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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!

What to Aim For When You Swing

Here’s another brilliant idea that might help you, or maybe not, but try it out anyway.

When we swing a golf club at nothing we make a flawless swing. When we swing at a golf ball, well, that’s a different story, isn’t it? The ball makes us do crazy things and we just can’t help ourselves.

Here’s this week’s expert advice guaranteed to solve that problem. Don’t look at the ball when you’re swinging to hit it. Look somewhere else.

If you’re hitting an iron from the fairway, you know you’re trying to hit ball first, ground second. So be looking at a spot perhaps an inch in front of the ball. Hit that spot with the leading edge of your iron and you will make outstanding contact.

Fairway wood? Same thing. Look at a spot on the ground an inch or so ahead of the ball. There’s a trick to it, though.

When you swing the club back, it’s a fairway wood. You’re looking at it. You can’t deny it. But just before you swing the club forward, think “7-iron,” and swing forward to hit that spot with the much sharper edge of your “7-iron.”

Works like a charm.

What about balls on tees? Be looking at the spot where the club would hit the ground were the ball not on a tee, and that is about an inch behind the ball.

Pitches and chips are a bit different. In these shots, you slide the sole of the club across the top of the grass. So look at the ground underneath the ball. It takes a little imagination to focus on the ground under the ball without noticing the ball, but you can teach yourself to do it.

Looking at a different spot does two things: it stops you from being ball-bound, and it helps you aim your stroke to where it should be aimed.

No beating down on the ball! And remember, swing with good rhythm and let the handle lead the clubhead.

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.