Putt a Bucket of Balls

In the interest of keeping my putting practice fresh, I invent new drills from time to time. This one is my latest.

I practice in my back room, which is covered with deck carpet. The lid of a can of whole tomatoes, which is 4” across, acts as the hole that I putt to. I put a dozen golf balls in an old quart-sized cottage cheese bucket, stand over the lid, and gently roll them out of the bucket. They’ll end up anywhere from two feet to six feet from the lid.

The drill is to putt them all out from where they end up. You might have to move one or two out of the way to hit another ball. The catch is that if you miss one you start over. Don’t quit until you’ve putted out all twelve.

In addition to working on your stroke, this drill teaches you to putt under pressure. Every putt counts, so you have to take every putt seriously. By the time you’re putting those last few balls from five to six feet, you’re teaching yourself how stay composed when you face the same putt on the course.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

Six Golf Books You Should Own

When you forget your fundamentals, a little advice, rather than a lesson, might be all you need. The books listed below can give you reminders that will help you keep your game on track and focus your practice. By having these books handy, you’re way ahead of the game.

Boomer, Percy. 1946. On Learning Golf. The very first book on how to be a feel player. Referred to and relied on by teachers even today. Get this book and study it.

Faldo, Nick. 1995. A Swing for Life. An excellent book about building your swing. It gives you a clear description of the essentials of the golf swing and drills to build them into yours. Though never know as a great putter, Faldo’s advice on putting is as useful as anything else in the book.

Floyd, Raymond. 1998. The Elements of Scoring. There is little technique discussed in this book. Rather, how to get the ball in the hole.

Middlecoff, Cary. 1974. The Golf Swing. A study of the development of the golf swing from Harry Vardon to Jack Nickluas. The chapters titled “Your Swing” and “Some Personal Reflections” should be memorized.

Saunders, Vivien. 2000. The Golf Handbook for Women. She tells you how to do everything, in clear language. If you have a problem, she offers a fix in two sentences and a drill. A down-to-earth book for recreational golfers.

…and finally,

Jones, Bob. 2009. Better Recreational Golf. Written by a recreational golfer, based on personal experience with the recreational game, this book tells you how to do the little things that make a big difference in how well you play. Most of the drills it gives you can be done at home. Available here.

A Bucket of Balls

If it’s too wet to play, you’ll no doubt be spending a few sessions at the range to keep your swing in shape over the winter. When you do, be intelligent about it. Here are a few good ways to go through a bucket.

Use one club. Your 7-iron is a good choice. Your driver is the worst choice. When you hit the same club over and over, you can concentrate on making the same swing over and over. The only way to learn a repeating swing is to swing the same way repeatedly.

Gradually go through the bag. Hit three shots with your pitching wedge, then three with your 9-iron, three with your 8-iron, and so on through the driver. No do-overs allowed. This scheme makes sure you don’t neglect any one club or favor others.

Take a driver and a half set, say, your 9-, 7-, 5-, and 3-irons, and your wedges. Hit your driver, then an iron, and a pitch with one of the wedges. Start over with the driver, then a different iron, and a pitch with the other wedge. This scheme makes you hit a different club with every swing. The next time you go out, bring your even-numbered irons.

Pretend you are playing your favorite course. Tee off, hit the iron you usually hit your approach with to the first green. Play every hole using the clubs you normally do. Throw in a few pitches. If the range is close to the practice green, walk over, drop a ball at some distance from the hole and putt out. Go back to the range and “tee off” on the next hole.

The one thing not to do at the range is work on swing changes. Work those out at home using the drills the pro gave you. Use your time at the range to hit balls just like you would hit them on the course. Take each shot seriously and make every swing count.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

Golf in Hawaii


The PGA tour starts next week, with the SBS Champioship on Maui, followed by the Sony Open in Oahu. While there’s rain, snow, and cold outside your living room window, you can watch the pros play in the perfect golfing environment.

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you know why it’s perfect. You get off the airplane and the heat and humidity make you feel like Gumby. It’s marvelous.

