Been getting a few questions lately about methods for improving one’s golf game and overcoming frustrations along the way. Both are tough nuts to crack, but let’s first address the frustrations. Recognize that golf is an activity that requires continual learning. It takes time, effort, persistence, and must be treated as a journey and not a result. Frustration and satisfaction are companions on the ride. Players and students of the game come to this realization slowly if they don’t set expectations up front. The expectations should be documented in an improvement map and include a goal and specific how-to’s. You’ll find it’s difficult to pursue a general plan like “become a better golfer, “ because the words connote a moving target.
Your improvement map needs specifics. For example, say you are a player who regularly shoots between 100 and 110. There’s room for improvement in almost every aspect of your game but not getting focused on where to work can hurt. Your map should have a goal like: “Break 100 for seven of 10 rounds by the end of September.” Then add in the how-to. This could be: “Sign up for a series of six lessons on ball striking. Take one lesson every two weeks. Practice the lessons twice per week. Include one round of golf per week.” Over the course of this journey, you will hit snags and setbacks, but with persistence should expect the balance of instruction, practice, and play to yield benefits. You may also begin to notice shortcomings in other areas of your game, like chipping or putting. But remain on task and focused because there will be plenty of time to work on other things. At this level, you’ll gain a higher level of satisfaction from improved ball striking and eliminating those severely wayward full swing misses.
Now, say you are a player that shoots in the low 80s. Totally different map because your swing is more refined. The more competence you demonstrate, the harder incremental improvement becomes and at this level, a higher degree of dedication is required to improve. Again, your map should be specific with a goal like: “Break 80 in five of 10 rounds by the end of September.” The how-to: “Take a lesson in chipping and putting. Practice your learned technique two times per week and play two times per week. After one month, take another lesson in pitching and bunker play. Repeat the practice/play cadence.” The focus on short game along with the increased frequency of practice and play should pay dividends.
At any level, increasing frequency is the key because the techniques you learn become second nature. When you can rely on technique, you think more about making shots. This is where the improvement happens. The instruction is important because practicing the wrong technique can set you back. Most golfers struggle with these two areas because they need to find an instructor they can trust and need to make the required time commitment. Solve for those two, add in an improvement map, and you’re on your way.
Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of simulation during practice. Exercises using this technique have been a great stroke saver because it preps your mind for real course action, gets you out of mechanical thinking mode, focuses you on shot making, and is an exceptional time saver. Either full round simulation or short game simulation is beneficial.
This morning, I had two hours to practice and devoted most of my time to a simulated 18-hole round at my home course of Blue Mash. The whole exercise took about an hour and that included time warming up with about 20 balls. The best simulations are when you are focusing intently on each shot and do not rush. Today, I took 30-60 seconds between swings, wiped down the club head and grip after every shot, took an occasional sip of water, and chatted up my neighbor a little. We were hitting from the absolute front tee on our large grass range and weren’t allowed to use drivers since the last target flag was only 230 yards out. I resorted to using 3WD on all the tee shots where I’d normally use driver and may have stumbled upon something.
Have you ever thought how much better you’d score if you left your driver in the bag most of the time? I found this out after only missing one tee shot with the 3WD, and not badly enough so that the ball went into trouble. Upon reflection, I normally hit driver on 11 of our 18 holes but only need to on five. You can certainly leave driver in the bag on the par-5s unless you think you can reach the green in two. I’m not long enough to hit any of our par-5s in two and driver only serves to occasionally get you in trouble. Just put a 3WD in play and hit one more club on the layup shot and you alleviate a lot of risk. Anyway, I hit all these 3WDs and shot a solid simulated 2-over round with 13 GIR. Very encouraging.
Tomorrow, I’m playing the course for real and am thinking of only hitting driver on the five necessary holes. This is very important because when you keep the ball in play, your mind remains engaged at a much higher level than when you fight wildness. The last two times I employed this 3WD strategy in competition, I met with very successful outcomes. I think I’ll give it a try.
On a side note, in my recent jaunt to St. Augustine, FL and TPC Sawgrass, I sampled some Jambalaya at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille in downtown St. Augustine. It has vaulted up our Jambalaya rankings into the #2 position! (Rankings are in the left margin of the All About Golf home page). Harry’s is a New Orleans Cajun style seafood restaurant and is excellent. If you’re ever in St. Augustine, stop by for a heaping plate of this goodness!
If you can break 90 with regularity, you are an advanced player. One of the hardest things advanced players struggle with is transitioning from practice to play. If you can steel yourself during preparation the game will come so much easier to you. If you are in this group, your fundamentals are sound and you have good control of your golf ball around the green. Follow these practice techniques and you will find transitioning to play is much easier. Those who don’t usually break 90 should focus their practice on mechanics and not attempt these techniques until achieving a higher level of consistency. The last thing we want to do is try something that will breed uncertainty and frustration.
As an advanced player you can pitch, chip, hit bunker shots, and putt with reasonably solid technique. You’ll need them all in this exercise. To start, find a short game practice area that allows you to land shots on a green and putt. Ideally, your practice green has some slope around the edges or is built on a small hill. My home course has a putting green and chipping/pitching green, but you cannot putt on the chipping green so, I’ve located an alternate facility that satisfies the requirement. For those in Montgomery County, MD, the venue is Poolesville Golf Course.
This session should take about an hour. First, warm up your short game. Take some pitches, chips, and putts from various distances. Use a variety of clubs. Next grab two mobile targets. A lot of courses are using the practice pins that stick in the ground and can be moved. These are best. If not available, use two colored golf balls. Next, place these targets at the top and bottom of sloped areas on the green, so getting a short shot close to either will be extremely difficult and there are no straight putts in close unless you manage to be directly above or below the targets. The faster the surface the better. For a visual, think of #15 green at Augusta National at The Masters. The more difficult the better.
Now play 18 holes of up-and-down. Throw a golf ball into a greenside lie and don’t improve the lie. Hit the appropriate short shot to the chosen target and putt your approach until holed. Use a variety of uphill, downhill, long and short-sided situations. If you have an old scorecard it often helps to record your score on each hole. Par is two strokes for each hole. You will find even your good short shots end up considerably outside of gimme range. As a reference point, when I play this game at my local muni with flat lies, I usually shoot 42-44 or between 6 and 8-over par for 18 holes. Today’s session on my difficult setup left me at 50 strokes or 14-over par and I felt I played well.
