Category Archives: fundamentals

Two Setup Tips

The motto of this blog is, Little Things That Make a Big Difference. Here are two tips for your setup that do just that.

First, your arms. They must be at full extension and stay that way throughout the swing. But they cannot be that way throughout the swing if they are not that way at the start.

Hold a club in one hand, with the clubhead resting in the air just off the ground. Notice that your arm feels to be pulled a bit, straightening it. Not a lot, not so the arm is rigidly straight, but straighter than it is when you are not holding the club (try it).

That is full extension. Address the ball with this feeling in both arms and maintain it throughout the swing. Why?

The momentum of the forward swing will by its force lengthen your arms as they swing the club through the ball if they are not already at full length. The rest is hitting fat.

Also, keeping your arms at full extension helps keep the clubface square. Don’t take my word for it, listen to Mickey Wright and Ben Hogan. They both regarded this as a key fundamental of their swing.

When you try this, your arms should still feel relaxed, never stiff to any degree.

Second, the line across your shoulders is the line you will take the club back along. It is the easiest way to move your body and it will want to do that. If you try to swing the club back on a different line your shoulders will fight you and your swing will be a struggle.

So if you want to hit the ball straight, start with your shoulders parallel to the target line. You will find it very easy to take the club away straight and on a plane that is aligned with your target line. That will also prepare you to swing the club back through the ball along the target line.

If you want to fade the ball, open your shoulder line a bit (aim it to the left of your target line) and swing back along that line, which will be the way your shoulders want to guide your arms. If you want to draw, do the opposite. Aim the shoulder line to the right of the target line.

But whatever, pay attention to this detail. It is easy to forget about as the round goes on.

Oh, yes. Happy New Year!

Why Most Golfers Don’t Get Better

A few weeks ago, and article appeared at GolfWRX with the title, “Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better“.

It was written by Terry Koehler, a golf club designer and golf industry veteran.

The first reason echoes my favorite Ben Hogan quote: “The average golfers’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing what he should do.”

Reasons two and three involve pre-swing fundamentals and the setup.

Reason four repeats the old saw, It’s a swing, not a hit.

Read his advice and see where it fits into your game.

A Few More Golf Thoughts

The golf swing should be as simple as possible, but no simpler (Albert Einstein?)

When your swing goes south during a round, re-group.   Play the next hole with your 8-iron.   8-iron off the tee, 8-iron down the fairway, then a lesser club to get you on the green, where two putts will get you a bogey.   On the next hole after that, go back to your usual game and swing whatever club you use just like you swung the 8-irons.

Close to breaking 100, or 90, or 80, but just can’t shed those one or two strokes?   Play a round from the forward tees once, and break through.   Now that you’ve done it, the monkey is off your back, and you can return to your regular tees and enjoy golf again.

Anything you want to do with a golf ball, hit it straight, far, curve it, spin it, high, low, anything, starts with hitting it on the center of the clubface.   That, is golf’s fundamental skill.

Ben Hogan said that in the forward swing, you can’t turn your hips too fast.   That is good advice as long as you do not swing out from under yourself.   The hips turn, but they must carry the torso with them and not leave it behind.

Try playing a round in which every shot into the green, from no matter from how far away, ends up past the flagstick, and see what that gets you.   If you think a 6-iron will do, take a 5, grip down an inch and swing away.   If you’re chipping, make sure the ball stops past the hole, not short of it.   You score by getting the ball up to the hole, not by sneaking up on the hole.

I really like 2s.   When you put a 2 on your scorecard, everyone knows exactly what happened.   A 3 could be several things, so could a 4, and a 5 could be a double bogey.   But a 2 means only one thing.   I like 2s a whole lot.

It is true that the less tension you have in your swing the faster the clubhead can go.   At address, you should be completely relaxed–not limp like a noodle, but have no tension anywhere.   Most of us are OK on the backswing, but when the forward swing starts is where tension can come in, especially if you want to hit the bill hard.   What you really want to do is hit the ball fast, and that means…no tension.   I have found in my swing that the place where tension comes in and slows down my swing is in the muscles of the upper torso.    If I keep this area relaxed, the clubhead screams through the ball with ungodly fury, yet it is still under control.    Try it.   Try keeping that part of your torso relaxed on the forward swing and see how much more clubhead speed you get.