I played golf in Hawaii about ten years ago, at a little course called Kukuiolono Park. This course is the biggest golf bargain you will ever get, situated on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the most restful of all the Hawaiian Islands – Kauai.

Kukuiolono Park Golf Course (pictured above) is on the estate left in perpetuity to the residents of Kauai by sugar magnate Walter D. McBride for their recreational enjoyment.

The course has only nine holes, but alternate tees allow you to play a front nine and a back nine of different lengths. The overall length of the combined eighteen is 6,154 yards, rated 68.8/115.

The 2nd hole is 580 yards long, but it goes downhill so sharply from tee to green that getting on in two is not out of the question. Unfortunately, the short 330-yard 3rd plays back up the same hill and it takes two mighty shots to reach the green.

The views from the 4th through 7th holes overlooking the ocean and surrounding area make it difficult to keep playing. But no problem. Green fees for an entire day are only $9! (I said it was a bargain.) Just play it as many times as you like so you can keep coming back for another look.

Kukuiolono Park GC is not in the same condition as the high-priced resort courses elsewhere on Kauai, but it is in good condition, plays well, and if you get paired up with some local golfers you’ll have the time of your life. When you travel to Kauai, play here first. You won’t regret it.

The course does not have its own web site, but this link will help you find it.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Playing Standards for 2010

Every year I set goals for the coming year, and organize my winter practice based on how much work I need to do to be ready to attain them when the new season starts.

The goals are based on the number of holes green-high in regulation, percentage of par saves from greenside (<5 yards), and percentage of par saves from beyond greenside (5-20 yards). I have a putting index, explained below, and I keep track of the number of mental errors. A mental error is an occasion when your mind was thinking about the result during a shot rather than feeling the process, forgetting a pre-swing fundamental, or two, or making bad choices about what shot to hit or what club to hit it with. Green-high in regulation is a concession to my recreational golf swing. It’s not good enough to let me hit a lot of greens–the pros can worry about greens in regulation. I measure instead how many times I can at least be chipping for par. My goal for 2010 is 16 or more. There are two par save stats because within these two distances you would be using a different stroke, and you should monitor how well you do with each one. My goals for 2010 are 80% and 50%. Putting index is a thing I came up with. It’s the combined length of all putts divided by the length of all non-first putts. For example, if on three holes you had putts of 23 and 2 feet, 8 feet, and 47, 6, and 1 foot, the total length of all putts would be 87 feet. The total length of non-first putts would be 9 feet (2+6+1). You putting index would be 87 divided by 9, or 9.67. My 2010 goal is to be over 10.0. Mental errors are more difficult to quantify, but if you examine a round objectively, I would bet you could identify at least four strokes you lose every time out because your mind let you down. My 2010 goal is 0. Leave some comments about what your standards are. We’d all be interested to read them.

New Year’s Wishes

We had a good Christmas at our house, visiting family and being visited. Christmas should be on Friday every year. It gives us a nice long lead-in to The Big Day followed by two days off right away.

New Year’s is resolution time–the time we resolve to do things differently, to improve the parts of our life most meaningful to us. Even though we can start making positive changes at any time, January 1 makes nice separation between two golf seasons. We have enough time to wind down from one and get ready for the one to come.

So here are my golf resolutions for 2010.

1. Play harder courses more often. Play courses that make me hit better shots, think more clearly, and have a tighter game overall.

2. Stop trying to improve my swing and just get better at repeating the one I have.

3. Talk to my pro to develop an overall improvement plan and take a lesson every two/three weeks to carry it out.

4. Enjoy the fun and fellowship more and get caught up less in making good scores.

That last one might sound like a contradiction to the first three, but it’s not. Since we spend so much of our precious leisure time playing golf, we might as well play it as well as we can. But golf is also our recreation, our relaxation, our sanctuary. We should certainly enjoy the good rounds, and resolve to improve our bad ones, but the most important skill is to come home happier than when we left.

