A Paean to Putting

Recently I was watching the PGA tournament on television. One of the players hit a terrible drive into a thicket of trees, just like you and I do. He hacked out into the fairway just like you and I do. He pitched onto the green to ten feet, just like you and I (sometimes) do. All similarity ends there because he sank the putt for his par.

A good putt washes away our sins. It forgives us our trespasses. It leads us beside still waters. There is no reason not to become fiendishly good at it.

Yet, when I go to the range, it’s full of people hitting one worm burner after another with their driver and no one is on the putting green. I’ll spend an hour there, and maybe three other people will wander on, knock the ball around for ten minutes, and leave, thinking they’ve practiced their putting.


Let’s say you take 38 putts per round. Probably fifteen of those putts are tap-ins under one foot. That means you have 23 putts that you have to pay attention to. That’s about one-quarter of the strokes you make.

So do you devote one-quarter of your practice to putting? Actually, I think you should practice more than that. Try this. For every ball you hit on the range, spend one minute on the practice green. Do you buy those big buckets of ninety balls? Friend, you’ve just signed up for an hour-and-a-half of putting practice when you’re done.

Study putting, try different things that might work better. Take putting lessons! My pro tells me that out of the thousands of lessons he gives every year, less than one hundred are for putting.

Swing technique is hard. We’ll never have a great swing. Putting technique is easy. There is no limit to how good we can get.

I read in a golf magazine about some amateur who wanted to get as good as he could at putting. He did. He’s under 30 putts per round routinely. Once had a round of 18 putts, and twice he’s had rounds of only 19 putts.

Putting is our salvation, our chance to shine. I sing a song of praise to putting. Join the chorus.

Keep Playing, Don’t Quit

I have to admit I have a tendency to quit trying for a bit after I hit a bad shot. Especially when things have going well for a good stretch of holes. But no more. I finally learned my lesson.

In one of the last rounds I played before the autumn rains came, I was cruising. I never pay attention to my score after about the fourth hole, so I didn’t realize until the round was over that I had parred eight holes in a row. All I knew was that I was playing well.

So on a par 5 hole, with a 9-iron third into the green, I cold topped it, the ball disappearing into a waste area that fronts the green. Words were spoken inside my head.

Now the waste area is marked as a water hazard, but instead of walking up to the hazard and having a 70-yard pitch into the green, I dropped another where I was and hit another 9-iron. By golly, I was going to prove to myself that I could hit that shot.

The ball got over the hazard, but went way left and it took me three to get down from there. That’s an 8 if you’re counting.

On the next hole, a par 4 that slopes down to the left, I popped up my drive. 150 yards tops. Maybe not even that. Leaves me about 210 from the hole. So I get up to the ball and figure this round has been trashed, and I might as well try hitting my 2-hybrid to see how close I can get it to the green because I’ve been working on that shot and if it doesn’t work out, big deal, since the round has been ruined anyway. But a little voice said, “No. Take another look. See if you can still get a par from here.”

Taking a close look, I saw that if I hit 4-hybrid, I could put the ball at the front right of the green in a good position to pitch into a sharply sloping green for a par putt. And since I have both the 4-hybrid shot and the pitch in my bag, my attitude changed just like that. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “I can do this,” and I was in attack mode again.

You know what happened? I put the 4-hybrid on the front right, just where I wanted to, pitched on to three feet and made the putt.

I will never quit on myself again. Promise.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.

How To Take a Golf Lesson – Part 2

During a lesson, be committed as a learner. This means:

1. When the teacher is talking, listen. Don’t trade ideas on swing theory unless the pro asks you about it. You’re there to listen to someone who knows (the pro), not someone who doesn’t (you).

2. When the pro says to do “this,” then do “this” to the best of your ability. It might feel uncomfortable, but new movements are uncomfortable – that’s part of learning.

3. Take yourself out of the lesson. If you do what you’re told, but add something else of your own, you won’t know what caused the results you get.

4. When you don’t understand, speak up. Ask briefly for clarification or for a demonstration. But then listen to the explanation and watch the demonstration. Focus on being able to do what the pro wants you to do.

5. When you learn a new movement you’ll probably hit some clinkers. That’s all right. Keep trying to do what you’re being asked to do and let the pro be the one who decides what, if any, corrections to make.

6. When the lesson is almost over, ask for a few drills that you can use to practice the points you have been working on, if the pro hasn’t given you some already. Drills are vital to learning new movements. You’re retraining your subconscious mind to make a new movement correctly. Drills isolate that movement so you can repeat it until it’s learned.