Why involve yourself in this masochistic activity? You’ll find the difficult shots will force creativity into your mind. It will help you focus on your landing point, the trajectory, spin, and club selection. Everything but mechanics! Training your mind to “paint a picture” of the shot is the key to becoming a good feel player around the greens. This drill is more like playing real golf than dumping a bag shag of 50 balls and chipping each with the same club to a flat target.
Let’s level set expectations: You may get frustrated, you may get a little angry, but you will get very satisfied when you hit a great shot, and as you transition to the real course, you’ll notice very few short shots are as challenging at the drill. Making practice harder than the real game is the secret sauce. Give this drill a try, then play a real round of golf the next day and let me know how you made out.
Putting can make or break your golf game. Roughly 40 % of your strokes are with your putter, so what drives putting performance? Four things:
3: The quality of your short game.
4: Proximity – i.e., how close you are to the hole for your first putt.
After some deep thinking on these areas, I’m going to make a significant change, but before discussing, let’s take a sanity check on my putting data. I’ve captured putts per round statistics from 2007 through 2020.
The statistics tell a story of recent improvement, but when I ask myself, “Do I believe I’m truly a good putter?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. I get that everyone’s performance is relative and my improvement from 2018 to 2019 was nice. It was the result of a March 2018 short game lesson, and a July 2018 putting lesson, and a lot of hard work to cement those changes in. But it’s not enough.
Right now, I’d consider myself a good lag putter but when I get to the 5-10 foot range, where you should make your share of birdies and par saves, I’m terrible because I can’t start the putt on my intended line. Missing a little off-line on a 30-40 footer won’t usually cost you a two-putt but nothing is more deflating than stuffing an iron shot and yanking the birdie putt way left. I’ve solved an alignment problem by putting over a spot, and have tried numerous top of the line putters but to no avail.
There has got to be a better way and perhaps I’m getting greedy, but I’m thinking even if I don’t improve my ball striking one bit, if I can reduce my putts to less than 30 per round, I’d get a free handicap drop from 4 to 2. Tempting, and I’m going for it!
The change is a switch to the claw grip with my right hand. I’ve been using a traditional reverse overlap grip for years and have tested this change inside on the rug, and outside on the putting green. The difference on the shorties is exceptional, but it’s not without concern.
Pros like Sergio, Phil, and Adam Scott have all gone to a variation of the low hand claw with great success, but they are putting extremely fast greens. Indeed, this change works best on fast surfaces and one may be susceptible to inconsistencies with longer putts on slower greens. My home course has fast greens, but I only play about 25-30% of my rounds there. So, I may rack up a few extra three putts but hopefully make up for it in the scoring range. Maybe I’ll alternate grips for long putts??? I’m willing to give it a try. Has anyone had any success trying this method over a protracted time period? Please share if you have a story.
I was only eight or nine years old when I first picked up a golf club. At 16, my parents got me my first set of lessons. It was a series of six full swing sessions with the local pro. After the third lesson, I started making pretty good contact. After the fifth lesson, my instructor asked me if I had broken 80 yet. What? I was incredibly confused because I was starting to play regularly and was shooting in the 90s and remember thinking, “I can’t even hit a bunker shot because nobody has shown me how. How does he think I can break 80?” He was building in expectations of excellence, but I didn’t know it at the time that he was also teaching me to strike the ball the old fashion way. On the lesson tee, he was rolling my hands over time and again through the hitting zone and ingraining a reliance on the hand-eye coordination I had developed as a young man. This worked pretty well, through my 20s and 30s, but I’ve since come to learn that the method he taught has left me with a serious swing flaw (early release) and led me down a path that I need to exit from.
The modern-day player is taught to make the swing from the ground up and initiate the downswing with the big muscles of the legs and butt. This generates an inside to outside swing path and a powerful strike due to the kinetic energy built up from properly releasing the club late. You lead with your body, and the hands are along for the ride. I was given none of that and 44 years later, I’ve come to the conclusion, that to take the next step in game improvement, I need to unlearn this bad habit.
Sounds like a tall task for a weekend jockey, but I’ve got a plan. Step one has already been accomplished because I’ve identified the problem through video and lesson tee analysis from multiple swing instructors. All my bad shots stem from this core dysfunction. I’m still carrying a 4-handicap and you may be thinking, “What’s the problem, that’s pretty good shooting.” Well, I have been scraping by on short game improvements, and to get more fulfillment, I’ve got to gain more consistency in my ball striking.
Step two is underway. Deactivate my right hand – the main culprit in the early release. I’ve removed it from my swing and taken to hitting left hand only shots in my back yard off my range mat. These are little 20 yard pitch shots, but if I release the club too early instead of letting my body pull my hand through the shot, I hit it incredibly fat. If I do it right, I finish in balance over my left foot with my left arm tucked neatly into my left side (no chicken wing). Two weekends ago, I hit 100 balls like this. Last weekend another 100. Today, I hit 50 one-handed, and mixed in two-handed shots with the last 50. I love this drill because of the pronounced positive and negative feedback. Right now, about one in four left-handed shots are mishit, but when I put both hands on, the contact is very good so I’m directionally pleased.
Someone said it takes 10,000 repetitions to build a habit. At this rate, it’ll take 1.5 years to build that in. I hope it goes quicker than that – wish me luck! Are you working on any swing changes this winter?
Over the last four rounds, I’ve twisted myself into a psychological swing pretzel. I’ve had this happen before. I go to the golf course with a swing thought I’m going to work on for the day and usually strike the ball poorly, but sometimes find a new thought late in the round that allows me to finish strong. Then the new thought becomes the focus for the next round. This perpetuates a viscous cycle of bewilderment as I travel through the swing thought wilderness. Does this happen to you?
