You need to practice to get good at golf, but it must be the right kind of practice. Hitting lots of golf balls is the wrong kind. Practicing movements is the right kind. This video shows you one way to accomplish that.
There are roughly 25 million recreational golfers in the United States. Thus, there are 25 million different golf swings. I try to put things in these posts that can be used by the greatest number of golfers, but I have no illusions that every swing will benefit from a particular post.
Except this one.
I promise you, no matter who you are, if you work on these two things, which can fit into ANY golf swing, you will see greater improvement than by working on any other swing thing.
Long-time readers of this blog already know what I’m going to say, but if you’re one of those and you haven’t worked on them yet …
If you’re new to the blog, read carefully. Magic coming up.
First: Get your tempo right. Swing tempo is the overall speed of the swing—how long it takes the clubhead to get from takeaway back to impact.
➙ Swing the club only as fast as you can to hit the ball consistently on the center of the clubface.
Start the club forward at the same speed with which you took it up.
You might have to slow down your swing a bit to get to the center, but that will be more than made up for because the key to distance and accuracy is (drum roll) hitting the ball on the center of the clubface.
Second: The clubhead must approach impact properly, and there is only one way for that to happen.
➙ Your hands must be ahead of the clubhead at impact. Your hands must lead the clubhead into impact. The hands must pass the ball ahead of the clubhead. However you want to say it.
Every good golfer does this. No bad golfer does it. It’s as simple as that.
See this post on learning how to do this.
Third: Your suspension point must not move.
If you spend a few months learning these three points, and get good at them, it will be like you’re playing a different game.
Ben Hogan said, “The average golfer’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing he [and “she”] should do.”
This is what to do.
The practice ground is where you learn to hit shots, but golf is about knowing which shots to hit. You shoot lower scores by playing more golf, not by hitting more buckets of balls.
Beware of tips you read in magazines. They may tell you to do something you’re already doing, and then you end up overdoing it.
The most important shot for a recreational golfer is the tee shot. You must put the ball in the fairway.
Straight shots begin with setting up with the clubface aimed at your target. This is not as easy as it sounds. Work on this or get a lesson, because if this is not right, nothing that comes after will make it right.
The easiest way to keep doubles and triples off your scorecard is by playing within your skills. If you are standing over the ball with a “funny feeling about this shot,” back off and try something else. False confidence is not your friend.
Rhythm is king. Good rhythm makes mediocre technique work. Lack of rhythm makes proper technique fall apart. When you try a swing tweak and it doesn’t work, odds are you forgot stay in rhythm.
Good shotmakers have a narrower range of dispersion than other golfers. To narrow your range, train yourself always aim at something when you hit a golf ball. That is not only a direction. There must also be a specific spot on the ground you want the ball to hit.
To get to 80, you must first have a decent swing. If your average score is 83, your swing gives you reasonable assurance that you can get the ball up to the green in the regulation number of strokes. From this point switch the majority of your practice time from the range to the practice green.
Flipping through impact, a common fault, is caused by the left arm slowing down through impact so the hands can take over hitting the ball. If you swing a wedge with your left arm only, and let the arm swing freely, you will understand the correct sensation of the club swinging instead of the hands hitting.
When hitting a short shot that has a certain amount of air time, make sure you hit the ball hard enough. You can turn a down in three (or two!) into a down in four by getting too finessy.
I have a 9 handicap. Good, not great, but it is a level most recreational golfers would love to attain. Let me tell you what skills I learned that got me there. They’re skills you can learn, too.
I swing the club with a strict 3:1 rhythm at a tempo that suits my swing.
My hands are ahead of the clubhead through impact.
I play a gentle fade. Most of the time you would have to stand behind me to be aware it.
I have combinations of clubs and swing lengths that let me pitch the ball close from 50-100 yards away.
I have a combination of clubs that let me chip very close from just off the green regardless of the distance.
I developed physical calibration of my approach putting stroke to get the ball close, from 45 feet and under.
My mind believes, whenever I address the ball, that this will be a good shot.
I don’t get upset when I hit a poor shot. I just walk to my ball and start thinking about how to make the best out of the shot I’m facing now.
After a few holes, what my score is stops coming to mind. I don’t know what it is until I write it down after the round is over.
