How big is your golf gap? Your gap is the difference between what you know is the right thing to practice and what you actually practice. Your goal is to lower your scores through effective practice, and folks who have been playing and studying the game for a long time should have smaller gaps than beginners. The smaller you can shrink your gap, the more rapidly you should improve.
My gap is larger than it should be. I had a bit of an epiphany last weekend and the experience might serve a useful purpose going forward. It started when I read the article by Dustin Johnson in the February 2018 Golf Digest on how he practices. DJ was always an excellent ball striker but he truly became a superb player after he adopted his current routine of dedicating 80% of his range time to full and partial wedge shots. Considering how great he is with the driver, I was surprised to learn how little he practiced with it. Bottom line: his weakness was inside 100 yards and he addressed it.
Aligning my own game to DJ’s is like comparing a rowboat to a battleship, but his routine is instructive and should be copied. I reviewed my 2017 season performance notes and most of my good rounds were preceded by lessons and practice with my wedges. Like DJ, my goal last year was to get more consistent inside 100 yards. From some mechanical changes my pro helped me with (using primarily my wedges), my proximity improved greatly inside 100 yards and I began to hit it longer. I became enamored with the newfound length and in accordance, began hitting more practice balls with the driver. That’s when my performance dipped. Argh! My gap had widened.
Last weekend I hit the range with the goal of closing the gap and connecting the dots between practice and play. I only worked on hitting partial and full wedge shots. The contact was excellent and transitioned nicely to the few shots I mixed in with the longer clubs. What I would advise is that you hit the range and work on your wedges. See your pro if you need help with your technique. Then jot down what you are working on. This makes it easy to recall past practice that preceded good play, and of course, any “ah ha” moments you may discover. Finally, one caveat, if you are filming your own swing for analysis purposes, hit shots with a medium iron and a driver, as a wedge swing will often be too short and compact to reveal some critical swing flaws.
After thumbing through the pages of the February issue of Golf Digest and finding nothing of value from Phil Mickelson’s latest bomb your driver tutorial, or Billy Horschel’s lesson on twisting and contorting your 20-year old body into the purest iron shots, I stumbled across the latest rankings for the World’s 100 greatest golf courses. Wow! With 32 of these residing in the U.K. or Ireland, that’s a mighty tempting target and I’ve decided to start planning the golf trip I’ve always dreamed about.
I’m reaching out to my readers for help on this one because while I’ve got significant experience traveling for golf in the United States, the British Isles is brand new to me. I haven’t traveled to the U.K. since 1983 and that was not for golf. In an earlier trip as a teenager, I actually had the pleasure (torture) of playing Carnoustie as a beginner. My sole recollection was shooting something over 130 and getting yelled at by some elderly ladies for playing too slow. In retrospect, seems like a waste, but the thought of a rematch is intriguing.
I will assume this trip of a lifetime will take careful planning and am thinking the summer of 2015 is a good target. I’ve just changed jobs and cannot dedicate that much time to travel this year, and would guess that to get on the greatest courses in the world you may need to book tee times over a year in advance.
So where to start. Key questions: Do I book this myself or through a tour operator? What is the ideal number of players for such a conquest? How about the ideal length of a trip? How much should I expect to spend? Do I keep it on the mainland or travel to Ireland? The Old Course at Saint Andrews is THE bucket item; is that a must have for any trip and if so, what are the constraints?
Last week I participated in a market research forum where Golf Digest executives hidden behind a two-way mirror observed my dialog with five other hard core golfers. We were conversing about magazine content, photo shoots, and covers for upcoming issues. In the course of our discussion, it became apparent that our game is very unique because there is so much more material published on a weekly and monthly basis compared to other sports. How many periodicals cover the technique of turning a double play or properly executing the read option from the quarterback position or the intricacies of running a match-up zone in basketball? None.
One overwhelming observation was that there was almost too much instruction in golf magazines and that consumers of everything often find tips and recommendations with fully opposite techniques for the same shots, and these are often contained in the same issue. With all this opposing information, it’s no wonder so many golfers are mental basket cases at the amateur level. We all know how difficult the game is when our swing goes bad and we start thinking of mechanical fixes during play.
