Tag Archives: improvement

What’s Your Favorite Golf Drill Of The Year?

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.  Butch's two tee drillWhile 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:

1st place:

“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.

2nd place:

“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.G-MAC  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.

Honorable mention:

“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!

Don’t Fall In Or Out Of Love Too Early

Three Nights in AugustBeen reading Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights In August and picked up some valuable perspective about golf even though the subject is baseball.  The book is about how manager Tony LaRussa handled his Saint Louis Cardinals in a critical three-game series against the Chicago Cubs in 2003.  Included are excellent insights about his management style and life’s philosophies.  Regarding his observation of new player performances in spring training, he advises on a patient approach and to not “fall in or out of love too early, ”  because the 162-game major league season is a grind where players experience and expect ups and downs, but at season’s end you need to review the full body of work and not be too judgmental of short run performance.

In golf, we’ve all been guilty of experiencing the “ah ha” moment and thinking we have a problem permanently solved when in effect, we’ve experienced a brief euphoria and made a mistaken rush to judgement.  Golf is more about slow and steady improvement, as I have come to realize while working my way out of an eight-month slump.

Practical insights:

During my round yesterday, I mentioned to a playing partner that I thought my road to recovery was helped by more frequent play and he advised that when you only play once per week or once every other week, as I had been doing, you put too much pressure on yourself to play well.  I thought back to the day before during my emergency nine after work where I had played poorly and felt off on every aspect of my game, but was able to easily let it go because I had a game scheduled the next day.  And he was right.  I played beautiful golf yesterday.  The added benefit of more frequent play is that you pick up little tweaks during each round that are easier to add and recall than if you try to bank them and summon on a less frequent basis.

Another observation:  Always take the opportunity to play with players better than you.  Yesterday, I was paired with two pros from my local club and watching them murder tee shots 50 to 60 yards past my best tested my ability to play within myself.  I’ve found the best approach is to acknowledge better players are in a different league and enjoy their company and the experience, rather than try to keep up.  I recall doing the opposite way back when I was young and in my first tournament as an assistant club professional.  We had a business meeting followed by a local competition for the 25 pros in attendance.  Rather than acknowledge my newbie status, I tried to think of myself as a peer and was so intimated trying to keep up, I embarrassed myself.  I’ll bet young players who are paired with Tiger Woods play better when they view him with awe rather than trying to match him shot for shot.  Again, I found this to be the case yesterday on our par-5 fourth hole which measured 525 yards.  Pro #1 just hit one about 320 down the middle and it was my turn, but I picked a target and put an 80% swing on the ball and piped one about 250.  Completely segregating Pro sitting 70 yards in front of me, I smoothed a 3-wood about 225 into the fairway and only had a flip with the 58 left for a good birdie opportunity.  I was very proud of my ability to seperate instead of be intimated, and cruised my way around to a 1-under 34 on the front.

So remember to stay patient, play often, and don’t fall in and out of love too early!

The Hard Work Of Breaking A Golf Slump

First, many thanks to all those who provided advice on how to break out, especially Vet.  The address position analysis (grip change) continues to help immensely and the slump is almost over.  Technically, I’m still in the slump because my 81 today is the 10th straight round at 80 or above (my Mendoza Line), but I can feel the wind in my sails.

Today’s round had some very critical data points.  First, I got off to a good start parring my first four holes.  The slump has been punctuated by horrible starts with double or triple bogey as a a frequent and unwelcome lead-off visitor.  Yes, I did make a triple on my 7th hole, but used that as motivation.  Sure I was down on myself, and the root cause was again a lateral hit from a downhill lie in a bunker but I told myself, I could either accept the fact that I was destined to remain in this horrid slump or double down to concentrate harder. I bogeyed 8 and 9 and turned in 7-over 43.  Normally, I don’t add up my score until the round is complete, but I was mad as hell for blowing a good start and felt like checking.

For some reason that score check improved my focus on the 10th tee and I hammered a drive down the middle and made birdie on the par-5.  God, that birdie felt good because it’s been so long since I made a birdie that I couldn’t remember the last one.  Then I enjoyed a first in my 40 years of playing golf.  I drove a legitimate par-4 and sunk an 8-foot putt for eagle.  I have made eagle on par-4s before but always from the fairway and never after driving the green.  My tee shot measured 323 yards and was down hill and slightly down wind, and yes, I had hit into the group in front.  At first, I couldn’t find my ball but noticed one on the surface as they were leaving the green.  I apologized, sank the putt, and was 3-under after two holes on the back.  I gradually gave away my gains with some shoddy iron play but drove it well all the way around and finished with a 2-over 38.

My reason for hope is twofold.  A very simple change (grip) has made a huge difference and I’m playing my best shots without any swing thoughts.  When the mind is clear and your fundamentals are in order, this game can be played well.