Learning these mental skills is described fully in my book, The Golfing Self.
Of course there is more to good golf than these nine points. But if they are part of your game, par should be a reasonable expectation on all but a few holes of the courses you play.
The November 2015 Golf Digest has a cover article by Tony Finau with the same title as this post. The article reveals his opinion that the fastest way to get better is to get good with your driver and your putter.
Good advice. Even Byron Nelson once said, “If you can drive and you can putt, you can play this game.”
The driver part won’t do you any good, though if you can’t hit the green with your 7-iron. If you can’t hit the green with your 7-iron, you won’t hit many fairways with your driver. Might as well leave it home.
Change your swing so you can hit the green with your seven-iron, say, eight out of ten times. Then you can haul out a driver.
As for putting, the ones to practice are the 30-footers and the 3-footers.
Learn to get the ball close to the hole from a distance. Not doing that is the major cause of three-putt greens.
Then learn to get the ball in the hole from close in. Missing the short putts is the other cause.
Those two things sound obvious, but surprisingly they’re not.
The way to get better at golf is to be real good on the basics. The 7-iron and putting are the basics. Go get ’em.
When you start playing golf, you have to learn the basics: how to hit the ball, how to get the ball in the air, how to putt, how to chip. Getting lessons on these basics is the best way to learn them, and you should keep taking lessons on these skills until you’re fairly good at them. “Fairly good” means that more often than not, you know here the ball is going to go when you hit it.
If you have developed your game to that point, you’re probably breaking 90 with regularity. You should continue to take lessons, but change your focus radically. You already know how to swing, so you don’t need any swing lessons. What you do need is a lesson on how to hit your fairway wood off the ground. This is a tough shot. Get a lesson on it. You don’t need a chipping lesson, because you can do that, but how about a lesson in chipping from greenside rough? How about a lesson in hitting uphill and downhill putts? See where I’m going with this? You should be learning shots, not swings.
When you play golf, you don’t go out there to swing the club. You’re there to hit the ball toward and into the hole. Most of the time you’re not making a routine play at the ball. You have to make a shot. Once you have the basic skills figured out, the focus of a lesson needs to be doing just that — using the skills you have to hit shots.
On TV, golf looks simple. You know how much harder it is in real life, and how many different kinds of shots you have to play in eighteen holes. Every swing, every stroke at the ball is generally tailored in some way to the shot at hand. The more different shots you can hit, the more you will be able to take whatever the course throws at you. Having a solution for every problem is a comforting way to play golf. It’s knowing how to hit shots that gives you a good score, not knowing how to swing the club.
You might have one shot you want to work on, which you can have your pro teach you at the range. Even better is to have a playing lesson where you go out on the course, drop a ball at a particular spot, and say to the pro, what shot should I hit from here, and show me how to hit it. You can cover five or six shots that way and it will be the most valuable lesson you ever had.
I say again, after you get to a certain skill level, don’t learn swings, learn shots. Becoming a shot-maker is how you get better from there.
See also How to Take a Lesson – part 1
Now I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, you need to understand that right off. Why would you want to wait until the calendar changes to a new year to start doing something that you know is good for you, when you could start any time? If you know it’s right for you, do it now.
Golf is different, though. We have a season that has ended, at least for those of us who live in the cold, rainy north. It’s time to prepare for the opening of the 2011 season, which means New Year’s resolutions are OK.
The point of a resolution is to stop doing what you were doing, and start doing something else that takes you in an entirely different direction. Doing the same thing better doesn’t count. You tried all summer to do the same things better, and where did that get you?
Do something different. Do the thing(s) that you know you should be doing but haven’t had the gumption to try. Those are real resolutions.
I made my resolutions in October, and started working on them. This list includes them and a few things that have to wait for the new year.
1. Play from the red tees in January and February. The shorter course will let my hit scoring shots more often (short irons on down), and shoot better scores. The subconscious mind only knows what you shot. It doesn’t know the difference between the red tees and the whites. Or the blues. Great for your confidence.
2. Stop playing smart golf. Play the course straight up. If a particular hole demands a shot I don’t have, learn the shot instead of always letting the hole win.
3. Play different courses to get a complete golf challenge. Being good on just one course doesn’t mean you are a complete golfer.
