Bob’s Living Golf Book – January 2020 Edition

The January 2020 edition of Bob’s Living Golf Book is now online.

Significant updates, additions, and new sections:

B4. Holding the Club (addition)
E4. The Long Pitching Stroke (addition)
F5. Putting Strategies (addition)
G14. Saving Strokes (re-write)
H2. Your Scoring Potential (re-write)
H29. Get Good, One Shot At a Time (new)
H30. Casting (new)
I1. Don’t Play Faster, Play Efficiently (addition)

…and minor items scattered around the book, all of them in blue type.

Play well, and have fun.

Many clubs one distance drill

Being able to play golf at a top level is all about knowing how to control the club. Last week I gave you a drill designed to teach you how to control the clubface, in order to be in command of trajectory and curvature.

This week the drill is about controlling distance.

One of the things my pro taught me to do, or rather, suggested I learn (teach myself) how to do is to be able to hit a ball a given distance with three different clubs.

For example, hit the ball 125 yards with a 9-iron, 8-iron, and 7-iron. Can you do that?

There are uses on the course for each of these shots, but what this was was another way of being able to control my swing.

So I learned how to do that.

Perch Boomer, a legendary teacher and author of On Learning Golf, the first book ever written about the feel of the golf swing, talked at one point about a drill he accomplished once after considerable effort.

I’m going to quote at length from that part of the book because it makes the point of what becoming a golfer really means. Or as Johnny Miller would say, a player. [Boomer’s emphasis follows.]

“We can play—or we should be able to play—the three-quarter shot with the full swing or a full shot the three-quarter swing. I realize that this conception may be difficult to grasp, but it lies at the root of the superiority of the really great golfer.

“I say a really great golfer because there are many well-known and successful players who can play nothing but full shots; a controlled shot is right outside their golfing range. Yet the great golfer plays every shot controlled, that is he plays every shot with what he feels to be the correct degree of power not at full pressure. This control is the secret of his greatness.

“The test of a golfer’s control is in his ability to play a shot of 70 yards with every iron club in his bag. Think that out; it will give you an idea of what control of power really means. Every shot will be played firmly, but the power applied will obviously have to be varied greatly with the different clubs.

“I do not claim but I was ever a great player but I did teach myself to perform this tour de force, for a tour de force it is. It took me most of my golfing life to learn how to do it. ‘And why,’ you may ask, ‘should you expect us ordinary golfers to be able to do a thing which it took you, an expert, your lifetime to learn?’ Well, I did not say I expected you to be able to do it . . . what I do say is that understanding how it is done and endeavoring to do it yourself will give you a real conception of controlled power in the golf swing.

“In my opinion we cannot lay too much stress upon this matter of getting the right conceptions. It is surprising what you can get people to do once they clearly understand what it is that has to be done. To reverse this, I contend that many of us are playing bad golf not because we are incapable of playing good golf but simply because we are thinking of golf in the wrong way.”

So there you have it. 70 yards with every iron club. Not with part swings, but with full swings of varying power. Boomer played in the long iron days, so you will have to throw in your hybrid irons.

This is the hardest drill in golf. Being able to do it isn’t everything, but making the effort to is.

I’ll end with a story about Ben Hogan, who one day at Shady Oaks was accompanied by an annoying out-of-town golfer who had worked his way into the gangsome.

The guy was a pretty good golfer, and on the 6th hole, they both hit their tee shot about the same distance. Hogan was away and hit into the green, 10 feet left of the pin with a 7-iron. The Guy said, “What club did you hit?” Wrong question.

Hogan asked his caddy for a ball, took a club out of his bag, and hit it just right of the hole. He asked his caddy for another ball, took a different club out of his bag, and hit just left of the hole.

“I hit an 8, a 7, and a 6.”

Point made, and there weren’t any questions for the rest of the day.

Nine Shot Drill

About ten years ago, I told my teaching pro that I needed to get out of the rut I was in and play golf at a higher level.

What we worked on was my swing. It wasn’t reliable. I could not predictably control the ball. I just hit and hoped. Most of the time it worked out well, but too many times it didn’t.

He gave me five lessons, and gave me the homework of hitting about 100 balls three times a week. This was a three-month process, and when I was finished, golf had become a different game.

He also showed me the nine shot drill.

You might have heard of it. The picture below shows you nine shots. The one in the middle is your standard hit-it-straight shot. The one in the upper right is your standard fade, and the one on the lower left is your standard draw. You might be able to hit those three on command already.

But there are six others that are not so obvious. Few golfers know how to hit them, let alone knowing that they can hit them.

I knew how to hit the first three shots, but the pro left me to figure them out the others on my own, which I did, and learned a lot about what worked, and what didn’t work, in the process.

I won’t go into how to hit them here. That’s a chapter in a book, and not a blog post. Besides, that would just spoil your fun.

The purpose of this drill was not to turn me into a “shotmaker.” Rather, my pro wanted me to learn how to control my swing. If you can hit all those nine shots, you can certainly hit the one in the middle reliably, and really, that shot, medium straight, is all you need to play good golf.

