Tag Archives: golf swing

Is there a magic move in golf?

There’s a section in my practice journal titled WOOD band-aids where I keep particularly helpful swing keys and fixes that I’ve discovered during play and practice, and there’s a reason for the acronym WOOD because it truly (Works Only One Day).  Success at golf, like any other sport, is based on mastering fundamentals and then making daily small scale adjustments.  I was reminded of this after my practice session today.  My progress with a swing change has been good over the last few weeks but it all fell apart on the range today and it seemed the new move had deserted me, as I stared at pull-hook after pull-hook.  I eventually found the WOOD band-aid and simply slowed my tempo down a hair and all was well again.  Bottom line:  it had nothing to do with my fundamental change but required one of those small adjustments.  I’m smart enough to know that today’s fix may not be good for tomorrow but I have confidence in my investment in the fundamental change because it will elevate my level of play over time.

To gain sustained improvement, build good fundamentals by seeking instruction from your PGA professional and working hard at mastering your lessons.  I’ve taken lessons with several professionals, and to this date, the most valuable remains the first, where the fundamentals were imparted.  The second set of eyes and knowledge a professional can provide are invaluable.  Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, practice and repetition will allow you to identify your faults and a small set of fixes to minimize the hills on the roller coaster ride.

Experts hawking “magic moves” in golf magazines and instructional videos are merely conveying swing keys that have worked for them after thousands of hours of practice.  You’re better off paying your local pro for a series of lessons then plunking down $400 for the newest driver and another $50 for a box of someone else’s WOOD band-aids.

Hit ’em straight!

Getting to scratch

Been reading Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and I’m beginning to understand the importance of setting specific goals and executing on deliberate practice to achieve excellence in my golf.  For the last 20-25 years I’ve maintained a 5-handicap and have been resigned to the fact that I can’t improve based on time limitations.  Essentially, I play once every two weeks and practice once or twice a week, spending the majority of my time on short game.  Is it possible to get to a three or two handicap, or maybe even scratch with this level of commitment?  I think so because what has held me back has been inconsistent ball striking and I believe I finally understand the source of the problem.

In an earlier post I had found a swing fault where I kept taking the club too far inside on my backswing.  I now understand this to be the cause of my inconsistency.  I remember seeing a drill by Michael Breed on The Golf Channel and tried it with instant success back on June 12.  My next round I hit the ball poorly and subsequently filmed my swing which showed I had reverted to my old fault.  Since then I’ve hit balls on five separate occasions and played one round, all with the same excellent ball striking.  The consistency is incredible and before every practice session I feel excited with anticipation, like a kid on Christmas morning.

I am a big advocate of short game practice and have worked hard over the last couple of years and while my scrambling has improved my handicap has not.  For the last four years I’ve been averaging 8 GIR  which is a clear indicator of poor ball striking and I suspect most single digit handicappers hit at least half their greens.  The good news is that this swing fix has been easy to implement and doesn’t require much range work.  Today I validated with about 25 swings with my PW, Driver, and 7-iron and striped it again.  If I can average 12 GIR with this simple adjustment, could I expect to drop two shots per round?  That’s the plan to get me to a 3 handicap by the end of the season.  If I keep working/improving on short game at the current rate, I’m thinking scratch is possible in two years.  Gotta reach for the stars and maybe I’ll get my head in the clouds before too long.

Film your swing!

Two weeks ago I came home from the course incredibly frustrated with my inability to hit the ball.  I had been working hard on a change to keep my backswing on plane and was disappointed with the lack of progress under game conditions.  Hitting big pulls with every club in the bag created a mental grind and was putting too much pressure on my short game.  My daughter took this video snippet of my swing in the backyard and BANG!  On went the light bulb.  What do you see that might cause a big pull?

My take:  My stance is too narrow and my right toe is angled out which creates an unstable base for me to coil against.  I’ve got a little too much weight on my left side at address and my club is still coming too far inside on the backswing.  As I complete my shoulder turn, I continue to raise the club with my hands, which causes me to lose control at the top and finally, I slide my weight forward instead of turning and hitting against a firm left side.  Presto, I’ve got my big pull, not to mention a slew of other potential problems.

The fix:  It’s never a good idea to fix too many things at once but I saw this as an opportunity to do most of the corrective work before I swung the club (in my setup) and only employ a single in-swing thought.  So I widened my stance, squared up my right toe, and shaded my weight to the right at address.  My only swing thought was to take the club back outside the line and after my shoulder turn had finished stop the backswing.  Essentially, I felt like I was taking the club back way outside with a 3/4 swing but felt fully coiled and in a strong controlled position.