Not sure why I do this but it’s usually late in the season, and it happened again last weekend. After a predictably frustrating ball striking day, I decided to go back to what my pro and I had worked on in our last lesson, and bingo. It was late in the round again and I had just debunked all the solutions and fixes I had been working on for a month, with some common fundamentals passed down my instructor’s trained eye. I’ll chalk this up to COVID because I had a lesson left on my 2019 package, and rather than taking it in the early spring and following up every month during the season, I took my first and only lesson in the summer, after restrictions were loosened at our courses. Rather than signing up for more lessons, I tried to self-medicate. Some people can do this but there’s a reason we pay good money to these trained professionals and why most of the instruction on the internet is free. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
So where does this leave me? There is more playable weather forecast for the DC region in November, but I’ve shut my game down. It’s time to empty the mental recycle bin and not refill it for a while. I’m hoping this year’s winter is as mild as last year because I was able to practice and play in January and hit the ground running for my February Myrtle Beach trip. That trip is planned again this year, but I’m wondering if it’s going to happen with the current state of the virus.
Sometimes it’s best to give your game a rest and recharge your physical and mental batteries, even though you can keep playing.
Do you take time to refill your psychological tank? Have you shut it down for the year?
Yesterday I missed a great pay it forward opportunity. I went to play nine holes at 3:30 p.m. and got paired with three singles. One fellow announced that he was, “attempting to fix a slice and that all unsolicited words of advice would be welcome.” Normally, I don’t give unsolicited advice to anyone, much less a stranger. As we moved through the round, I learned that he had been playing for 18 months and it became apparent that he needed assistance with golf etiquette more than his swing, and after I got home, I was recounting all the breeches to my wife and she asked if I had helped him in this learning opportunity. Well, I had not and am regretting it. I was in my own world compiling a Do’s and Don’ts list for my Monday charity scramble and only saw the etiquette breaches as irritants rather than learning opportunities. So, making up for that now. Here’s a list of etiquette points to make golf more enjoyable for novices and their playing partners.
KEEP YOUR CONVERSATION DOWN ON THE DRIVING RANGE. Players are getting loose and working on their games and need to concentrate. If you have to converse with a friend, keep it low enough so others can’t hear.
BE READY TO PLAY WHEN IT’S YOUR TURN. On the first tee, ask your playing partners if you can play “ready golf”. That means whoever is prepared to tee off can, without maintaining the honor (low score goes first.) Most players are fine with this but ask. One caveat; it’s bad form to step in front of someone who just made a birdie even when playing “ready golf”. Get to your ball quickly and think about your club selection on the way. This saves time and keeps play moving. If you think your ball may be lost, put a spare in your pocket before beginning your search. Also saves time in the event you need to drop one. Limit your search to three minutes.
BE STILL WHEN OTHERS ARE PLAYING. Holds true for full swings and on the putting green. Ensure that you are not in the direct or peripheral vision of a playing partner. Above all, do not stand directly on the extended line of someone preparing to putt. If I can see you out of the corner of my eye, it’s a distraction. In late day rounds, be cognizant of where your shadow falls. Do not leave it in someone’s view.
POSTION YOUR BAG CORRECTLY BY THE GREEN. When walking, place your bag to the side of the putting green nearest the next tee. When riding, park your cart by the green and bring any clubs you may need to finish the hole with you to eliminate the need to go back and forth to the cart.
LEARN TO MARK YOUR BALL ON THE GREEN. Use a coin or ball mark (not a tee) to mark your ball. It should sit flat to the surface and be barely visible to other players. If your mark is in the putting line of another player, ask if they need you to move it to one side and by how much. Use your putter head to measure how far to move your mark.
CLEAN UP YOUR LAG PUTTS. When you putt a ball that does not go in, either finish the next putt or mark the ball. Do not leave it sitting on the green near the hole where others can see it during their turn.
There are many other pointers to learn, especially when playing out of carts. The COVID pandemic has brought out a lot of new players to the game and exacerbated the need to convey the knowledge, courtesy and norms that make the game enjoyable to all. If you work with this list, you’ll be off to a great start.
You are on the golf course hitting great shots and scoring poorly. How frustrating. Has this ever happened to you? How you handle depends on your abilities to observe, adjust, and most importantly, how you treat yourself.
Last weekend I was playing an afternoon round at my club, Blue Mash, where I have an expectation for a score between a 73 and 78, on a normal day. I noticed something was off from the first tee box where the markers were pushed back, and the hole was playing into the wind. My tee shot was well struck and barely cleared a fairway bunker which is normally an easy carry. I had 5-iron in where I usually take 8 or 9 and made bogey. It became clear from the setup and conditions that the course would play long and difficult. I bogeyed the first five holes and could safely say that I hit a great shot on each of those holes. At this point, I had a decision regarding how I would approach the remainder of the round.
When you are not rewarded for good effort, you get upset. Dr. Bob Rotella says that when distracted by bad play or bad scores, you need to be your best friend out on the course because nobody else is there to help you. I agree and have learned that positive self-talk is key and to not get down on myself. I also understand that you can’t confuse effort with results. Imagine how the tour pros felt on the final day of the 2020 US Open. Only one (Bryson DeChambeau) managed to break 70 in the final round. These guys were clearly scoring 5-10 strokes worse than a normal day and were grinding terribly. They were frustrated and you could see how their scoring affected their game. De Chambeau didn’t let it alter his attitude and approach and was victorious. The guy is comfortable in his own skin and despite being a bit of an odd duck, is clearly his own best friend.
The temptation after a bad start is to press and try to save the round. Last weekend, I had to resist by using positive self-talk and to try and focus on the next shot. I was partially successful and finished with an 11-over 82. Normally, after shooting a poor score, I’ll stew about it for a day or two, but I honestly felt that was the worst I could have scored for the way I played and the conditions that presented themselves. The previous week, I hit the ball horrendously and carded an 8-over 79 on a different track, which was the absolute best I could have shot considering my ball striking. Still, I took some positives away from that round and felt that my short game saved me from carding a round in the mid 80s. The key in both situations is to understand and adjust to the current conditions and not get down on yourself. Be your own best friend! If you can do this, you will be mentally tough to beat.
Obviously, I have some areas of my game that need work. I’ve got a tournament coming up a week from Monday, and a trip to the eastern shore to play on some tough venues. I’m off to the course to practice.
