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.

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.

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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.


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 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.

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