Category Archives: practice

Learn Golf the Right Way

Lots of people, famous golfers as well, say they never learn anything from the rounds in which they play well, but only from the rounds in which they play poorly. Bobby Jones said this. I don’t get it. Maybe if I shot ten strokes above my handicap every time out I’d be the smartest golfer in the world.

The only thing I learn from doing something wrong is, don’t do that again. But in that lesson is no advice on how to do it right. There are generally thousands of ways to do something wrong, but only a few ways to do it right. I can only learn to do it right by doing it right.

So if you’re playing poorly, it’s because you’re doing something wrong. And probably the slowest and least effective way to get back on track is to try to locate your mistakes and fix them. Nuts to that.

Go back to the beginning, start over, and learn the right way all over again, from the ground up. Just do one thing right then add on something else that’s right and so on until all you know how to do is the right thing.

That’s how to learn this game.

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Nine executive holes

When I’m working on something new, I go to my local executive course to test it out. On four of the holes you would tee off with a wedge, but on the remaining holes you can hit a 2-, 5-, 6-, 8-iron, and a driver. That’s a good enough sample of different swings.

I went out this morning to see how my latest swing change is going.The change (cocking my right wrist back on the backswing) seems to be going well, since I’m not hitting those wicked hooks that just drove me nuts. and my chips and pitches were really good. The greens are slow and bumpy, so I never take too much stock in how I putt there.

My guidance for this particular change is in Nick Faldo’s book, Golf-The Winning Formula, on pages 82-86.

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Golf is Easy When You Know What You’re Doing

When I stood bridge watches in the Navy, at certain times it got pretty hectic. I had to make the right decisions at the right time and there were no second chances. When I got used to it, I looked forward to it, because I knew nothing would come up that I couldn’t handle. I knew what I was doing.

This came to mind when I was browsing through Afternoons with Mr. Hogan, by Jody Vasquez. There’s a quote from Hogan that goes, “Don’t just hit practice balls. Hit the 9-iron into the back left corner past the bunker. Then remember what it felt like, so when you get to a shot and you need to make it, you already know what it feels like.”

It’s one thing to be able to hit the ball. It’s another for your mind to be at ease with the shot you’re about to hit. A 9-iron to the center of the green or to the back left corner is the same shot if your mind feels that it is. And that sameness is that you know what you’re doing, because you’ve done it before.

Golf practice sessions

Now that the weather in the Pacific NW has finally turned pleasant, I spent the last two mornings at the range. I am in the middle of a major swing change, in which my wrists hinge backward as well as upward. This is how you get the flat left wrist, which I didn’t have, which led to uncontrollable hooking in my case. Nick Faldo’s book, Golf-The Winning Formula on pages 82-86.

At first it felt like my hands were three miles behind me and I would never get them back to the ball, but I’m getting accustomed to the feeling now. Real good results so far. Everything’s going straight, with a few pushes. I’ll figure that one out soon enough.

I had a good session. With 60 balls, I hit each club three times, then about a dozen pitches to random distances, went over to the practice green to practice chipping and putting (hit a dozen chips to the same hole and putt them all out, repeat with three other holes at different distances), then back to the range to finish the bucket. That’s a good morning’s work.

Five Pieces of Advice to Golfers

I’m just sayin’ . . .

1. Don’t swing a club that has less loft than your handicap.

2. If you can drive and you can putt, you can play good golf. (Actually, Byron Nelson said that.)

3. Practice these things in this priority: short irons, short putts, greenside chips, driver.

4. On difficult holes play for easy bogies rather than hard pars.

5. It’s more important to have fun with your friends than to shoot a low score.

For all you literalists, numbers 1-4 have wiggle room. Number 5 does not. Also, numbers 2 and 3 do not contradict each other.

Play well and have fun.

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First Round of the New Year

Yesterday I played for the first time this year. It’s been rainy all winter, but we start turning in our scores March 1, so I had better get ready since I haven’t played since last October.

I played nine holes on my home course, starting each hole from where I normally hit my approach shot. I also dropped balls around the green in places where I usually miss. I want my first impressions of golf to be about getting the ball in the hole.

The fairways were soggy, which meant that I had to take easy swings in order not to lose my footing or hit the ball fat (or both!). That’s how we should hit irons all the time—easy.

Sometimes there’s a short shot that is unique to a particular green complex. You can’t practice it because there’s only one place you’ll come across it. Go there and be creative. Drop five or six balls and keep hitting them until you figure out what to do.

The greens were covered with dew, so there was no point in working on the speed, but I learned a lot about green-reading. The ball left a line through the dew showing me where the ball really went. A few putts that I played to break didn’t move. Taking another look showed me why.

I’ll play a few more practice rounds, easing myself into the game. Now’s the time to get a few practice rounds under your belt. They will really pay off.

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Lower Your Golf Score Without Practicing

Yes, I mean it. Here are four ways to lower your score that you don’t take weeks of pounding balls at the range.

1. Grip down. I’ll bet you hit your short irons—PW, 9-iron, 8-iron— pretty well. The longer clubs give you problems. The solution is to grip down on the longer clubs so they feel like a short iron. Hold the club with about 1¼” to 1½” of the shaft extending beyond your left hand.