Let’s take the average golfer. He goes out once per week and shoots around a 90, drinks a couple beers with his buddies and heads home. When the thought of game improvement appears, he drives down to the nearest Dicks and buys the latest $400 driver. He takes his new purchase to the driving range and bangs himself into a frothy lather with a large bucket. Next weekend, he goes out and shoots another 90. Is this you? Not sure what you call it but it’s neither proactive nor reactive improvement.
Your golf personality determines how you prepare yourself for success on the golf course. You are either a proactive or a reactive improver. Proactive improvement is when you practice what you need to get better. You may already do it well, don’t necessarily enjoy it, but do it cause it’s good for you, like eating your vegetables. Reactive improvement is addressing weaknesses observed during rounds and trying to correct them. These can be physical or mental mistakes, with the former being more difficult to fix. Good players use a mix of proactive and reactive practice to improve. The balance just teeters towards one or the other.
I’m not a great player but consider myself a dedicated player and do both. Over the course of a season, my work includes reactive practice in the form of lessons with my professional. You could argue that this is proactive practice, but I go to him with a desire to fix my swing or show me how to execute shots around the green that I am struggling with or don’t know how to hit. Generally, this is the most rewarding type of practice because I feel like I learn something. Occasionally, the “ah ha” moment kicks in, and I experience a feeling of euphoria as the wave of super optimism washes over me. I love leaving the golf course with this feeling. A more common form of reactive practice is hitting balls with a specific technique change. When I miss hit a couple of wedges during a round, I’ll go to the range to make corrections. Incidentally, this is my most frustrating type of bad shot. Chunking or blading a wedge from the middle of the fairway in prime A position sucks. What’s yours?
My proactive practice is more common. It can take the form of mechanical work like hitting sets of 50 three-foot putts or short game work to simulate game conditions. Tom Kite used to work in a field and bang wedges for hours. Yeah that must have been boring, but he was a damn good wedge player when it counted. He ground in that habit with proactive practice. When I haven’t played for a while, and I have a game the next day, I’ll inevitably head to my practice green for 18 holes of up-and-down. Often, I’ll perform poorly because of rust, but it’s important to play every shot out. This proactive practice may not be fun, but it ingrains the great habit of toughness and the ability to manage through adversity. Getting a little angry with yourself is not the worse thing because it makes it real. Proactive practice is fine tuning mental and physical aspects that you do well. Like Tom Kite in the field, it’s time well spent.
I’m generally a stickler for planning and preparation, and will engage in a lot of proactive practice. I find practicing my strengths are more beneficial than always attacking a weakness. For example, I don’t have much problem with short bunker shots, but long ones kill me. I don’t practice them and try to avoid them on the golf course. It’s as simple as not hitting three wood into par-5s with greenside bunkers and back pin placements. With good course management, you can play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses.
Whether you are proactive or reactive, you need both. Remember to mix them up, work in some golf stretches and exercises, and keep your practice fresh. Are you proactive or reactive???
Is work/life getting in the way of your golf? How do you play your best if you can’t tee it up four times a week or visit the driving range on a daily basis? Time is a precious commodity and it depends on how you use your available hours, but you can shoot low scores even on a constrained schedule. Here’s how.
Use the correct combination of play and practice. My preference is for more play than practice, but first you must measure how much you do of both. Today is Sept 8 or day #253 in the year. I’ve played 21 full rounds and practiced 41 times. My 62 days of golf divided by 253 indicate I have my hands on the clubs only one out of every four days. I’d consider myself a dedicated player but not a frequent player, with a 1:4 ratio. What is your ratio? If you can get your hands on your clubs every other day, your ratio is solid. You need both play and practice, but given a short supply of time, favor play.
Meaningful practice is essential and doesn’t require the same time commitment as play, which is why my practice days are double my play days. In season, I’ll generally practice twice per week and play once. Off season, I’ll practice more and play less. A general rule about practice: The closer you are to playing a round, the more you should practice your mental game. This is the best way to ease the transition from practice to play. Have you ever overheard players out on the course saying, “I don’t understand why I’m playing so bad; I was hitting it great on the range.” That’s because they haven’t practiced correctly by focusing on their mental game.
The key to mental practice is to mirror game conditions. Many coaches in other sports utilize this technique. Football teams pump crowd noise into practice. Teams also script their first 15-20 plays and rehearse that script over and over in preparation to implement in games. I try to script my golf practice by playing up-and-down in the short game area and working with only one ball. I’m getting my mind ready for the pressure of difficult green-side shots. Sometimes I’ll putt 9 or 18 holes alone or against a friend, varying the length of the holes. Always play a match with a goal. The key is to build pressure on yourself. On the driving range, don’t rake ball after ball with the same club. Vary your clubs from shot to shot. Play a simulated round at your favorite course. All these activities insert small doses of pressure and condition your brain into play mode. Finally, when warming up before a round, do not work on your swing. Just get loose. Reserve the last half dozen balls and hit shots to simulate the first three holes of the course you are about to play. This will give you the best chance of getting off to a great start.
Mechanical practice is necessary when trying to make swing changes and should not be attempted too close to a scheduled round. Golf is a difficult game. Playing golf swing when you’re trying to focus on scoring just makes it harder. A big challenge amateurs face is playing a round immediately after a swing lesson because the plethora of swing thoughts can quickly get your mind off the business of scoring. Has this ever happened to you? Tour pros are often seen working with their swing coaches at a tournament site and are simply good enough to execute mechanical changes into their game immediately. Forget them. Sometimes you cannot avoid playing right after a lesson. In this case, work with your pro to distill the lesson content into at most two swing thoughts. And try to keep them as simple as possible for easy replication on the course.
One final though. Lately, I’ve been working the Dead Drill into my Mon-Wed-Fri gym workouts and found this is a great way to build good mechanical habits without focusing on swing changes. A couple weeks ago, right after introducing, I enjoyed a great ball striking round just thinking about the movements of the drill, and they’re really quite simple. Give it a try and play well!
Two weeks ago, I added a new golf exercise/drill to my weekly workout and the short-term results have been excellent! I drew some inspiration from a post Jim put up at TheGratefulGolfer on an 89 year young gentlemen he played with who shot his age. I figured I better get cracking if I was going to play in that league.