Just before you take your putter back, lift it up so the sole is off the ground and just touches the top of the grass.   Now you can start your stroke.   The difference between starting the stroke by swinging straight back and going up a bit first then back, is significant.

My Guest Spot on The Golf Fix

I got a call from The Golf Channel a few weeks ago saying they liked my blog and would I like to be a guest on The Golf Fix. I said, sure. They said bring three things to talk about. I said that would be easy.

So when Michael Breed asks me what I have for the viewers, I will mention three things that if every golfer could do them, the sound of a nationwide crash of handicaps plummeting would be enough to put the National Guard on alert.

Faithful readers of this space should already know what two of them are.

The first one is rhythm and tempo — 3:1 rhythm from takeaway to impact, at a tempo that lets you get the center of the clubface on the ball.

The second one is the hands lead the clubhead into impact. This leads to mastery. The clubhead getting to the ball first leads to one disaster after another.

The third one is to replace your urge to hit the golf ball with the joy of swinging the golf club. If there’s a ball in the way of the swing, so much the better.

Then I would show drills you could use for each point.

To get rhythm and tempo right, just count as you swing. 1 is the moment of takeaway, 2, 3, 4 to the top, and 5 at impact, performed at a pace (tempo) that, to you, feels unhurried.

For the hands leading the clubhead, I demonstrate drill from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book on swinging down slowly to hip level three times and on the fourth, at the same speed, continuing down and through the ball.

For the third point, I would say take practice swings, as many as you like, with a ball in front of you, but a few inches farther away so you can see it, but won’t hit it. By seeing the ball but never hitting it, you gradually replace “hit” in your mind with “swing.”

I would say, Do each of these drills for two minutes every day (six minutes, total), and see what you get after 60 days.

Then I would look at Michael, who for once would be speechless. After all, what more would there be to say?

This is what I’ll present for my guest spot on The Golf Fix. But you don’t have to wait. Start doing these three things right now, and let me know in 60 days how it came out.

So when will my fifteen minutes of fame be on the air? Well, unfortunately they had the wrong number. When they realized who they were really talking to, they apologized and hung up.

I guess all this will remain our little secret, and my little fantasy.

[April 2018 note: Now that The Golf Fix is no longer on the air, it’s even more important that you read this blog, because where else are you going find instruction that speaks to your game?]

The Golf Club and the Japanese Sword

For almost 35 years, I have studied and taught the martial art of Ki-Aikido. Part of the advanced training involves a wooden sword called a bokken. We use the sword to learn how to apply the principles of the art while holding an object (although there is lot to be said about what that statement really means).

What applies to the bokken applies to a golf club.

Of the several principles for using the sword is always to move the sword from its tip. Instead of moving the sword from our hands, we think all the way out to the tip, and move that.

The reasons why are too involved to go into here, but that is the principle that I want to talk about in relation to a golf club.

When we move the golf club, we want to move it from the tip as well. Percy Boomer says in his important book, On Learning Golf, “…our strivings to attain a good swing will have been largely in vain unless at the end we have learned to feel our clubhead.”

We can refine that statement by saying not the entire clubhead but the tip of the golf club, which is on the clubhead. That tip is the sole of the clubhead.

A few week ago I posted an essay on how to stop chunking chip shots. The idea was not to think, “Hit the ball,” but, “Brush the grass.” Well, what is it you brush the grass with? The sole of the clubhead. The tip.

Now the tip of a sword is small and pointy. The tip (sole) of a golf club is broad, long, and flat. But it is a tip in its own way.

You always read, correctly, to hit the ball first and the ground second. You hit the ball with the clubface. What do you hit the ground with? Not the leading edge of the sole, as might seem obvious, but the entire sole.

You control the sword by controlling the tip. It’s the same with a golf club. When the sole goes to the right place, the rest of the club will too. After all, they’re attached!

They key to consistent ball striking is to hit the ball on the center of the clubface every time. We control that in large by delivering the sole of the club to the ground in the same way every time.