Get a club and try that right now. The balance of the club will change dramatically. You’ll feel connected to the clubhead and in full control of the club. You will hit a very good shot.

2. Slow down. You swing too fast. I don’t have to see you swing, I know you swing too fast. By that I mean on the downswing. Your downswing doesn’t flow naturally out of your backswing. You swing back OK, but you rush down into the ball.

Swing like you’re chopping wood, in that taking the axe back and bringing it down on the wood are part of the same motion. The striking movement, while faster than the upstroke, is a natural continuation of the upstroke. Slow down. Let clubhead speed build up by itself.

3. Take a religious vow to develop a perfect setup, then do it. That’s grip, stance, posture, and alignment. OK, you’ll have to practice this, but the first three you can do in your living room any time. The pros work on this constantly because they know that a good shot will not come out of a bad setup. Don’t guess. Get a lesson if you have to. It takes no athletic talent to set up correctly—only knowledge and perseverance.

As for alignment, when you hit balls at the range, hit every ball at a different target and align yourself each time. The pros work on that constantly, too.

4. Learn to play the game. Knowing how to hit good shots is only half of golf. Knowing which shot to hit, with which club, and to where, is the other half. I know you know how to play the game when I see you don’t always pull a driver on every par 4 and par 5. Sometimes a shorter club off the tee is the better play. Or when you play short of the green on a long par 3 to chip on for a sure bogey or a possible par.

In other words, play a recreational game within your skills instead of mimicking a pro game that you don’t have.


Professional Golfer’s Practice Plan

I retired five years ago. In my last few months on the job, I didn’t have all that much to do. I would spend a few moments here and there combing the Internet for good golf tip web sites. One in particular that I liked is

There’s a tip on it that I want to call your attention to. The site’s author, Neil Wilkins, a teaching pro in Texas, made up a daily practice plan for a mini-tour player.

The plan goes through putting, chipping, bunkers, pitching, and the full swing. Different drills are laid out with the number of shots for each drill specified.

I counted the number of putts and short game shots in the plan, and compared it to the number of shots allotted to the full swing. Every day, there are three times as many putts and short shots as there are full swings. Three times!

If you saw me hit the ball, you would think I shoot in the 70s. Yet, I shoot in the mid- to low-80s. Guess why? Guess what I need to practice more? Guess what you need to practice more?

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

A Bucket of Balls

If it’s too wet to play, you’ll no doubt be spending a few sessions at the range to keep your swing in shape over the winter. When you do, be intelligent about it. Here are a few good ways to go through a bucket.

Use one club. Your 7-iron is a good choice. Your driver is the worst choice. When you hit the same club over and over, you can concentrate on making the same swing over and over. The only way to learn a repeating swing is to swing the same way repeatedly.

Gradually go through the bag. Hit three shots with your pitching wedge, then three with your 9-iron, three with your 8-iron, and so on through the driver. No do-overs allowed. This scheme makes sure you don’t neglect any one club or favor others.

Take a driver and a half set, say, your 9-, 7-, 5-, and 3-irons, and your wedges. Hit your driver, then an iron, and a pitch with one of the wedges. Start over with the driver, then a different iron, and a pitch with the other wedge. This scheme makes you hit a different club with every swing. The next time you go out, bring your even-numbered irons.

Pretend you are playing your favorite course. Tee off, hit the iron you usually hit your approach with to the first green. Play every hole using the clubs you normally do. Throw in a few pitches. If the range is close to the practice green, walk over, drop a ball at some distance from the hole and putt out. Go back to the range and “tee off” on the next hole.

The one thing not to do at the range is work on swing changes. Work those out at home using the drills the pro gave you. Use your time at the range to hit balls just like you would hit them on the course. Take each shot seriously and make every swing count.

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What Shots Should You Practice Most?

Update 2017: Your day-in, day-out scoring shots are the tee shot, the greenside chip, and the approach putt. If your swing puts the tee shot in the fairway, it will put the iron from the fairway on or near the green. Good chipping and approach putting let you close the hole in two shots, not three.

Compare two kinds of rounds – your best ones and the ones where you only flirt with your best. Even though the difference in your score might be five strokes, the difference in the way you play is like you’re different golfers.

I break 80 once or twice every year. Without fail, my irons are straight all day and my approach putting is superb. I can’t look back on any round when I hit both those shots like that in the same round and didn’t break 80.

So what do you think I practice most? Irons and approach putting! My key to lower scores, I believe, are the shots I hit well when I go low.

Of course I practice short putts, as well as chipping and pitching. Short putts and chips keep me in contention on days my irons and approach putting are having a day off. Pitching? Getting your pitch close is how a recreational golfer makes birdies on par 5s.

But the bulk of my practice is spent on the shots that turn me into a recreational scoring machine. It doesn’t make sense to do it any other way.

Slight detour to The Driver – the Evil Seducer. The more you practice with your driver, the more chances you have of ruining your swing. Just put an 8-iron swing on your driver and you’ll be fine.

Take a close look at your “career” rounds, and figure out what shots got you there. It isn’t because you played better overall. Probably one or two shot types are much better than normal, and it’s the same shot types every time.

Spend the most time practicing those shots, while not sacrificing the others completely.

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