Look At the Hole When You Putt

I know, you’ve heard this from your kooky friends who are always trying something different.  You look at your target when you throw something, so why not look at the target when you putt?

Answer: because nobody putts that way.

Case closed.

Well, let’s give that idea one more look.

The “You look at the target when you throw something” argument is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough.  When you’re looking at the target, you brain is in constant contact with the target, and giving your body constant, up-to-date instructions on what to do to hit the target.

When you don’t look at the target, you’re relying on memory. It’s very recent memory, but still…

Try this.  Put a wastebasket maybe six feet away from you, wad up a piece of paper, look at the wastebasket and toss the paper inside.  Did you get it in?

Now toss paper at the wastebasket after you have taken a look then turned your head away so you can’t see the wastebasket.  How did you do?

I would bet that if you alternated ten times with each method, looking would produce a higher percentage of successes.

Can you feel the confidence disappearing when you turn your head?  That’s exactly what happens when we look at the ball instead of the hole when we stroke the putt.

You might not notice this, but tests have shown you keep your head and body very still when you’re looking at the hole.  You’re also less likely to flip the putter—have the left wrist break backwards on the forward stroke, a cardinal error.

You will hit short putts with more confidence because you are always in tune with the target.  I’m sinking more putts in the 5-8’ range as well.

Approach putting?  You’re going to get a much better feel for distance this way, especially if you’re using the TAP method [link].  Your mental computer is feeding you continuous up-to-date instructions, like I said before, taking much of the guess-work out of a 40-foot putt.

Now about the stroke.  Don’t worry, you won’t whiff.  With a little practice, you’ll learn that the putter comes back to the ball on the sweet spot.

The club path won’t get wacky on you if you extend your right forefinger down the shaft and pretend it’s a pencil that is drawing a straight line on the ground.  This is easier to do with a long putter than with a standard-length putter because you can extend your right arm fully.

Search you favorite web browser on this topic.  You will find lots of responses, from teaching professionals, who say this method helps you putt better.  You won’t find anyone who says it’s for the birds.

I don’t put things in these posts I haven’t tried and found to be helpful.  Play with this on the practice green of a hour, the play a few rounds looking at the hole when you putt.  You have nothing to lose but two-four strokes.

September 26 update: It is getting scary how much better this is working for me.

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.

Two Fine Points

In the golf swing, just like anything, it seems, the devil is in the details.   I want to let you know about two details that seem to be working well for me lately.

The first one has to do with the golf club.  That’s what we swing to hit the ball with.  So far, so obvious, but it’s not always made to be that simple.

You have teachers who say you swing the handle.  Eddie Merrins comes immediately to mind.  Then there are others too numerous to mention who say you swing the clubhead. We could go on.

But what you’re really swinging is the golf club–the entire thing.  All of it.  You don’t swing the handle and leave the rest of it behind, do you?

When you think of swinging the entire club all at once, even though you are holding onto a small part of it, everything changes.  At least it does for me.

In several of my posts, and in my Living Golf Book, you will find me to be an advocate of the concept that swinging the club correctly tells the body what to do.

That only makes sense if your mind is on the club.  Not just part of the club, but all of it.  Handle, shaft, clubhead, not three parts, but all one thing.

Now this is a feeling in your mind and feelings are notoriously difficult to describe.  The best I can do is to suggest that even though your hands are holding only the handle, it has to feel as if they were holding the entire club.  I hope you can take it from there.

The second fine point is more technical and is something you can put your swing right away.  I read about it and James Sieckmann’s new book titled, Your Short Game Solution.

We all should know that the shape of your left wrist at the top of the backswing should be the same as it was address.  This goes a long way to keeping the clubface square.

In this book, Sieckmann adds the obvious point that the wrist should be in that shape throughout the backswing.

What I played with that idea, I discovered my wrist was getting out of shape along the way then back in again at the top.  That didn’t seem to affect my full swing all that much, but I discovered it went a long way toward explaining why I occasionally shank short pitch shots.

I had been bowing my left wrist outward, which shoves the entire club outward.  The short swing did not give me enough time to get the wrist back in shape so the club could be pulled back in.  That meant when the club came back to the ball it was not the clubface but the hosel that would do the hitting.

By keeping my left wrist angle constant, that problem, which I have tried so many things to solve and failed, is now a thing of the past.

