Category Archives: playing the game

Breaking X0

There’s a class of golfers who are on the cusp of breaking what I call a milestone score—100, 90, or 80. (If you’re trying to break 70, you don’t need my help.)

I’ll tell you right now, that if you’re flirting with that 99, 89, or 79, you’re already good enough to get there. What’s keeping you back is not be coming a better shotmaker, but a better player.

Golf is a game you play. Good shots get you in the ball park you want to be in. The right shots bring you home.

Example. I was playing a few days ago and my second shot on a par 4 ended up on a mound about five feet above the level of the green, maybe 30 feet from the hole. I took out my sand wedge and pitched on. The ball landed about three feet from the hole, but rolled about ten feet past.

That sounds all right, maybe, but it was the wrong shot. I had released to clubhead, that is, let my hands turn over. That puts a moderate amount of spin on the ball, which is why it ran so far past.

I was playing solo, so I dropped another ball and this time held off the release so at the finish, the clubface was still facing to the sky. That puts a lot of spin on the ball. The ball flew the same, landed close to the same spot as before, but rolled out less than one foot. Tap-in par.

The first shot was a good shot. It was just the wrong shot, which added a stroke to my score, whereas hitting the right shot would have kept my score down.

Now there’s a difference between the wrong shot and a bad shot. We all miss shots, make bad ones, even if they were the right shot. That’s why we’re handicap golfers.

But the more you know about how to play the game, the lower your score will be with the same skills.

Raymond Floyd wrote this in his book, The Elements of Scoring, which I highly recommend: “If somehow I was given your physical (golf) game and we had a match I would beat you 99 times out of 100, because I know how to play the game better than you do”

Got that?

Here’s another example. Earlier in that round, I was on a sharp upslope in front of the green about 40 feet from the pin. Since an upslope adds loft to the club, I chose a 52-degree wedge to chip on with. I hit a good shot that finished about 15 feet past the hole. So I tried another shot, with a 56-degree wedge. Same stroke, different club. The ball finished about four feet past the hole.

In the first example, it was the right cub, but the wrong stroke. In the second example, it was the right stroke, but the wrong club.

Do you see what is going on here? These little things are what can add strokes to your score that you don’t reflect your skill level. Your score doesn’t reflect how well you hit the ball so much as how well you play.

In that nine holes, there were four occasions where I hit a wrong-shot do-over that saved a stroke. The bad shots I let lie. All that turned a 42 into a potential 38.

Four shots in eighteen holes is a lot, but four shots in nine holes is enormous.

I strongly recommend that you find time, on occasion to play a solo round when the course isn’t busy and do what I did. You will learn a ton about being a better player, which is all you need to be to break that milestone score.

4 Cornerstones of the Game

There’s a golf blog I recommend you give a look to, called 3Jack Golf Blog. It concentrates on professional tournament golf, but occasionally has instructional relevance for us. Find it at https://3jack.blogspot.com/.

One post that struck me presented Richie’s analysis of the telling skills for professional golfers. He called them the 4 Cornerstones of the Professional Game.

They are,

1. Driving Effectiveness
2. Red Zone Play (175-225 yards)
3. Short Game shots from 10-20 yards
4. Putting from 3-15 feet

Players that rank average or better in all four these areas do well on the Tour. Recreational golfers who do well in these area will do well overall, too.

Driving Effectiveness is a combination of length and accuracy. For us, accuracy would be more important than length, but don’t discount distance. My par rate is clearly related to being the fairway. I don’t think about distance, because the ones I hit straight are my longest drives.

I would reduce the yardage of Red Zone Play to 125-175 yards for recreational golfers. This is about hitting greens from distances we can realistically have a chance. I once wrote about the yardage gap for recreational golfers, the distance from 175-200 yards that we don’t have a realistic chance of hitting the green with any consistency. Take a look at that post.

By the way, I have this rule of thumb for hitting greens. It is just my guess, with no data to back it up at all, but it makes sense to me. Add a zero to the number of the club you are using. That is the percentage of greens you should hit with that club.