But here’s the real challenge if you want to try it after you have learned how to hit them all: hit those nine shots with nine balls. No do-overs. And you say in advance, “I’m going to hit this one,” and that’s the one you hit.

Here’s Johnny Miller talking about it.

If you can do this, you have complete command of your swing and you have accomplished the second-hardest drill in golf.

I’ll tell you what the hardest one is next week.

Slow Play on the Tour–Part 2

About six years ago, I wrote a post about slow play on the PGA Tour. That list of excuses Diaz put together is really quaint, isn’t it?

This year the Tour promises it is finally going to do something about slow play, yes sir, they’re really going to get tough.

You bet.

Here’s what an unnamed Tour player thinks could be done. It’s pretty honest, and funny.

And here’s the middling opinion.

What I think they need to do is:

– Hand out one-stroke penalties. That’s a good one. Keep that.
– Dump the fines, or make them huge.
Publish the list of slow players.
– Give no warnings. They KNOW what the time limit is for hitting a shot, and they KNOW they’re taking more time than that, so there is no need to warn them they are being slow. Warnings are like saying, “OK, we’re putting you on notice that the next time you hit the ball out of bounds we will give you a stroke and distance penalty.”
– Have a timing official with an air horn follow the group with a slow player, such official to sound one long blast at the 60-second mark. Not only will that get the offending player’s attention, it will get the attention of every other player on the course. Not to mention the gallery following the player. Point made.
– I am also thinking that Gary McCord in a clown suit would run out to give the offending player a pie in the face, but that might get ugly.

But you know, it’s professional golf, which affects my golf game about as much as NASCAR racing does, and which I care about just as much. Which, with no offense to you NASCAR enthusiasts, ain’t much.

My solution if I were playing on the Tour? I would bring a book and make no bones about reading it while I was waiting for a slowpoke I got paired with to hit his shot. It would be a masterful passive-aggressive statement, especially if my group was on television. War and Peace would be a good choice.

Slow It Down and Hit It Farther

The first week in January in the cold, rainy Northwest is probably the worst time of year to be writing posts for a golf blog. You can’t play, and it’s almost too cold sometimes even to go the range. But I always know if I do something golfy, I’ll get an idea.

So a few days ago the temperature was mild and it wasn’t raining, so I went to the field that is just a block away from my house. It’s the parking lot for the Oregon State Fairgrounds, which is out of view above the picture. My house is out of view about one block below.

I always go there with one ball and one club, hit the ball, go find it, and hit it back again, over and over. It focuses my mind, because if I make mistake and hit a bad shot, it’s a long walk to the ball to have a chance to get it right. So I try very hard not to make mistakes.

The yellow dot on the left is where I start hitting from. The yellow dot on the right is beside a telephone pole which you can see fairly clearly if you enlarge the picture. The pole is 139 yards from the opening spot.

I took my 6-iron that day. My first shot was up in the air, very straight, but got to about the pole. That’s not a long way for a 6-iron, but it happened because I hit the ball about a quarter-inch toward the toe. I did the same thing coming back, and the ball just barely got to the starting spot.

Another shot downrange ended up in about the same place, but this time had I hit it slightly toward the heel.

Fortunately, after three shots, all of them very nice looking and going right where I had aimed them, but all of them way short of where they should have ended up, my mind finally warmed up.

I realized I was swinging too fast, so I thought to myself, “Relax. Slow down your swing to a speed you can control.”

And what do you think happened? Of course! I hit the ball dead on the center of the clubface and it went to the green dot, 14 yards past the starting point.

By doing just those two things, which have nothing to do with swing technique, but everything to do with how you use your mind, I changed my 6-iron from a ~140-yard club to a mid-150s club.

(Want to get 15 more yards with your driver? Hint, hint.)

What I’m saying is the center of the clubface is your best friend. If you overpower your swing you’ll never make its acquaintance.

What I’m not saying is you should slow down your swing to the point of somnambulance. But if slow your swing down to control, or to comfort, or however you want to say want to it, you’ll be getting easy power and easy distance.

The World Golf Handicap

Beginning in 2020, that is, now, a new handicapping system has been installed worldwide. The intent was to bring six separate systems into one. It follows in great part the USGA system, but there are some new wrinkles.

In no particular order of importance, the major changes are:

– the best eight of your last twenty scores will be used to calculate your handicap, not the best ten as before.

– equitable stoke control had been replaced by Net Bogey: par + 2 + strokes allowed for the hole is the maximum hole score you can post for handicap purposes.

– handicaps will be recalculated daily instead of every two weeks.

– scores for a day’s round can be adjusted for temporary playing conditions, such as rain, wind, hole locations, and height of rough.

There is more, but it gets arcane pretty fast, and is of use only to the people who maintain handicaps at your club. The handicap guys at my men’s club attended a detailed workshop to learn what to do.

This web site gives you a good overview of the new system in the form of short, less than 1½ -minute-long videos. Please do watch them, but with the sound turned down. There is no narration, just music that gets annoying after a while.