Validation:  I tested my theory in an adjacent field with about 15 balls and a pitching wedge and my shots were flying strong and straight.  The following Saturday I practiced short game and before I was finished hit a few 7-irons and drivers with the same positive feedback.  The next day I played 18 after warming up very well and hit 13 greens and shot even par.  Today (Wednesday) I was back in the field at lunch with my pitching wedge and continued to enjoy the excellent contact.  What’s next?  Well we all know that in golf momentum is fleeting but I can’t wait to play again.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait another 10 days.  I’ll try to stay sharp with some practice and will post an update after my next round.  So send me links to any swing videos of you and let’s get to work!

Avoiding distractions

So out I went on Sunday of the July 4th holiday weekend at 9:30 a.m. to my local muni with thoughts of spending a couple hours working on my game.  To my delight, I arrived at an empty short game area and began my putting drills only to find the beginner chipping clinic coming my way after five minutes.  So I situated myself at the far end of the green hoping to steer as clear as possible, but soon 12-15 students were zinging low screamers all over the place.  So I finished up there and headed down to the range and setup at a station adjacent to the husband and wife team that had just finished taking a lesson.  Of course the wife was hitting it slightly better than the husband who’s increasing frustration was apparent.  Halfway through my session, the young boyfriend/girlfriend combo set up shop in the two stalls behind me with the boyfriend providing the girlfriend “expert” golf instruction.  While they were technically out of my peripheral vision, girlfriend hit a couple toe doinks straight over the protective wall and into my hitting station which effectively ended my practice.

When distracted on the course, you can simply stop / start whatever you are doing but it’s much tougher to manage during practice.  For some, practice time is social time where folks get caught up with friends before a round, or find time for a spontaneous contest to see who can hit the tractor picking balls or see who can hit driver over the net at the end of the range.

If you’re serious about improvement, you need to concentrate without distractions and isolate yourself during practice.  So short of being identified as anti-social, you’re better off practicing early or very late in the day, when you can do your serious work.  Today, I was reminded of that the hard way.

Play to your potential – every time out!

Ever wonder why your game seems in the zone on some days and you can’t hit the broad side of a barn the next?  Playing to our potential every time out would be wonderful, but as human beings is profoundly difficult.  From the number one player in the world down to the weekend 35-handicapper, we all fight the battle to elevate our consistency.  Here’s how to improve yours.

First, consider the old axiom that says, “If you can’t putt, you can’t score but if you can’t drive it, you can’t play.”  I’ve found this to be true to the extent that my most satisfying rounds are when my ball striking is on.  As a 5-handicap, a round in the low 70s is good and  I’d rather shoot 72 and hit 15 greens with a bunch of two-putts than shoot 72 with 8 greens and have to scramble all day.  Good ball striking allows you to relax your mind and puts less pressure on your short game.  To give yourself the best chance of having a good ball striking day, adopt this thought:  “Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the one you should be able to hit.”  I learned this from Dr. Bob Rotella, and found that the quicker the player can figure out that good scoring is driven by confidence and is not necessarily related to massaging one’s ego, the faster they will enjoy sustained consistency.  Yes, this is about managing the Driver, and admittedly is difficult because most players love to bomb long drives, but I’ve found that on days where I warm up and struggle with my driver, it’s best to leave it in the bag for the whole round and tee off with a club I know I can put in the fairway.  When I first implemented this strategy, I noticed my scores improved most on my bad ball striking days because I wasn’t trying to swing for the fences, or go after the sucker pins, or try the miraculous recoveries.   The importance of getting the ball in play is paramount to playing with confidence and nothing will crush your ball striking confidence faster than hitting a driver into trouble on the first couple of tee shots.  To affirm, take a quick mental inventory of your last bad round and I’ll bet that most of your trouble began with wayward drives.

Second, take care to not over analyze your swing while on the course.  Too many players tie themselves in knots trying to manipulate and contort their bodies with countless swing mechanics.  This only builds tension and is counter-productive.  Use one swing thought at a time and it should be as free from mechanics as possible.  Anything to promote rhythm or good tempo is best.   A thought like, “Target – Tempo” is perfect.  When I’m playing my best, I notice course management thoughts are in the front of my mind rather than my swing.

Finally, practice your full game the day before you play and make sure you dedicate plenty of time simulating game conditions.  Nothing prepares your mind and body better than making an easy transition from practice to play.

