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Practice Scoring, Not “Golf”

Once you have developed reasonable skills, your practice should be built around lowering your score.   By that I mean practice particular shots that will help you get the ball around the course efficiently and into the hole quickly.

You might think that the point of practice is to build skills that accomplish those two things.  But I mean the opposite.  Practice accomplishing those things then take what you practiced onto the course and use it.

I came up with this thought a few days ago when my approach into a green came up about 4 feet short and I had about a 35-foot chip. The ball was resting slightly on upslope.  The more I looked at the shot the more I liked it because I realized I practice that shot all the time.  There is no mystery in it.  All I have to do is hit the ball.  So I did and it ended up 15 inches from the hole, like I knew it would.

Another shot like this is 63-yard pitch.  There’s a flag that distance from the mats at my range, so I warm up by hitting balls at it.  Over the years I have become very good at hitting a golf ball 63 yards.

I know that if I have a pitch on the course between 60 and 65 yards the ball will end up one-putt close, not because I have a great pitching game, but because I hit this particular pitch all the time and it has become second nature to hit a ball 63 yards.

Golf has almost an infinite variety of shots that can be hit.  You can’t practice them all.  I’m suggesting that you pick a few and practice them to the extent that you know every time you step up to hit one of them something good is going to happen.

Here’s a sample list:
– 3-wood off the tee—to be used all the time or when your driver is being a bad boy.
– Advancement shot from the fairway, say of 175 yards.
– Shot into the green from 145 yards.  Once you get past the 150-yard marker, you should be thinking, “Down in three.”
– A pitch from a given distance.  Like I said above, I have 63 yards pretty well figured out.  But what if it’s 80 yards?  I’ll just take two clubs more and put the same stroke on the ball. Et voilà. Roughly 80 yards.
– A chip to a certain distance.  Same comments as for the pitch.
– A 30-foot putt.  Same comments again.
– A 3-foot putt.  Gotta sink those every time.

You can make up your own list.  The point is to get very, very good at the shots on your list.  If you have them down can’t-miss cold they will be all you need to play well.  You will never have a bad day.

Again.  There isn’t enough time to practice being good at everything.  If you try, you end up being good at nothing.  Practice shots you know you’re going to use.  When you play, put yourself in a position to hit those shots as often as you can.  That’s how to shoot low scores.

Bob’s Living Golf Book — August 2018 Edition

The latest edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book is now online. New material includes:

– How to check your aim visually (p. 7)
– The Left Wrist (p. 10)
– Swing the Entire Club (p. 10)
– Look at the Hole (when you putt) (p. 19)

and updated remarks on topics too numerous to mention. But those are all in blue text, so you can find them easily enough.

The search for improvement never ceases.

Play well, and have fun.

Good Golf, No Pressure

Golf is hard. Golf under pressure is harder. Instructors, even highly paid golf psychologists, tell us we have to put pressure on ourselves during practice to learn how to play with pressure.

Here’s an example you come across all the time. When you’re on the practice green, make 10 three-foot putts in a row. Miss, and you start over. Feel the pressure build after you have made 9 in a row because you can’t stop the drill until you make that 10th putt.

Except there are two problems with this drill. One is that after you make a three-foot putt on the course, your next shot is likely to be with your drive from the next tee.

The second problem is that this drill doesn’t teach you how to play under pressure. It teaches you how to create pressure by letting your past or your future define your present. That’s no way to live, and that’s no way to play good golf.

How about instead we learn how to control our mind so that pressure, which is entirely of own creation, never gets created? How about we spend as much time developing our mind as we do developing our golf skills?

How would you do that? Simple. Hit practice shots just like you would on the course. Hit this shot, then move on.

Learn to play each stroke isolated from ones that came before, and leave the ones to come for when you get to them.

Say you’re on the practice green. Drop a ball 30 feet from the hole and hit an approach putt. Go up putt out, then do something else.

Drop a ball four yards off the green and get the ball in the hole. Then do something else.

Do this over and over—in realistic shot sequences, and when a sequence is over, go through a different one.

If you’re on the practice tee, hit a club once, put it away, and hit a different club, preferably at some remove, like fairway wood, 9-iron, 5-iron, and so on.

When you practice like this, on the tee or on the green, each shot or each swing being different from the one before, and only giving yourself one chance to get it right, that’s golf you’re practicing.

All the while you will be developing the mental skill of playing the shot at hand, without worrying about how it will come out or whether you can hit it at all.

Now I’m not saying you should practice like this all the time. There’s nothing wrong with hitting 10 three-foot putts in a row to learn how to hit three-foot putts.

