Category Archives: playing the game

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.

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.

A Few Odds and Ends

I was looking through a notebook I keep that contains notes from golf lessons I have taken. The last playing lesson I took emphasized the tee shot. My note says, “Tee shot is paramount to making par. Work on these.” So work on your driver, but work on hitting it straight, not far. If you can hit your irons straight, but not your driver, get a lesson. You’ll never figure it out yourself.

There are several other notes that pertain only to me, but another general note is, “Make your targets very precise from the tee and the fairway.” Think not only of which direction you want the shot to go, but on what spot do you want the ball to land. And it’s a spot, not an area.

You know the bottom of your swing needs to be ahead of the ball. How do you do that? I practice this indoors with a fairway wood. I set up and take note of the place where the leading edge of the sole is. Then I make a slow-motion swing and try to lightly tap the rug with the sole of the club ahead of that place when I swing through. Hint: if you’re not getting your weight to the left in the forward swing, and early in the forward swing, you won’t be able to get the club out there.

I’ve been playing around with a short stroke for short putts this past week. It started out as the old pop stroke, but I quickly found out that the rapid stroke and percussive hit the word “pop” suggests is the wrong way to go about it. I’m finding success with a rhythmic stroke that nudges the ball to the hole. That might be a better starting point for you if you want try this out. I should also mention my upper arms rest against my sides for security. The advantage of a short stroke (about six inches for a 10-foot putt) is that the clubface stays square throughout. I’m only using this stroke for short putts I think I can sink. For longer putts, I go back to my sweeping pendulum stroke and the TAP method.

I read a tip in a current golf magazine that I thought might help. So I went out and tried it. The results were terrible. What I realized very quickly is that I was already doing what the tip suggested. In trying to follow the tip I did more of it and that was too much. Beware of tips you read in golf magazines.

Your Golf Has to Travel

A few days ago I got a wake-up call. I was doing business at an end of town I don’t spend a lot of time in, but which has a driving range nearby. So I took along a putter and a ball to get a little practice in before I went back home.

I get all of my putting practice on the green at the range where I normally go to. If you saw me putt on this green, you would say that I’m a very good putter. I make putts from all over the place, and I go around the putting clock and never three-putt.

Well.

On this new green, I couldn’t do a thing right. I was three-putting from twenty-five feet about half the time, it was hit-and-miss with four-footers, and my distance control was just nowhere.

I realized that I putted so well on my usual green not because of things that I thought made me a good putter. They didn’t have anything to do with it.

I had merely unconsciously memorized the green. That’s it. So when I went to this new green, I didn’t have the skills to handle the differences in green speed and contour.

I play the same courses, and I putt very well on them, because I have memorized their greens. It all adds up to having become lazy.

An under-appreciated aspect of the way Tour pros play the game is that their golf travels. They play different courses every week, that require different shots, that provide different responses to the shot, and you know what? They don’t care! The adapt after a practice round or two and it’s off to the birdie-fest.

You improve and become a Golfer by having skills that hold up under any condition. Looks like I have some work to do. How about you?

Golf Is a “Next Shot” Game

Many people play golf by hitting the ball, finding it, and figuring out what to do next. They make golf a “this shot” game. Golf is better played by thinking about the shot after this one.

An easy example to make this clear is the second shot on a par-5 hole. You can either hit the ball as far as you can to get on the green with whatever is left over, or you can figure out what shot you want to hit into the green, then play your second shot to set up that one.

The general rule is to play this shot so as to make the next shot as easy and productive as possible.

Arrive

To have a chance at a par, your shot into the green has to get there. It has to arrive. Where it’s appropriate, for shots you intend to hit the green, be they approaches from the fairway or pitches from closer in, play to hit the ball past the pin. This is the scoring zone.

Most greens are deeper than you think. If you think you have a 6-iron to the pin, hit the 5. That choice guarantees you will fly the hazards around the green, which are usually in front. It allows for hitting less than your best shot, which is the shot we hit maybe 90 percent of the time.

Not to mention, since you are holding the longer club, you will be less inclined to try to hit table hard. That will help you have an easier, smoother swing, and a greater chance of a good shot.

True, some greens that are so steep from back to front that hitting the ball past the hole is the last thing you want to do. But that’s an exception.

