Category Archives: supporting your golf

Stepping Off Yardages

Very few of us are good enough to worry about whether, from the fairway, the pin is 160 yard away or 158. I’m not, but around the green, two yards makes a world of difference to me.

I don’t assume my pace is one yard long when I step off a shot. I know exactly how long it is.

I went to a baseball diamond and walked off the distance between third and second, counting my steps. I walked back to third, counting again just make sure.

It took me 35 steps, and to cover 90 feet (30 yards), that’s 6/7 of a yard per step.

I made up a card that I keep in my bag showing how far I walk with any number of steps from 1 to 20. If I take 11 steps, that’s 9.4 yards.

When I walk off short pitches, chips, and putts, I know exactly how far it is. That’s one step closer to hitting the ball stone dead.

How Far Do You Hit Your Irons?

Your irons are your offensive weapons. Once your ball is on the fairway, the shot into the green is where you set up your score. Really knowing how far you hit each iron is critical. Use this easy method to find out.

Go to an executive course nearby with a laser rangefinder. The idea is that you pick a club to analyze and drop a ball in the fairway at a measured distance and hit the club you think will go that far. As the holes, go by, you can refine the distance at where you drop the ball until you have it just just or nearly so.

Let’s start with you 9-iron. Maybe you think you hit it 130 yards. Drop a ball 125 yards at from the pin. It’s better to start off conservatively. Hit your shot, and if you would call it a representative shot, go to the spot on the green where the pitch mark is. Step off the vertical distance (see illustration) from that mark to the pin. Add that distance to, or subtract it from 125 yards, accordingly, and do the same on the next eight holes, if possible.

VertDist

After nine holes, you will have a good number of data points to work with. Estimate the distance you hit your 9-iron by taking out the longest four and the shortest four. The one in the middle is the distance to use.

Now play nine more holes, from 145 yards, analyzing your 7-iron.

You can also do this with your 5-iron and your 3-iron or hybrid equivalent.

Now look at the yardages you have for these four clubs. There should be a consistent progression from club to club. It won’t always be ten yards. I hit my irons at nine-yard intervals. When in doubt, adjust a club distance downward.

Determining distances between hybrids is more difficult. Because we don’t hit greens with them too often, it’s hard to tell exactly where the ball landed.

I have twelve-yard intervals between hybrids, as well as between my longest iron and shortest hybrid. I learned that by keeping watch on the course and adjusting as I gathered results.

Play several rounds on a regulation course now, sticking to the yardages you just figured out, and see how it goes. Adjust if you are always short, but if you are always long (but not too long), don’t change a thing.

I would go through this exercise every year. You change, your swing changes, and especially if you bought a new set of irons, do this right away.

A Solid Core for Golfers

Golf is not a walk in the park, though it looks like one. The golf swing is an athletic movement, which requires physical strength to perform correctly, and to avoid injury.

The physical foundation of the swing is your core, or the trunk and the lower back. Do these exercises three times a week to develop it. No equipment is required.

Exercises 1-3 strengthen your abdomen. Exercises 4-5 strengthen your back. You must do both groups to be balanced.

1. Abdominal crunch – Lie down on your back, both knees bent. Elevate your upper back so your shoulder blades are off the ground. Hold for five seconds and lower your shoulders to the ground. Start with three times and work up to ten.

strength_ab_crunch_web

2. Plank – Get into a push-up position, with your body supported by your toes, and your forearms instead of your hands. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for 30 seconds and work up to two minutes.

plank_web

3. Side plank – Lie on your side. Raise your body off the ground and support it on your forearm and underside foot. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for ten seconds. Do five times on each side. At first, you may wish only to raise your upper body off the ground.

side_plank_web

4. Butt squeeze – Lie down on your back, legs straight out. Clench your buttocks and hold for ten seconds. Try not to squeeze your thighs, too. Do five times.

5. Prone pointer – Get down on all fours. Raise your right leg and stick it straight out behind you. Raise your left arm and stick it straight out in front of you. Hold for ten seconds. Lower and switch to left leg, right arm. Do five times on each side, work up to twenty.

superman_web

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Dr. Frank Jobe (1925-2014)

You know who this guy is. He is the one who invented Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow of baseball pitchers. John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had a useless left elbow until Jobe took an unneeded ligament from John’s right wrist and grafted it in place in John’s left elbow. After healing as complete, John went to win 146 more major league baseball games.