Better yet, I find this point makes it very easy to do what I suggest above, which is to swing the entire club.

So that’s what I’m working on right now.  You might give them a try to see if they make any sense to you.

2018 PGA Championship Preview

The 100th PGA Championship will be played this coming weekend at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo.  Missouri.  August.  Maybe the best reason why the PGA is being moved to May beginning next year.

Bellerive has hosted a major championship only two times before.  In 1965 Gary Player won the U.S. Open to become the 3rd player to win the career slam, following Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.  In 1992, Nick Price won the first PGA played here.

Official website.

The 7,329-yard par-70 course is built around a creek that winds through the grounds.  Water comes into play on eleven holes.  The championship course normally plays at 7,547 yards par 71, but 54 yards were shaved off the par-5 4th hole, turning it into a 521-yard par 4.

The 10th green is shown below.

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The PGA lacks an obvious identity the other major championships possess.  The Masters has a fine course everyone recognizes.  The U.S. Open takes a difficult course and turns it into an impossible one.  The Open Championship takes a fine course and lets it stand on its own, which it never fails to do.

But the PGA? Its identity is subtle.  It has the finest field of the four majors, club pros notwithstanding.  Winning it is difficult because there are so many players in the field who are capable of winning.

So who are my picks?  Justin Thomas can repeat.  Tommy Fleetwood is due.  Xander Schauffele plays well in majors.  Jordan Spieth needs this one to win the career slam.  Dustin Johnson hasn’t gone away.

What this tournament means to me is this.  Starting next year, golf ends in July with the Open Championship.  I’ll just take a break from sports for a few weeks afterward nd then get ready for college football without my attention being divided.

Aim Your Golf Swing Visually

You have no doubt heard of aiming your golf swing by sighting from your target backwards to the ball and aligning yourself using that imaginary line.  But you can still go wrong with that method.  You need a way to check it before you start your swing.

When you are in your stance and ready to start the club back, you might well take one more look at the target.  Use that glance to check your aim.

Looking downrange you will see a picture that contains your target.  Where that target lies in the picture tells you where you have aimed yourself.

The two pictures below show what I mean.  The first picture shows you what you would see if you stood facing the flagstick and looked straight at it.

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The second picture shows you what you see when you are in your stance and turn your head.  The flagstick is considerably to the left of where you saw it when looking straight on.

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When you practice your aim at the driving range, get into a setup you know is properly aimed and pay special attention to where the flagstick lies in the picture you see when you turn your head.  That image is what you want to remember.  It won’t take more than a few practice sessions to learn it.

To help you fix that location, notice when you turn your head and look to the left, you will see an out-of-focus image of the bridge of your nose framing the picture on its left edge.  The flagstick will be somewhere near that image, the exact location depending on how flexible your neck is.  

(Unfortunately, I’m not good enough at altering images to include this frame on the photograph, but if you look to the left only by moving your eyes you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

During play, if you see the flagstick more to the left of where it should be, you are aimed too far to the right.  Or if you see the flagstick more to the right it means you are aimed too far to the left.

To make this check on your aim work, you must be sure to turn your head the same amount every time so the target will show up in the same place when correctly aimed at.

I watch the people I play golf with set up.  Every so often, one of them hits a beautiful shot that goes ten yards to the right of the green.

“How did that happen,” they ask in vain. “It happened because that’s where you were aimed,” I say to myself.

The Full Bag Drill

I’ve been doing this drill lately to build an identical swing with each club.  It pays off throughout the bag, but especially when you get to the driver.  It also takes a lot of discipline.

You’re going to go through your bag, from the most-lofted club to the least lofted (probably your driver), and hit a good shot with each club, using the same swing with each club.  You only get to hit one shot with each club.  Thirteen swings.  No do-overs.

By the same swing I mean the same movement, same rhythm, same tempo.  THE SAME.  This is the whole point of the drill.

The only thing that will change is your posture as the club shafts get longer.

This is a very difficult drill.  First of all, you want to hit 13 good shots and you only get one chance with each club. Hitting 13 good shots in a row isn’t easy.

Second, as the clubs get longer, the temptation to swing harder or to get the clubhead on the ball in a different way is great.  But you can’t do that.  Each swing has to be the same.