Vivien Saunders had this to say about arriving:

“… there is just as much space beyond the flag as in front of it. When you watch players approach to green from the side it seems ridiculous that they’re constantly short.

In order to improve, try to pass the flag on every single shot you play. Keep a note on your scorecard. Give yourself a point every time your shot to the green finishes on the green beyond the flag. Professionals find this scoring zone far more often than club golfers. Many club golfers soon discover that they never, ever pass the flag.”*

One time, play a round where all day you pick your club into the green as you normally do, but then use one more club, and see what that gets you.

Hitting the ball at the green, instead of to the right or to the left, will be a problem we face with every shot. Hitting it far enough should never be. Just use enough club. Arrive.

This concept does not apply only to iron play from the fairway. Other shots you play at the hole must pass it, too. This means pitches, chips, and putts.

* Vivien Saunders, The Golf Handbook for Women, p. 180.

A Few Little Things

No essay today — just a few thoughts for you, in no particular order.

1. At the range, hit one ball at a time. Put your bucket in a place where you have to walk to it to get another ball. This will force you to set up all over again for each shot. This is how you practice your setup: grip, stance, posture, aim, ball position. Most of your bad shots are the result of a bad setup, not a bad swing.

2. Make your first read of a putt standing 50 feet from the hole. Only from that distance can you see the overall tilt of the green. Do you want to know why you missed that straight-in 3-footer? Because you couldn’t see from just a few feet behind the ball that the entire green was tilted to the left.

3. Have you figured out which club you want to hit from the fairway? Factored in lie, wind, green firmness? Good. Now take one more club and grip down an inch. Otherwise, you’re relying on a perfect strike.

4. Hit a few stock 9-irons. Your swing with a driver should take just as long, from start to finish, as those.

5. Unless you’re hitting a specialty shot, use the same ball position for all shots off the ground. Thus the ball will always be in the same place relative to the bottom of your swing.

6. You can’t generate clubhead speed by turning your hips at 100 mph. The calmer your center stays, the more speed will be built up at the outside — the clubhead.

7. Never hit over water unless you have no choice. Bad things happen when you challenge a water hazard needlessly.

8. Make it your rule from close in to get the ball on the green in one shot. Even if you leave the ball 30 feet from the hole, you’ve done your job.

9. The conventional advice when playing a par 3 from an elevated tee is to take less club. Actually, you should take more club and punch the ball off the tee. This is a more secure swing, and keeps the ball down to get the ball on the green quicker.

10. At the range, practice as long as your mind is sharp. If you feel your mind is losing focus, that’s enough for the day. Give the rest of your bucket to another golfer and go home. You don’t learn anything when your mind is tired.

How to Break 100, 90, and 80

Breaking a milestone scores is a major event in a golfer’s life. It signals improvement and gives assurance that going lower still is a possibility.

There are books written on how to break each of these three scores, filled with technique. If you’re a few strokes away, you already have the technique. Think instead about how you plan your round. It makes a difference.
Breaking 100

If you got a double bogey on every hole you would shoot 108. So you can get a double bogey on just nine holes, a bogey on the rest, and there’s 99.

What is killing your score now is not a lack of pars and bogeys. It is the triples and quads. At your level your job is not to take fewer strokes on a hole, but to avoid taking extra ones.

Do that by shoring up your play at each end of the hole.

First, leave your driver at home. Leave your 3-wood at home, too. Tee off with a hybrid iron, one that gets the ball out there 175-180 yards but in the fairway.

Second, from 50 yards and in, just get your ball on the green in the same area as the pin. Do not get cute and try for the pin.

You’re not that good yet. Just get the ball on the green and take your two putts.

Nine bogeys + nine doubles = 99

Breaking 90

Now you have to start making pars. I would still leave the driver at home. Use the longest club with which you can reliably get the ball in the fairway from off the tee, to be on offense from the start.

You also have to get better around the green. Eliminate down-in-four from 50 yards in. You should be getting down in two from just off the green half as often as not.

Get your pars by parring one of the par 3s, one of the par 4s and two of the par fives.

You might say, if I get four pars that gives me an 86. Yes, but you’re still going to have some doubles and maybe a triple.

Your game is in the middle where you’re capable of making pars, but still capable of making big scores, too.