7. After the lesson is over, there should still be some balls in front of you. Hit them all. Work on what the pro taught you. Work on your drills. Work on getting the ideas you were given into your head and into your body while the instruction is still fresh. Practice again every day for a week or so in order to remember what you learned. Without constant practice, you’ll ease back into the old habit you’re trying to replace.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it completely in your half-hour lesson. It might need several lessons on the same point for you to learn what to do. When we have a habit, our mind pulls us in the direction of that habit regardless of our best intentions. That’s why lessons are hard sometimes, and need to be repeated.

Finally, remember that in a lesson the pro just points the way. The responsibility for improvement lies with you.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com.

How To Take a Golf Lesson – Part 1

The smartest thing you can do to improve is take lessons. Here’s how to get the most out of one.
First, be smart about scheduling it. The worst time to schedule a lesson is if you’re going to play later that day or even the next day. Taking a lesson detaches you from one habit and attempts to attach you to another one. When you’re adrift between habits, count on your score going up until you are comfortable with the new ones.

I once had a lesson where the pro pointed out that my right shoulder was too far forward at address (a common fault for the recreational golfer). I worked for a few days on squaring up my shoulders, but it still felt odd because it was not my habit.

Two days later I played 18 holes and every shot I hit off the tee was phenomenal. Irons, however, were a different story. I just couldn’t find the ball when it was on the ground. I hit only one good iron shot all day. But that was OK. I expected there would be something that wouldn’t work and I played the best I could, knowing that when I finally got the new address position figured out, I would start hitting every shot much better.

When the lesson begins, the pro will ask you what you want to work on. Have an answer, the more specific the better. That way, your pro can start looking for the answer to your problem from the very start and make the most of the half-hour you’re going to be together.

I had a lesson once to solve an annoying problem. The way I was playing at the time, my 9-iron was money, my 6-iron was OK, and my driver was this thing in my hands. The question? How do I hit each club as well as my 9-iron? The pro gave me the answer and the problem cleared up in a half-hour because I told him exactly what I wanted to know.

Arrive for your lesson about 15 minutes early to pay for it and warm up. Hit some balls so you’re ready when the pro steps up to the tee to help you. Resist any urge to start fixing the problem yourself during the warm up. All you’re doing is getting loose. You want the pro to see how you normally swing.

Tell your pro how you learn best. Do you want the pro to demonstrate or are verbal descriptions sufficient? Do you want technical explanations or do you want to hear how the right move feels? Every pro has a teaching style, but you have a learning style. Don’t be shy about bringing this up. A good teacher will allow you to take the lead in these matters.

See also How To Take a Lesson – Part 2

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Hybrid Irons

Long irons have always been the clubs of last resort for many recreational golfers. On the one hand, when you hit it, the ball flight is just a joy to watch. On the other hand, you might get only one shot like that out of who knows how many tries.

I could hit my 4-iron like that two out of three times, my 3-iron about one out of three times, and my 2-iron was for the tee only. I had three clubs in my bag that weren’t doing me any favors.

One day about five years ago I went to the range and there was a Ben Hogan demo day. Ben Hogan line was still a prominent player in the equipment market. I talked to the rep about the hybrid irons I had been hearing about and he gave me a 21-degree club, equivalent to a 3-iron, to try out.

I walked over to an open mat and dropped a few balls. The club felt a bit heavy, the head as a lot heavier than my 3-iron, so I decided I would take an easy swing at the ball the first time. Whack! The ball flew out straight and long, as good as any 3-iron I had ever hit.

“That’s nice,” I thought, “let me try that again.” Whack! Same thing. Straight, high, and far. A third easy swing, same result. I don’t hit my 9-iron that well three times in a row.

So I walked back to see the rep and said, “What is it with this? I just hit the best long iron shots of my life three times in a row.”

He launched into the spiel about how easy they were to hit and how everybody should replace their long irons with hybrid irons. I needed no convincing.

About a month later I ordered a 19-, 21-, and 24-degree hybrid and tossed out my long irons. I would recommend you do the same, and you might take a close look at replacing your 5-iron with a hybrid iron, too, if your 5 is getting hard to hit.

Two things about using hybrid irons. They’re meant to replace irons, so you still have to hit down on the ball like you do with your other irons. Trying to sweep the ball as if it were a fairway wood doesn’t work too well. Second, and I tell myself this every time I get set to swing one, stay out of its way. Just make an easy swing and let the club do the work for you. The more you try to force the shot with a hybrid the worse it will be for you.

There’s no substitute for practice, but if you want to buy some good shots, get some of these.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Ten Rules For Playing Better Golf – Part 2

Rules 1-5 were about shotmaking. These rules concern thinking about your game and supporting your game.