4. Be mentally composed before very shot. Easier said than done, but imperative for playing good golf.
5. Take my game to the course. Meaning, play the shots I want to hit rather than the shots the architect wants me to hit.
6. Look at where I’m hitting into with a clear mind so I see what is really there.
7. Take playing lessons.
Seven is enough. Doesn’t have to be ten. What are yours?
Up North, it’s getting wet already. Not much fun to play in a liquid atmosphere with squishy lies. Keep playing, though, and use the opportunity to improve.
Shun the regulation course and find an executive layout. Make sure you go out as a single, because you are going to be hitting a lot of mulligans. What you are going to do is par every hole before you move on to the next one.
First off, this method is for short game practice. You don’t get do-overs for tee shots and approach shots. Practice those on the range. So, after you have gotten the ball within 100 yards of the hole, drop a ball and hit it again if (a) your pitch doesn’t land and stop on the green, or (b) your chip doesn’t end up within 3 feet of the hole, (c) your bunker shot doesn’t get out, (d) your approach putt doesn’t finish within 2 feet of the hole, of (e) your second putt doesn’t go in. If you make all those corrections, you should end up scoring a par on every hole.
What you accomplished: You learned how to get a par and how to hit the shots you need to hit in order to do it. Those will be the short shots and putts. Now when you take you game to the big courses starting in March, you will have the skill and confidence it takes to play well around the greens and shoot the scores you deserve.
I blogged earlier on this subject and would like to continue the thought. The basic idea is that your learning curve flattens out when you play courses on which shooting your handicap or below has become an expectation. To get better, you need a new challenge.
Find a course that takes about six to seven more strokes to get around than what you’re used to scoring on your home course, which I assume you play well on. Go play that course straight up. Confront the hazards. Hit the forced carries. Hit driver to restricted landing areas. Play the shots the architect makes someone play to shoot a good score.
What’s going to happen is that you will get eaten alive for a while. It won’t be fun, you’ll shoot high scores, you’ll lose lots of balls. But take your lumps. Keep hitting the shots that need to be hit until you can hit them without worry and with good result. Consider this to be tuition in golf school. Play that course over and over until you have a solution to every problem it gives you.
You’ll learn to be unconcerned by shots you once feared. You’ll learn to hit shots with precision. If you have to hit it right there, you’ll learn how to and be confident when you have to. You’ll learn how to play a course using the shots you want to hit, rather than the shots the architect wants to scare you into hitting.
Of course you improve by spending time at the range learning to hit shots and taking lessons. But you don’t become a player unless you play, unless you challenge yourself to hit those shots you spent so much time working on, and put trust in your skills.
That’s how you learn to shoot lower scores.
See also How Solid is Your Handicap?
Today I played a difficult course. I play it every year to see how I’m really doing. My home course is fairly forgiving, but this one isn’t. It’s carved out of the Pacific NW forest and if you’re off the fairway, don’t even bother looking for your ball. It puts a premium on hitting every shot as well as you can.
Now I have all the shots I need to score well on this course. It’s just, like I say, there’s no room for clinkers.
Take the first hole, Hugely wide fairway, doglegs right slightly uphill to a medium-sized green that is fronted by a creek. Any shot that hits short of the green will bounce back into it. So if you catch your first iron of the day a little fat, like I did, into the creek it goes.
I found out today which shots I can’t get away with hitting like I do. When my club selection isn’t good. When my decision-making isn’t up to par. A tough course will expose all these faults, and that’s why you should play one very now and then to find out what you still need to improve on.
When I got home, I wrote down my score by hole, then wrote down what I would have shot if I had played steady golf. Not especially spectacular golf, but if I had hit all the shots I can hit without straining the limits of my ability. I won’t tell you what the result of that analysis was, but I’ll tell you I would have turned in a very good score. I even took away a birdie. If you take away the shots you don’t expect to hit, irons that park themselves next to the pin get tossed out along with snap hooks.
About a month ago, I wrote about being positive about your golf. This is my positive spin for today’s drubbing. I have the game right now to shoot a good score in this course. I know which errors to correct, and which shots I have to firm up by the next time I play up there. I can’t wait.
See also Play a Difficult Golf Course – 2