I’ve observed from some swing video that my left leg is slightly bowed when I connect which is a power drain and consistency killer. A year back, I tried snapping my left knee on impact and nearly wrecked my leg. But starting in January, I’ve been doing squats and deadlifts as part of my workouts and my lower body feels stronger. What better time to correct this fault.
This drill I’m sharing is offered by the Rotaryswing.com website. I am not affiliated with them and have never taken or paid them any money. They call it the Dead Drill and I have no idea why. I started working the drill just holding a club to my chest. I’d take it through the three steps and do one set of 30 as part of my exercises. The first 20 were incremental (stopping at the check points) and the last 10 were at full swing speed. If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel a stretch in your left oblique muscle after 30 reps.
A week ago, I hit balls on the range and for the last six, tried this move. Wow! Straight and solid contact on every ball with a mid-iron. I left the range hopeful. Later that afternoon I went with a gap wedge up to my school field and hit about 20 balls. It was awful as I laid the sod over half of them, but chalked it up to fatigue and didn’t quit using it in the workouts. Saturday, I decided to ratchet up to three sets of 30 in my workout and afterwards my oblique was confirming why they call it the Dead Drill.
The next day I played The Salt Pond in Bethany Beach, DE. This is an executive course with full length par-3s from 100 to 200 yards, and a couple of par-4s. Nothing extraordinarily difficult but you need to strike it well to score. I didn’t warm up and teed off at 7:30 a.m. With every swing, I’d rehearse the drill three times then pull the trigger. My irons came off like rifle shots. I hit 14 greens and shot even par. Now before you say, “Brian’s got himself a nice WOOD band-aid”, I’ll reserve final judgement until I play a few rounds where I need to hit driver. One key I noticed was how in balance I was at the end of each swing. It really felt great and I’ll provide a future update.
Here’s the drill video. Just skip to the 12:20 minute mark to pass over all the sales stuff. Play well!
How do you measure putting success? Do you track putts per round? I do but am rethinking that approach. A conventional rule is that putting takes up 43% of the strokes in a round of golf. Is that a good measurement? If a pro shoots 70 with 30 putts, does he have a better day than me if I shoot 77 with 33 putts? They are both 43%. Hard to tell because the input for putting stats hinges on many factors not related to putting. The most valid metric is Strokes Gained Putting, which is hard to capture. SG measures the distance and result of all your putts plus the performance of your opponents on the same course. Rather complicated and only available to tour pros. So, as amateurs, what to measure?
Let’s first look at the seven inputs to good putting:
Difficulty of the green (grass surface and undulations)
Quality of short game
Line and speed are the traditional factors players work on because they are most easily controlled. Those of us who play in different weather conditions and on several different courses can have wider variances of putting performance. Players who loop the same course get comfortable with the speed and reads and often “know” where the putts are going. They appear to be very good putters on their track but can struggle during away rounds. Nerves are hard to control and very problematic for folks who exhibit the yips (choking under pressure). Course management is essential. On fast greens, it’s much easier to putt uphill and critical to leave the ball in good positions. Lastly is short game. If you can chip and pitch to within three feet, you’ll one-putt far more often no matter how good your stroke is. So, what to measure?
The answer is to measure what you can use or don’t measure anything. Approach your improvement on and around the greens holistically and attempt to address what you feel is off for a round or set of rounds. For example, I had been struggling with controlling my line. Putts were starting left of my intended target. So, I started to spot putt (align the putter with a point six inches in front of the ball) and my alignment problem was solved. Last time out, I struggled with controlling the speed because my course had let the greens grow out a bit to preserve them in the hot weather. I don’t think I need to make any adjustments here because the weather could change at any moment along with their mowing patterns. You get the point. If you play enough golf, you’ll become familiar with your shortcomings and can use these anecdotal observations as the genesis of your practice plan.
If you’re a beginning golfer, invest in a putting lesson. A pro will show you how to grip your putter, execute the basics of a good stroke, and read the greens. For the intermediate and advanced players, make sure to mix your technical practice with game simulation exercises. Try putting practice with one ball and play 18 holes of different length putts. If you have room on your practice green, a 9-hole game of up and down is a great tool to teach yourself how to perform under pressure. Throw a ball off the green and play it as it lies. Use the short game shot of your choice and play the ball until holed. Count your strokes. This type of practice works very well for players who struggle to take their practice games to the course. If you’re having trouble on and around the greens, give these a try.
Have you ever succumbed to the heat on a golf course? I have suffered heat exhaustion twice and it’s one of the most unpleasant experiences I can remember. Both times I had to quit my game. It also hit me more recently a few years back on a beach in Florida. Here are the warning signs: First you get a low-grade headache. Then when you lean over to pick up a ball or tee one up, the pain gets worse and you feel the pounding and throbbing as blood flows to your head. Next, you start to feel lethargic as energy is drained from your body, and finally, you become nauseated. If you’re lucky enough, you’re back in an air conditioned clubhouse before these conditions worsen into heatstroke. Through some trial and error, I’ve learned to play in the hot weather and if you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you’ll need to work through some significant heat or relinquish a good portion of your golf season. Here’s a must do list for heat.
Anytime the forecast is above 90, pay attention. Generally, I’ll only walk a course if it’s going to max out at 90. Anything hotter requires a riding cart. You’re better off playing earlier before the mid-day heat hits, but my club membership requires me to play after 1:00 p.m. on weekends, and this past Sunday it was 97 degrees and I had a 1:00 p.m. tee time. Your sunscreen, hat, and light-colored clothing are the obvious accoutrements but what’s most important is to thoroughly hydrate BEFORE you go outside. I learned this from a study done by the Israeli army and their performance in the Saini desert during the 1967 Six-Day War. Essentially, if you satiate yourself before physical activity in the heat, you’ll be much more comfortable during the engagement. Check out this quick video:
I will typically drink three 16oz bottles of water over an hour duration before arriving at the course. During COVID, one of the dangerous side effects is that all drinking water has been removed from golf courses. As the summer months advance, this has become an issue; you must have water! To adjust, I’ll load up a cooler with ice, a 32 oz Gatoraid, and five bottles of water before leaving home. I’ll bring the Gatoraid and one water with me for the front nine and replenish at the turn. The cold reload is very welcome for the inward half. Hopefully, you can get to your car and back to the 10th tee without holding up play. This has been critical on days when the drink cart is nowhere to be found. Don’t leave your hydration and your health to chance! Finally, I’ll take 600 mg of Advil before leaving the house and another 600 at the turn. I find it works great to fight off any vestiges of a headache and keeps me on a nice even keel all day.
