Category Archives: improvement

Playing Golf Better

A few days ago I was on a golf forum and the question was asked, What is the key to becoming better?

Lots of the respondents talked about hitting greens in regulation. GIR for recreational golfers doesn’t mean a whole lot. I pay no attention to it. It focuses on results, and to get better, we need to focus on skills. These skills:

1. Hitting the ball accurately (to where you intend it to go).

2. Getting up and down from off the green, say, five yards and in, as an expectation.

3. Hitting approach putts to tap-in distance.

4. Knowing how to play the game.

Get good at those things and see what happens.

A Golfing Gold Mine

There is a guy named Terry Kohler who writes a (roughly) weekly column for GolfWRX. He calls himself The Wedge Guy, but there is more to him than that.

His articles always have finely-tuned insights to all aspects of the game that you won’t read anywhere else.

He is well-placed in the industry and knows what he is talking about.

I got to snooping around and found a web page that has an apparent archive of his GolfWRX writings. There are so many I haven’t gone on to see if it is a complete collection, and I wouldn’t know if it was, anyway.

But start browsing through them. Between his writings and mine, what else would you need?

How to Shoot Lower Scores This Year

Do these things to perform better, play better, and shoot lower scores this year.

Long game: As in life, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Instead of chasing the perfect shot, work on eliminating the bad ones so all that are left are good ones.

Short game: Learn how to get the ball on the green with one shot. Down in four from under 100 yards is a big no-no. From greenside, learn how to chip close enough to get down in two 50% of the time.

Putting: Get real good at approach putting to eliminate three-putt greens.

Playing: Play only shots you can hit with confidence. If you get a bad break, play out of it safely in one shot rather than trying something heroic that leads to taking up two (or more) extra shots. Learn to how to handle differences in lie, wind, and uneven lies. Learn how to read a hole to know how it is supposed to be played—play with a plan.

Your 2019 Guaranteed Swing Improvement Plan

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.

Golf Thoughts

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.

What Made Me a Good Golfer

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 Fastest Way to Get Better

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.

A Better Way to Improve your Golf

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


New Year’s Resolutions

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?