Good luck!

Ten minutes from parking lot to the tee – help!

It’s happened to every one of us, so how do you get an emergency warm-up in a rush situation?  Two keys to focus on:  prepare your body to make an athletic move and get a feel for how the course will play.  You’ll need to divide your prep time into two five-minute halves.

First half:  grab a club and hold it by both ends out in front of you.  Do 10 full squats, getting as low as you can, and raise the club as high over your head with each squat, returning it to its starting position as you raise up.  This will loosen the shoulders, hips, knees, and get your heart pumping.  Next, while still holding both ends of the club in front of you, tilt slightly from the waist and turn your upper body 90 degrees to the right and left without moving your legs.  The resistance of your lower body will provide an excellent rotational stretch.  Do 15 in each direction.

Second half:  spend the time hitting low running chips on the practice green; the longer the chip the better.  This will offer the opportunity to take your full swing grip, make a small golf swing, get the ball rolling to judge green speed, and focus on a target.  All the things required to be successful on the course.  Finish up by hitting six straight three-foot putts into a hole to build confidence and put you in a “make it” frame of mind.

Ready to go, hit ’em straight!

Smart Practice Tip #3. Develop a pre-shot routine

To add consistency to your game and build resistance to choking under pressure, develop a pre-shot routine and stick to it.  Your routine can be easily established and should be practiced and put into play for every shot.  Typically, it will differ for full swing shots and those on and around the green so let’s address each.

Full Swing:

For most shots, amateurs just pick a club, hit it and hope it goes in a general direction towards safety.  Often, they identify hazards like lakes and bunkers where they do not want to go and fixate on these objects which is counterproductive.  The successful pre-shot routine envisions where you want the ball to go, then provides a proper setup and starts the swing without hesitation.  The mind works in funny ways in this regard.  How many times have you stepped to the tee and thought to yourself, “Don’t hit it in the water,” then “splash.”

To correctly start your routine, choose your club and make a couple of practice swings with smooth tempo.  Then take a position behind the ball looking down the line at your target and pick a spot high in the sky above your target as your aiming point.  I like to use a tree top or roof of a distant building.  For some reason, the higher you aim, the less tension you feel.  Next locate an alignment spot a few inches on the ground in front of your ball in line with the target.  Step up to the ball and place the leading edge of your club face down square to the alignment spot on the ground.  Set your feet with your toes parallel to the target line and presto, you are correctly aligned!  Next, sight your aiming point above the target and pull the trigger without delay.  It’s important to avoid delay because waiting allows tension and indecision to creep into the swing.  Do this for all full-swing shots.

Around the green:

For chip, pitch, and bunker shots, again, start behind the ball and pick a spot on the green where you’d like to land the ball.  Try to envision the trajectory and roll you’ll get and let that guide your club selection.  Next, identify your alignment spot on the ground and take a position astride the ball that will allow you to make a couple of practice strokes parallel to your target line.  After you’re satisfied with your practice strokes, address the ball and hit without delay.  I like to take two practice swings and if I don’t feel comfortable I restart my routine.  CAUTION:  Trying to play a shot before you’re ready or before you’re committed to it will result in a poor shot every time!

Putting:

This is very similar to the shot around the green except I don’t use an alignment spot in front of the ball and prefer to align directly at my target spot, whether in the hole or outside on a breaking putt.  I take two smooth practice swings and attempt to apply enough force to feel the distance of the putt.  I then address the ball and make the stroke without delay.

A key point to remember is to execute all shots without delay.  This is the single most insular act against choking because tension and worry are the seeds of the choke.  Use the same routine every time regardless of the pressure situation and you won’t have time to doubt yourself.

Good luck! – Brian

Smart Practice Tip #2. The Short Game

Whether you have several days per week or just a few hours on the weekend to dedicate to game improvement, you should center about 75% of your practice time on the short game.  High handicappers can make significant improvements in the shortest period of time by mastering a few basic shots and developing a sound repeatable putting stroke.  Advanced players have known for years that they must dedicate significant time and effort on their short games to shave those last few strokes.  They know that once their full swing is grooved, it’s very hard to make changes that will significantly alter their ability to score.  However, there are a multitude of short game shots one can add and refine to keep the scores coming down.

Remember three major principles when practicing short game.