How a guy like Phil Mickelson wears black shirts and black slacks in the dead of summer is beyond me. I suppose he makes a lot of money to dress that way. Have you ever been sidelined by the heat? Got any strategies to compensate? Please share.
Did you know good concentration techniques can save you five strokes per round? How many of you have setup to hit a golf shot and sensed something wasn’t right and pulled the trigger anyway? Did you hit a good shot? Doesn’t happen. That “not right” feeling is caused by either a breakdown in concentration or a faulty address. If we can eliminate both, we’ll drastically reduce our mistakes and improve our scores.
Address errors usually fall into two categories. Either your alignment is off or your posture is bad. The fix here is simple. Restart your pre-shot routine and get comfortable before you hit the shot. Of course, you can hit a bad shot from a completely comfortable starting point, but thinking that something is not correct before you swing is a sure fire way to misplay. Lately, I’ll find myself a little uncomfortable looking at the target and wondering if I’m slightly closed. This never results in a good shot and I need to work to reset.
Concentration errors come in many flavors. Anything that pressures you to deviate from your natural rhythm and cadence is an issue. In my last round, I was paired with two beginners. There were a lot of swings and misses from these two and I told myself early on to be very patient. But alas, the extra waiting between shots started to preoccupy my mind and my game suffered. Something as small as a playing partner stepping on your putting line or playing out of turn, or someone standing in the wrong place, can mess with you. If you are preparing to hit a shot and thinking about anything other than the specifics of the shot, you are susceptible to a concentration error. The situation with the beginners put me in a tough spot. Golf is a social game and I love meeting interesting and new players. The only measure of control I could have had was to schedule a game with a foursome I was comfortable playing with. Again, the best antidote is to pause, perish the negative distraction, and reset.
Physical errors are more easily excused because we are human. Concentration errors are tougher because they’re preventable. It takes discipline to reset if you’re not ready to swing and do so anyway because you don’t want to hold up play. It just takes a few seconds to reset and will be worth your while. Give it a try and watch the extra strokes disappear!
Would you classify an evening pounding balls and drinking beer at Top Golf practice? For some, any activity with club in hand is practice. I have never been to a Top Golf. Sounds like fun but that’s not practice.
Guys in my Myrtle Beach travel group have gone to the PGA Superstore on a rainy day to hit balls in the bays with the new drivers, and putt on the indoor green. Nope, not practice either. We used to stay at The Legends in Myrtle Beach. When we found out our room cards worked in the driving range dispenser, we’d play 36 holes, eat dinner, and then go to the range for practice until the lights turned off at 10:00 p.m. THAT was loads of fun and we did help each other root out our swing faults for the day, but that took a lot of energy. I’d call it practice.
I generally practice alone, but on occasion join up with friends. Both types are valuable. The last couple times at my club was with friends and the light banter was great, as we worked through long game, short game, and putting. Sometimes these sessions can evolve into a contest on the range or putting green. A couple weeks ago it turned into a swing film session. But the key is the personal interaction. It’s especially important to socialize at a time when folks can over-isolate themselves. If you don’t have four hours for a golf game, try half the time at the practice facility. It works great.
Regardless of how I practice, I enter notes in a spreadsheet on what I worked on, and grade the session. After the last few with friends, the grades weren’t that high. Clearly, I do my best work alone. Today, I went early and alone to the local muni to work on short game and had a great session. If you time it right, there are drills and games you can play that aren’t possible with friends or at a more crowded facility. My real work gets done alone.
Tomorrow afternoon, I’m back at my club with friends after playing some tennis in the morning. This tennis-golf routine on the same day is a great cross training aid. I call it a “Nicklaus” because Jack often spoke of playing tennis. I also tend to go easier on myself with the golf practice after tennis.
So, what’s your opinion, is Top Golf practice? How do you practice best, alone or with friends?
Yesterday I took four shots of swing video. There are two down-the-line and two face on segments with a 7-iron and driver. I picked out a couple things to work on before and during today’s round and will let you know how I fared, but would love to have your feedback. Please send in any and all suggestions and observations!
43 years ago, I had my first professional golf instruction. Over a series of six lessons, my teacher imparted many sound fundamentals with one exception. Aarrgg! Instead of using my body to coil and uncoil and create swing speed, he taught me to time the strike with my hands. I remember him taking my hands on the club and rolling them over again and again through the hitting zone. I learned to hit the ball very straight but without power. Later, when I tried to gain distance, I began the flip action that is the bane of my game on poor ball striking days. Bad swings typically produce thin shots or pulls. The early release is a game killer.
Did you see Matt Wolff on TV Sunday during the best ball charity match? I admit, this is the first time I’ve watched him play. The trigger he uses to start his swing looks odd but struck me as somewhat familiar. Then I figured it out. He was rehearsing the drill my current instructor has been working with me on to eliminate the wrist flip! Here’s a article and video of Wolff explaining his trigger:
Four years ago, I decided to overhaul my golf game starting with the full swing. I needed to become a more consistent ball striker. My instructor started by having me hit hundreds of balls with a 7-iron starting from the Matt Wolff trigger position. I’d have the ball slightly back of center, my weight shaded forward about 70-30, and my hips and shoulders open at a 45 degree angle. I was essentially mirroring the impact position at address. Wolff sets this position in his forward press and returns to square in about a second, but the concept is the same. As part of the drill, I actually started the swing from there. The key is to try and hit a 9-o’clock to 3-o’clock knock down and just turn your chest on the downswing right back to the address/impact position. When done properly, you take your wrist flip out, finish with both arms fully extended, your chest is facing left of target, and you enjoy a low solid strike with a divot.
