What’s In My Bag? – Update

Ever seen that behind-the-back shot where the pro stands facing away from the hole and swings his club backwards at the ball? He does that when the stance from the usual side isn’t possible or is impossibly awkward. There’s a better solution.

I went to a used sporting goods store and bought a left-handed golf club. It’s a junior-sized 9-iron, about 28” long. I just bend down holding it with my right hand only, and swing it back-handed. Works like a charm.

I only carry this club to courses that have deep bunkers. On those days, I make room for it by taking out one of my hybrids, whichever one I won’t need to use on a par 3.

A few years ago I bought a Hogan Sure-Out sand iron. It’s now in my bag doing sand duty and taking the place of my Al Geiberger gouge wedge (see my October 9, 2009 posting).

There’s a new driver, too. The old 975J hits moon shots, the D2 hits line drives.

So now my set contains:
Woods (1): Driver Titleist 907 D2 10.5-degrees
Hybrids (2 or 3): Ben Hogan Edge CFT 19-, 21-, and 24-degree
Irons (6): Ben Hogan Apex 5-E (blades)
Wedges (3 or 4): Titleist Vokey 54- and 60-degree, Ben Hogan Sure-Out, lefty
Putter (1): Acushnet Bulls Eye

The putter is new to the bag, too. I got it at the same used sporting goods store last fall and have putted great with it every time out. These babies were the cat’s meow in the 60s, when every pro had one and every wanna be had one, too. It has marvelous balance, wonderful response off the sweet spot, and just feels like a partner in my hand.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

On Learning Golf by Percy Boomer

This is the title of a book published in 1946 by Percy Boomer. You have never heard of him, have you? He was British teaching pro who did most of his work in France, and had moderate success as a tournament player in the 1930s.

On Learning Golf is the first book written on how to feel the golf swing. Boomer’s instruction is based on two principles.

First, learn basic swinging movements and apply those movements to as many shots as possible. That makes all shots fundamentally the same. Second, the golfer must develop a set of controls, or feels, so the swing is governed by the remembered feels rather than by thinking.

This is not an easy book to read, in that comes at the golf swing from a completely different point of view than you are used to. You have to learn a new conception of movement and how that conception is applied to the golf swing.

The effort will be worth it. What you will happen if you build your swing along the lines Boomer suggests is that you will get the details right automatically because you will be moving in such a way that you can only get them right. You don’t have to put together pieces. The controls will result in the correct movements emerging.

If you read this book, study it, and apply it, over time you will realize how easy golf can be and wonder why everybody else made it so hard for you.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

First Round of the New Year

Yesterday I played for the first time this year. It’s been rainy all winter, but we start turning in our scores March 1, so I had better get ready since I haven’t played since last October.

I played nine holes on my home course, starting each hole from where I normally hit my approach shot. I also dropped balls around the green in places where I usually miss. I want my first impressions of golf to be about getting the ball in the hole.

The fairways were soggy, which meant that I had to take easy swings in order not to lose my footing or hit the ball fat (or both!). That’s how we should hit irons all the time—easy.

Sometimes there’s a short shot that is unique to a particular green complex. You can’t practice it because there’s only one place you’ll come across it. Go there and be creative. Drop five or six balls and keep hitting them until you figure out what to do.

The greens were covered with dew, so there was no point in working on the speed, but I learned a lot about green-reading. The ball left a line through the dew showing me where the ball really went. A few putts that I played to break didn’t move. Taking another look showed me why.

I’ll play a few more practice rounds, easing myself into the game. Now’s the time to get a few practice rounds under your belt. They will really pay off.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

Sustained Excellence in Golf

I don’t write about professional golf very often because there is so much ink in magazines, and electrons in blogs, all repeating each other. There’s only so much news to report. So I wait until I see something different. Like this.

We tend to judge professional golfers by how many major tournaments they have won. The label nobody wants is “The Best Golfer Never to Win a Major.” One day I’ll write about the “The Worst Golfer Ever to Win One.” But not today.

Today I want to talk about sustained excellence. Competition at elite levels is boggling. The difference between success and failure is so fine that you almost can’t see it.

Here are eight golfers who have one thing in common: Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, and Padraig Harrington.

Each of them has been in the top 50 of the world rankings for over 500 consecutive weeks. The list is in order by duration. Vijay has been in the top 50 for 911 weeks. That’s over 17 and a half years! Harrington will hit the ten-year mark, 520 weeks, the first week of April.