  1. Aim for the smallest target possible.  By shrinking your target, you widen your margin of error which allows you to get shots closer to the hole.  For short greenside chips and pitches, and every putt, the hole is your target and you must try to make it.  For short or medium range putts, pick a spot on the lip of the hole that you’d like the ball to roll over.  Be that precise and you’ll notice your ability to focus will improve, you’ll make more chips and putts, and your misses will be much closer.
  2. Roll is easier to judge than flight.  Whenever possible, keep your short shots as low to the ground as you can because distance is much easier to judge with lower trajectory, and the mechanics of hitting low shots are simpler than for lofted pitches.  Try this experiment.  Grab three balls and pace off 50 feet from a hole.  First attempt to throw a high lob and stop each ball near the hole.  Next roll all three from the same spot to the hole and see which three get closer.   This is an excellent drill for teaching feel that I learned in “Shark Attack, Greg Norman’s Guide to Aggressive Golf.”
  3. Making putts in practice builds confidence during play.  Nothing builds confidence like watching the ball go in the hole and hearing it hit bottom.  Putting is 90% confidence and 10% stroke.  There are many golfers who putt great and use completely different strokes.  Some die it in the hole, others bang it in the back, but the one thing they have in common is confidence.  Whatever stroke you use, build your confidence by making a ton of putts in every practice session and it will pay off big time on the golf course.  Next time out, stick a tee in the ground three feet from a hole on a flat part of the practice green.  Take 50 or 100 putts from this location and you’ll be surprised how confident you are next time out on the course standing over a pressure putt from the same distance.  There is no better way to groove your stroke and build confidence.  Admittedly, it is probably the least glamorous aspect of short game practice, but without a doubt, the most necessary because having confidence in your putting allows you to go low when you’re hitting it close and takes pressure off your long game when your swing is off.

There are three shots every confident golfer must learn to be successful around the green.

  1. Low running chip.  This is often played from the fringe or just off the fringe and can be executed  with anything from a sand wedge to a seven-iron.  Let the distance from the hole govern your club selection with your intention to minimize air time and maximize roll.  To execute, zero in on a spot to land the ball that will allow for the proper run-out.  Shade your weight forward, grip down for better control, play the ball back in your stance, and make the swing with just your arms by keeping your wrists firm and not letting the club head pass your hands.  Take a couple of practice swings and keep your upper arms tightly connected to your chest during the stroke.  Once you have the feel, address the ball and hit without delay.  Fidgeting over the ball will allow second thoughts and doubt to creep into your mind and should be avoided at all costs.  Getting flippy with your wrists or allowing the club to pass your hands will result in poor inconsistent contact.
  2. Elevated pitch.  This is played from a position where significant carry is required and a low rolling shot is not possible.  The shot requires more practice time to groove than the low running chip because it’s slightly more complex, but once mastered can work as an excellent stroke saver.  Typically you play with the sand wedge or lob wedge and to execute, zero in on a spot where you’d like the ball to land, only this time, with minimal run-out.  Open the clubface slightly to add loft and open your stance while shading your weight forward.  This will promote a descending blow which is required to get the ball up fast.  On the backswing, hinge your wrist quickly so that your lead forearm and the shaft make a V-shape.  Swing down and contact the ball but try to keep your wrist firm on the strike and follow through so that your lead forearm and the shaft are in a straight line or in an I-shape.  My swing thought is “V to I” on this shot.  Others like to use “hinge and hold” but the concept is the same.  Like the low running chip, you’ll gain better control by feeling your upper arms are connected to your chest throughout the swing.  The shot will result in a higher trajectory and allow the ball to land softly.  The length of the shot governs the length of your backswing.  Once you get far enough from the green, this evolves into a different shot as the ability to hold the “I” or “hold” position is not possible and the shot becomes a mini version of the full swing.
  3. Explosion from the sand.  This shot is not as difficult or as intimidating as most fear.  Keep these fundamentals in mind and you’ll be fine.  Open the clubface of your sand wedge and open your stance with your weight shaded forward.  Play the ball off your front heel and locate a spot in the sand 1-2 inches behind the ball.  As with the Elevated Pitch, pick the club up quickly with an early wrist break and execute the downswing by hitting the sand and follow through to a nice high finish.  Once you address the ball, take care to keep your focus on the spot in the sand where you want to make contact and don’t let your eyes wonder to the ball.  This will more often than not cause you to inadvertently hit the ball with the leading edge of the club (we’ve all done it) and that’s no good.  The length of the bunker shot  and condition of the sand will govern how big a swing you take.  You’ll need to adjust in firm or wet sand and take a smaller swing and hit a little closer to the ball.  In fine powdery sand, you may open the clubface a bit more, take a little more sand and make a bigger swing.  Finally for buried lies, square the clubface and hit down hard a couple of inches behind the ball.  You’ll basically leave your club in the sand (no high follow through) because of the severe downward motion of the strike and of the force required to expel the ball.