Rule Six: figure out what score you expect to make on the hole you’re playing, given your skills, and play to get that score. If you’re not good enough to get a par, but a bogey isn’t a problem, play for bogey and get pars when they come. Depending on your skill level, even playing for double bogey might be the best strategy. Playing for par on a hole that is too much for you leads to high scores. As you improve, you can re-evaluate certain holes, but never overreach. That’s how you throw away strokes needlessly.

Rule Seven: have go-to clubs and use them constantly. I have a 24° hybrid iron that is my ticket to good scoring. It hit it as my second shot on par 5s and long par 4s. I don’t care if it leaves me short sometimes. The ball is always in an ideal position for the next shot. Around the green, I love my sand wedge. Not because it makes me look cool, but because I’ve practiced a lot with it and I know what I’m doing.

Rule Eight: identify the one error that’s hurting you most and fix it. I played with a guy who hit marvelous irons, putted well, and had a decent short game, but could not hit the fairway with a driver to save his life. Every drive careened to the right, in the rough, in the trees. He shoots in the high 90s, and if he could just get the ball in the fairway, he’d be shooting 85 and under. We could all improve in every phase of the game, but I’ll bet there’s one flaw that when corrected will turn you loose.

Rule Nine: be happy. I play much better when I’m having fun with the people I’m playing with. Other players have told me they, too, started playing better when they stopped being so intense out there, and just lightened up. The problem is that we have an overinflated opinion of how good we are because of the good shots we hit. We hit bad shots, too, and they are as much a part of our game as the good ones. So just take what you get and have fun. That’s what the rest of us are doing.

Rule Ten: get lessons. (1) Go to the range and watch people beat balls. Based on the results you wonder why they even bother. If they would get a few lessons they would be hitting the ball the way they imagine they can. (2) I played with a guy once who was pretty good, but was terrible in that 20-40 yard in-between range. He said, “I just can’t hit these shots.” I thought, “So why don’t you get a lesson??!!” (3) How many of you get around in 32 putts or less consistently? But a teaching pro I know says he gives a thousand lessons in a year and maybe fifty of them are putting lessons. If you want to play better, GET LESSONS.

Ten Rules For Playing Better Golf – Part 1

The object of golf is to get the ball in the hole with as few strokes as possible. Every recreational golfer would get an ‘A’ if golf was a written test, but we don’t do so well on the practical exam. These ten rules will help.

Rule One: get the ball in the fairway. Use the longest club off the tee that gets the all in the fairway three times out of four. That means most of the time you WON’T be using your driver. One hundred eighty yards into the fairway beats two-twenty into the weeds/water/out-of-bounds every time.

Rule Two: get your approach shot up to the green, not necessarily on it, and away from trouble. Trouble is most often to the left, right, and back, but the front is usually wide open. Thus, playing short and chipping on from a good lie is often a better choice than hitting into challenges that can cost you strokes. Counting greens hit in regulation (GIR) is for highly skilled golfers. Until you get very good, GIR has nothing to do with making a good score, and the pursuit will definitely harm your score.

Rule Three: chip so you can start putting. Just getting a chip shot on the green is much more important than getting the ball close to the hole. Have you played a tough chip at the hole and had the ball run all the way across the green, when you could have played an easy shot for twenty feet away and two putts, and saved yourself a stroke?

Rule Four: think about where you want to leave your approach putt and hit it there. Thinking about the hole from thirty feet away, especially if the contours are tricky, is why we blow it eight feet by. If you think about hitting the ball to the vicinity of the hole, you’ll have a much easier second putt, and occasionally the first one will go in!

Rule Five: hit only reliable shots that you’re good at. Avoid using clubs you don’t hit well from the situation you’re in. Avoid hitting shots you haven’t practiced, or that have a big disaster factor lurking in the background, especially when there’s little to gain. If the voice inside your head says, “I’m not too sure about this,” listen! Get a different club, choose a different shot, or both. From wherever you are, there’s a shot that makes sense to you. Hit that one.

See also Ten Rules For Playing Better – Part 2

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The Best Golf Swing Lesson I Ever Had

I have a list that I look at before I go golfing. It’s a list of things I need to take to the course. I put the list together because on different occasions I have forgotten, at least once, most of the items on it.

For example, one item is “14 clubs.” I left my putter at home once. Took it out of the bag to practice with and forgot to put it back in. I’ve left my sand wedge home. Same reason. Forgot a towel once. It’s pretty hard to hit a decent shot with dirt all over the clubface. Forgot my golf shoes several times. That wasn’t too critical, I got by with it. After a while I stopped looking at the list because I thought I had it all down. Big mistake.

I’ve been playing golf lately with my wife and sons on alternate Sundays. We go to an 18-hole executive course, bat the ball around, and have a great time together. My wife drives, I take a nap along the way, and we meet our boys there.