Undoing 40 years of hand flipping isn’t easy. My thin pull still shows up on occasion. But my learning and improvement has been noticeable. Now, when I practice, I’ll typically lay down two alignment sticks about six inches apart to form a channel at the target. At the end of the session, I have a nice straight divot line within the sticks. When I struggle, I return to the drill. Sometimes I’ll hit ½ a bucket with just the drill. The swing change is easier with the shorter clubs, and the biggest area of improvement I’ve seen is with my wedges to 7-iron. Mid and long irons are a work in progress, but a good side benefit has been some extra distance with the driver. When you learn to hit the ball with your body instead of your hands, all types of good things will happen.
Have you ever tried the Matt Wolff drill? Give it a go and play well!
Can you think back to a time when you played a golf shot that was completely out of character for you? We’ve all done it, but can you also recall a situation where someone else’s behavior, strategy, or club selection, caused you to change your plans for the worse? Whether we compete in a friendly game or a serious tournament round, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Why? Because we don’t play to our identity.
Recently, I was playing a match in Myrtle Beach at the Barefoot Fazio course. The driving range was closed and the fellas agreed to take “breakfast balls” on the first tee. Personally, I am not a mulligan guy and never have been. I’ve always prepared myself mentally to put my full energy into my first shot and live with the result. I have nothing against mulligan guys but that’s not me. So, everyone was taking a breakfast ball on their first shot unless they struck one pure (and most didn’t). My first shot went in the right rough but was in play. Since everyone was taking a mulligan, I did too. I hit it poorly and into a wet fairway bunker. The rule is that if you take a breakfast ball, you must play it. I took two to get out and chopped my way to a 7 on the first hole. My original tee shot was sitting decent about 110 yards from the green – aarrrggg!
I could have avoided this situation and played to my own identity. The key is to have total self-awareness. Understand your capabilities and what you want to do for a given situation. Understand that opponents may try and get in your head – but deny them entry. Understand that you can work this to your advantage as well. A reverse example: Several years back, I was playing a stroke play round in my club championship. The third hole was a 175-yard par-3 that was playing into a freshening breeze. I was hitting second or third in the foursome and made up my mind that it was a 4-iron. I rushed to the tee box, got there first, and pulled a 3-wood and started taking practice swings. I got some strange looks from my fellow competitors, but the first guy took too much club and blew his shot over the green into trouble. I had influenced his behavior because he was paying attention to me rather than his own game. Yes, this works – if you are discrete and don’t overuse it.
Self-awareness is essential. Know what you do well, what weaknesses you should stay away from, and try not to fix those weaknesses on the golf course under pressure. Some folks think they know their strengths and weaknesses, but they don’t. Try this. After a round, review your scorecard and jot down single shots that caused you to have good holes or bad holes. This exercise can be revealing. Last week, I pushed a drive on my par-4, 2nd hole way right. I hit a nice punch with a 5-iron to get back in position about 110 yards from the green. I hit a decent wedge to 25 feet and struggled to two putt for a very lucky bogey. I was frustrated with my poor first putt, but during the post round analysis, I recognized it was the poor drive that had set up the hole. My notes also showed that I struggled on a couple par-fives with long iron layup shots.
I was fortunate enough to make three birdies. My notes included: 50-yard lob wedge, 80-yard sand wedge, 133-yard knock-down 7-iron. An indication that my partial iron shots were working. With this data, I have something to work on in practice, and something to try and lean on in future rounds that may yield better scores.
Admittedly, I am a metrics freak but this small amount of data is easy to capture and can improve your focus and concentration. Give it a try, learn your identity, play and practice to it, and let me know how it goes.
I have one goal for 2020 and it’s process oriented. Before detailing, I’ve been drawing a tremendous amount of inspiration from the book: The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh. The Hall of Fame football coach details his controversial approach to leadership and building a world class organization, but the underlying takeaway is to get immersed in the details of process and good results will naturally be forthcoming. While a common theme from most sports psychologists, I needed to read his specifics about not confusing effort with results and found it inspiring.
Last season, I stumbled on a process-oriented adjustment in September and rode that to higher confidence and better performance in the Fall, and over the Winter. The experience was so positive that I will try to leverage for 2020. In 2013 I had experimented using the nine-shot drill that Tiger Woods made famous and found that difficult to implement. The drill requires you to hit low, medium, and high trajectories with straight, draw, and fade shot shapes. I couldn’t do them all but last Fall, during practice sessions and warm-ups I began hitting low, medium, and high straight shots with each club in the bag (lob wedge through 4-iron). Suddenly while on the course, I felt comfortable calling on any of these trajectories, which allowed me to play more aggressively and with greater confidence. To execute, you simply move your ball position from back to middle to front with each club. I practiced this way and warmed-up this way. The advantage, especially during warm-ups, is that on some days I’d find only one trajectory was working but I could take that one to the course with confidence.
Granted, this is somewhat of an advanced technique and you should have your swing mechanics in pretty good order. During a lesson last year, my instructor had me hitting full wedge shots using my lob, sand, and gap from the back position, and we really liked the ball flight. He recommended that I add the shot to my arsenal, and I did. I then added the other ball positions after experimenting.
Fast forward to this year. My goal is to get comfortable working the ball. Do I need to add all six other trajectories in the nine-shot drill? No. I’d just like to be able to control a draw or fade with the most comfortable trajectory. I know my biggest challenge will be with the fade because I hit a little natural draw and I can’t remember fading a ball on demand, but think I can learn this using the same approach. First up, some experimentation on the range, then off to my instructor to dialog the plan. If I can work the ball with the same level of confidence, great things are going to happen!
Whether you are a beginner or a life-long enthusiast, there are three keys you need to play better golf. Depending on your skill level, the percentage of your time spent on each will vary. If you continue to work them all, I guarantee your golf journey will be an enjoyable one. I use the word “journey” because you never have anything permanently solved in this game. It’s a constant process of reaching peaks and valleys, and working the Keys will ensure an upward curve of improvement. Your goal of maximizing the peaks and minimizing the valleys is doable so let’s get started.
The Three Keys:
Mastery of fundamentals
KEY 1 – Mastery of fundamentals:
Most highly accomplished players are ground in a solid understanding of the fundamentals. These include: grip, aim, posture, conditioning, and learning the proper physical sequence to make solid contact. There are players on the world stage that are unique in their approach to fundamentals, but one commonality is they almost look identical at impact. They are particularly adept at learning the proper body sequencing to get them to strike solid shots. To illustrate, look at the similarities of Jim Furyk and John Daly down-the-line at impact – amazingly similar, and such different players!