The real name of the procedure is “ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction while using the palmaris longus tendon.” Let’s just stick with Tommy John surgery.

But this is a golf blog, so where’s the connection? Jobe did pioneering work in the role of different body parts in the golf swing. You can look them up at PubMed, a clearing house for medical journals.

He also wrote a book of exercises for golfers, titled, 30 Exercises for Better Golf. Golf is an athletic event. You need to have the right muscles developed to play it well, and to play it injury-free. This book tells you how to do that.

Golf is hard on the back. It’s hard on the elbows and shoulders, too. As we age, we loose flexibility, especially in trunk rotation, which causes us to lose power, which causes us to try to make up for it harmful ways. Keep the golf muscles strong and flexible, and the effects of aging are diminished.

All these are good reasons to be prepare for golf by being in shape for it.

I have read all the golf exercise books I can find, but this one is by far the best. Get it, use it. And thank Dr. Jobe for helping us stay healthy.

 

Golfers: How to Know How Far Your Clubs Carry

To play accurately around the course, you have to know how far you hit each club. Here’s how to find that out.

Driver: Step off the vertical distance between your ball and the 150-yard marker for drives that stay in the fairway. By vertical distance, I mean the distance along a line connecting your ball and the green.

Irons: If you have a laser rangefinder, find the distance to the pin. Select your club and hit the shot. If the ball lands on the green, step off the vertical distance between the pitch mark and the hole. Here, vertical distance means the distance along a line parallel to the axis of the hole between perpendiculars at your ball and the hole to that line. Write down the club and distance, and after a few rounds, you will have a pretty good profile to work with. Bonus: from the same spot, take one more club, grip down one inch, and make another shot. By recording these gripped-dwon shots, you will come up with two working distances for each club.

Wedges: Do this at the range. Pick a flag and hit different wedges to it, using your standard pitching swing, until you find the wedge that hits the ball closest to it. Use the same swing every time. Move to different places until you find a place where that wedge gets the ball right to the flag. Then measure the distance to that flag with a laser rangefinder. That’s your distance with that wedge. Continue to this procedure until you have a distance for all your wedges. If you want to get finer, you can measure what you get when you use a standard shorter swing and standard longer swing. Or a standard faster swing and slower standard swing.

Chipping: Take out your lob wedge and hit five chips, with the same swing, and step off the distance you get. That’s how far a chip with your lob wedge goes. Do the same with each club in progression down to your 7-iron. Important! Use the same swing for all the shots you hit with all the clubs. You want the club to be the only variable.

Putter: This more subtle. You’re looking for a way to putt the ball different distances. You do that by taking the club back to spots where you feel different muscles get strained. That’s the stopping point for that particular swing. For example, if I take the putter back to the point where my left forearm touches my abdomen, that stroke will hit the ball 15 feet. If I take it back farther, to a point where I feel a slight strain on the right side of my lower back, that stroke will send the ball 22 feet. And so on. These distances were determined on a medium-speed green. If the greens you play on run faster than the ones on which you calibrated your stroke, just increase the distance of your standard strokes by an appropriate amount.

None of this is to say that you play strictly by formula. Feel counts for a lot, but you need some place to anchor your feel. It can’t be out there by itself. And, on days when your feel isn’t working, you can still play well.

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How to Make a Video of Your Golf Swing

There are several reasons why you might want to make a video of your golf swing. One reason might be just to look at to teach yourself. Another might be to record what it looks like when you’re swinging well, so that when you get into a bad patch, you might be able to see what is wrong. Another might be to send it to a swing guru to have it analyzed.

Your video should show two views — face-on, looking across the ball at you, and down-the-line, which is taken from the backswing side of the golfer, looking toward the direction the ball is going to be hit.

For both views, the height of the camera should be at about the middle of the rib cage when the player is standing upright. Higher or lower than that distorts the image of the golfer.

The field of view should be wide enough to include the ball, and show the clubhead throughout the swing. The clubhead should never disappear out of the top or the sides of the frame.

When taking a face-on shot, the camera should be pointed directly at the middle of the player’s body. For the down-the-line angle, the camera should be directly behind the hands at address. Laying alignment sticks on the ground to mark the location and direction of these points of view will be very helpful.