When we arrived at the course the last time we played, I got out of the car and walked back to the trunk to get my golf shoes. As I did, this terrible feeling came over me that I had left them at home. Sure enough, they weren’t there. The reason that I had a terrible feeling, and not just a feeling, is that the shoes I had on weren’t really shoes.

They were a pair of moccasins.

That would be OK, I thought. I could walk around the course if we didn’t go too fast. You see, I got the moccasins on sale and they were a size too big, so I can’t walk fast in them without walking right out of them. But I could manage.

So we all teed off on the first hole, which is on a hill about a hundred feet above the green. We walked down a gravel path to the ground below, and it hit me. It had been raining lately, and the ground was soaking wet. Not only that, it was early in the day and the grass was covered with dew.

I just thought if I walked carefully, my moccasins wouldn’t get too wet. Silly me.

By the eighth hole my socks were soaked through and by the twelfth the moccasins were entirely soaked. It was not comfortable. Did I mention it was less than 50 degrees out and my feet were kind of cold?

But in the midst of this travail, I found the cloud with the silver lining. Since I had no spikes on and was supported by wet socks inside wet shoes that were too big, and the ground was wet and slick, I couldn’t take my usual swipe at the ball. I had to swing . . . easy. Of course I had to, or I would have fallen down.

And you know what? Out of eighteen full swings I took that day, there were seventeen beautiful shots and one, just one, clinker. Seventeen shots that took off straight, high and with authority. Shots I might hit half the time on a good day, I was hitting every time. I had not hit the ball that well all year. All because of the easy swing which I had no choice but to make.

After the round I bought a new pair of socks from the pro shop and had a pleasant ride home with my feet jammed up against the heater vent. When we got home I put the moccasins out to dry. Mistake #2.

Wet leather shrinks when it dries out. I had forgotten this. I should have put some shoe trees in them. By Wednesday the moccasins were completely dry and one size smaller. But that’s OK, because remember how they were too big? Now they fit just right.

Somehow, even after pulling two real boners, I came out smelling like a rose. Just goes to show you. Someone up there must love me. Even so, I’m back to checking the list before I leave for the course.

The Fates forgive honest mistakes, but they don’t suffer fools, especially ones who don’t learn from the best golf swing lesson they ever had.

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

No Swing Thoughts!

Imagine your playing partner standing beside you as you’re addressing the ball, giving you all sorts of little reminders. Swing smoothly. Let your weight shift. Swing through the ball. Nice finish.

How long do you think you would put up with that? One time, tops. So why do you put up with that kind of chatter from yourself every time you swing?

The reminders like this that you give yourself as you’re about to swing, and especially during your swing, are just as destructive.

The reason you remind yourself to do something is that deep down you’re not sure you can do it. Or maybe you’re trying to use a swing thought to block out pressure you might be under at the moment. That’s negative thinking, and there’s no place for that on the golf course.

Swing thoughts also isolate one part of your swing from the rest of it, overemphasizing one aspect of a movement that is supposed to be a unified whole.

That will eventually throw everything else off, which is why swing thoughts only work for a hole or two.

When we’re awake, our conscious mind is in the foreground and will do anything it wants to. It wanders easily. We have to keep it under control when we play golf. We do that by accessing the subconscious mind. That part of our mind directs the conscious mind, but it can only do whatever we have put into it.

When we have a particular swing key that we’ve practiced over and over, so much that it’s fully embedded in our subconscious mind, we’ve taken the first step. The second step is to access what we’ve practiced from the subconscious mind in a way that the conscious mind can’t start getting ideas of its own. Here’s how.

Take your practice swing, with the reminders that you think are necessary, but to remind yourself of how you want the swing to feel.

Then step up to the ball and hit it right away, riding on that feeling. By starting right away, your conscious mind is captured in the feeling and doesn’t have the time to change to anything else.

In addition, concentrating on the feeling of the whole swing gives you something positive to think about, and something that unifies the entire movement you’re about to make.

Do not delay or run through the feeling several times to make sure. Any delay gives time for the feeling fade which gives your conscious mind free reign to start messing you up, and repetitions won’t make it more right.

When you go through this process this every time you swing a golf club, whether on the practice range or on the course, you’ll absorb it. It takes continual repetition over time to get it down, though. You have years of an old way in there. You have to put more of the new way in there, this way, for it to come out when you play.

We’re all looking for something we can rely on shot after shot, that one constant that will never let us down. You won’t find it in your physical technique. Pressure doesn’t affect your grip, for example. Pressure affects your mind.

That one constant you’re looking for has to be something you trust to keep your mind steady. Being guided by the feeling of the shot you’re about to hit is that constant. Learn it well.

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