Category Archives: practice

What I’m Going to Do This Winter

Well, the rainy season has landed on western Oregon with a vengeance. It’s either too wet to play, or when it isn’t raining the courses that don’t drain well are too soggy to play–standing water covers the fairway or tee shots bury themselves in the fairway upon landing.

What’s a golfer to do? I think daily practice at home is the key. The practice I’m going to be doing isn’t about improvement, but consistency. I know what my best swing is. I know how to chip and putt. It’s just that those strokes are not automatic, therefore, inconsistent.

I want to get it right the first time, every time, instead of most times. Is that too much to ask? Not if you put in the work.

So today I’m going to do this, in the confines of my house:

1. Swing a golf club a number of times
2. “Hit” pitches and chips
3. Putt across the carpet.

These are the things I want to make automatic:
1. Handle leads the clubhead; rhythm is right and tempo is appropriate; the swing is connected–no bumps or jerks; clubface square to club path; be totally relaxed at address and do not add tension while swinging.
2. The sole of the club brushes the ground every time, at the same depth every time, on the same spot every time.
3. Align the putter face, then myself, square to the staring line; make a smooth, rhythmic stroke; keep the putter low going back and low going through.

4. In all three areas, think no technical thoughts–just feel the stroke.

All that might take maybe ten minutes a day.

It is one thing to say “I’m going to do this every day,” and another to actually do it. The way to get it done is to make a series of one-day commitments. In the morning, commit yourself to doing it today. The next day, do the same. It will also help if you practice at the same TIME every day. Adding to the commitment makes it easier to honor the commitment.

So here it is. The four basic strokes of golf. Join me in performing them today. And again tomorrow. And the next day, one day at a time until the rain has stopped and the courses have dried out.

Perhaps you live in a part of the country where you can play in sunshine and warm weather all year round. Lucky you. But I still invite you to join our daily performance. We’re doing it because we don’t have a choice. You should do it because it’s the right thing to do. Deal?

Those Extra Strokes

When you play 18 holes, you know you’re going to putt the ball into the hole 18 times. The structure of par assumes you need 36 strokes to get the ball on the green in 18 holes. That’s 54 strokes, guaranteed, every time you play.

The questions you need to answer are, what are you doing with the shots from #55 up to your average score? And which of them you can get rid of most easily?

Extra putts? Of course there are going to be some. But if there are more than 18 extra, that’s too many. An extra 14 would be nice.

Extra swings? Make good contact and hit the ball straight. This isn’t difficult if you get lessons to learn what you’re supposed to be doing. Hint: it might take more than one lesson.

Penalty strokes? Keep the ball in bounds and out of water hazards. See above.

Extra recovery shots? Hitting out of tall grass, hitting out of trees, all that’s going to happen, so learn to get out of trouble and back in play in ONE shot. Don’t get greedy.

Extra chips? One per hole. First chip gets on the green. Close to the hole is better.

Extra pitches? One per hole. The green is a HUGE target. But if you aren’t good enough yet to hit it on the fly every time, hit a pitch and run with an 8-iron. Even if you can hit it on the fly, if the pin is sitting right in front of you and there is good ground between it and you, go with the 8-iron.

Extra sand shots? The pros say this is the easiest shot in golf. It is, but it’s a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. Get a lesson and practice. Once you know how to do it, it’s the easiest shot in golf.

End-Gaining

I will be posting my next opus, Bob’s Living Golf Book, in a few weeks. Here’s an excerpt:

End-Gaining
When golfers begin thinking that the purpose of the golf swing is to hit the golf ball, they have become an end-gainer. That means trying for a result directly rather than following the best way to achieve that result.

For example, at the range you have just hit an unsatisfactory shot so you try a little tweak you think will let you hit a better shot, or at least avoid the bad one. But that doesn’t work so you try another tweak, and so on, leading yourself farther away from the desired end rather than closer. This is end-gaining.

The end-gainer keeps doing what feels right, but which is functionally wrong, instead of doing what is functionally right, but which, because of lifelong habits, feels wrong. Even though we might know intellectually what we should be doing, the familiarity of habit forces us into the same mistakes again and again in spite of ourselves, or, more to the point, because of ourselves. In all those corrections you made to hit a better shot you might have thought you were doing something different, but you were most likely repeating variations of the same mistake.

The solution to this problem is, first of all, to find out what is right. Then proceed from the beginning of a movement until just before the part that needs changing is reached. At that point, stop. Do not let a response occur that leads from there to the wrong feeling, and thus to the wrong movement. Do this many times, until the response to proceed incorrectly has disappeared. At that point you may now insert the correct movement and start teaching yourself the correct response, which has a new feeling that you must learn to be comfortable with.

The insidious habit of end-gaining is what makes golf difficult, and prevents golfers from improving. Whenever your shotmaking, whether drive or putt or in between, is not satisfactory, end-gaining is most likely the cause.

