For beginning golfers, their biggest triumph comes on the day when they learn to get the ball in the air consistently. Finally getting the ball to fly naturally off the clubface against a background of blue sky, on command, is a tremendous thrill. It is the gate that everyone must pass through to begin playing better golf.
The reason why this is so hard at first is because of the tiny margin of error in striking a golf ball, compared to other ball-and-stick sports. The golf ball is the smallest of hit balls, the golf club is the smallest of sticks, and the ground the ball sits on takes away half the room where an error in contact can be made.
Getting over this hurdle can be a reason why beginners decide to stop trying. It’s not easy. If you know someone who is taking up the game and is frustrated in this way, suggest the following:
1. Tee up the ball. Take the ground out of play for a while. Give yourself back that margin of error. Make sure the tee is the right height, though. For hitting an iron, the bottom of the ball should lie no more than one-half inch above the ground. For a driver, . . . , well, a beginner shouldn’t be hitting a driver, so we won’t go into that.
2. Do not try to lift the ball into the air. The iron club has an angled face, which is designed for that function. Just meet the ball. Getting the ball into the air is the club’s responsibility, not the golfer’s.
3. Start small. Hit little shots with a lofted club, such as a 9-iron, by taking a backswing of no more than four or five feet. If you return the club through the ball without thinking of hitting the ball, but only letting the club pass through the spot where the ball is, the ball will pop into the air just like that.
4. Ease into taking bigger swings, all the time just letting the club flow through the ball. The club’s design will get the ball in the air. (Remember that in steps 3 and 4, you’re hitting the ball off a tee.)
5. When you get to the point where you’re hitting one clean shot into the air after another, remove the tee and hit balls off a fluffy bed of grass. That will give you a little bit of room to hit underneath the ball and still be all right. Move at an appropriate rate to grass that is at normal playing height where the ball is resting firmly on the ground. You’ve made it! You’re in the club.
Now go play and have fun.
My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.