The reason you want to have the same swing for every club is that one swing is easier to learn, easier to rely on, and makes golf easier to play, than two or three swings do.

You will also learn to trust the design of the longer clubs to get the distance you want from them.  As clubs get longer, they have a lengthier shaft and less loft.  That alone is enough to send the ball father and farther.  You don’t have to make extra effort.

Do this drill (one time) at the driving range.  Doing this drill in your pre-round warm-up might be a good idea, too.

2018 Open Championship Preview

The USGA takes difficult golf courses and makes them even harder for the U.S. Open.  And you know how that’s working out.

The R&A takes difficult golf courses and leaves them alone.  Welcome to the Open Championship, which this year is being played at Carnoustie, one of the hardest golf courses in the world.  See the Open Championship website, click on Spectators/Course Guide, for a hole-by-hole description of the course.

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(Click to enlarge)

This amateur course guide features photographs. Not all the holes are reviewed, but the photos give you an outstanding look at the course and make you wish you could try your hand at it.

By the way, the name of the course is Car-NOOSE-tee.  Car-NASTY was clever the first three million times we heard it, but has become as tired as “Get in the hole!” or “You da man!”  Please don’t say it that way.

The fairways are baked out and hard.  Some players have said the fairways are faster than the greens. During a practice round, Padraig Herrington drove into Barry Burn (creek) fronting the 18th green, which is well over 400 yards from the tee.  Were it not for the burn, the 499-yard par 4 would be drivable for more than a handful of contestants.

That means players have to decide how much roll-out they are willing to have lest the ball rolls into places it shouldn’t go.  For example, Jockie’s Burn fronts the 3rd green on a 350-yard par 4, and can easily be driven into even on a layup.  And the fairways are not flat. A ball catching s slope can roll out 20 to 40 yards farther than planned.

Might it be that length off that tee will not be a factor this year, because course conditions mean everybody has it?  If so, players who control the ball off the tee wisely should have lots of short irons and wedges into the greens.  If the weather is benign for four days, the winner should have a very low score.

But let’s not leave out mention of the wind.  The course does not lie on the ocean, but the sea is only a 5-iron away.

Carnoustie will be brutally hard this week, and no one can blame the setup.  It’s all Nature’s doing and that’s the way golf should be.

Notable holes include the 248-yard par-3 16th hole (see photo).  You think the 12th at Augusta is hard?  Try this one on for size.  The green is domed, which can throw errant shots off to the side.  The green is also long and narrow, making it a difficult target.  The hole often plays into the wind, making a back pin difficult to get to.  The 16th gave up the second-fewest number of birdies the last time the OC was played here, in 2007.

Another hole to pay attention is the 580-yard par-5 6th.  This is the famous Hogan’s Alley hole.  In 1953, Hogan chose the line between the bunkers and the out of bounds stakes on the left–a narrow target, but the best line for a clear shot into the green.

One of the courses quirks announces itself at the very start.  The green for the first hole is not visible from the tee, and not even from some parts of the fairway.  A tall pole marks its direction.

Players complained last month about Shinnecock Hills being different in the morning and afternoon on Saturday’s third round.  It is not unusual in the OC for a storm to wipe out the chances of groups playing in the morning, with clear, calm weather prevailing in the afternoon.  Or vice versa.  That’s one of the things I like about this tournament.

Get up early and watch golf played in a way like no other tournament requires. Whatever you think of the other major championships, this one is the most fun to watch.

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!!!!!

Why Golfers Don’t Improve

I recently read a piece in the GolfWRX newsletter about why golfers don’t improve.   It goes in several directions, but fails to mention the main reason.   Almost everyone who takes up the game does it the wrong way.

Let’s talk about learning to play the piano.   You would start out with easy pieces and basic skills.   You would play within your capabilities because that is all you could do.

Over time, you would become more skillful in your technique, but to become a pianist your focus would have been all along on being a musician, technique being a means to that end.

Learning golf should be the same way: start with easy, basic skills and work up as you go along, playing on courses that your skills make you capable of playing, and using those skills to be a golfer all the while.

But what normally happens is that amateurs tackle the full game from the very start, get in way over their heads, and continue to try solving advanced problems instead of starting off small and working up.

They are like beginning piano players try to start off trying to play this:

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instead of this:

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People who never went through a process of getting into the game gradually, but rather tried to take it on all at once will find improvement difficult and time-consuming because they never created a foundation from which significant improvement can emerge.