Your Golf Scoring Potential

Sometime in August I will be releasing my next golf opus, Bob’s Living Golf Book. It will be posted as a .pdf with links to illustrative videos. Until that happens, I’m going to post a few excerpts from it in this space to generate your enthusiasm. Here’s one about finding out how good you are/could be.

Play a round where you can hit a mulligan whenever you make a seriously bad shot. Pick up your first shot and play your mulligan. By doing this, you get rid of your bad shots and play a round with only the average or better ones. The score you get is an indication of your scoring potential.

You might be surprised at how low a score is within your reach. A round like this makes clear what improvements are needed to shoot a score like that for real.

If a particular mulligan isn’t much better than your first shot, you need to work on that particular shot. If your mulligans are generally much better, you need to learn to hit your second shot first. That is a matter of gaining confidence in what you do.

Note: When I say “seriously bad”, I mean it. The more honest you are with your mulligans the more information this experiment will give you.

External Focus in Golf

A few weeks ago, while cruising around the web, I found out about external vs. internal focus in learning motor skills, especially related to golf. It goes right to the core of what you need to think you’re doing when you are taught something, learning it by yourself, or even practicing something you already know how to do.

The difference between internal and external focus is simple. Internal focus involves instructions for moving body parts–what you need to do. External focus, in golf, revolves around what the club needs to do. Then you do what ever you have to to get that result. (The ghost of Ernest Jones is nodding his head.)

Listen to this podcast.

Subjects who had never hit a golf ball before were taught grip, stance, and posture for a pitch shot. Then the subjects were split into two groups.

The internal focus group (IFG) was taught how their arms move, bend, and straighten at various points in the swing. The external focus group (EFG) was taught how the club swings like a pendulum. When swinging the club they were to “focus on the weight of the clubhead, the straight-line direction of the clubhead path, and the acceleration of the clubhead moving toward the bottom of the arc.”

After practicing what they were taught, all subjects hit blocks of ten golf balls each to a target 50 feet away. Outcomes were measured by how close the ball landed to the center of the target.

The results were that the (EGF) performed significantly better than (IFG). As the trials proceeded, both groups improved, but the IFG never caught up to the EFG. The EFG recorded good scores more frequently, and lower scores less frequently, than the IFG.

Remember a few months ago when I suggested that you you think of the chipping stroke as brushing the ground with the sole of the club? Little did I know that was external focus.

What does this mean for you? Everything. It means you’ll learn faster when you practice like this–working on what the club is supposed to do, not what you’re supposed to do. It means when you play, if there is a swing thought in your head (which I don’t recommend at all), it needs to be about what the club is doing and not about you.

A Few Golf Things

Not a very catchy title, is it? I couldn’t think of what else to call this post and still build in a little SEO. So no great ideas this week, just a few things I’ve been fiddling with, and a story.

1. Practice your putting stroke at home, maybe ten or so strokes a day. Not a lot, just enough to keep the feeling of how you do it from slipping away. Putt a ball to a target while doing this. I use a jar opener for a target. You can get one at a grocery store. It’s a thin sheet of rubber about five inches on a side, with a lot of raised bumps. If you trace out a circle on it using a 24-oz. can of tomatoes as your guide, you can cut out a “hole” just about 4¼” in diameter. You can also take this ersatz hole to the practice green and drop it where you want a hole to be, if the ones already cut out aren’t where you want to putt/chip to.

2. Lately I have taken to swinging a 7-iron in my living room late at night with the lights out. Don’t worry, you won’t hit the ceiling. Just make sure you’re clear of ceiling-mounted light fixtures. Swinging in the dark will improve your balance, since you don’t have the visual cues you normally use to stay in balance. It also slows down your swing so you’re actually swinging, not clobbering.

3. Once at the range my son asked me to hit a ball as hard as I could. I think I had a 6-iron or so in my hand. So I did, and it went a long way. Then, I said, “Watch this.” I put my normal swing on the ball, which doesn’t have any “hit” in, and the ball went five yards less. How much can you slow down your swing with a particular club and still get the same distance out of it? Try it.

Actually, I didn’t really hit the first ball as hard as I could. I did that another time while playing in a 4-club tournament. I was 170 yards from the green. I had a 7-iron, my 140-yard club, and a 19* hybrid, my 200-yard club, in the bag. I didn’t want to ease up on the hybrid, because you can really hit a terrible shot that way. So I had to clobber the 7. I stood beside the ball for about a minute, psyching myself to swing as hard as I could, yet still control the strike. I swung, connected, and the ball took off and landed on the green. I put the 7-iron back in the bag and promised myself I would never, ever do that again.

What to Work on During the Winter

If you live in a place where you can’t play during the winter, like I do, spend your time these next few months working on these things that will make a world of difference in your shot-making.