Each of these golfers has been able to be the best of the best year after year. So many golfers have come and gone in that time. These eight are still at the top and show no signs of slacking off.

Think of how variable your game is. Think of how hard it must be to maintain your game at an elite level when there are new guys coming out all the time trying to beat your butt.

To be so good for so long is a real accomplishment. Sustained excellence, to my mind, is a better way of measuring greatness than by the list of tournaments they might or might not have won.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

Insane distance from the tee

Several weeks ago I wrote in this space about not getting lured in by golf magazines that promise you more distance if you just follow their recycled tip. Two weeks later, I still believe that.

But if you have something to say on the subject, I’ll listen.

So the day before yesterday I was in our local library looking over the magazines people leave to be taken, free. I always look for golf magazines, of course. There was only one and I picked it up and read the banner across the top of the cover. “217 ways to add 15 yards,” it averred.

Doing some quick math, I figured that if there were 217 tips and I did all of them I could hit the ball 3,255 yards. That means if I can get the up and down (don’t expect to hit the green from that distance) I could play the front nine in 3.

Once I thought if I followed every mileage tip I could find that said I could raise my mileage by 2-3 mpg I’d get about 78 mpg. Didn’t work out, though.

Do you ever see the articles that say, “Add fifty yards to your drives”? Read the tip. The only way you could get fifty more yards by doing that is if you only hit your driver 125 to begin with.

Well, with 217 ways to add 15 yards, I figured at least one of them would resonate. The problem was that I couldn’t find them. I studied every page of the magazine, including the ad for a sleeping compound with the full page of fine print on the back warning you that one of the side effects of taking a sleeping medication is drowsiness. Really. It said that.

I did find four distance tips, though. They were on a two-page spread saying that if you sped up your swing you would hit the ball farther. Made sense. And there are four ways to do that. Good start, but I never could find the next 213.

Maybe you take those four tips to the range and hit fifty-three balls with each one, and use the 213th ball to celebrate finding the method that works best.

I don’t know. Maybe they just wanted me to buy the magazine. Do you think?

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

How To Master Difficult Golf Holes

If you keep a record of your golf scores on the courses you play, you might find there are holes you make a bad score on more often than you should. There is a hole that lures you into trying to hit shots that you really can’t hit that well. Or you’re on the edge of your ability with no room for error.

The way you play the other seventeen holes on the course doesn’t work on this hole. You need a different strategy. That strategy is to figure out the hole in reverse. Architects design holes to look as frightening as possible in the direction they are played. But when you look at the hole in reverse, you can see there is lots of room and several safe places you can hit the ball to.

So from the fairway, find a safe landing area for your tee shot, and hit it there. You’ll have to make note of the line from the tee to that spot, as well as its distance. Look for a safe place near the green. Note how far away it is from the green so if you have to hit to that spot, you’ll know which club to use.

This strategy might mean you’re playing for bogey and you’ll only get a par with a great chip and a great putt. That’s OK. You’ll have taken the big number out of play, and that’s how you shoot a good score.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Lower Your Golf Score Without Practicing

Yes, I mean it. Here are four ways to lower your score that you don’t take weeks of pounding balls at the range.

1. Grip down. I’ll bet you hit your short irons—PW, 9-iron, 8-iron— pretty well. The longer clubs give you problems. The solution is to grip down on the longer clubs so they feel like a short iron. Hold the club with about 1¼” to 1½” of the shaft extending beyond your left hand.

Get a club and try that right now. The balance of the club will change dramatically. You’ll feel connected to the clubhead and in full control of the club. You will hit a very good shot.

2. Slow down. You swing too fast. I don’t have to see you swing, I know you swing too fast. By that I mean on the downswing. Your downswing doesn’t flow naturally out of your backswing. You swing back OK, but you rush down into the ball.

Swing like you’re chopping wood, in that taking the axe back and bringing it down on the wood are part of the same motion. The striking movement, while faster than the upstroke, is a natural continuation of the upstroke. Slow down. Let clubhead speed build up by itself.

3. Take a religious vow to develop a perfect setup, then do it. That’s grip, stance, posture, and alignment. OK, you’ll have to practice this, but the first three you can do in your living room any time. The pros work on this constantly because they know that a good shot will not come out of a bad setup. Don’t guess. Get a lesson if you have to. It takes no athletic talent to set up correctly—only knowledge and perseverance.