A commitment to solid fundamentals is essential. Many self-proclaimed hackers stay at their current level because of a reluctance to make this commitment. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is time consuming, but think of anything you are trying to gain a mastery of. Doesn’t that require a deep understanding of fundamentals and a commitment to improve them? Golf is no different.
For the average amateur, fundamentals are best learned early, and under the watchful eye of a professional instructor. Improvement can also be made by the seasoned player at any point by seeking professional help, but the deeper bad fundamentals are ingrained in a player’s swing, the more difficult they are to break.
I took my first lessons 42 years ago and my instructor provided a lot of the fundamentals I needed. However, he missed on a critical one, and I’ve been working very hard with my current instructor to break the bad habit and re-learn a good one. I’ve made the commitment and it’s difficult.
Instruction is a lot different today than when I first learned. The explosion of materials on the internet can confuse a student to the point of reverse productivity if the student doesn’t know how to filter the incoming data. My recommendation is to find a qualified instructor, take an honest look at your fundamentals, and develop a focused learning improvement plan. (Generally, the fewer fundamentals you try to fix at once, the better.) A big side-benefit is that when you make a mistake on the course or during practice, you’ll have a better way to identify anti-patterns, and will stop trying too many different fixes. Reduce confusion, work your plan, and reap the rewards.
KEY 2 – Purposeful practice:
It actually takes practice to learn how to practice. Purposeful practice means getting a method to help you learn and retain skill that you can use to execute on the golf course. Most amateurs don’t practice correctly. They buy a bucket of balls and head out to the driving range for an hour of banging drivers as far as possible. This will build ample callouses on your hands, and maybe a good sweat, but will do nothing for your golf game.
Start by seeking out a good practice facility which might include a driving range, practice green for short game, separate putting green, and maybe a bunker. A lot of serious golfers keep a shag bag with some good quality practice balls nearby. Mine lives in the car trunk. You’ll never know when you arrive at a practice facility if there are no balls to work with in the short game area. Most shag bags have a picker contraption to collect balls without making you stoop over – a must have if you practice a lot of short game.
Beginning players should spend about 75% of their practice time working to improve their basic fundamentals – that means full swing. One school of thought is to learn the game backwards (putting first, moving back to short game, and then full swing), but I am not in favor. It’s very hard for a beginner to gain enough satisfaction just knocking in three-foot putts. You need to build enthusiasm with the novice player and golf is an athletic activity. The thrill of hitting a flush shot is a powerful force. I remember when I made my first good contact, how amazed I was to be able to hit the ball so far.
As players gain more experience, the percentage of their practice time should begin to favor the short game because of the intricacies of greenside shots. The spectrum is limitless and the more you can practice a core set of go-to short shots, the more confident you will be on the course and the lower your scores will go.
I have different types of practice routines depending on what I want to work on, but I also have a stock session I use the day before I play. It takes about 90 minutes and covers my full game. It works like this:
Start with 30 minutes of short game. I work on chipping with my lob wedge, pitching wedge, and 8-iron. I’ll try to hit three different chip shots with the lob wedge (low, medium, and high) and I do this by varying the ball position. Then I’ll hit some stock chips with the PW and 8-iron. Next, I work on pitching with my lob wedge and sand wedge and I try to vary the distance from the hole. Finally, I wrap up with a few lob shots and if the practice green is clear, a half dozen bunker shots.
Next is 30 minutes on the range. I’ll hit three balls with each of my lob wedge through 7-iron (low, medium, and high trajectories). Then I’ll skip to my 4-iron for three, and finally take three stock 3WDs and three drivers. Next I’ll play three simulated holes which uses six or seven balls. Great things happen in groups of three 🙂 This helps to get my mind off mechanics and in game mode. The low-medium-high iron shots are a recent change that I’ve found very beneficial and I’ll often repeat this shot pattern warming up the day of a round. It gives me an excellent feel for the trajectory I’m most comfortable with for that day. Note how few drivers I hit. I picked this up after reading an article on how Dustin Johnson practices. He saves energy and focuses on the shorter clubs which has helped his scoring.
The last 30 minutes is for putting. I’ll frame a hole with my alignment sticks and take five groups of 10 putts within the sticks. This grooves my stroke incredibly well and boosts my confidence within five feet. I’ll take three long lag putts between the groups of ten, just to break up the routine. Finally, I’ll finish with two rounds of the 5-star drill. This is where you place five balls in a star pattern around a hole and try to make all five going through your full pre-shot routine.
KEY 3 – Self-accountability:
Golfers fall into two camps. Those that play for fun and those that are more serious about their games. There is nothing wrong with either and you can certainly have fun while being serious about your game. If you play for fun, enjoy yourself, be courteous to your playing partners, mind the pace of play, and leave the course better than you found it. That’s all the accountability you’ll need. But if you are a serious player, you need to exhibit an honest approach regarding scoring. Being accurate with your score means playing by the rules, taking your penalty shots, and putting out the shorties. You will find that if you hold yourself accountable during the casual rounds, tournament play is much less of an adjustment. You’ll be surprised how many players get thrown off their game when they must hole every three-foot putt. Bang ‘em in during practice, bang ‘em in during casual play, and you’ll have a much better shot when it matters.
For those that carry a handicap, accountability means keeping an accurate index. You also need to pay off any gambling losses immediately. Once you get caught playing to a lower handicap in a tournament (sandbagging) your reputation will precede you in a bad way. Welching on bets or worse, being labeled a cheater because you’ve taken other’s money unfairly, can stay with you forever. If winning a small side-wager or even a large tournament purse is more important than playing fairly, you need to find another endeavor. Just do the right thing and you’ll be fine.
As a life-long enthusiast, I have been afforded the luxury of excellent professional instruction. It’s a great way to get introduced to the game if you’re just starting. I’ve also had the opportunity to try new things (and fail a lot), and to work hard to understand the psychological aspect of the game. It all adds up to a tremendous experience framed and punctuated by the Three Keys. Work the Three Keys and enjoy the journey.
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