Next up is a tournament at Queenstown on Thursday.  Hoping to leverage these gains and help the team win.

The carnage of improvement

TitanicSometimes trying to improve my golf feels like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Today was one of those days.

I started off by filming my latest training drill (swinging a weighted club with my backside touching a lawn chair on the backswing and downswing to ensure proper spine angle retention.)  All positions looked good – check.  I then headed out to the driving range to film some live contact.  The bad news is that every shot was a push cut.  The good news is that the same miss indicates consistency and the repeatability should be easy to fix, right?  Wrong.  The film review showed the mistake was the same loss of spine angle I’ve been working all winter to fix.  How frustrating.   Throw in a throbbing right elbow (tendonitis) and you begin to see the ugliness of this picture.

Next, I moved to the short game area for some work on chipping and pitching technique.  Oddly enough, the pain in the elbow was actually worse on these short shots as I tried to keep my hands soft and feel the weight of the club head on the back swing.  It even hurt to putt.  😦

So, I’m not giving up by any stretch, but am starting to question what is reasonable with regard to improvement.  How much can a guy with a bad elbow and only enough time to hit balls and play on the weekend expect to improve?  Any thoughts on this or remedies for golfer’s elbow (I haven’t tried drinking baking soda dissolved in water yet but am close to trying anything), please send them along.  Thanks!

2012 Performance Analysis

With the 2012 golf season concluded it’s time to examine my performance against plan and compare this season’s playing stats against 2011.  The KPIs:

Year Total rounds Scoring Avg. GIR Avg. Total Putts Avg.
2012 33 78.85 8.74 31.88
2011 34 79.60 8.74 32.86

The primary objective in 2012 was better ball striking which should have translated into a higher GIR average.  It’s quite remarkable that the GIR is exactly the same across the two seasons, but no improvement is considered a miss.  My early season conditioning work left me feeling good, hitting it longer, but not necessarily straighter.  In the fall, I didn’t have enough time to practice or play and my ball striking went in the crapper.  I failed to reach double digit GIR in any of my last five rounds, and failed to break 80 as well.  It’s a no-brainer, but the key takeaway is that I need the reps and more importantly, reps from the right positions.  Interestingly, my scoring average dropped by 3/4 of a stroke, which can directly be attributed to better putting.  I’m not sure why because I practiced my putting less, but I suspect it was a mid-season change to a right hand dominated stroke that led to better distance control on my lag putts.  I’ve since abandoned that method and adopted one that helps me judge pace better on greens of varying speed.  Only five of my 33 rounds were sub 30-putt rounds and I’d love to get more of those, but the big picture shows a very consistent year with the putter, and I never took more than 35 in a round.

The great thing about the off-season is that you can battle test ideas for improvement and not feel pressured to abandon them because of one or two bad rounds since you aren’t playing regularly.  I’m very excited to work with my new custom fitted irons and have been doing a lot of reading and film study of myself, specifically in the down-the-line position with my driver and noticed some glaring flaws.

In this video you’ll see my swing plane is way too far inside on the takeaway and too flat throughout the back and downswing.  My position at the top is open with a cupped wrist and it’s no wonder I’m struggling to control my driver and am only slightly better with the irons.  It’s also clear that hoping a year of pure conditioning would improve my ball striking was a mistake.  The numbers don’t lie and neither does the film.  So I am humbled yet determined to improve in 2013 by making changes over the winter to key swing positions.  I’ll specifically focus on my position halfway back, at the top, and on the downswing.  I came across an excellent video I’d like to share at MySmartGolf.com of the one-plane swing.  Have any of you seen this one?

My secret to playing better more satisfying golf

Time to pause at the quarterly mark of the golf season and evaluate how my improvement plan has performed to date and check my readiness to hit the meat of the summer schedule.  I’m happy to report it’s working better than expected and I’m enjoying myself more than ever on the golf course.  My desire to get better more consistent ball striking was the secret sauce of satisfaction.  It’s great to come out to the course confident that you will hit solid shots with consistency.  The off-season conditioning program has clearly helped strengthen my core and allowed for better execution without extra practice or lessons.  In fact, I have not hit balls once with the intent on working on my swing, and have just let the physical changes drive the swing improvements.  I’m playing about once per week, practicing a little less, and feel more refreshed.  I planned to add a mid-week nine holes but that has not materialized.