Four pars + eleven bogeys + three doubles = 89

Breaking 80

Now you have to play well all around. Seven over sounds pretty tough, but that’s more wiggle room than you think it is.

Your goal should be to have a putt for par on every hole. Sometimes that putt will 45 feet long, not two feet, but the ball is still on the green and your putt is for a par.

At your level, par is a reasonable expectation on all but a few holes on your course. For those few holes, go for bogey, but give yourself a chance for par. Don’t go all out for par and end up with a double.

Get your pars on two par 3s, five par 4s, and all the par 5s.

Eleven pars + seven bogeys = 79.

In reality, you have to throw in another par somewhere, because going 18 holes without a double bogey is really hard for an 80-shooter to do. Birdies are still happy accidents at this level.

How to Play Par 5s

The par 5s on your course are the holes where you can get your pars more easily than the rest. Think of them as really long par 4s that you are playing for bogey, and you have the idea.

As with a par-4 hole, the key to the par 5 is the second shot, an advancement shot which sets you up for an easy shot onto the green. Of course, your drive has to put the ball in the right spot for that second shot.

A long hole does not automatically mean a long drive is needed. I did a survey once of the par-5 holes on eight courses I normally play. The average length was 485 yards, from the white tees. The longest was 525, the shortest was 460.

Let’s go with the average, 485 yards. Say you can get 200 yards out of a hybrid iron. Tee off with it. You don’t have to hit that short off the tee, we’re just seeing what happens if you do.

That third shot into the green needs to be a gimmee. The right second shot is how you get it.

You have two shots left to cover 285 yards. Divide by two, and that’s about two 7-irons. Or you could cover the same distance with a 5-iron and a pitching wedge.

Not bad. So let’s go back and tee off with a driver. That puts the ball in the fairway at 230 or so. Now you have two 8-irons to get the ball on the green. See how this works?

There’s no need to be a manly man when you’re 240 yards away from the hole by going for it all at once unless you are VERY good from that distance.

Of course you want to get as close to the green as you can for your third shot, but the number one priority is to hit the second shot, the advancement shot, with a club you handle well.

On your third shot, resist temptation to go for the flag even if you’re close to to the green. Just get the ball on the green inside 40 feet or so, and there’s your par. That’s a big target that I’m sure you can hit. You’re likely to get closer than 40 feet, too.

The idea of a par 5 is not to be concerned about distance. They give you an extra shot to get the ball on the green, so use it. Wisely.

Get the ball in the fairway off the tee, keep the ball on the fairway with your second, and just get it on the green with your third.

How to Play Par 4s

A standard golf course has ten par 4 holes. They’re hard. Even the pros average a touch over par on them in aggregate. The key is the second shot, but the first and third shot are right behind in importance.

The tee shot needs to be in the fairway. Colin Montgomery said, “The reason people think I’m such a good iron player is that I’m always playing my second shot from here (pointing to the fairway) instead of from over there (pointing to the rough).”

If the rough is low, if fairways bunkers have shallow lips, if there are no trees to hit into, you still have a chance if your ball ends up in one of those places.

Best, though, to play for the fairway. That might mean leaving your driver in the bag occasionally. Something to consider.

The key, now, is the second shot. The big mistake is hitting short of the green. You either overestimate your how far you can hit a club, or you have the right club but don’t make good contact.

Start out choosing your club based on the distance to the pin. Then take one more club (say, a 6-iron instead of a 7-iron), and grip down about an inch. Put a normal swing on the ball.

A good shot will get you past the pin (always good), and if you don’t quite get all of the shot, you’ll be short of the pin, but still on the green.

In addition, most of the trouble around the green is in front, and you’ll be hitting over it.

When selecting your club, do not forget to consider other factors such as differences in elevation between you and the green, wind, dampness in the air, your lie, and how you’re hitting the ball today.

If you got green-high in two, odds are your third shot won’t be that close to the hole, so you’ll have a longish chip or approach putt left.

This is where chipping practice and long approach putt practice (30-40 feet) comes in. You have to get the ball to three feet or less with your third.

Having gone through all that, the advice that puts it all together is to plan the hole backwards, from green to tee.

If you know the course well, you should know where in the fairway you want to hit into the green from. Now you know where in the fairway you want to put your tee shot.

Finally, some par 4s are just to hard for you. Play those as a short par 5 to keep the double off your card.