Dean Knuth, the architect of the now defunct USGA Handicap system, wrote an article in Golfworld regarding his thoughts on the new system. There are some bugs that need to be worked out, and he should know.

All that said, long-term readers are well aware of my opinion of establishing a handicap. It is necessary if you compete in any fashion, but if you play only recreational golf, please don’t bother with any of this.

Ball First, Ground Second—The Drill

Everybody knows you should hit the ball first, and the ground second. Well, if you didn’t know that, you do now.

That means the bottom of your golf swing arc must be in front of the ball, not underneath it, and definitely not behind it (that’s called hitting fat).

These pictures show what that means.

Here’s an easy drill to learn how to do that. You need to be on a mat, without a ball.

Lay a tee on the mat out of the way of the club path, and pointing to where the bottom of the ball would be. Aim for a spot ahead of the tee and hit the ground with the sole of the club on that spot with your swing.

If you didn’t hit the spot, figure out what correction to make. Once you start hitting the spot, repeat the drill over and over. This is the swing that hits those rockets that make you wonder, How did I do that? Now you know.

You need to do this on a mat for two reasons. You can brush grass tops and think you hit behind the ball when you really didn’t, and more because when you get used to doing this on a mat, you can feel, see, and hear where the club hit the ground.

Chart Your Shots Into the Green

In an earlier post, I talked about arriving. A shot to the pin must finish past the pin. It must arrive. It doesn’t matter how good your good shots are. It matters that they arrive.

Your long game sets up your green game (short game and putting) if you have the habit of arriving. But you’ll never really know if that is a problem if you don’t see a picture of how you really bring the ball to the hole.

This blog post is about making that picture.

You might keep statistics as you play. Fairways hit, greens hit, number of putts, are the basics and you can get as detailed from there as you want.

I ask you to not do that the next time you play. Instead make a picture. If you never keep stats, you get to make a picture, too.

You know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s so true. Looking at a collective picture of where your shots into green end up will tell you in an instant what a row of numbers might only suggest.

What you do is draw a big circle in the center of a 3×5 card. As you play into each green, put a dot where the ball ends up, and draw a line from the ball to the approximate location of the pin. After nine holes, start in on a second card or draw a chart on the other side of the same card (eighteen holes on one chart makes too much clutter).

The picture below is my chart from the last round I played.

I was short of the pin four times, past it (way past!) once, and about even four times. Not bad. For the times I was short, it took ten strokes to get down. For the other five times, it took eleven strokes to get down.

Just nine holes doesn’t tell you that much. But if you get charts for four or five rounds, they should show a clear pattern of how you’re playing the ball into the green. I’ll leave it to you figure out what to do with that information.

The Center of Your Stance

This might seem like a small point, but it’s not.

I advocate, and many current instructors advocate, placing the ball in the center of your stance and keeping it there when you hit your irons.

But just saying “the center” isn’t really that specific.

The three photographs below all show a ball intersecting the center of a stance (yellow rod), but the ball is in a different place each time. Each ball is offset from the other by about 0.4 inches. This is not an insignificant difference. It is all the difference in the world.

You can’t have the ball here this time, there the next time, and someplace else the time after that and expect to make consistent contact with the same swing.

Experiment with where, exactly, in the center the ball needs to be for you to get ball first, ground second contact.

Once you have found that spot, memorize it and put the ball there EVERY TIME, at the range or on the course.

Three Valuable Greenside Shots

You don’t always get a garden variety chip when you miss the green. Here are three sticky situations and what to do about them. You will probably be using one of them every time you play.

1. Say your ball is on an upslope of some kind. You have to hit over the crest of the slope and have a significant way to the pin. Swinging parallel to the slope will turn your 54-degree wedge into a 64-degree wedge and the ball won’t go anywhere.

Instead, pick the wedge you want to use with to the distance the ball has to travel horizontally to get to the hole. Swing straight into the slope. There will be only a small follow-through. The ball will pop up and forward, and run softly to the hole. This is the shot that Fred Couples hit on the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta when he won the Masters in 1992.

(Actually, the recovery is not amazing. Any one of us could have hit that shot. What’s amazing is that the ball didn’t roll into the water.)

2. If the ball lies instead on a downslope, the fear is that you won’t get the leading edge of the club underneath the ball, and blade it across the green.

Take a wedge that is more lofted than you would normally use for the distance the ball has to travel. Put the ball back in your stance, so far back that it is well outside your trailing foot. You’ll have to reach back to get the club to the ball. Raise the clubhead up and chop gently down on the back of the ball, driving the wedge into the ground. The ball will pop forward with lots of spin. 

3. When you’re seriously short-sided and you can’t run the ball along the ground for any reason, hit a mini-flop.

Take a sand wedge and set up with the ball in the center of your stance and the club shaft straight up and down, that is, not leaning toward the hole. Take the club back low and bring it through the ball low and slow with no wrist action. Try to slide the club underneath the ball without disturbing it. You can’t do that, of course, but you will get a gentle hit that eases the ball forward with little spin. It will land and go nowhere. A cushion of grass underneath the ball is desirable. 

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play