As for alignment, when you hit balls at the range, hit every ball at a different target and align yourself each time. The pros work on that constantly, too.

4. Learn to play the game. Knowing how to hit good shots is only half of golf. Knowing which shot to hit, with which club, and to where, is the other half. I know you know how to play the game when I see you don’t always pull a driver on every par 4 and par 5. Sometimes a shorter club off the tee is the better play. Or when you play short of the green on a long par 3 to chip on for a sure bogey or a possible par.

In other words, play a recreational game within your skills instead of mimicking a pro game that you don’t have.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com.

Hybrid Irons

Do you still have long irons in your bag? Can you hit them? Really?

About six years ago, I could hit my 4-iron to my liking two out of three times, my 3-iron about one out of three times, and my 2-iron was for the tee only. I had three clubs in my bag that weren’t doing me any favors.

So I went to the range one day and there was a Ben Hogan demo. Ben Hogan line was still a prominent player in the equipment market. I talked to the rep about the hybrid irons I had been hearing about and he gave me a 21-degree club, equivalent to a 3-iron, to try out.

I walked over to an open mat and dropped a few balls. The club felt a lot heavier than my 3-iron, so I decided I would just take an easy swing the first time. Whack! The ball flew out straight and long, as good as any 3-iron I had ever hit. Then two more balls, two more great shots.

I had just hit the best long iron shots of my, life three times in a row.

About a month later I ordered a 19-, 21-, and 24-degree hybrid and retired my long irons. I would recommend you do the same, and you might take a close look at replacing your 5-iron, too.

Two things about using hybrid irons. They’re meant to replace irons, so you still have to hit down on the ball like you do with other irons. Trying to sweep the ball as if it were a fairway wood doesn’t work too well.

Second, and I tell myself this every time I get set to swing one, stay out of its way. Just make an easy swing and let the club do the work. The more you try to force the shot with a hybrid iron the worse it will be for you.

There’s no substitute for practice, but if you want to buy some good shots, get some of these.

One more thing. Please don’t call them ‘rescue clubs’. I don’t use them to chip out of trees into the fairway. I use them to send the ball from the fairway to a green 180 yards away. And it gets there.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

Three Key Feelings for Golfers

Golf is a feel game. You can be technical on the range, but on the course you just have to play. What will get you through a round of golf is knowing what your swing is supposed to feel like at key moments.

At moments where mistakes are most likely to occur, knowing what that movement is supposed to feel like is the assurance you’re looking for to execute it successfully.

There are three such moments in the swing: takeaway, transition, and impact.

The start of the swing must be smooth, on line, and unhurried. It must also lead the right muscles into action and keep the wrong ones quiet.

The transition from the backswing to the downswing depends on you trusting that your swing will hit the ball. This requires a different feeling than hitting with your hands, which, despite occasionally spectacular results, is unreliable.

Impact is the essence of the swing. You can build your entire swing around impact by knowing with certainty how you want to feel at that instant and working backwards so that every movement leads naturally into it.

I don’t think I’d be to far off if I said that many of your bad shots are the result of your not being completely sure of what to do at these three moments.

Learn how it feels to move through each of them correctly. That will build a solid foundation for your swing.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

Five Lessons by Ben Hogan

There are so many books of golf instruction that it seems hard to know where to start. Actually, the choice is easy. Get a copy of Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

Read it, study it. As Hogan’s swing was in a league of its own, so is this book. I have read countless instruction books and can say that no other book speaks with such authority on the matters it covers. No other book is even close.

Five Lessons is about the golf swing, nothing else. There’s one chapter on the grip, one chapter on stance and posture, and one chapter each on the backswing and downswing, and a review. Five chapters, five lessons.

Every step is illustrated with crystal-clear drawings by Anthony Ravielli that are works of art in themselves.

Warning: Hogan’s instruction concerns what worked for him. It’s not for everyone, and Hogan was the first to admit that. That means in many places you have to take his instruction as a point of departure.

That will be easier to do if you acquire a companion book, The Fundamentals of Hogan, by David Leadbetter. Hogan’s teaching is explained, and modifications for golfers lacking his strength, flexibility, and stature are suggested.

Five Lessons is the only book I trust concerning my swing. I relearn the fundamentals every year by going slowly through this book. You should, too.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

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