The standard for a 9-iron then is to hit 90% of greens, and with a 5-iron 50% is a reasonable expectation. Thinking along these lines can help you plan you approach to the green, as in what are my chances of missing, and if I miss, where is the best place to do that?

Numbers 3 and 4 are obviously just as important for us, without modification, as they are for the pros. The short game metric is measured in yards from the green, not from the hole. Putting? How many putts from 3-15 feet do you sink? Just two more per round would help, don’t you think?

I know these cornerstones sound obvious, because when you take them out, there isn’t that much of the game left. Long-range pitching, bunker play, and approach putting is about it.

But you might want consider concentrating on these four areas in your practice sessions and see how it works out. I’m focusing on #3, because those are great places from which to steal a par, and there’s no reason I can’t get good with those shots. Or you, for that matter.

A Few Shot Savers

Here are some easy ways to save a shot here and there which do not require you be any better than you are now. Each one can save you one stroke per round. They are taken from the upcoming edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book.

Play from the right set of tees.

Off the tee, use the longest club with which you can reliably hit the fairway. If that’s your driver, go for it. If it’s not our driver, don’t just assume it is your 3-wood.

Every shot at the hole (iron, pitch, chip, putt) must pass the hole. If the iron into the green requires a longer club than you can reliably hit straight, lay up. It is easier to chip on from the unobstructed fairway than from problematic ground on the sides of the green.

From 10-20 yards off the green, getting the ball on the green in one shot is a higher priority than getting the ball close to the pin.

For any putt of under roughly 20 feet (you have to determine the exact distance) look at the hole when you putt.

For putts beyond 20 feet, use the Triangulated Approach Putting technique.

Realize that some holes are too hard for you. Play them for an easy bogey instead of a hard par.

When you’re in trouble, think first about hitting the ball back into the fairway and playing on from there.

Put more importance on having fun with your companions and enjoying the day than you do shooting a low score.

Carry these playing tips with you, use them, and see how many strokes they save you. There are nine of them. What if each one did save you one stroke per round?

Today’s Round – Learning From Mistakes

Actually yesterday’s. I spent the day thinking about it. I played nine holes, and was two over par for six of them, and seven over, two doubles and a triple, for the other three. That will make you think.

Now there is no “if only” in sports. I shot what I shot. But looking over those three high scores, the pattern was that I lost four strokes because of bad decisions. The problem is that I have forgotten how to play golf.

Playing golf is not about hitting good shots. I can do that. Golf is about hitting as few of them as possible, and that’s a different skill.

So let me go over my errors with you so you can see if that will help you start thinking about how to shoot a lower score with the same skills.

The 5th hole is 505 yards long. A drive and a hybrid put me right in front of a wide-open green, between an eight and nine-iron. I chose the eight because I always want to have enough club in my hand. So far, so good. But I forgot what you do when you choose the longer club: grip down and swing fully. Gripping down takes about five yards off the shot. Instead I tried swinging a little easier, which makes bad things happen, and sure enough, I chunked it.

The ball was close enough to the green that par was still in play if I could chip on and sink the putt. But I forgot the Maxim of the Short Game: just get the ball on the green so you can start putting. I got too cute with the chip by going for the pin instead of the green and chunked it. One chip and two putts later, I’m in the hole with a DB.

The very next hole, a long par 4 into the wind, was a bogey hole that day. A drive and a seven-iron later I’m close to the green. Simple pitch, two putts, maybe one, and I’m happy. But I forgot to check the distance to the pin. Because of the wind I chose a stronger club to pitch with, but the pin was too close even for that, and I flew the green with my pitch. It took me three shots to get down chipping to a green sloping away from me. DB.

Three holes later, the ninth, I hit my drive into the right rough. I had been pushing my driver all day, but getting away with it. The ground rises dramatically to the green, and given my lie I didn’t want to try for the green, come up short, and end up with the ball on a severe upslope. So I played short, leaving the ball on a moderate upslope, which was all I could do.