But, imagine playing the game as a professional and struggling with the same mental foibles. Professional golf on the PGA Tour is special because there are no appearance fees. Either you play well or miss the cut. There are no guaranteed contracts. No payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars where you can ride out a slump or a bad year. Just play well or don’t get paid. Sure, a select few at the top make enough money on sponsor’s endorsements to sustain, but the vast majority need to get by on skill alone. I was saddened to read David Duval’s comments on Twitter this week indicating he may retire if he can’t perform in 2014. Has another guy fallen as fast and as far as Duval? Ian Baker-Finch comes to mind but he didn’t stick around as long as Duval. It’s amazing how bad it can get for some of these professionals when the physical skills remain but the mental circuits are shorted out.
Professional golf is a tremendous sport and a great meritocracy. Despite the struggles of many to remain exempt, it’s refreshing to know we are always watching the cream of the crop every week. Who else do you recall has fallen as far as Duval and couldn’t turn it around?
During today’s PGA Championship telecast, I was watching Tiger on the putting green pre-round and was loving his use of Butch Harmon’s Two Tee Drill. While watching that pure stroke bang putts into the hole with perfect form, I immediately grabbed a couple balls out of my bag and set up shop on the carpet. Using a golf ball in lieu of a tee on each end, I quickly found out how perfect you had to be to slide that putter head through the gate. Though not nearly as proficient as Tiger, I still can’t wait to take this out to the course tomorrow and give it another try.
The effort got me thinking about all the excellent and not so excellent golf tips I have received this year and I was trying to pick the best. Do you have one or more to share? Here are my top three:
“Push out your pecs!” I received this from a friend while warming up in Myrtle Beach before a round. After a particularly bad ball striking day the day before, I was still all over the place in my warm up and just didn’t feel right at address. My friend told me to push out my pecs and all of a sudden, I felt like I was in a good strong athletic position and started hitting it pure.
“Keep your left upper arm tight to your chest on the back swing and down swing.” Got this one from Graeme McDowell in one of the spring Golf Digest magazines. This worked great for about two or three rounds till a hook worked it’s way into my swing. Maybe that’s why G-Mac fights a hook.
“Hinge and hold.” Resurrected this one from the archives of my own practice notes. Back in the spring I was fighting some very loose and embarrassing green-side pitch shots with my new 58 degree wedge. Skinny and lateral were in the lexicon and it turned out that I was trying to release the club on these short shots. Found the tip and started holding my finish with the club face pointed at the sky and down my target line and all of a sudden, I was cured. More importantly, I remain cured.
If you’ve come across a great tip or two, please share. I’d love to put some good ones into play. Thanks!
Ever benefit from a tip in a golf magazine? Usually you can find so many tips and instructional articles, your brain will explode if you try them all. Normally I consume for the human interest stories, interviews, and full swing sequence pictures, as well as the “Get Fit”articles 😉 but on a recent flight home I found a tip from Graeme McDowell in this month’s Golf Magazine that really helped.
I’ve been in the worst slump in recent memory and have not played even decent since last September. No doubt the inactivity associated with my large remodeling project put the kibosh on any regular cadence, and it had the doubling effect of forcing the feeling of relearning the game every time out. My ball striking had become a spaghetti plate of swing thoughts and the downstream artifacts were ugly. At that point, you’ll take any help you can get, so magazine tips at 31,000 feet were not out of order.
The fix was quite simple and made a ton of sense after I analyzed, but was probably just stupid luck that I found it. G-Mac had you keep your left upper arm tight to your chest throughout the back swing and downswing – that’s it. My off-season back swing drills were attempting to get the club more out in front of me and had clearly disconnected my arms from my torso. While I thought I looked good in my positions, I had in effect taken the club back with all hands; hence the awful ball striking. I went out Saturday on my local par-3 course for a quick nine to test this theory and was nutting it all the way around. Really solid strikes in a stiff breeze with cold temps and I was sky high at the finish.
Been around long enough to understand that momentum in golf is fleeting. But what’s wrong with thinking, “I finally got it!” Have you ever “got it” from a golf magazine tip?
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