Otherwise, why play?

Thank you for following me in 2009. Be looking for the unveiling of therecreationalgolfer.com in March 2010.

Christmas Wishes

Another golfing year is coming to a close. My instructional book came out, and is selling slowly but steadily. The left-hander’s edition is doing even better.

I started out the season with a 10.2 handicap and saw that go up to 11.4, not the direction I intended, but my father died at the end of March and I didn’t have the emotional energy to devote myself to progressing. That weight is lifting, and I’m making great strides in all phases of the game, at least on the practice ground. So in 2010, single digits, here I come.

Since there is still one shopping day left, here are my suggestions for the golfer on your list, and that can include yourself:

Bridgestone Tour B330-RX golf balls. Expensive, but they stop on a dime around the green.

A new sand wedge and a new lob wedge. Or two. Square-grooved clubs cease being manufactured on January 1, so load up now.

Golf lessons–preferably putting lessons.

New golf shoes. The ones you’re wearing now have pretty much had it.

New golf shoe spikes. OK, your shoes still look good, but the spikes are worn down to the nub.

A wide-brimmed hat that actually does, instead of pretending to, keep the sun off your face and neck.

A new driver. Just kidding. You really don’t need this. Learn to get the one you have in the fairway and use the $400 to pay for golf lessons.

Better Recreational Golf, by yours truly. Applying the information in this book will help you shoot lower scores.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and good golfing in 2010.

Time For PGA Tour Pros to Start Earning Their Living

Tiger is gone for an indefinite period. Most commentators think he’ll miss a big chunk of the 2010 season. Quite frankly, I don’t think he’ll miss anything. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

It’s the rest of the guys on the PGA tour. They’ve had a cushy ride on Tiger’s coattails for about ten years now. All they’ve had to do is show up, play decent golf, let Tiger win, and collect a handsome pay check. When the 91st player on the 2009 money list earns over $1M, why bother to do much else?

Party’s over. Tiger is damaged goods. We need other players who can move the needle for the Tour to maintain its profile.

Once we had Arnold Palmer, Doug Sanders, Julius Boros, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf. If these guys had been actors, each one would have been a leading man. Now the tour is full of supporting players and extras.

Who out there gets you excited about watching golf on TV? Who would you pay to see if the Tour came to your town?

All I can think of are Phil and John Daly, although Daly’s attraction now is more about his pants than his golf.

The PGA Tour is in more trouble than Tim Finchem wants to admit. 2010 will not be an easy year, and unless things change, 2011 will be worse. Professional golf could become a niche sport.

It’s time for players to step up and step out. We need interesting personalities out there, guys we can root for. We need players we care about.

Part of the problem is that too many of today’s players came out of college, where they played team golf. Being an individual wasn’t encouraged or even necessary, so the current breed of golfer doesn’t know how to be one.

We also need players who care about winning. I heard one guy last summer interviewed after he choked away a win say that he’s disappointed not to have won, but he played well overall and has a lot of positives to take away from the week. Incredible!

These days marketing is about establishing a brand. The brand that needs to be established is not for the Tour in general, but for each player, one by one. Professional golf lets fans get closer to the players than any other sport does, so it should be easy for golfers to make themselves known. But it’s the golfers who have done the worst job of it.

Time to change that.

Ben Hogan Golf Clubs–A Love Story

I play Ben Hogan Apex 50 irons. They are the Rolls Royce of blades. They have wonderful balance, the solid hits feel great, and they are so beautiful you can take one out and just look at it–just admire it. And now they’re history.

In 2003, I was taking a golf lesson using my Wilson irons from 1962 (!) and the pro said, quite plainly, that I had to get new equipment. Period. That’s a lot of money to spend when I could still hit them, but I suppose he had a point. You should upgrade maybe every 40 years.

So I went to a pro shop and tested about nine different sets of irons. The Hogans felt like they were made with me in mind and they were so beautiful! Modern irons are amazing technological feats, but they look like they were designed by scientists. Not the Apex’s. Such simple elegance in a tool that is so supremely functional.

