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

I went to a baseball diamond and walked around the bases, counting my steps. At 90 feet per base, or 30 yards, that’s a 120-yard walk in total.

It took me 140 steps. Divide 120 yards by 140 steps and I got 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. For example, if I take 11 steps, that’s 9.4 yards.

When I walk off short pitches, chips, and approach 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.

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-down 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.

* This is the first mention of a concept that in 2017 became Triangulated Approach Putting (TAP).

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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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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How Solid is Your Handicap?

[September 2018: My advice in the second half of this post about playing a variety of courses stands. The first part, about getting a USGA handicap, does not. To heck with a handicap. Just go play and have fun. Your golf belongs to you, not the USGA.]

I hope you have a handicap, an official USGA handicap. If golf for you is just knocking the ball around every so often, then, maybe it isn’t that important. But if you are a steady player, you should have one. It brings you into the company of golfers by allowing you to enter competitions. It will show you how much you are improving, you can tell how well you play on courses of varying difficulty, and if you travel abroad, many courses won’t let you on unless you can show them a USGA handicap card.

To have an accurate handicap, you should turn in every score, the good ones, and the bad ones. And you keep an honest score, counting the penalty strokes and playing by the rules. If you do, you can say your handicap truly reflects the condition of your game. But does it?

There is one other consideration — does your handicap travel? This is the important part. It’s one thing to be a 12 at your home course, which you have learned inside and out. It’s another to be a 12 no matter where you play.

A few years ago, a golfer shot a 62 at one of our local courses. He had a 2 handicap and had a day where everything went right. I looked him up on the GHIN Handicap Lookup page, which you can do if you have a name and a state, and found that all of his rounds were played on the same course.

Now you can’t argue with a 2. That’s pretty good golf no matter where you earn it. But I wonder how that 2 would stand up if he took his game to some of the other courses in the area that are, quite frankly, harder than the one he’s playing on? I wondered if he shot higher rounds on some of those courses and just didn’t turn them in. Who knows?

How well your handicap travels is the factor that makes your handicap legitimate. This isn’t about honesty. It’s about how good are you, really?

If you play a rotation of courses, you now that certain courses demand shots that are different from other courses. One course I play is a first-shot course. Get your ball in the fairway, and you’re home free. Of course, that isn’t easy to do, and a price for missing is paid. Another course has high rough around the greens that demands chips I never hit anywhere else, and so on.

I would suggest, as a general rule, that you the twenty scores in your handicap mix should at any time be made on at least four different courses, and the ten scores that determine your handicap should come from at least three.

That would give you the assurance that when you go to a new course, you won’t get a big surprise by finding out there are big holes in your game. This will also give you the joy of rounding out your game, and knowing that wherever you go, there isn’t a challenge you can’t handle.

If you don’t have a handicap, join a club to get one. The USGA’s definition of a club is quite permissive. It doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive membership in a private or semiprivate club. Your local muni should have a mens’ club or women’s club you can join for maybe $40 per year, and you’re all set.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

The Recreational Golfer’s Video Tips

If you’ve been to my web site, www.therecreationalgolfer.com, you might have browsed the Tips Index page and noticed the video tips I have posted. These videos explain in pictures what would be difficult to make clear in words.

You may receive notice of new video tips when it is posted by registering. It’s just a matter so sending me e-mail and you’ll be in the list.

My book, Better Recreational Golf, explained things in pictures where possible, but having a moving picture makes it even easier to see what to do and learn how to do it.

Please join the growing group of recreational golfers who are learning how to play the game better and have more fun.

Play With Better Players

This is a message for everyone who wants to get become a better golfer: play with golfers who are better than you are. Much better. You will not improve if you don’t, no matter how many lessons you take, no matter how much you practice.

Percy Boomer, in his book, On Learning Golf, gets right to this point:
“The trouble with many 5 and 6 handicap men is that they have become as good as their conception of the swing enables them to be. Because their swing has not been developed about the correct centrifugal principle, it is unreliable, and they have to depend upon a tip being given or an idea coming to them just when they need it. This is a dangerous state of affairs, and the natural result of trying to learn golf by trial and error–that is by trying one thing one day and another the next–with no basic principle to back it up. It is true that this is the way most of us Pros learned, but it takes immense perseverance and a long time!” (pp. 208-09)
Now it sounds like I am about to urge you to take lessons to acquire the solid foundation Boomer is talking about. I would never advise against that. But I am concentrating on something he mentions in the first sentence of this extract. That is the conception of golf.
What is your conception? If you are teaching yourself, your notion of what can be done on a golf course is limited by what you can imagine. You will eventually rise to meet that notion, but that is all the farther you will progress. Because you cannot imagine what it means to play better, you will be stuck where you are, trying to perfect your limited idea of golf.
The only way to break out of your own mold, in my view, is to play with players who are much better than you. More than in terms of score, I mean in terms of skill.
Take the best shot you can hit, that you hit several times per round. Play with players who hit better shots than that, and hit them time after time–as the typical way they play. They not only hit better shots, they hit different shots that never occurred to you as possibilities. They’re playing a different game than you are.
It takes that to open your eyes and give you a new direction to take your learning and your practice. Then you can go get those lessons and put in the practice time because you have a goal in mind. You’re working toward something that has real meaning and will make you a different golfer, rather than being better at the some old things.