It’s Time For You to Get a Golf Lesson

Winter is over. Maybe you hit some balls in the last few months, maybe you took a few swings in the house. Unless you kept playing as often as you did last summer, I can pretty much promise that you won’t go right back to that same swing. That your putting will be a little bit off (and all it takes is a little bit for you to miss the ones you used to make). Short game? The part of the game based on feel and finesse? Gone.

So hitting the range is a good idea, and I’m sure you’re doing that. But think hard about having a few lessons to get you on the right track from the start. Why?

Because over a few months of little or no activity you’ve lost what the good swing you had feels like. You might think you’re swinging the same way, but odds are you’re not. You can’t figure out why, but the pro will spot it in a second.

Even if you are hitting the ball well, a lesson will remind of why. It will give you the means of correcting yourself when your swing goes south during the round.

Then there’s the part where you might learn something you didn’t know before, that will help you play better.

Get a lesson. Get several. One for your swing, one for chipping, one for putting. Lessons are the best investment you can make in your golf game.

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Five Pieces of Advice to Golfers

I’m just sayin’ . . .

1. Don’t swing a club that has less loft than your handicap.

2. If you can drive and you can putt, you can play good golf. (Actually, Byron Nelson said that.)

3. Practice these things in this priority: short irons, short putts, greenside chips, driver.

4. On difficult holes play for easy bogies rather than hard pars.

5. It’s more important to have fun with your friends than to shoot a low score.

For all you literalists, numbers 1-4 have wiggle room. Number 5 does not. Also, numbers 2 and 3 do not contradict each other.

Play well and have fun.

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Work With the Green – Don’t Be Afraid of It

Being a good green reader means entering into a partnership with the green. Instead of seeing the green as an adversary, an obstacle course that you have to navigate to get the ball into a tiny hole, look at the green as a helper that’s showing you exactly where and how firmly the ball should be sent off. Thinking outside yourself like this makes putting much less stressful. It will let you see clearly how to hit this putt.

So think not how am I going to sink this putt, but how are we going to sink this putt. You do your part, the green does its part. Your part is to start the putt with the right speed on the right line so the green can carry the ball to the hole. Give the green what it needs to work with so it can do its job.

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Ride a Hot Hand on the Golf Course

You practice lots of shots with different clubs so you’ll know just which shot to hit with what club for each situation you’ll find. Most of the time, that’s the smart way to play. Unless there’s no option, the pros won’t play a shot they haven’t practiced many times before.

On the other hand, sometimes you hit a shot that turns out uncommonly well. It felt easy, and it feels like you can do it again and again. So go ahead.

Did you just hit a pured 6-iron? Believe in this club and hit it again as soon as you can. Did it work out again? Now hit that club as often as you can the rest of the round. Give yourself opportunities by laying back on shorter par 4s and on the par 5s.

Did you just fly a chip to a few feet from the hole with a lofted wedge? Keep hitting it that shot with that club, even if you would normally do something else.

Performance is all about confidence. If you find something on the course that gives you confidence, ride it for all it’s worth. It could be a shot, or a club. It could be a thought. Just take every advantage of what helps you perform your best.

The next time you play, try that thing again, but if it doesn’t work, let it go and start looking for the next one.

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Visualization In the Short Game

A few summers ago I hit my tee shot short of the green on a par-3 hole. This green sits on a shelf that slopes sharply downward in front. The ball was five feet below the level of the green and about 30 feet from the pin.

I looked the situation over and through no conscious decision-making process, absorbed it, and thought, “Sand wedge, two feet.” My mind and body shared the knowledge of what to do and performed as one. As I hit the shot, a feeling of calmness and confidence was strong from address through follow-through. It was that simple.

Visualization is allowing what you see between yourself and your target to create an impression in your mind that spreads through your body. The impression carries the exact feeling of what shot to hit, and how to hit it, that will get the ball where you want it to go. The process takes only a few seconds once you get used to it.

When you plan a shot by drawing on your experience in a logical way, you’ll be off the mark. Every short shot is different, and generalizing from the past will prevent you from seeing what is there now. There might be bumps and rolls in the ground to account for, meaning you would have to fly the ball to the hole instead of running it there. You might usually hit this particular shot with your sand wedge, but now a 9-iron would be a better choice. And so on.

After acquiring a basic grasp of how to hit different short shots, it all comes down to feel, because each short shot situation has unique demands. If you spend a few moments just looking at what lies in front of you, without pre-judging how you’re going to deal with it, the right solution will present itself to your mind and body, every time.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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