The set came as 3-E and for some reason I ordered a 2-iron as well. Just had to have one, I guess.

What’s an E? Hogan called his pitching wedge his equalizer since he because he believed the wedge completed or “Equalized” the set.

Every now and then on the course, someone will see them and sigh. A deep sigh. And they’ll say, “I had those once,” as if they wish they still had them.

As for how they play, the ball works in a partnership with the club, and the square hits feel buttery. That’s the only word I can think of, but ask anyone who plays Hogan irons and they’ll use the same word, unprompted. It’s a wonderful feeling in your hands.

There was a period in the early 2000s when the Hogan playing staff was a pretty good set of golfers. Monty, Tom Kite, and Justin Leonard played them, and I think Jim Furyk did, too.

But I noticed that one by one, Hogan staffers were switching to a different brand of clubs. I was reading articles in trade magazines about financial difficulties with the Hogan brand and that the product didn’t appeal to today’s recreational golfer. After all, manufacturers don’t make their bucks from the pros, but by selling their clubs to you and me.

Callaway purchased the Hogan line in 2004, and stopped making the clubs in 2008. These magnificent clubs are now in the past, but you can go on the web and still find new sets of Apex Edge irons for sale. Good luck finding the Apex model.

The Hogan influence is still with us, though. I went to a Nike demo day last summer and the rep asked me what irons I played. I told him the Hogan Apex’s, and he gave a 4-iron and said, “Try this one.”

Amazing. It felt just like my Hogans. When I mentioned this to him, he said, “I thought you’d like it. The guy who designed it used to work for Hogan.”

So if my Apex’s ever wear out, I know where I’ll go for my next set. The trouble is they’ll have the feel, but not the look–that classic look that belongs in a museum of fine art.

Sigh.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Improve Your Putting Stroke

You had a six-footer all lined up and you missed it. You thought you had it in the bag and it just didn’t happen. What went wrong? Did you make a bad read? Was it your stroke? Maybe a bit of both? How do you know which?

Well, you can’t know, but you can make sure it wasn’t your stroke by getting your stroke schooled to the point where every putt directs the ball exactly where you want it to go. Let’s mention a few little things that will help you get it right.

Posture. Stand up to the ball, bent over comfortably at the hips, lower back straight. Hang the putter straight down with the end of the putter grip in front of your left eye. The shaft should cover the ball. This ensures your eyes are directly over the line of the putt.

Aim. Find a no-break putt on the practice green. Lay a club down in front of the ball, pointing at the hole. Lay another club down parallel to it, about a foot away on the side where you’ll be standing. Pick up the first club. Line up your feet and shoulders parallel to the second club. Your stroke is now aimed at the hole.

Alignment. Draw a line around a golf ball’s equator. Put the ball on the ground with the line running right through the pole of the ball, i.e., not tilted to one side. Putt the ball. If the line does not wobble, your putterface was square and aligned at impact. This is a critical point.

Sweet spot. Impact on this spot transfers all the energy of the putt to the ball, in line with the stroke. Tap the putterface with your fingertip rapidly back and forth along the face until you find the spot were the putter does not rotate when tapped. Practice hitting the ball on the sweet spot. When so hit, the ball will leap off the face, your hands will feel no shock of impact, and the ball will make a distinctive sound.

Path. The putter should be swinging along your starting line for short putts. Rock your shoulders back and forth when you putt, and have a feeling of the right upper arm continuing forward on the follow-through.

Stroke. If you think of the putting stroke as a movement back and a movement through, that’s two things, and your mind can stop in middle. Even though the stroke changes direction, think of it as one movement, not two. This is calming to the mind and body.

One Correction. I see golfers all over breaking their left wrist in the follow-through. None of ‘em can putt worth a lick. Enough said.

After you get your stroke fixed up, getting the ball in the hole is up to your read and the vagaries of the imperfect ground the ball rolls over, but that’s another lesson.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

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