Category Archives: playing the game

Two Reasons Why You hit Bad Shots

Your bad shots are not always caused by a physical error. They can be caused by a mental lapse that leads to a physical error.

The most common mental lapse is to think about hitting the ball a long way. This makes you swing too fast or hit with the trailing hand, neither of which work out very often.

Another common mental lapse is picking a shot you do not have confidence in. Pick a shot you are confident about, then make your stroke with that feeling.

These ideas might make you take two shots when you wanted to take only one, but they prevent you from taking three.

Notes From a Round

I played nine holes yesterday, solo. This is what I learned, or reminded myself of.

My chipping clubs go from a 60* wedge to a 7-iron. On the fourth hole I was just off the front of a deep green with the pin in the back. That invites a pitch. But it was also perfect for a chip with an 8-iron. When you set up your chipping clubs, trust them.

On a par 5, I was about 240 yards from the hole after my drive. I pulled out a fairway wood, but reconsidered. It would take two shots, regardless, to get the ball on the green, so why not make it two easy shots? The FW went back into the bag and out came a 24* hybrid. That club, and an easy pitch got me on the green for two putts and an easy par, not a hard one.

Short putt, about eight feet, downhill. I am not a die-at-the-hole putter normally. But for putts like these, I am. I gave the ball a little tap, sending it slowly to the hole and catching the right lip on the last roll to fall in. Any more pace and the ball would have stayed out.

Ball in the rough off the tee, enough that I would have to go down and get it at impact. If you play the ball in the center of your stance, the grass will grab the clubhead and the ball won’t go very far, and you’ll never get the clubhead down to the bottom of the ball. Instead, play the ball back in your stance and employ a more vertical forward swing. Since the ball is back, the clubpath will still be a bit rightward at impact, so aim left of your target.

Forty feet from the flag, about five feet off the green on very short grass. With a long putt like this over grass at the start, the ball will be in its bouncing phase when crosses the grass, so there is no need to hit the ball harder to get it through the grass. Hit it like you would if the ball was on the green.

Read your chips as if they were approach putts. If you ignore slope, chips that go the right distance can get carried away from the hole by contours you didn’t take into consideration.

Reading the green: I read every putt over two feet putt at 30 feet from the hole. You can see slopes in the green that are not apparent when you read from right behind the ball. Also, do not overread short putts. The large majority of putts from about three feet in do not have to be played outside the hole.

Straight Beats Distance in Recreational Golf

Terry Kohler, who writes for GolfWRX, wrote recently about how good touring pros are, or rather are not, when they have to play their tee ball out of the rough.

It seems, when we watch them play on television, that it doesn’t matter where the ball ends up. They still get on the green and make their par and even some birdies.

One thing you always want to remember is that the players we see on TV are the ones who are playing really well that week. So of course they will tend to play well out of the rough.

But they aren’t as good from the rough as you think they are. The fairway matters.

This chart, suggested by Kohler’s column shows how far the ball is left from the pin, on average, from the fairway, and from the rough, for a given distance.

Notice, as Kohler points out in his article, that guys get it closer from 150-175 yards from the fairway than they do from 75-100 yards from the rough.

What does that tell you about your game, when you are not as strong as they are, not as athletic as they are, and not as talented as they are? Hmmm?

If you said the recreational game depends on getting your tee ball in the fairway, you win the prize.

Now I don’t mean to pull back so much that you handicap yourself, but that on some holes you can let it out with your driver and on other holes you need to leave it in the bag.

Or, if you can drive 260 and miss a few fairways that is much better than hitting 230 and not missing any. But then…

Colin Montgomery said on a Playing Lessons With the Pros show (when he was standing in the fairway), “People say I was a good iron player. … The only reason I was a good iron player was because I’m hitting them from this, and not from that. No one’s a good iron player from there. Nobody. The only good iron players are the ones who hit it from here.”

If hitting the fairway off the tee is not your honest expectation, it’s time to re-think your tee game.

Hitting straight in your approach game is even more important, but that’s another post.

Notes From a Personal Best

Eleven years ago I shot my personal best round of 75. These are the notes I made when I got home, which were no doubt relevant to having shot that score.

1. Don’t hit a shot until you’re ready. That means you are at ease with what you are about to do. If you have any misgivings, or doubt, or something just doesn’t feel right, step away. Clear your head, and step up to the ball again.

2. Play within yourself, especially off the tee. Play easy and believe in what you’re about to do.

3. Read putts by looking uphill. If you’re putting uphill, read the green from behind the ball. If you’re putting downhill, read from behind the hole. The slope of the hill and the break are always seen more clearly when you look uphill.