It will also be helpful to lay down an alignment stick next to the ball so the golfer can align his or her normal stance in relation to the stick pointing at the face-on camera.

This part is important: the camera must be on a tripod. A hand-held camera will move around and you will not be able to compare different stages of the swing. When the image is dancing around, you can’t tell if changes in the angles created in the video are caused by the golfer’s swing or by camera movement.

If you have a variable shutter, set it on 1/2000 sec. Clearly, you should take your video on a bright, sunny day.

To get the full benefit of making a swing video, set up two cameras, one in the face-on position and the other in the down-the-line position, and run both cameras at once. This way you get two views of the same swing. What you’re trying to do is show what your swing looks like from two views, and that can only be done with certainty if you’re filming one swing from two locations at the same time.

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The Recreational Golfer’s Facebook Page

You read my blog twice a week, but did you know The Recreational Golfer posts every day* on a Facebook page?

Every day,* you get a few lines on what crosses my mind about play, practice, observations, musings, and questions to you about your golf.

If you were a follower, you would have read things such as:

– The key to a good golf swing in two words — effortless efficiency. (October 11)

– The plainest, most unadorned golf course is a better place to be than the most beautiful bowling alley. (September 20)

– When I was a kid, I had a little golf course in my back yard. There were tin cans buried in the ground for holes. All I could think about was getting the ball in the hole. I doesn’t hurt to be that single-minded even today. (September 24)

Please do three things.

First, click the Facebook button on the top right of this page (but not right yet).

Second, click the Like button on the Facebook page and visit every morning. I’ll have something new for you every day. (you know)

Third, participate! Please add your comments to the Facebook posts. They create a commons where we can learn from each other, and share the joys we get from playing this wonderful game.

O.K. Now you can click that icon, or right here, click the Like button when you get there, and we can start talking to each other. Every day.

* (or pretty near)

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Evaluate Your Golf Shots

Some golfers like to keep statistics on their game. All golfers who want to improve, should. The usual stats are fairways hit, greens in regulation, up and downs, and number of putts. While these stats tell you what, they don’t tell you why. I would suggest you keep a different set of stats that are more to the point.

A valuable exercise that will tell you what you really need to know about your shot-making and mental game is to evaluate every shot after the round is over. When you get home, the round should be fresh enough in your mind that you can sit down for a half-hour and make a notation about every shot, except, say, the one-foot or under tap-ins.

This is a scheme I use.

1. Given my skills,
a. I got everything I could out of this shot.
b. My head was there, but my body didn’t perform.
c. I wasted a stroke because of a mental miscue.


2. Shot quality. If I hit every [whatever shot you’re evaluating] like this one, I would:
a. shoot par
b. shoot 80
c. shoot 90
d. shoot 100
e. take up tennis

3. For 2c, 2d, and 2e shots, was I:
a. trying too hard,
b. upset about something,
c. intimidated by the situation,
d. losing my focus temporarily,
e. trying something I had never practiced,
f. in a brand-new situation with no clue,
g. trying to get too much out of the situation,
h. playing a shot I don’t know how to hit,
i. not assessing the situation fully,
j. not aimed properly, or
k. just making a bad stroke.

Every shot gets a 1 and 2 score. The shots you aren’t satisfied with get a 3 score. While poor shot-making is sometimes related to the skills you have developed so far, much more often they are due to mental errors. Being able to fill out part 3 means you are paying attention to the way your mind operates when you play. I guarantee that you could take four shots off your game right now by playing smarter and keeping your head in the game.

Pay special attention to 3j. A teaching pro told me once that almost half the swing problems he fixes involve nothing more than correcting the student’s aim.

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A Better Way to Improve your Golf

When you start playing golf, you have to learn the basics: how to hit the ball, how to get the ball in the air, how to putt, how to chip. Getting lessons on these basics is the best way to learn them, and you should keep taking lessons on these skills until you’re fairly good at them. “Fairly good” means that more often than not, you know here the ball is going to go when you hit it.

