Ball First, Ground Second—The Drill

Everybody knows you should hit the ball first, and the ground second. Well, if you didn’t know that, you do now.

That means the bottom of your golf swing arc must be in front of the ball, not underneath it, and definitely not behind it (that’s called hitting fat).

These pictures show what that means.

Here’s an easy drill to learn how to do that. You need to be on a mat, without a ball.

Lay a tee on the mat out of the way of the club path, and pointing to where the bottom of the ball would be. Aim for a spot ahead of the tee and hit the ground with the sole of the club on that spot with your swing.

If you didn’t hit the spot, figure out what correction to make. Once you start hitting the spot, repeat the drill over and over. This is the swing that hits those rockets that make you wonder, How did I do that? Now you know.

You need to do this on a mat for two reasons. You can brush grass tops and think you hit behind the ball when you really didn’t, and more because when you get used to doing this on a mat, you can feel, see, and hear where the club hit the ground.

Chart Your Shots Into the Green

In an earlier post, I talked about arriving. A shot to the pin must finish past the pin. It must arrive. It doesn’t matter how good your good shots are. It matters that they arrive.

Your long game sets up your green game (short game and putting) if you have the habit of arriving. But you’ll never really know if that is a problem if you don’t see a picture of how you really bring the ball to the hole.

This blog post is about making that picture.

You might keep statistics as you play. Fairways hit, greens hit, number of putts, are the basics and you can get as detailed from there as you want.

I ask you to not do that the next time you play. Instead make a picture. If you never keep stats, you get to make a picture, too.

You know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s so true. Looking at a collective picture of where your shots into green end up will tell you in an instant what a row of numbers might only suggest.

What you do is draw a big circle in the center of a 3×5 card. As you play into each green, put a dot where the ball ends up, and draw a line from the ball to the approximate location of the pin. After nine holes, start in on a second card or draw a chart on the other side of the same card (eighteen holes on one chart makes too much clutter).

The picture below is my chart from the last round I played.

I was short of the pin four times, past it (way past!) once, and about even four times. Not bad. For the times I was short, it took ten strokes to get down. For the other five times, it took eleven strokes to get down.

Just nine holes doesn’t tell you that much. But if you get charts for four or five rounds, they should show a clear pattern of how you’re playing the ball into the green. I’ll leave it to you figure out what to do with that information.

The Center of Your Stance

This might seem like a small point, but it’s not.

I advocate, and many current instructors advocate, placing the ball in the center of your stance and keeping it there when you hit your irons.

But just saying “the center” isn’t really that specific.

The three photographs below all show a ball intersecting the center of a stance (yellow rod), but the ball is in a different place each time. Each ball is offset from the other by about 0.4 inches. This is not an insignificant difference. It is all the difference in the world.

You can’t have the ball here this time, there the next time, and someplace else the time after that and expect to make consistent contact with the same swing.

Experiment with where, exactly, in the center the ball needs to be for you to get ball first, ground second contact.

Once you have found that spot, memorize it and put the ball there EVERY TIME, at the range or on the course.

Three Valuable Greenside Shots

You don’t always get a garden variety chip when you miss the green. Here are three sticky situations and what to do about them. You will probably be using one of them every time you play.

1. Say your ball is on an upslope of some kind. You have to hit over the crest of the slope and have a significant way to the pin. Swinging parallel to the slope will turn your 54-degree wedge into a 64-degree wedge and the ball won’t go anywhere.

Instead, pick the wedge you want to use with to the distance the ball has to travel horizontally to get to the hole. Swing straight into the slope. There will be only a small follow-through. The ball will pop up and forward, and run softly to the hole. This is the shot that Fred Couples hit on the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta when he won the Masters in 1992.

(Actually, the recovery is not amazing. Any one of us could have hit that shot. What’s amazing is that the ball didn’t roll into the water.)

2. If the ball lies instead on a downslope, the fear is that you won’t get the leading edge of the club underneath the ball, and blade it across the green.

Take a wedge that is more lofted than you would normally use for the distance the ball has to travel. Put the ball back in your stance, so far back that it is well outside your trailing foot. You’ll have to reach back to get the club to the ball. Raise the clubhead up and chop gently down on the back of the ball, driving the wedge into the ground. The ball will pop forward with lots of spin. 

3. When you’re seriously short-sided and you can’t run the ball along the ground for any reason, hit a mini-flop.

Take a sand wedge and set up with the ball in the center of your stance and the club shaft straight up and down, that is, not leaning toward the hole. Take the club back low and bring it through the ball low and slow with no wrist action. Try to slide the club underneath the ball without disturbing it. You can’t do that, of course, but you will get a gentle hit that eases the ball forward with little spin. It will land and go nowhere. A cushion of grass underneath the ball is desirable. 