4. Find the shots that are working and use them to death. Let the shots that aren’t working take the day off.

5. When in doubt about which iron to choose, take the longer one, grip down a half inch, and fire away.

The Importance of Iron Play

1. There is a chapter in the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing, titled, “Long Approach Shots — Where Tournaments are Won”.

By “long approach shots”, they meant shots between 130-220 yards. The indicator is proximity to the hole. The closer, the better, obviously.

There is another chapter on driving which concluded that length counts most, but I won’t go into that here.

2. My favorite Tiger Woods quote was when he said his irons were his offensive weapons. Yes, he made some putts, but they were putts his irons gave him the opportunity to make.

3. My favorite golf quote of all time comes from Percy Boomer’s book, On Learning Golf: “It is true that if you cannot putt, you cannot win, for no hole is won until the ball is down—but good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green.”

4. This article, which came out in Golf Digest today, explains why Collin Morikawa is so good. Big hint: it’s his iron play.

You’ve no doubt read the comment that his dispersion with a 6-iron is the same as the average Tour pro with a pitching wedge.

5. I was a decent iron player even at the time when I wasn’t all that good at anything else, and one thing that got me into single digits was becoming a very good iron player.

So when you go to the range, spend a lot more time with your irons than you do with your driver.

Although he had to find fairways, Johnny Miller didn’t shoot a 63 at Oakmont because of his driving.

Notes From a Round of Golf

To hit a good opening tee shot, look at your grip to be sure you have placed your hands on the club correctly. When you swing, make sure you apply good rhythm and tempo. Do just those two things and you should be O.K. Actually, do this before every swing for the first two holes while you’re getting settled in. Actually, do this all day.

Two hundred and sixty yards from the green? Put away the fairway wood. You’re going to take two shots to get there no matter what, so make them easy shots: two 8-irons, a 7 and a 9, etc. Unless you are really good with them, I don’t know why you would hit a fairway wood from the fairway anyway.

Do you have a five-foot putt that looks like it will run straight into the hole? Walk to about thirty feet away and look again. Now you can see that the green is a little higher on the right than it is on the left, and only from back there can you see it. A putt that looked straight really breaks left, and now you know.

You know how some of the pros take the club part way back and look at the clubface? They’re looking to see if the face turned out of square in their takeaway, which is easy to do. Checking yourself this way might be a good habit for you to adopt.

Take Your Course Game to the Range

Yesterday I went out to play nine holes. That might not sound like an earth-shaking statement, but because my immune system is compromised I haven’t played, except for a few rounds on an executive course, since February of last year.

I have been practicing all along, and can hit the ball pretty well, but that is different than playing. Which is the subject today’s post.

What I have been practicing are the mechanics the swinging the golf club, chiping, and putting. But I had not been practicing the act of making a golf shot. Those are two very different things.

When we complain that we can’t play like we practice, not understanding that difference, I believe, is the likely cause.

When we hit a shot on the golf course we have to pay attention to these things:
– Focus our mind what we are about to do
– Decide where we’re going to hit the ball to
– In many cases, decide how we’re going to hit it
– Decide which club we’re going to use
– Set up: grip, aim, stance, posture, ball position
– And finally, hit the shot.

Do you practice all of that at the range? Or just the last one, hitting one ball after another?

If practice is just ball-striking, we are not preparing ourselves to play the game.

Yesterday I hit five bad shots that turned a 40 into a 46. None of them were the fault of bad ball-striking. The fault was in not paying attention to the things that surround ball-striking, because I hadn’t practiced them enough.

I know how to do everything on that list. But I had not practiced doing those things enough, and in sequence, so they had become habits. I would forget to do one or two, or not do them correctly.

If you just want to go out and bat the ball around and have fun in a pleasant surrounding with your friends, go right ahead. There is value in that.

But if you want to shoot low scores, you need to practice in such a way that you make a habit of all of golf. Not just the hitting-the-ball part.

My Favorite Golf Toy

I made toy a few years ago to show myself how easy it really is to shoot a low score in golf.

It’s an Excel spreadsheet called The Longest Shot Score [course name] on my hard drive, but I abbreviated it for this post as longestshot.xls. so you can download it.

Enter the yardages of each hole on your course, then enter the longest shot you can hit off the tee, and the longest shot you can hit off the fairway.

The spreadsheet tells what score you could shoot.

My real intent when I wrote this was to see how short you can hit and still score.

Let’s use this screenshot of one of the courses in play, in Dallas, Oregon (several miles east of Salem).

If you never hit over 200 yards off the tee, and 175 yards off the fairway, you are set up to score a 75.

Trying to break 90? You can do that if you never hit over 150 yards off the tee and 125 yards from the fairway.

There’s a given, which is that you always get down in two whenever the ball is up to the green, and that’s a really big given.

