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?


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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Distance in Golf

If you would like to hit the ball farther, raise your hand. I thought so. If you didn’t raise your hand, then thank you for visiting, but you don’t play golf, do you?

Everyone who plays golf would like to hit it farther. Most of all just for the fun of it. But also because you play holes on certain courses that would be a lot easier if you could tack twenty yards of carry onto your drive, or could approach the green with a 7-iron instead of a 5-iron.

The farther you hit the ball, the easier the game is, and the more fun. That’s why every golf magazine has headlines on the cover for articles on how to hit the ball farther. Every month they do that. Oh, sure, sometimes they’ll talk about hitting it straighter, but farther is sexier than straighter, and sex sells, so it’s distance all the way.

Here’s the truth about distance, though. Distance is a talent, not a skill. Good technique will let you realize your distance potential, but if your potential is not to be a long hitter, there’s little you can do about it.

What that means is that any swing change you want to take on should only be for hitting the ball straighter. And guess what? When you make centered hits, with all the clubhead geometry lined up, you will hit the ball a long way. That’s why the diminutive LPGA pros hit the ball farther than you do. They’re certainly not stronger. They’re much more precise. They are the model for recreational golfers to follow.

If you go for straight, long will take care of itself.

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Professional Golfer’s Practice Plan

I retired five years ago. In my last few months on the job, I didn’t have all that much to do. I would spend a few moments here and there combing the Internet for good golf tip web sites. One in particular that I liked is

There’s a tip on it that I want to call your attention to. The site’s author, Neil Wilkins, a teaching pro in Texas, made up a daily practice plan for a mini-tour player.

The plan goes through putting, chipping, bunkers, pitching, and the full swing. Different drills are laid out with the number of shots for each drill specified.

I counted the number of putts and short game shots in the plan, and compared it to the number of shots allotted to the full swing. Every day, there are three times as many putts and short shots as there are full swings. Three times!

If you saw me hit the ball, you would think I shoot in the 70s. Yet, I shoot in the mid- to low-80s. Guess why? Guess what I need to practice more? Guess what you need to practice more?

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

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.

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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.

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