Until they build that foundation, no amount of tweaks at the back end will help very much.

Every year I go through a re-learning process.   I get back to basic putting: hitting a lot of 2- and 3-foot putts.   Hitting 30- and 40-footers.

I re-learn my chipping stroke and re-calibrate my chipping formula. I re-learn my pitching stroke and re-calibrate my pitching game from 55-100 yards.

My swing? I get a refresher lesson with a 5-iron, and another one with a driver.

In short, I become a beginner again.   I re-create a solid foundation.

And that, I believe is what every golf who is stuck should do—start over.   It doesn’t matter if you are trying to break 100, or 90, or go from the high 70s to the low 70s.

If you’re stuck, start over with the small strokes.   Play most of your golf on par 3 courses for a while.   That’s golf without the driver, and if you can’t score there, you can’t on the big course, either.

Get really good at shots that are technically easy before you move on to shots that are technically difficult.

Honestly!   Life is long.    Taking out three or four months months to build a foundation for your future in a game you will play for the rest of your life is such a minimal investment that will pay off huge rewards.

And if you say, well, thanks for telling me this in the middle of July when I want to be out flailing away at 6,400 yards of heartache, I’ll say, why not spend a few weeks tuning up your game, then a few months honing it on smaller courses on which you will have a shorter outing and have more fun and become a better golfer, and this is the IDEAL time of year to do it.

But that’s just how I see it.

Your Setup–One Key to Consistent Contact

A friend of mine told me while we were playing one day, that someone looked into how it is that Justin Thomas, who isn’t a very big guy, drives the ball so far.

One of his keys is that he hits the ball on the center of the clubface.  Every time.  It might have been on impact tape or something, but the impression after a good number of drives was about the size of a quarter.

How does he do that?  I can’t say how his swing makes that happen, because I don’t know.  But I can say for sure that one thing which makes it happen is his setup.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that he sets up the same distance from the ball every time, the ball is in the same place in his stance every time, his posture is the same every time, his hands are in the same place every time, and so on.

I would also bet that if you took a picture from the same spot every time and overlaid all those photos on top of each other, you wouldn’t see much leakage, if any, around the edges, if you know what I mean.

By starting out in the same place every time, in every respect, Thomas gives his swing every chance to return the clubhead to the ball in the same place every time.

Here’s an example taken from the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing.  It shows the variation in foot position in a 24-handicapper and a professional golfer.  The pro is consistent, and the amateur is all over the place.

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Was else I can tell you for sure is that a major cause of inconsistent ball-striking is an inconsistent setup.  I would go so far as to say you should practice your setup as much as you practice your swing.

Let’s drill in on this point.  Say you hit a tremendous drive.  On the next hole, you unknowingly set up with the ball one inch farther away from you than it was on the last hole.  If you make the same swing, you will miss the sweet spot on the clubface by an inch.

But you won’t make the same swing, because you’re reaching out a little bit farther than you did last time and that is enough to change everything.  Your unconscious mind knows you’re out of position and will try, in vain, to compensate. You won’t hit anywhere near as good a drive and then wonder what happened to your swing.

What happened was that an inconsistent setup forced that good swing out of existence.  Simple as that.

My instructor had me buy a four-foot metal ruler to practice my setup. With this, you can ensure your feet are the same distance apart, and the ball is in the same place.  Being consistent with these two things alone will by themselves improve your ball-striking.

We practice our swing to make it as much the same as we can every time, but what’s the use of having a repeating swing if your setup is all over the map?

And when you’re trying to develop a repeating swing, you might keep correcting this or that when your swing is just fine and it’s your setup that needs work.

So here are a few things to think about in your setup, all of which make a difference:

Grip alignment (orientation of Vs)
Grip pressure
Where on the handle you place your hands *
Clubface alignment (open, square, closed)
Distance from the ball *
Location of the ball in your stance *
Posture of your back
Amount of bend in your neck
Amount of bend in your hips and knees *
Shape of your arms
Distance between your elbows
Height of your stance *
Distribution of weight across the feet (front-back, side-side)
Amount that your toes are turned out
Alignment of feet
Alignment of shoulders
The feeling that you are “in the slot”

* This will vary by the club used, must be the same per club.

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