Experiment and get comfortable with all three of these shots and watch your scores drop!  There are many other shots that require more advanced techniques that you can add to your arsenal around the green and I’ll cover those in a future post.

Finally, here’s a great short game practice routine that I use to build confidence the day before a round.  It takes 1 ½ hours.

  • Get to your course early before the practice green gets too crowded
  • Take out three balls and play a variety of short and long low running chips with different clubs.  I prefer to use the pitching wedge and 8-iron.
  • Next switch to your sand wedge or lob wedge and play some elevated pitches and bunker shots to holes of different length
  • Next take your putter to a hole and identify a flat three-foot putt and take a few warm-up putts.
  • Hit 50 3-foot putts in groups of 10 using your full on course pre-shot routine for each putt.  After each group of ten, chip 3 balls to your hole from the fringe and make the putts.  Repeat with four more groups of 10 putts, continuing to chip and hole the three balls between each group.
  • Wrap up by playing 9 holes with one ball from various lies and using various shots.  Try to make every chip/pitch and then complete by holing your putts.  Use your bunker for a few shots if possible.

Good luck!  -Brian

Smart Practice Tip #1. Simulating game conditions.

If you’re like me, golf is not your day job and you cannot devote hour after hour to game improvement, yet you need to stay as sharp as possible for your weekend play or the occasional tournament.  Typically, I play once every two weeks and dedicate one morning per weekend for practice; that’s it.  I manage to stay sharp by maximizing my limited time and by following three key principles.  1 – You must simulate game conditions as often as possible.  2 – You must spend 75% of your time on your short game.  3 – You must develop and practice a reliable pre-shot routine that can be executed with every club.  I’ll address each of these with a series of posts.

Simulating game conditions  Often players complain of not being able to take their range swing to the course.  Their failure to execute the shots that seemed easy in practice is a never ending source of frustration.  Yet, golf is like any other sport that requires separate sessions for practice and play.  Smart football coaches simulate game conditions by pumping in loud crowd noise before taking their teams into a hostile road environment.  Baseball teams play 30+ spring training games against live opponents before the real season starts.  All serious athletes know that drills and repetition are required parts of practice, but there is no substitute for the value that game condition pressure provides.  Golf is no different and here’s what I do to easily transition from practice to play.

First, get to your short game practice area and warm up with a few chips and putts, then play nine holes around the practice area with one ball.  Drop the ball in various lies that will require you to use different green-side shots.  Attempt to chip/pitch to the various holes and make the putts.  If possible, play shots similar to those you may encounter on the course.  Playing a course with lots of mounding and elevation changes around the greens?  Make sure to hit your share of pitches with your sand and lob wedges.  Playing a course with large flat greens?  Work your low bump and run shots with the 7 and 8 irons.  Use your actual pre-shot routine for all chips and putts.  It’s especially important to mark and clean your ball as you would on the golf course before you putt as this helps to transition your mind from practice to game condition state.  Keep score (even use an old scorecard).  Marking your score is a game component that will get you in the mindset too.  Have small bets if you’re playing with a friend or play against your personal best score.  The key here is to simulate every activity down to the smallest detail that you follow during your round.  Then when you transition to the course, the play will closely resemble your practice.

Next, head to the driving range.  Warm up with a few partial and full wedge shots and a half dozen drivers then start playing a simulated game.  I play four or five imaginary holes on the course I plan to play the next day.  If the next day’s round is on a new course, play simulated holes on your home course.  Use trees, signs, fences, tractors and anything available on the range to construct imaginary holes.  Play your tee shots and approaches and be honest with yourself.  If you miss your imaginary green, grab a wedge and try to hit a pitch of the appropriate length.  You MUST hit every shot with a distinct target and purpose.  Just raking ball after ball and banging away will not help you improve or transition to game conditions.  This approach also works great as a warm-up routine before an actual round.  Simulate play on the first hole a couple of times before teeing off and you’ll experience less transition pressure when you get to the actual first tee.  It’s important to note that if you have very limited practice time, put a premium on the short game work because you’ll be hitting off real grass and holing real putts.

Good luck! – Brian