This time I checked the distance to the pin, but didn’t evaluate the situation correctly. When you pitch off an uphill lie, the slope adds loft to the club. You have to club down to hit the ball the same distance. But I started my calculation with the club I should have ended up with, and once again had too much club in my hand. The pitch flew the green into a bad place and it took me four to get down from there. TB.

Three bad decisions cost me four strokes. I ended up with a 45 that could have been a 41 without playing any better, but just by thinking more clearly.

That’s how this game goes. This is clear evidence of what I call the Floyd Rule, which I take from Raymond Floyd’s book, The Elements of Scoring, and that is, “If I were given your physical game, and we had a match, I would beat you 99 times out 100 times because I know how to play the game better than you do.”

Let me give you one more example from that day’s round, by one of my playing partners. On the eighth hole, we both put our tee shots in the right rough (I ended up with a par). His ball was right behind a small tree trunk with about four inches to spare. He had the easiest shot in the world to chip 90 degrees back into the fairway so he could hit on.

What did he do? He gripped down and tried to hit the ball in the direction of the green, or as nearly as he could. With a swing featuring a four-inch follow-through, he bladed the ball about 15 feet and deeper into the rough. Oh, well…

So my question to you is, do you think about your mistakes? Write them down? Learn from them, so next time you know what to do? Not just think, “Why did I do that,” but know now what you should have done, and next time apply the correction?

I truly believe that if you concentrated only on playing the game better you could reduce your average score by over five percent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but do the math.

Hint: most mistakes come from getting greedy. We won’t concede one lost stroke and end up taken two or three more instead.

My Conception of Golf Technique

Over the years I have sprinkled certain themes throughout my posts. I say them over and over because they work—not only for me, but for everybody.

To save you the trouble of searching for what you might not know is even there, here it all is. This post summarizes my thoughts. If you do all these things (and there aren’t many) you will play better golf.

The Swing

Control your tempo by starting the club forward at the same speed with which you brought it up.

Do not let the suspension point move.

Your hands must lead the clubhead into the ball. Accomplish this by feeling the butt end of the handle moving leftward from the start of the forward swing through impact.

Short Game

With a chip and a pitch, think of sliding the sole of the club underneath the ball. Do not hit down on the ball.

With a chip, use one swing and several clubs to regulate distance.

With a pitch, use two or three lengths of swing (your choice) and several clubs to regulate distance.

Putting

Hit the ball on the sweet spot of the putterface.

Let the length of the backswing be the sole distance generator.

Technique is less important than mentally bearing down the hole.

A Few Random Golf Notes

No essay today. Just a few odds and ends that have come to mind lately.

1. That the forward swing begins with the movement of the left hip is beyond doubt, but what that movement is, exactly, is a matter of confusion. There is a slide and a turn. But which one comes first and how much of a movement is each one? Let’s make the matter simpler.

Think of the first move forward as pushing your left hip straight back behind you. Now it cannot exactly go straight backward. To go back it has to turn somewhat and there will be a bit of a slide, too. Also, your weight will get off the right side early, like it should.

By thinking about it this way, whether the slide or the turn happens first is no longer an issue. They will both happen at the right time and that’s all you need to worry about.

If you try this, make sure the hip goes backward in rhythm. Don’t snap it back quickly.

2. A few years ago, the Play It Forward campaign was big. Play from the right set of tees and you will shoot lower scores and have more fun. There’s another reason why playing it forward pays off. It makes you a better golfer over time.

Because the course is shorter you will be hitting more shots that are within your ability to hit. This means you will learn how to score. Instead of always playing catch-up, you will always be on offense. You will learn how to dictate to the course instead of the course dictating to you.

You might want to play for a while from tees that are too short, then back up with your new mindset.

3. A few years ago I talked to you about the clubs I used to chip with. It was a set that went from lob wedge through 8-iron. The chipping stroke I used was somewhat of a downward blow with a little bit of punch to it.

Recently I have changed my chipping stroke to one that is more of a level brushing stroke. It gradually became clear that the clubs I calibrated earlier did not work well with the new stroke.

Since the blow with a brush is not as sharp, the ball does not leap off the clubface as it does with the downward stroke. All I had to do to recalibrate my chipping set was to move up by two clubs.