How Your Grip Affects Ball Flight

The way you place your hands on the club directly affects the flight of your ball—left-to-right or right-to-left. But I’m not talking about weak grips and strong grips, though they do contribute. There are two points that are much more subtle, yet just as important, and which rarely get talked about.

Most books tell you to put your hands on the handle with the palms facing each other, parallel to each other (left photo, left hand only shown). That can, though, encourage right-to-left ball flight. The reason is that the lower hand can easily push the upper hand sideways, turning the upper hand over, which closes the clubface.

To prevent that, there’s a simple fix. Rotate your upper hand into the lower hand so that it acts something like a buttress (right photo). You end up with a neutral lower hand and a strong upper hand.

The lower hand can push against the upper hand, but because that hand is angled into the lower hand, it’s more difficult for the lower hand to turn the upper hand over. You’ll hit it straight, or maybe get a fade out of it.

The other point regards the location of the thumb on the lower hand. Ben Hogan advised having that thumb and the side of the hand tightly pressed against each other (left photo). Doing this firms up your wrist, which again inhibits the the lower hand from turning over. Goodbye draw, hello fade. This is what Hogan was trying to achieve.

If, though, you leave a gap between the thumb and the side of the hand (right photo), that loosens up the lower wrist, making it more possible for the lower hand to turn over, encouraging a draw flight. Goodbye fade, hello draw.

[Note: In the right-hand photo it looks like the right hand has rotated. It has not. The camera angle changed slightly.]

These two features, the rotation of the upper hand, and the position of the lower thumb, can be used separately or in tandem. You have to experiment to find what works for you.

Let me go over this again:

To promote a draw, (1) place the upper palm parallel to the lower palm, and/or (2) have a gap between the lower thumb and hand.

To promote a fade, (1) rotate the upper hand into the lower palm, and/or (2) rest the lower thumb against the hand.

If you’re at you wit’s end trying to cure unwanted curvature, give these a try.

Golf in My Backyard – II

A week or so ago I posted about a little plastic golf ball being stuffed in a hole in the big apple tree in my backyard.

This afternoon I was raking leaves and I saw – there was one in there again!

Someone, or something, picked up one I had left out on the lawn, most likely, and jammed it in there.

And I mean jammed. After I got it out, which isn’t easy, I put it back in again see how much work it would take.

The answer is, lots.

I pressed hard with my thumb, and that didn’t get it in, so I pressed with the heel of my hand and that did it.

I am just flummoxed.

Maybe I need to set up a night vision camera with a motion detector like the wildlife photographers use.

An Easy Way to Fade or Draw

There are several posts on this blog on how to fade or draw the ball. They all work, but the methods I presented are all somewhat mechanical.

Today’s method, a more intuitive one, was mentioned in an earlier post on the subject (method five). I want to develop it more here.

When the ball fades, it is because the clubface was open to the path. Another way to say this is that the heel of the club went through impact before the toe did.

Drawing the ball is the opposite. The clubface is closed to the swing path, so the toe of the club goes through impact before the heel does.

Looking at it that way, to get either effect, take your normal backswing, and on the way down, think “heel first” to fade, or “toe first” to draw.

Your unconscious mind adjusts your lower hand on the handle accordingly during the forward swing. No conscious effort on your part is required, or should be made. If you try to guide your hand, the rest of your swing will suffer.

Let your unconscious mind take care of it, and swing at a pace that allows the adjustment to be made in time and not get overpowered.

IOW, slow it down if you have to.

One adjustment you will have to make in your setup is to aim to one side of the target or the other to allow for the impending curvature, but that’s the only one. From there, make your regular swing right along your stance line.

Like anything, this method takes a bit of practice. The practice is to think the appropriate thought and then stay out of its way and let it happen.

That might not be easy to do at first, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first two times you try. Remember that it’s a mental thing, not a physical thing.

Bonus: If you have been thinking ahead, you would know that to hit a straight shot you might think, “face first” to send a square clubface at the ball.

The Link Between Relaxation and Tempo

I have written frequently in this space about tempo. Tempo is the foundation of the golf swing. Once you understand tempo, and have established for yourself the tempo that works for you, everything else can proceed.

The problem is how to apply that tempo consistently swing after swing after swing. We tend to get excited when we play golf. We like to hit the ball along way. Straight would be good, but too often that takes a back seat to the distance we want the ball to go, and because of that our ball striking gets compromised.

There is a way to swing with the same tempo from shot to shot, from the first swing to last. It’s a very neat trick and it’s a simple trick. The trick is to relax.

Relaxation is a mental activity. True you can relax the body, but you’ll only get so far by doing that. Relaxation begins in the mind. If you relax your mind first, then the body will relax to its fullest.

I know you’re relaxed when you stand at address. And I know you take the club back in a very relaxed manner. The key moment occurs when you start the club forward to lead the club into the ball.

That is the moment when you can think “hit” or something forceful like that and any relaxation you once had goes right out the window.

