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Winter golf practice, 2017-18

1. This winter, go to the range twice a week. Get a small bucket. Hit half the balls with a full swing, and use the other half for pitches from 50-100 yards. All that (~30 shots) should take about 15 minutes. Spend 45 minutes on the practice green hitting chips and approach putts. Practice short putts at home.

2. Get a lesson to find out how to put the ball in the fairway off the tee if this is a problem for you. If you normally hit less than ten of fourteen fairways, it’s a problem.

Out On the Course Again

I went out to play with my Men’s Club for the first time since 2014. These last few years have kept me busy with other matters.

Not having played for a long time, I wasn’t sure if anything had changed. On the first green, I asked if I had to replace my ball in front of my marker, or could I put it anywhere I want like the pros do. They said that unfortunately we have to play by the rules. Just checking.

I played OK, shot a 45, two pars and two doubles. I was really good off the tee and on the green, but in between was blotto. I had this ten-yard draw off the tee which was not the shot I wanted, but it got the ball in the fairway so I decided to go with what was working instead of trying to fix it on the fly and make it worse.

I would say I lost four strokes, potentially, by having forgotten how to play the game. You know, hit this shot instead of that one. Or use this club instead of that one. Or hit it here instead of there. Those little things that give you a real chance to get down in two from close in.

The main thing I learned is that you have to practice all your shots to keep them fresh in your mind. Several times I played a pitch near the green when a running shot would have been better. But pitches are all I have been hitting lately, not running shots, so that’s what came to mind.

The difference between 45 and 40 isn’t that great. Just keep the ball in play, which I did, and close the deal in a hurry when you get to the green, which I didn’t. (But if you’re not doing number 1, number 2 won’t help you.)

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My next opus, titled, Bob’s Little Golf Book, is in editing now, and will be posted on the blog site in about three weeks. Again, it will be a multi-media extravaganza, and this time free and click-ready from the start.

Don’t Let One Bad Hole Get You Down

You’re cruising and up comes a blow-up hole. The round is trashed. For the rest of the day you can’t get over what happened.

The mistake is that you were thinking about how well you have been playing up that point, and getting an inflated opinion of your true ability. You forget that even though your game can get you around the course looking pretty good for a while, it’s not so good that an X can’t pop out every now and then.

In golf, you get what you deserve. If you go fairway, green, putt, putt, you deserve that because you’re good enough to have earned it. Sometimes you get into a situation you just aren’t skilled enough to handle, and you deserve the score you get there, too. You have to accept your weaknesses along with your strengths.

So, when you write a few pars on your scorecard, don’t think you have become a par golfer all of a sudden. Learn how to write “par” on the scorecard when you get one, and then forget about it. That hole is over. Once you can do that, you can write an X on your scorecard and forget about that, too, and go back to enjoying yourself.

I’m Taking a Break

Circumstances requiring my time and my full attention require me to take a break from weekly posting at this space for a month or so.

Don’t go away just because there’s no new content for you every Monday morning. Just work on what I’ve given you so far. That will be more than enough to keep you busy until I’m back at it.

Play well and have fun.

A Back-Friendlier Golf Swing

I’m not going to beat around the bush. The human body, especially the lower spine, was not designed to withstand the stresses the golf swing places on it. As a recreational golfer, there is no sense in letting your pastime harm your health.

Stress on the back in golf is caused by leaning forward, twisting, and bending to the side. There is also compression, which is the weight of your upper body bearing down vertically on your spine.

You can’t eliminate these stresses, but, except for compression, you can minimize them. Here are a few ways to do that.

NOTE: If you have low back pain right now when you play, something is wrong. Please see a doctor to find out what that is. Continuing to play golf could be making a problem worse.

1. Slow down your swing, including the part where you swing through the ball. All the forces being applied to your back multiply when you swing through the ball, and they the faster you swing, the more force they load onto your lower back.

2. Stand a little closer to the ball. Not a lot, just a few inches. This will put you in a more upright posture and reduce the unsupported mechanical stress that leaning forward places on your lower back. The lie angles of your irons might need to be adjusted, depending on how much closer you set up.

3. Turn your right foot out. To get more hip turn, turn your right foot out 10 degrees or so. Not too much, because you will create problems for yourself on the throughswing. But do not leave that foot square, like Ben Hogan wanted you too.

4. Take a narrower stance. This frees up the hips to turn more, reducing the amount you twist your spine. This point also helps minimize lateral bending, since your right side is now closer to the ball.

5.Play the ball in the center of your stance when it is on the ground. If the ball is too far forward, you will need to put more lateral bend in your back to go get it.

6. Take a shorter backswing. Use the backswing you would use for an 80-yard pitch. This will prevent you from twisting your spine too much, too. Jim McLean wants you to have a big X-factor so you can hit the ball a long way. Your back does not like a big X-factor.

7. Let the left heel float. If it comes off the ground, fine. If it stays there, fine. Just don’t glue it to the ground. Let it do what it wants to do.

8. Let the right leg straighten on the backswing. I know, everybody these days wants you keep the angle in it you had at address. Allowing the right leg to straightening lets you turn your right hip back more, reducing your X-factor. This will not hurt your ball-striking once you get used to it.

9. Keep your weight balanced through impact. Let your weight go left after you have hit the ball, but not before. Putting the weight left early creates excess lateral bending, because while the lower body is going left , the upper body has to stay back where it was until you have hit the ball. There will always be some lateral bending at impact. Just don’t overdo it.

10. Swing the club with your hands, both hands equally. Swing like you one have one clump of hands on the club, not two separate ones. This not only a better way to swing, for technical reasons, but it will prevent you from trying to hit with your right hand, which can induce lateral bending.

11. Finish upright. Your torso should be straight up and down at the finish, not learning toward the right. A line running down the front of your torso and left leg should be straight — no bending your torso backward, or bowing your left leg.

This comprehensive but somewhat technical article from the medical literature explains in detail the relation between golf and low back pain. It would serve you well to read it. (Accessed July 4, 2016.)

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.