Grip: Whatever your grip is like, practice to make it be the same every time you pick up a club. Little changes in how you place your hands on the club make a big difference in how the clubhead meets the ball.

Ball position: For balls hit off the round, and hit off a tee, find the position that lets you hit your best shots. That position might be farther back in your stance than you think it should be.

Rhythm: The ratio of the backswing to the downswing is 3:1. Practice to make this your habit. This is the same as learning to be patient when you swing. What gets rhythm out of whack is rushing.

Impact: Your hands must get back to the ball before the clubhead does. See my video lesson for a drill that shows you what that means and shows you how to teach yourself to do it.

Putting: Yes, putting is shot-making. Practice at home to find a stroke that brings the clubhead into the ball square to the starting line and makes contact off the sweet spot of the putter’s face — every time. It will take daily practice and a lot of experimentation to figure this out. By the time you finish, you will likely have a very different stroke than you had before.

You can practice all of these things at home, except the second one, which you should be able to figure out after one trip to the driving range. Then practice at home by taking an address with the ball in that exact spot.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

Going From the Range to the Course

The driving range is about hitting shots. The golf course is about scoring. Here’s how to make the first one easier to bring to the second one.

1. Pick a target for every shot. Not a direction, but a spot on the ground where you want the ball to land.

2. Go through your entire pre-shot routine before you hit the ball. Don’t swing at the ball until you have the feeling that this will be a very good shot.

3. For the next shot, pick a different target.

4. Change clubs after every three shots.

5. Take a break every now and then. Get out of your groove before you resume.

6. Hit some fades and draws. Hit some high shots, some low shots.

7. Develop a shot for when you just can’t go right. Same for when you can’t go left. Same for This one has to go straight, distance be hanged.

8. Make it fun. Make hitting golf balls something you enjoy, not something you work at.

Slow-Motion Golf Swings

Golf is a game of constant maintenance and correction. Once something works, we want to find a way to keep it working. We also know that eventually we will ease out of our groove, and we have to find the way back in.

One very good way to do both of those things is with slow-motion golf swings. The golf swing happens so fast, and out of our sight, that it’s not really possible to know exactly what’s going on. By slowing down, we can feel clearly what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.

And that’s the whole point – to feel what is going on. We can’t see what we are doing, but we can feel it.

The feels we are looking for are the ones that bring the club back square and on plane, and return the clubhead to the ball with the desired impact geometry, and, hopefully, with a good amount of speed.

The best way to teach your unconscious mind* what those feels are is to practice swinging slowly.

The slow-motion swing allows you to verify the feels of what you are doing right.

If anything gets out of whack, you can sense it right away. That is feel of the wrong movment. Even though it might be your habit, it needs to change.

If you need to make a correction, its feel might be odd, but because the slow swing allows you to carefully monitor what is going on at all times, you’ll know it’s right.

Maybe you’re working of a slight change. Practice it in slow motion first, to make sure you’re doing it the way you want to, and you’re not still doing what you’re trying to get away from.

I’m not saying that there is now no reason to have a lesson, but there is a lot you can diagnose yourself so that when you get that lesson, it will be fine tuning, rather than going back to basics.

Pay your money to learn what you can’t figure out by yourself.

The first time I heard about this trick was on a Golf Channel Playing Lessons With the Pros episode featuring Brad Faxon. He said he, and other touring pros, did this all the time at the range, for the very purposes I described above.

Now that it’s rainy weather and you don’t get to play much, and it gets dark early so going to the range after work isn’t really an option, try working on slow swings at home. Get a lesson and spend the winter getting everything in your swing lined up right.
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*Most people use the term “subconscious mind”, but my psychologist friends say “unconscious mind” is correct.

Getting Good Around the Green

Lately I’ve been going to the range about three times a week. I hit my bucket of balls, but what I really want to do is practice around the green.

This is a practice green where you’re allowed to chip, and I do it. One wedge, a putter, and one ball. Chip the ball, putt it out — just like you do on the course. No do-overs with the chip, either. Not wanting to have to leave a ten-foot putt for an up and down gets me to focus.

How am I doing? I get up and down almost every time. I’m not trying to brag here, to tell you how great I am. I’m trying to tell you that if you practice something often enough, you learn and you get good at it.

All that putting I have been doing at home the past few months, and the chipping I do at the range, is paying off.

And there’s this — chipping is the easiest stroke in the game, the easiest one to get good at. There is no reason not to be good at it. Just put in the practice. Getting a lesson won’t hurt, either. Chances are your chipping stroke could stand a little fixing.

If you practice regularly starting now, by springtime you can own the green. All you have to do is put in the work.

Let me say one thing to inspire you about getting good.

An amateur will practice until he (or she) learns to do it right. A professional practices until he can’t do it wrong. No one is stopping you from practicing that much, and if you do, it will pay off like you won’t believe.