For example, where I had been using a lob wedge I now use a gap wedge to chip to a certain distance, or instead of a pitching wedge I use an 8-iron to send the ball an equivalent distance.

4. Remember that we play golf in order to have fun with friends. Of course we want to get better, but improvement occurs gradually. Having fun happens anytime we want to. First things first.

A Few More Golf Thoughts

The golf swing should be as simple as possible, but no simpler (Albert Einstein?)

When your swing goes south during a round, re-group.   Play the next hole with your 8-iron.   8-iron off the tee, 8-iron down the fairway, then a lesser club to get you on the green, where two putts will get you a bogey.   On the next hole after that, go back to your usual game and swing whatever club you use just like you swung the 8-irons.

Close to breaking 100, or 90, or 80, but just can’t shed those one or two strokes?   Play a round from the forward tees once, and break through.   Now that you’ve done it, the monkey is off your back, and you can return to your regular tees and enjoy golf again.

Anything you want to do with a golf ball, hit it straight, far, curve it, spin it, high, low, anything, starts with hitting it on the center of the clubface.   That, is golf’s fundamental skill.

Ben Hogan said that in the forward swing, you can’t turn your hips too fast.   That is good advice as long as you do not swing out from under yourself.   The hips turn, but they must carry the torso with them and not leave it behind.

Try playing a round in which every shot into the green, from no matter from how far away, ends up past the flagstick, and see what that gets you.   If you think a 6-iron will do, take a 5, grip down an inch and swing away.   If you’re chipping, make sure the ball stops past the hole, not short of it.   You score by getting the ball up to the hole, not by sneaking up on the hole.

I really like 2s.   When you put a 2 on your scorecard, everyone knows exactly what happened.   A 3 could be several things, so could a 4, and a 5 could be a double bogey.   But a 2 means only one thing.   I like 2s a whole lot.

It is true that the less tension you have in your swing the faster the clubhead can go.   At address, you should be completely relaxed–not limp like a noodle, but have no tension anywhere.   Most of us are OK on the backswing, but when the forward swing starts is where tension can come in, especially if you want to hit the bill hard.   What you really want to do is hit the ball fast, and that means…no tension.   I have found in my swing that the place where tension comes in and slows down my swing is in the muscles of the upper torso.    If I keep this area relaxed, the clubhead screams through the ball with ungodly fury, yet it is still under control.    Try it.   Try keeping that part of your torso relaxed on the forward swing and see how much more clubhead speed you get.

Just before you take your putter back, lift it up so the sole is off the ground and just touches the top of the grass.   Now you can start your stroke.   The difference between starting the stroke by swinging straight back and going up a bit first then back, is significant.

Drawing and Fading

Look at the two pictures below.   Because there is a bunker near the pin, you really don’t want shoot straight for it.   It would be better to start the ball closer to the center of the green and curve it into the pin.   If the curve doesn’t come off, you’re still OK.

In picture 1, you see how to set up for hitting a draw.   Aim your stance at the target (yellow circle), aim the clubface to the right of it (blue circle), and swing through the ball toward a spot even farther to the right (red circle).

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You may click the picture to enlarge it and see this more clearly.

Even though the clubface is open to the target line, it is closed to the swing line, and the ball will curve to the left.

To fade the ball, set up a show in picture 2.   Aim your stance to the left (red circle) of the target (yellow circle), and aim the clubface between the two (blue circle).   Swing through the ball toward the red circle.

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The clubface will be open to the swing line, start off to the right of it, and curve further right toward the target.

In both cases, it is most important that you think of hitting the ball straight toward the red circle.   Do you see where the tree line in the background drops down to a low point behind the red circle?   That is where you should think of hitting the ball, in each case.   Your setup and swing path will curve the ball in the direction you want it to go.

If instead you have the target in mind, you could unconsciously try to steer the ball in the direction you want it to go, ruining everything.

Don’t get too caught up by the circles being unevenly spaced here.   They might or might not be the exact positions for your golf, but their relative positions and their proximity to the pin are.   Hit little draws, and little fades, not big ones.