But still. I’m trying to tell you that length is good, but straight is better, even if it isn’t very long, and there’s more than one plan for getting around the course than to hit driver all the time.

Play within yourself, keep the ball in play, and shoot scores you would be proud of.

Google Maps and Golf

A few days ago, I got to playing with Google Maps to see how far away different objects in the Fairgrounds field, where I hit golf balls, it being only one block from my house, are from each other. The Internet is such a wonderful thing.

I found a feature that I didn’t know about before which measures straight-line distances. Pull up your map of, let’s say the second hole that requires you to carry the tee shot over a ditch or lay up. How far do you have to carry the tee shot in order to carry the ditch?

GM will tell you, and if I am not the last man on Earth to have found this feature, you’re in for a treat.

With the image of the hole, nice and big, in front of you, right-click on the tee box. A box will pop up with all sorts of features. Left-click on “Measure Distance”.

Right-click on the spot you want to measure the distance to. Another box will pop up. Left-click on “Distance to here”. A graduated line will appear, giving you the distance between the two spots.

This image shows you why I don’t try to hit over the ditch. 633 feet (211 yards) is more than I want to try for. Not to mention, it’s uphill. I can do it, if I really nail it, but how often you really nail it? Besides, this a par 5 and I almost always get par by laying up to the ditch. But now I know.

If you want to get deep into your strategy, you might find holes that you can play better by playing to a specific spot off the tee and finding out what club you would hit to get there.

I’ll let you figure out how to use this tool in places other than off the tee.

The whole point is to perhaps learn how to get your way around the courses you play by hitting manageable shots that play to your strengths.

Arriving (II)

A year or so ago I posted an article on the importance of arriving–getting the ball up to or past the hole when you hit a shot into the green. That was all based on theory, with a generous assist from the writings of Vivien Saunders.

Now I have some actual data. Yesterday I was prowling around the Internet (why is that word capitalized, anyway?) looking for data on the average leave for recreational golfers’ shots into the green because I was writing about the interplay of swing improvement and short game and putting improvement. What I found forced me take a U-turn and revisit arriving.

The image below is a chart of the dispersion of the AMA (average male amateur) from 160 yards away. What I don’t know is whether the dots represent shots hit only by male golfers who are of average skill, or if the dots show the average compiled by male amateurs regardless of skill. That difference probably isn’t relevant to the point I’m making in this piece, though.

I divided the chart into a sixteen-cell grid. Four columns separate shots that missed left, hit the green left, hit the green right, and missed right. Four rows separate shots the missed long, hit the green long of center, hit the green short of center, and missed short.

Because the green is round and not square, there are a few shots in the corners of the four grid cells for hitting the green that did not hit the green, but I accounted for those.

An eyeball inspection shows two things: most of the shots that missed the green missed short, and most of the shots that missed short were on line to hit the green.

Here are the actual numbers, which I got by counting the dots:

I won’t make your eyes glaze over by throwing bunch of numbers at you. You can make whatever you want to out of what’s in the table. I will say just two things with numbers that I already said with words.

(1) Eight out of ten of the shots in the chart finished short of the center of the green (GS+S). That means that only two out of ten shots into the green finished beyond the center of the green.

(2) Of the 574 shots that finished short of the green (S), seven out of ten of them (411) would have hit the green if they had been hit far enough: S: GL+GR.

What does that mean? Four out of ten of all shots hit the green (green cells). If you push the shots in the (S: GL+GR) cells into the GS row, now over six out of ten shots will have hit the green: (S: GL+GR) + (GS: GL+GR). The actual percentages here are 38% and 64%.

If you apply these percentages to every hole (which doesn’t match reality, but this is all the data we have) you get 6.8 and 11.5 GIR, respectively. THAT’S ALMOST FIVE MORE GIR JUST BY HITTING ENOUGH CLUB INTO THE GREEN.

And that is just getting the ball onto the green, never mind getting the ball onto the green past the hole.

Maybe some of the shots at the green that ended up short were mishits. Well, not maybe. Were. But that’s only a small portion of them, and not enough to take away from the following point.

The average male amateur (that’s you) can GREATLY increase the number of greens he/she (you) hits JUST BY USING ENOUGH CLUB.

Why doesn’t that happen? Either you don’t really know how far away the green/pin is, or you don’t really know how far you hit your irons, or do know but base club selection on how far you are capable of hitting that club rather than how far you usually hit that club. Or you don’t take your lie into count. Or the wind. Or the condition of the turf. Or how you’re hitting today. Or the green is elevated.

All of those are easy problems to solve. They do not require you to be one bit better of a ball-striker than you are now. They just require you to think.

Maybe you won’t get five more GIR. Maybe four, maybe three. But you’ll get more.

I’m not going to listen to any excuses.