavoring to do it yourself will give you a real conception of controlled power in the golf swing.

“In my opinion we cannot lay too much stress upon this matter of getting the right conceptions. It is surprising what you can get people to do once they clearly understand what it is that has to be done. To reverse this, I contend that many of us are playing bad golf not because we are incapable of playing good golf but simply because we are thinking of golf in the wrong way.”

So there you have it. 70 yards with every iron club. Not with part swings, but with full swings of varying power. Boomer played in the long iron days, so you will have to throw in your hybrid irons.

This is the hardest drill in golf. Being able to do it isn’t everything, but making the effort to is.

I’ll end with a story about Ben Hogan, who one day at Shady Oaks was accompanied by an annoying out-of-town golfer who had worked his way into the gangsome.

The guy was a pretty good golfer, and on the 6th hole, they both hit their tee shot about the same distance. Hogan was away and hit into the green, 10 feet left of the pin with a 7-iron. The Guy said, “What club did you hit?” Wrong question.

Hogan asked his caddy for a ball, took a club out of his bag, and hit it just right of the hole. He asked his caddy for another ball, took a different club out of his bag, and hit just left of the hole.

“I hit an 8, a 7, and a 6.”

Point made, and there weren’t any questions for the rest of the day.

Nine Shot Drill

About ten years ago, I told my teaching pro that I needed to get out of the rut I was in and play golf at a higher level.

What we worked on was my swing. It wasn’t reliable. I could not predictably control the ball. I just hit and hoped. Most of the time it worked out well, but too many times it didn’t.

He gave me five lessons, and gave me the homework of hitting about 100 balls three times a week. This was a three-month process, and when I was finished, golf had become a different game.

He also showed me the nine shot drill.

You might have heard of it. The picture below shows you nine shots. The one in the middle is your standard hit-it-straight shot. The one in the upper right is your standard fade, and the one on the lower left is your standard draw. You might be able to hit those three on command already.

But there are six others that are not so obvious. Few golfers know how to hit them, let alone knowing that they can hit them.

I knew how to hit the first three shots, but the pro left me to figure them out the others on my own, which I did, and learned a lot about what worked, and what didn’t work, in the process.

I won’t go into how to hit them here. That’s a chapter in a book, and not a blog post. Besides, that would just spoil your fun.

The purpose of this drill was not to turn me into a “shotmaker.” Rather, my pro wanted me to learn how to control my swing. If you can hit all those nine shots, you can certainly hit the one in the middle reliably, and really, that shot, medium straight, is all you need to play good golf.

But here’s the real challenge if you want to try it after you have learned how to hit them all: hit those nine shots with nine balls. No do-overs. And you say in advance, “I’m going to hit this one,” and that’s the one you hit.

Here’s Johnny Miller talking about it.

If you can do this, you have complete command of your swing and you have accomplished the second-hardest drill in golf.

I’ll tell you what the hardest one is next week.

Slow Play on the Tour–Part 2

About six years ago, I wrote a post about slow play on the PGA Tour. That list of excuses Diaz put together is really quaint, isn’t it?

This year the Tour promises it is finally going to do something about slow play, yes sir, they’re really going to get tough.

You bet.

Here’s what an unnamed Tour player thinks could be done. It’s pretty honest, and funny.

And here’s the middling opinion.

What I think they need to do is:

– Hand out one-stroke penalties. That’s a good one. Keep that.
– Dump the fines, or make them huge.
Publish the list of slow players.
– Give no warnings. They KNOW what the time limit is for hitting a shot, and they KNOW they’re taking more time than that, so there is no need to warn them they are being slow. Warnings are like saying, “OK, we’re putting you on notice that the next time you hit the ball out of bounds we will give you a stroke and distance penalty.”
– Have a timing official with an air horn follow the group with a slow player, such official to sound one long blast at the 60-second mark. Not only will that get the offending player’s attention, it will get the attention of every other player on the course. Not to mention the gallery following the player. Point made.
– I am also thinking that Gary McCord in a clown suit would run out to give the offending player a pie in the face, but that might get ugly.