If you have developed your game to that point, you’re probably breaking 90 with regularity. You should continue to take lessons, but change your focus radically. You already know how to swing, so you don’t need any swing lessons. What you do need is a lesson on how to hit your fairway wood off the ground. This is a tough shot. Get a lesson on it. You don’t need a chipping lesson, because you can do that, but how about a lesson in chipping from greenside rough? How about a lesson in hitting uphill and downhill putts? See where I’m going with this? You should be learning shots, not swings.


When you play golf, you don’t go out there to swing the club. You’re there to hit the ball toward and into the hole. Most of the time you’re not making a routine play at the ball. You have to make a shot. Once you have the basic skills figured out, the focus of a lesson needs to be doing just that — using the skills you have to hit shots.

On TV, golf looks simple. You know how much harder it is in real life, and how many different kinds of shots you have to play in eighteen holes. Every swing, every stroke at the ball is generally tailored in some way to the shot at hand. The more different shots you can hit, the more you will be able to take whatever the course throws at you. Having a solution for every problem is a comforting way to play golf. It’s knowing how to hit shots that gives you a good score, not knowing how to swing the club.

You might have one shot you want to work on, which you can have your pro teach you at the range. Even better is to have a playing lesson where you go out on the course, drop a ball at a particular spot, and say to the pro, what shot should I hit from here, and show me how to hit it. You can cover five or six shots that way and it will be the most valuable lesson you ever had.

I say again, after you get to a certain skill level, don’t learn swings, learn shots. Becoming a shot-maker is how you get better from there.

See also How to Take a Lesson – part 1

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The Golf Course I Like Best

There was an advertisement that got played a lot during the Presidents Cup matches that pointed to the unchanging size of basketball courts, tennis courts, hockey rinks, etc., but golf courses were all different. Whether golf would be any fun if every course had to be identical is the subject of another post, but I don’t like the courses I play on to be too different. These are the things I like in a golf course.

Fairways. I like to have a chance to hit the fairway and not be penalized too much if I miss. The course I play on most is pretty wide open off the tee, but it’s long from the whites, so you’re going to be hitting driver a lot and the extra space is a nice compensation. A shorter course I play on is tree-lined, and I don’t need a driver to play that one. A third course is carved out of the woods, and if you miss the fairway it’s lost ball. I usually crack at the pressure of having to hit it straight at about the 14h hole.

Fairways. Flat fairways the whole time get kind of boring, so a few uneven lies are fun because I know how to hit off them. As far as the playing surface goes, the tighter, the better. I don’t mind what condition the grass is in, as long as it gets mowed so I don’t think I hit it dead center and wound up in rough.

Greens. I like fast greens. That way I can just ease the ball toward the hole. On slower greens, I have to hit the ball harder than I like, and my stroke gets thrown off track. Also, fast greens tend to be true greens. The lowest rounds of my life have all been shot on the same course, and I believe it is because of the condition of the greens let me sink lots of putts that I wouldn’t elsewhere. I like greens that are open in front, with good grass, so I can run the ball on if I need to.

Hazards. Bunkers don’t bother me. I know how to get out of a greenside bunker, and I don’t hit into them very often, anyway. I own the fairway bunker shot. Water is OK within reason. If you spend all day avoiding water off the tee or have to hit more than one heroic shot over water to get to a green, that’s too much.

Strategy. I like a course that lets me hit driver and get rewarded for it, or hit a shorter club and still have a good chance to score well. I like a course that lets you pick several ways to the hole instead of forcing just one solution. I like a course that encourages you to play your best instead of playing to avoid your worst.

Layout. I like a course that makes it clear where the next tee is and doesn’t put the tees in places so that if you walk off the 6th green you don’t find yourself on the 15th tee the first time you play it. It’s nice if some of the holes are close together so you can check the pin position of upcoming holes as you walk by. A course should be nice to look at, too. The beautiful surroundings we play in is one of the reasons I like the game.

Unusual shots. There should be one tee shot where if you do something different, like loft a shorter club over trees to cut off a dogleg, you can steal a stroke. I like playing a course where I have to rehearse a special shot during my warm-up because I’m going to use it on the 8th hole, and this is the only course on which I need this shot.

Improvement. I like a course that requires you to get better at certain shots to shoot a better score, and rewards you once you learn how to hit them well, like an 80-yard pitch, or a 2-hybrid from the fairway, or working the ball off the tee.

There isn’t one course I play on that has all of this, but the combination of courses I play do. If I missed anything, let me know.

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