You might spend some time working with chips, short pitches, longer pitches, and moving up to a full swing with this thought in mind — swing the sole of the club to a consistent point with each swing. Everything else will fall into place.

Six golf stroke constants

There are six things you need to do in every stroke you make at the ball, from drive to putt. These constants should appear in your longest drive and a six-foot putt, and every shot in between.

1. Start the club back straight — the body turn takes it inside.

2. Start the through-swing with a gravity move.

3. Have the left hand lead the clubhead into the ball.

4. Hit the shot with both hands — one does not take the major role.

5. Swing through toward the target.

6. Use the 3:1 rhythm.

Over the next six weeks, I will explain each one of these points. If you already know what they mean, please start working right away to make them part of the way you play golf.

There are certainly more things that need to be done to hit good golf shots consistently, but if you make these your new habits, you’ll be doing a lot of things right.


Good golf in eighteen words

Millions of words of golf instruction have been written, including thousands on this web site. There is so much information to distill and absorb, it’s hard for anyone to make sense of it all. That’s what this post is for.

Below are eighteeen words that tell you exactly what you need to do to become a shot-maker — someone who hits the ball well consistently and accurately. Everything I have read, heard, and been taught, boils down to these eighteen words.

1. If the ball is on a tee, think: square face, center hit. (4)

2. If the ball is on the ground, think: ball first, ground second. (4)

3. In addition for the short game: weight left, stays left; left hand leads through. (8)

4. Putting: sweet spot. (2)

Numbers 1 and 2 are mental skills, not physical skills. Let your mind lead your body. Think these things just before you take the club away. Give the order once, then stay out of your way and let the right things happen.

Number 3 means start with your weight on the left side and let not one ounce of it shift right; the right hand never passes the left. These principles are common to every short shot. You can practice this in your living room without a ball.

Number 4 is the soul of the putting stroke. Listen and feel. Contact on the sweet spot sings a different song and is so soft in the hands. It’s what gives you control of the ball.

Devote your practice to only these things. This is what to repeat 10,000 times. If I wanted to create a good golfer from scratch, this is all I would have him or her work on.

Write these eighteen words down on a card to carry with you when you play. Look at the card before you hit any shot.

Trust me. This is it. If you want to hit the ball as well as you can, it’s these eighteen words. It is that way, it always was that way, it will always be that way.


The Recreational Golfers’ Best Posts of 2012

In only five more days 2012 passes into history. The blog posts I’ve written, however, remain current. All you have to do is know what you’re looking for. To make that easier for you, I’ll show you where the best posts of the year can be found. A few of them might not make the most popular list, but all of them will make a big difference in how well you play.

Good golf begins in the mind. So does your golf shot. The True Beginning of a Golf Stroke. January 8.

Your elbows, left arm, and right leg build a good swing if they are managed correctly. This video lesson shows you how. The Golf Swing – Elbows, Left Arm, Right Leg. March 1.

The best golfing advice you ever got. If you can do this, you are on your way to low scores. Not better ones, low ones. Ball First, Ground Second. March 28.

Instead of trying to fix your golf swing, start over. Same for your short game and putting. Maybe You Should Start Golf Over. April 10.

A positive mind is the best tonic for better golf. Always Be Positive. April 30.

Many recreational golfers try to flip the ball in the air with their right hand. Death move. Here’s how to stop. The Golf Swing Move That Changes Everything. May 28.

Short game technique needs to have a plan. Here’s one. A Short Game Framework. June 25.

Your best shots will be wasted if your swing isn’t pointed in the right direction. It’s simple. Align Your Golf Swing This Easy Way. July 9.

Still can’t get out of bunkers? Let fix that right now. Getting Out of a Greenside Bunker. August 8.

A little detail, ball position, can make all the difference regardless of what else you do. Why Ball Position is Important. September 13.

Never be too proud to take a golf lesson. I know a few golfers who are. When Do You Need a Golf Lesson? October 22.

O.K., distance. Here’s how to get more, and it couldn’t be simpler. Two Simple Ways to Get More Distance. December 17.

I can’t wait for the 2013 season. It’s going to be my best yet. And you?