Let me give you suggestion. The next time you go to the range, tell yourself you’re going to make easy swings at the ball, say with a 7-iron. Take the club back and just before the backswing is completed, just a split second before, say to yourself out loud “relax.” Then swing the club forward.

There’s no physical hesitation here. You don’t have to interrupt your swing when you say the word relax. Say it while you’re in motion. Feel any tension releasing itself from your body, and feel the flow of swinging rather than the urge to hit. That is how you maintain your tempo.

One thing that is quite fortunate about the golf swing is that doesn’t take very much time. Your mind, once you give it a suggestion, doesn’t have a lot of time to go wandering off somewhere else.

It does have some time though, so you can still, how shall I say this politely, screw it up by thinking afterward about hitting or swinging hard or the like.

Thinking “relax” is not a guarantee. You have to acquire the mental discipline to follow it through. When you do, I think you will see your ball striking change dramatically for the better.

When you practice, go ahead and say the word “relax” right out loud. Maybe not loud enough that everybody in the range can hear you, but loud enough so you hear yourself give yourself the command.

Saying it out loud also helps plant in your unconscious mind the association between relaxing and starting the club forward. After all we play golf with our unconscious mind. Whatever is in there is what our swing will express, so let’s replace the wrong things with the right things.

After you start getting it you can say “relax” silently to yourself, but eventually you want to make this your habit and you don’t need to say it all. That takes lots of practice and reinforcement because this is a new habit you are trying to lodge deep inside your little hit-it-as-hard-as-I can brain.

I know you’re aware that the transition from the backswing to the forward swing is a great place to ruin your swing. What I have explained to you is a way to solve that problem. Your move.

Golf In My Back Yard

My more recent videos were shot in my back yard. I would like to show a reverse view and point out things that happen when I am not looking.

The first picture looks from the house back to the mat (arrow on the left) where I stand during filming. I hit plastic balls off that all the time.

The arrow in the center points to a hole in the tree into which someone once stuffed one of my plastic golf balls.

And I mean stuffed. I had to use a scratch awl to get it out and it wasn’t easy.

That was last year.

Do you see something orange in the hole? (Click the image)

Here’s a closeup.

I thought the first ball had been stuffed in there by the guys who prune the tree every other year as a joke, but this orange ball was stuffed in there a few days ago and I have been the only person to go into the back yard, and I didn’t do it!

So! That means some THING, some critter, is doing this for some animal reason, and it must be a good one, and it must be a big animal, because it takes a lot of force to wedge that ball in there.

All I can think of is a raccoon or a opossum.

That’s golf in my back yard.

A Short Game Plan

You know, the golf swing is something of a crapshoot. You make your best effort and trust that it will work out. But there are so many things you need to do right that lacking just one of them can compromise the shot.

The short game is something else. These are control strokes that are easy to learn, and easy to hit. They have easily attainable outcomes.

For example, if I hit ten drives in a row, there is no telling where they would all end up. But if I hit ten 60-foot chips in a row, they will all finish within three feet of the hole.

Once you have learned how to hit short shots, if you place them inside a short game plan that you follow to the letter, you can stop throwing away strokes around the green and shoot scores you deserve. Deal?

Let me suggest such a plan.

Rule One—the short game’s universal absolute—get the ball on the green with your first shot so you can start putting. Nothing else takes precedence over this directive. If your short shot does that, it is successful. Close to the pin is just the cherry on top.

Rule Two—getting the distance right is more important than getting the direction right.

Rule Three—down in four is a big no-no.

When facing a specific shot, approach it this way.

First, consider your objectives. From longer distances, say 60-100 yards, the objective is to get the ball on the green and take two putts.

From 30-50 yards you can try to get closer to the pin by aiming in a direction halfway between the center of the green and the pin, and taking two putts, maybe one.

From 10-20 yards you can start thinking about getting an up and down, but don’t force it. Down in three is still O.K.

From greenside, definitely be thinking up and down, maybe even of sinking the shot.

Second, assess your lie. It determines which clubs you can use, which shots you can hit, and how you can expect the ball to perform.

Third, visualize the shot. Where do you want the ball to land? What do you want the ball to do after it has landed? What is the terrain of the green that the ball will roll over?

Fourth, choose the club. This choice falls out naturally from points two and three.

Fifth, rehearse the stroke. From the tee or fairway, you get only one rehearsal stroke. From close in, take two or three to let the subtleties of the stroke emerge.

Sixth, repeat the rehearsal stroke. This takes discipline, but you can’t rehearse one way and perform another.

All this sounds obvious. I’m probably not saying anything you don’t already know. The question is, do you go through such plan before every short shot? Do you go through all the steps, or just a few, or maybe none?

If you talk yourself through this entire plan before every shot, which doesn’t take long, you don’t overlook anything, and greatly increase your chance of hitting the right shot with the right club, which is its purpose.

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play