The KPI I’m most concerned with is greens in regulation, with the goal of averaging 11 per round.  Through eight rounds, I’m not there but have hit or exceeded 10 GIRs five times.   For the first eight rounds in the last five years, my 10+ GIR stats were:

2011:  3 for 8

2010:  1 for 8

2009:  0 for 8

2008:  0 for 8

2007:  4 for 8

The trend is good and the major change I’m enjoying is more length off the tee.  I’ve been able to maintain a solid spine angle and clear my left hip much quicker on the downswing which has improved my timing and balance.  Oddly, I’ve struggled in my scoring on the par-5s as the added length has left me in layup/go for it situations I’m not used to.  In years past, my strategy was to lay back to 100 yards for an unimpeded wedge to the green.  Now if I go for it, I’m dealing with awkward greenside plays that often include low percentage long bunker shots.  Guess more short game work will be required to leverage the distance off the tee, but it’s a great problem to have.

Addicted to golf? How do you know?

What are the warning signs for golf addiction and how do you handle?  I haven’t played in three weeks and am definitely missing it.  Once I start playing on a weekly basis, I’ll miss it even more, and worse yet, will feel like I need to dedicate more time between rounds for improvement.  The constant pull of the need to work on my game is a reminder that I’m a recovering adict.  I’ve managed the addiction in part by keeping enough busy distractions in play with the rest of my life, but when I used to work in the golf business and play six days a week, the addiction was awful.  What else would you do with your day off but work on your game?  And imagine how miserable you’d get when you were playing badly.  At the end of my golf career, I was so burned out on golf I didn’t care if I ever played again, but that was 25 years ago and my recovery period was a short one.

We all know, golf is a game that requires constant adjustments and you rarely play a round where everything clicks.  The great Ben Hogan once said that he only hit four or five perfect shots per round, and he used to practice a ton.  I can’t dedicate nearly the amount of time that Hogan did, which helps when I feel the constant urge to improve.

Is it possible to get to a place where you play two or three times per week, make a few small adjustments on the fly, and just enjoy the game without feeling the urge to work at it?  Anyone with advice on this, please share.  Thanks!

Play to your strengths, fix your weaknesses

What should you work on to improve your golf?  Easy for a PGA professional; they work on everything because they have the time and generally spare no expense.  For amateurs it’s a balancing act based on time, money, skills, and determination.  If you’re like me, you don’t play as much as you like, and even on good days you feel something is missing from your game, and while you’d love to put it all together, you rarely do.  There’s ALWAYS something to work on, so what approach do you take?

The answer is to work on whatever builds confidence.  Improve your confidence and your play will improve along with your satisfaction level.  Start by developing a personal confidence report card and be as honest and as detailed as possible.  The profile you create will help guide your approach.  Here was mine at the beginning of the season:

  • Driving length: C
  • Driving accuracy: B-
  • Fairway woods: D
  • 3-6 iron play: C-
  • 7-9 iron play: B-
  • Full swing scoring shots <120 yards: B
  • Pitching: B
  • Chipping: B+
  • Lag putting: C-
  • Short putting: B+
  • Physical conditioning: C-
  • Mental approach: A-

How would you profile the above?  I’d see someone who is clearly a dissatisfied ball striker, who gets more confident the closer they get to the flag stick, who manages their game well, but puts inordinate pressure on their short game.  This player would clearly struggle on courses with long par three and par four holes but probably scores well on the fives by laying up to preferred yardages.  Since this is me, I can confirm 🙂   So if you were me, what would you work on?

Conventional thinking is to just go work on short game and watch your scores drop, but I have done that extensively over the past several years and while I have improved around the green, the only true KPI (handicap) has not improved.  Consequently, I’ve decided on an approach where I address my weaknesses off the course (conditioning and ball striking) and play around them on the course until my confidence is elevated.  While it’s still early in the season, the conditioning work I’m doing for my back has allowed me to correct a serious swing flaw with my spine angle and pick up consistency and length.  Confidence level is going up!

Now your personal confidence report card may look considerably different from mine, but I’d urge you to make one, and in doing so, take the same approach to work on your weaknesses until your confidence level improves, and play around them while you do the work.  If you want to send me your self confidence report card, I’d be happy to make an assessment and develop an improvement plan for you.  Sometimes another set of eyes can be beneficial.  Good luck!

Golf Improvement – Where Do I Invest?

Several friends and colleagues have been asking me lately on how to best improve their golf games.  Since golf can require a serious investment in money and time, it’s best to approach from the two main perspectives; the beginning player and the seasoned player.  Their needs are quite different.

The beginner

The typical novice will make one of three mistakes.  They will either run to the sporting goods store and plunk down $300 for a new set of off-the-rack clubs and bag, or purchase the latest driver being touted in all the golf magazines and television adds, or grab dad’s old set of clubs in the garage and head off to the driving range to teach themselves the game, or worse, get some “expert advice” from a friend that plays.  When I used to teach golf, we had an old saying that goes, “amateurs teach amateurs to play like amateurs.”  The first and single most important investment the beginner can make is to invest in a series of golf lessons with a certified PGA professional.  Take that $300 and buy a series of five or six lessons and put yourself in the hands of an expert.  You will not need any equipment and your pro will be able to make recommendations to fit you appropriately for clubs.  Individual lessons are more expensive than group lessons but don’t be fooled by the cost; pay the extra money for individual.  Group lessons are what couples or friends looking for a new social activity usually invest in.  For serious learning, good one-on-one instruction is required.  For juniors, a golf camp is a great start, as instructors will build enthusiasm for the game, good playing habits, and impart the basic etiquette everyone should learn, but junior must also have one-on-one instruction to best build skills.