That comes under the heading of skill-building, and you have to do a lot of that to get good. But keep it at hitting one putt ten times.

Golf is not the sum of your skills. It’s the application of those skills. If you can learn how to play with a steady mind, I would say you can play four strokes better than your skills would otherwise suggest, because that steady mind lets your best performance emerge.

Revised USGA Rules For 2019

A complete re-write of the Rule Book and Decisions that takes effect in 2019 has been announced. It is too extensive for me even to begin talking about here.

See this summary for starters. I am sure you can find others if you browse the Net.

Best news of all: An optional Local Rule has been added that allows a player whose ball went OB to drop near the point where it went out, taking a two-stroke penalty. It’s about time!!!!!

Bob’s Books Are Now Free

In 2009 I published my first golf book, Better Recreational Golf, and its companion, Better Recreational Golf-Left-Handers Edition.

In 2013 I published my second book, on the mental game, The Golfing Self.

These books were only available on Amazon, but now I am making them available to you on the weblog as .pdf downloads for no charge.

Just go the the list of pages at the top of the page and click on:

BRG – for Better Recreational Golf (26MB),

BRGL – for Better Recreational Golf-Left-Handers Edition (26MB), and

TGS – for The Golfing Self (1.3MB).

I have long since earned back my production costs, and the revenue that trickles in is only complicating my income taxes.

So there they are, complements to Bob’s Living Golf Book, which has been free from the start.

(The two BRG files are so big because of the photos. TGS is text-only)

Play well, and have fun.

2018 U. S. Open Preview

This week the USGA will host the 68th U.S. Open that I have not played in (but I can say my name is on the trophy four times) at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.   This is the Number 1 tournament of the year and I can’t wait for it to start.

There are golf courses and there are U.S. Open courses, and Shinnecock Hills is one of the latter.  Though there aren’t really many hills to speak of on it.  But it does have wind.

Sited next to Long Island Sound, the wind will be a factor if blows, and every hole will be affected differently.  If all the holes were lifted and set down with the tees on top of each other like the hub of a wheel, every hole would be a spoke reaching out in a different direction.

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In the wind, expect par to be a very good score.  If it is calm, low scores will abound.  The prevailing direction can be seen in the photograph as a line connecting the word Range and the number 14. (Click to enlarge)

Get a close look at all the holes at the U.S. Open web site.  You’ll easily see for yourself where things can go wrong.  

The par 3s are considered to be the best collection at any major championship site.  There are several short par 4s, but they play into the wind and the safe landing zone is not generous if a player wishes to take on the hole with one shot.

The course looks like it will be a throwback Open course.  Though it’s long, 7,445 yards, the big hitters had better be straight because the fairway is very narrow when the long drives land.  But then, the tee shot is the key to scoring here.  A short, straight hitter has a very good chance at winning.

Shinnecock Hills is one of the oldest course in the country, built in 1890 and hosted the 1896 U.S. Open.  At 4,423 yards and so little of a challenge, many players shot scores below 80.  A redesign in 1931 by Dick Wilson brought the course up the level it’s at today.

For some reason, the traditional 1st and 2nd round pairing of the reigning U.S. Open, British Open, and U.S. Amateur champions will not be featured.  They usually have quirky pairings, but I can’t find any references.  If I do, I’ll update this post later in the week.

Enjoy it.  This is the finest golf tournament on a real U.S. Open course.  Who do I pick to win?  Phil, of course.  I’ll pick him until he gives up trying.

An Insidious Habit at the Range

I would assume without too much chance of error that every golfer wants to improve. A perpetual 104 wants to become 98. Books have been written, not on how to turn 95 into 91, but 93 into 89, though there is not much difference between the two differences. At the other end, championship golfers are always looking for a little something that will make even more championships easier to win.

So to the range we go, trying this tip or that hunch in search of the perfect shot, or at least a shot that is closer to perfection than the shots we’re currently most proud of. And therein lies the mistake.

We improved to our present point incrementally, never in great leaps. So, we should not be looking for improvement in great leaps. Rather, the best use of our practice is learning how to hit good shots within our present capability, one after another.

We don’t need to hit perfect shots. Golf, thy name is consistency, and hitting the same good shot time after time is the way to play it. This is what we should be schooling ourselves to do at the range.

I should clarify what I mean by “a good shot.” I mean one in which you make clean ball-first, ground second contact and the ball goes straight to where you were aiming it. The distance it travels is not important.