A Winter Improvement Program – Takeaway

The moment you take the club away from the ball defines the probable success or failure of your shot. By this I do not mean how your body moves: whether you have a one-piece takeaway or something else. What I am about to say concerns the condition of your mind.

What all of us want to hit the ball in the way that we imagined as we made our preparations for the shot. There are two things we must do for that to happen. We must have the technical skill to hit the shot as planned, and we be able to stay out of our own way, mentally, so the technique we have trained ourselves to perform can be expressed.

What we know we can do is too often interfered with by what thoughts that are entirely unrelated, be they doubts or worries, or unnecessary monitoring. The moment we take the club away from the ball is where that interference begins, and that is the moment were we must stop it.

But how? The solution lies in being able to have your mind on what you are doing at the moment, and not getting ahead of yourself or staying stuck on what has happened. Here’s what I mean.

When you look over your shot, find the place where you can hit the ball successfully. You know what you can do, there’s no secret. If you find yourself unsure of what you have in mind, find somewhere else to hit the ball.

Focusing on what you can do keeps your mind in the present. The mental projection of an undesirable outcome concerns your mind with an uncertain future, taking you out of the present.

We’re going to get small now, but it’s all important. When you take your club out of the bag, have our mind on that. Don’t be thinking of the shot. When you take yours stance and line up the shot, think of that, not about the shot to come.

If you get the habit of doing one thing at a time, you never give your mind a chance to get ahead of itself. It stays engaged on doing the best you can at what you’re doing right now. By sticking to that, the future, which is nothing more than a collection of present moments yet to come, and which themselves will be passed over, loses its inflated importance.

What could happen is not more important than what is happening. Only by attending fully to what is happening now can the future reflect what we are able to do.

So when you take away, the club, your mind cannot be racing ahead to the downswing, or impact, or the ball flying away. It stays on the takeaway, and then moves to the other parts of the swing as they arise.

When you have trained your mind to feel the flow of present moments in golf instead of trying to lock down events, good golf gets a lot easier. Arnold Palmer said the first 12 inches away from the ball is the most important part of the golf swing. I agree, but it’s about what happens in your mind, not with your club.


Golfing Mid-Summer Tune-Up

I hope your game is going well for you this year. Hopefully you are doing better than last year and are learning to be come a better ball-striker and a better player.

I would nonetheless like to remind you of a few things to check on that might help you move a game that is “close” to “just right.” They are things that don’t take a lot of practice, can be learned quickly, and will yield immediate benefits.

Most of this is buried in earlier posts, but rather than you having to dig it all out, here is the 2012 version of Ways to Play Better Without Practicing.

1. The prime rule of good golf is: Be at peace with the shot you’re about to hit. If you’re not completely convinced that this is the right thing to do, step away from the ball and do some more thinking about what shot you want to hit.

2. Tempo and rhythm affect every shot. Sometimes we get too quick. The way to slow yourself down is to remember at what speed you made your last swing and swing slower than that on this swing. It will come out at the same speed, most likely.

3. These three parts of the setup will improve your shotmaking more than you can imagine. They’re easy to practice, and they require no skill to master, just careful attention before the shot:
a. Grip pressure – If you hit a bad shot, full swing or short shot, there is a good chance your grip pressure was too tight. Hold the club more lightly next time.
b. Aim – If your aim is off, odds are you’re aimed right of your target.
c. Ball position – Hogan and Nicklaus can put the ball inside their left heel for every shot, but you can’t. Put it in the center of your stance for every shot off the ground or an iron on a tee, and one ball forward of that for a driver on a tee.

4. On the course, play a shot that will put the ball in the best position for the next shot. If you can’t hit that shot, play one you can that leaves you a workable next shot. Apply this rule off the tee, off the fairway, and around the green. Another way of saying this is to play the shot you can hit, not the shot you want to hit.

5. From the fairway, figure out how far your shot is playing (actual distance to the pin, adjusted for wind, lie, elevation changes, etc.) and add five yards. Now pick your club. That plan can easily let you hit three more greens per round.

6. Strive to play well, but don’t let that become more important than making the people you’re playing with glad that they played with you.

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