For beginners serious about playing the game for a living or becoming a single-digit handicap, I’d advise to learn the game backward.  First learn to get the ball in the hole, which means initial instruction on putting and short game (before any full swing instruction.)   For the rest of the general public, full swing lessons are fine.  For full swing instruction, many golf centers and stores offering in-door instruction have launch monitors to simulate your shots.  My preference is to take lessons out doors at a golf course or driving range.  The game is played outdoors and you want to simulate actual playing conditions in your learning.  Also, there is no substitute for seeing real ball flight.

The seasoned player:

When I taught golf, the lesson for the seasoned player was harder than the beginner because I’d have to work to undo self-taught habits or those formed by “friendly advice.”  The seasoned player is usually looking for a more immediate return on investment and obviously there are a multitude of areas for which to focus but the best way to quickly lower scores is to get instruction on improving your short game.  Take lessons on putting, chipping, and pitching and then devote 75% of available practice time to short game.

Many seasoned players become enamored with their ball striking and are also susceptible to the latest equipment fads that are touted to help you gain distance.  Take a step back and invest $50-100 in a good club fitting with your local professional.  Often times, you’ll be able to deduct the cost of the fitting if you purchase clubs from the same provider.  Here is where your video swing analysis, launch monitors, and simulators can provide valuable feedback and allow your pro to make sound recommendations.

I read an article in a golf magazine several years ago about golf in Japan.  The reporter visited a giant indoor mult-deck driving range and interviewed a player who was knocking shot after shot long and straight.  The reporter asked what type of scores the player shot and the player replied, “I don’t know because I’ve never played on a real course.”  The cost of playing golf in Japan is prohibitive for the general public but the point is that you’ve got to balance practice with enough play to improve.  The seasoned player must devote enough time on the course as well as off because there is no substitute for the experience you’ll get dealing with actual playing conditions and situations.  For serious devotees, get out twice a week to enjoy and develop your new-found improvements.

Finally, the seasoned player should embark on a fitness program designed to strengthen core muscles and build better balance and athleticism.  Take your normal workout and focus on making it golf-centric.  I’ve been working on a specific plan over the winter that includes a 45 minute workout just three times per week that is improving my ball striking consistency and overall endurance.  There is also an ongoing debate about whether to walk or ride.  I do both but try to walk whenever possible.  You get a better feel for the game and into a better rhythm when walking.  An investment in a good comfortable bag stand or a durable pull cart is advised.

Good luck and send me details on your improvement plans and of course, any questions!  -Brian

2012 golf improvement plan – Early returns are in!

I’m six weeks into my improvement plan and I’ve got some early feedback and lessons learned to share.  To reiterate, the plan was to work on core strength and conditioning in hopes of better ball striking and to couple that with the rollout of new short game and putting techniques from Stan Utley.  I’ve got three rounds under my belt and have noticed a definite increase in distance with my driver and short irons, probably due to the faster clearing of my hips on the downswing and a better ability to maintain my spine angle.   While I’m enjoying the added length, I’m struggling with distance control on the short irons, as some fly the new distance but others do not; probably to be expected.  Nevertheless, hitting driver – pitching wedge into par fours where I used to hit 7-irons is a big plus.  Big mistake last time out, though.  I wondered what it would be like to do a core strengthening session the morning before a scheduled round.  All day I had the shakes and my back tired midway through the round causing several very loose swings.    Maybe next time just a little stretching is in order.

I’ve had mixed results on the short game.  The putting changes have been solid and the move to a right hand dominated stroke is working great on the lags.  I’ve rolled in seven birdies in the three rounds and feel my distance control is good.  My chipping has been good, probably because of all the winter work on my living room carpet, but greenside pitching has been terrible.  I never got comfortable with the new techniques and have hit several very thin while under pressure and it seems the problems have infected my sand game which is normally very reliable.  A post round practice session last Sunday indicated that I was not turning enough on my backswing and the touch and feel returned when I made the adjustment.  However, it’s easier to do when it doesn’t count so I’ll be interested to see some improvement during this weekend’s outing.

As Bob Rotella says in Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect, “you’ve got to train it and trust it.”  With the pitching, I’ve done neither and am definitely thinking too mechanically on the course.  I want this so bad after getting a taste of the possibilities, but need to practice these changes and exercise some patience until they sink in.  Are we there yet?

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.