Occasionally the perfect shot does pop out, and we stop, trying to figure out how that happened so we can do that again. So now, instead of enjoying that perfect shot and getting back to business, we begin chasing it.

You might have a good idea of how you hit your string of good shots that preceded this one but you really have no idea about how the great one happened. Trying to figure it out is taking a detour down a dead-end road.

As you keep hitting the string of good shots that you are capable of and understand how to hit them, really good ones will pop out. Let them. Just keep doing what you’re doing. In making the gradual transition from one level of play to another, the really good ones will pop out more often. But you cannot force them or chase them. Let them emerge in their own time.

The best way to practice hitting one good shot after another is to hit them all with the same club, an easy club that you can control, such as your 9-iron. Use a different club if you like, but not if you hit only mostly good shots with it. You’re aiming for ALL good shots. Besides, if you can’t hit a 9-iron consistently well, why would you want to hit an 8-iron at all (or a driver, it should go without saying)?

Hint: The less hard you try to hit a good shot, the easier it to hit one.

One More Hole and You Break 90 (or 100, or 80)

When there is one more hole to go and you can break a milestone score, 90, or 100, or 80, think this way, and ONLY this way. No more, no less.

Think, “All I need to do is get the ball in the fairway and it’s over. I’ve done it.”

From the fairway now, think. “All I need to do is get the ball up to the green and it’s over. I’ve done it.”

From greenside or on the green, think, “All I need to do is lay the ball up close and it’s over. I’ve done it.”

From next to the hole, think, “All I need to do is sink this little putt and it’s all over. I’ve done it.”

That’s four shots, but it’s just an example. Maybe five shots will do. So play five shots, one at a time. However many, let go of the last shot, focus on the next one, never get ahead of yourself.

For each shot, but only one of them at a time, think, “All I need to do . . .” When that shot is over, begin thinking that thought again, and only that thought, for the next one. Be thinking that thought all the way up to the ball for that one shot. Just one.

Keep the task manageable. You don’t need to hit four good shots in a row (or five, or six). Just one. You only need to hit one good shot in a row.

When you have done that, start again. One good shot in a row. Not getting ahead of yourself. Just this shot. This one.

This is not logical thinking, but now is not the time to be logical. Now is the time to make it easy on yourself.

Golf Thoughts

The practice ground is where you learn to hit shots, but golf is about knowing which shots to hit. You shoot lower scores by playing more golf, not by hitting more buckets of balls.

Beware of tips you read in magazines. They may tell you to do something you’re already doing, and then you end up overdoing it.

The most important shot for a recreational golfer is the tee shot. You must put the ball in the fairway.

Straight shots begin with setting up with the clubface aimed at your target. This is not as easy as it sounds. Work on this or get a lesson, because if this is not right, nothing that comes after will make it right.

The easiest way to keep doubles and triples off your scorecard is by playing within your skills. If you are standing over the ball with a “funny feeling about this shot,” back off and try something else. False confidence is not your friend.

Rhythm is king. Good rhythm makes mediocre technique work. Lack of rhythm makes proper technique fall apart. When you try a swing tweak and it doesn’t work, odds are you forgot stay in rhythm.

Good shotmakers have a narrower range of dispersion than other golfers. To narrow your range, train yourself always aim at something when you hit a golf ball. That is not only a direction. There must also be a specific spot on the ground you want the ball to hit.

To get to 80, you must first have a decent swing. If your average score is 83, your swing gives you reasonable assurance that you can get the ball up to the green in the regulation number of strokes. From this point switch the majority of your practice time from the range to the practice green.

Flipping through impact, a common fault, is caused by the left arm slowing down through impact so the hands can take over hitting the ball. If you swing a wedge with your left arm only, and let the arm swing freely, you will understand the correct sensation of the club swinging instead of the hands hitting.

When hitting a short shot that has a certain amount of air time, make sure you hit the ball hard enough. You can turn a down in three (or two!) into a down in four by getting too finessy.

2017 Christmas Offer

I hope you have started your Christmas shopping. Mine is almost finished.

For the golfer on your list, which can include yourself, here’s my 2017 Christmas Shopping Special as a way of saying thank you for being a reader:

Buy a copy of Better Recreational Golf (regular or left-hander’s editions) from Amazon.

Forward a copy of your Amazon purchase receipt e-mail to me at olp@wvi.com, and I will send you, for no charge (!) a copy of The Golfing Self, my book on the mental game.

Supplies are limited, and I must receive your Amazon receipt no later than December 16 so I can mail your copy of TGS in time for the 25th.

Click now! And thanks again!