But you know, it’s professional golf, which affects my golf game about as much as NASCAR racing does, and which I care about just as much. Which, with no offense to you NASCAR enthusiasts, ain’t much.

My solution if I were playing on the Tour? I would bring a book and make no bones about reading it while I was waiting for a slowpoke I got paired with to hit his shot. It would be a masterful passive-aggressive statement, especially if my group was on television. War and Peace would be a good choice.

Slow It Down and Hit It Farther

The first week in January in the cold, rainy Northwest is probably the worst time of year to be writing posts for a golf blog. You can’t play, and it’s almost too cold sometimes even to go the range. But I always know if I do something golfy, I’ll get an idea.

So a few days ago the temperature was mild and it wasn’t raining, so I went to the field that is just a block away from my house. It’s the parking lot for the Oregon State Fairgrounds, which is out of view above the picture. My house is out of view about one block below.

I always go there with one ball and one club, hit the ball, go find it, and hit it back again, over and over. It focuses my mind, because if I make mistake and hit a bad shot, it’s a long walk to the ball to have a chance to get it right. So I try very hard not to make mistakes.

The yellow dot on the left is where I start hitting from. The yellow dot on the right is beside a telephone pole which you can see fairly clearly if you enlarge the picture. The pole is 139 yards from the opening spot.

I took my 6-iron that day. My first shot was up in the air, very straight, but got to about the pole. That’s not a long way for a 6-iron, but it happened because I hit the ball about a quarter-inch toward the toe. I did the same thing coming back, and the ball just barely got to the starting spot.

Another shot downrange ended up in about the same place, but this time had I hit it slightly toward the heel.

Fortunately, after three shots, all of them very nice looking and going right where I had aimed them, but all of them way short of where they should have ended up, my mind finally warmed up.

I realized I was swinging too fast, so I thought to myself, “Relax. Slow down your swing to a speed you can control.”

And what do you think happened? Of course! I hit the ball dead on the center of the clubface and it went to the green dot, 14 yards past the starting point.

By doing just those two things, which have nothing to do with swing technique, but everything to do with how you use your mind, I changed my 6-iron from a ~140-yard club to a mid-150s club.

(Want to get 15 more yards with your driver? Hint, hint.)

What I’m saying is the center of the clubface is your best friend. If you overpower your swing you’ll never make its acquaintance.

What I’m not saying is you should slow down your swing to the point of somnambulance. But if slow your swing down to control, or to comfort, or however you want to say want to it, you’ll be getting easy power and easy distance.

The World Golf Handicap

Beginning in 2020, that is, now, a new handicapping system has been installed worldwide. The intent was to bring six separate systems into one. It follows in great part the USGA system, but there are some new wrinkles.

In no particular order of importance, the major changes are:

– the best eight of your last twenty scores will be used to calculate your handicap, not the best ten as before.

– equitable stoke control had been replaced by Net Bogey: par + 2 + strokes allowed for the hole is the maximum hole score you can post for handicap purposes.

– handicaps will be recalculated daily instead of every two weeks.

– scores for a day’s round can be adjusted for temporary playing conditions, such as rain, wind, hole locations, and height of rough.

There is more, but it gets arcane pretty fast, and is of use only to the people who maintain handicaps at your club. The handicap guys at my men’s club attended a detailed workshop to learn what to do.

This web site gives you a good overview of the new system in the form of short, less than 1½ -minute-long videos. Please do watch them, but with the sound turned down. There is no narration, just music that gets annoying after a while.

Dean Knuth, the architect of the now defunct USGA Handicap system, wrote an article in Golfworld regarding his thoughts on the new system. There are some bugs that need to be worked out, and he should know.

All that said, long-term readers are well aware of my opinion of establishing a handicap. It is necessary if you compete in any fashion, but if you play only recreational golf, please don’t bother with any of this.