Tag Archives: instruction

Does It Take 10,000 Reps To Form A Habit?

Graphic from scaleo.io

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?

Play well!

An Etiquette guide

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.

Play well!   

Are You a Good Putter?

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:

Line

Speed

Weather

Difficulty of the green (grass surface and undulations)

Nerves

Quality of short game

Course management

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.

How do you measure your success on the greens?

Play well.

 

 

The Amazing Power of Concentration!

photo from azquotes.com

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!

Play well.

Help With My Swing!

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!

Thanks!

Driver Face On

Driver Down The Line

7-iron Face on

7-iron Down The Line

 

Striking Solid Iron Shots – Like Matt Wolff

Matt Wolff – photo from bostonglobe.com

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:

Matt Wolff’s Swing 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!

Self Awareness – Play To Your Golf Identity

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.

Play well!

The Three Keys to Great Golf

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:

  1. Mastery of fundamentals
  2. Purposeful practice
  3. Self-accountability

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!

Jim Furyk

John Daly

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.

My Bag Shag

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.

Putting station using alignment sticks

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.

Summary:

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.

Play well!

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club in Myrtle Beach

The Hardest Shot in Golf – Conquered!

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

What’s your hardest shot?  For me, it’s the long bunker shot.  You know, 50-60 yards and perhaps over another bunker or with water behind the green.  The shot places seeds of doubt in your mind and what follows is not pretty.  It’s made more difficult by the infrequency that it occurs.  I don’t practice it, will go several rounds without confronting it, and often play away from it altogether.  Yesterday, I learned how to hit it.

I had been struggling with consistency in my green-side bunker game and went to my pro for a lesson.  He had me hit a few shots to a close in flag with my lob wedge and quickly identified a flaw in technique.  I was forward pressing the grip and that was causing me to hit the shot heavy (take too much sand and leave the ball short).  The fix was to move my hands back – even or slightly behind the ball which allowed me to use the bounce in my wedge to slap the sand in a more aggressive motion.  Not very complicated and the burst of adrenaline from the “ah ha” moment teased me with anticipation.

This practice bunker has targets at 20, 40, and 60 yards and the lesson progressed into hitting shots with the new technique at varying distances.  I changed out to my 54-degree sand wedge for the longer green-side shots.  The new setup allowed me to approach with an attack mindset.  I now controlled distance with club selection, how fast I swung, how hard I hit the sand, and with the confidence that I wasn’t going to chunk or blade the shot.

In the past, my aversion to the long bunker shot was rooted in the belief that I didn’t have enough power to take sand and get the ball to the hole.  But I do!  We talked about choice of wedge for this shot and my pro said he adjusts by squaring the face on a sand wedge or gap wedge.  Gap wedge?  I had never thought of that and tried a few with the square blade at 60 yards and presto!  Never in a million years did I think I could hit an explosion and cover the distance.

We then moved to uphill, downhill, and side-hill bunker shots.  I hit a few out of footprints and learned this was an excellent way to practice.  Don’t get married to hitting simple 20-yard shots from a perfectly raked lie.  We finished up with some 9-iron, 7-iron, and 4-iron fairway bunker shots.  Of utmost importance out of the fairway bunkers is to keep your lower body and your head as still as possible.  I made good contact on most of these but without the lower body rotation, pulled them a bit.  I learned I need to aim a little right and allow for it.

Finally, we dialoged set make-up.  I recently purchased a TaylorMade M6 3-hybrid and had been considering dropping a wedge to get to 14 clubs.  He advised against this because the wedges are key in scoring situations which should be my top priority.  We agreed I should remove my 3-iron instead.

This was a fantastic learning experience.  My only regret was that a steady wind was blowing in our face for the entire lesson.  After nearly a hundred balls I was caked; but was beaming with confidence. 😊

What is your toughest shot to execute?  Need any help with that?

Play well!

 

The Flip Wedge On The Par-5s

Intimidating wedge shot at The Legends -Moorland in Myrtle Beach, SC

Well it’s time for the first tournament of the year on Monday and it’s a scramble.  We’ve discussed strategy and preparation for scrambles before, but I’m taking a slightly different approach.  Generally, scrambles are all about driving, wedge play, and putting.  That much has not changed.  What I’ve struggled with is the short wedge shot on the par-5s.  You absolutely need this shot to birdie or eagle the fives to have a chance.  The flip wedge is not my strong suit and when playing my own ball, I play away from it.  Last time out, I was on a par-5 and drilled a drive and three-wood to 35 yards from the pin.  With no trouble in front of me, I had no clue how to hit the shot because I don’t practice it.  I would hate for the scramble team to have to lay back to a yardage on a par-5.  I simply need to learn this shot.   Whether playing a casual round or in a tournament, this shot can make the difference between an up-and-down birdie or a disappointing approach and two-putt.  Of course, there are times you’ll need to lay back, especially when there’s trouble 30-50 yards from the green.  Nobody wants a bunker shot of that length, but I want that flip wedge in my repertoire; I NEED that flip wedge!

Last Saturday, I took my first lesson of the year and addressed with my instructor.   He had me hit about 100 balls during the session, with nothing but my 58, 54, and 50.  We worked on partial swings with each club and he showed me the right way to hit these shots.  I learned that most amateurs take too big a backswing on partial wedge shots and try to control the shot by slowing the down swing.  This often results in an over-the-top pull or a chunk, because the hands and arms get way too active.  If you want to see if you’re susceptible, try hitting five full sand wedges and then pick a target 30 yards out and try to get it close.  When I did this, I bladed the first two.  It’s hard to swing close to full with a finesse club like a wedge and then throttle down.

I learned that you need to control the shot with your body.  Take a slightly open stance with the ball a little back of center and make a short backswing.  Then accelerate your lower body turn to make a good pivot.  This is where you get your swing speed, your aggressive strike, a small divot, that lower ball flight, and that sweet little check to stick it close.  You might hit it with a little cut spin, but that’s okay.  When you learn to control shots with your body and quiet the hands, you’ll have more success here and in every aspect of your short game.

Here’s a great drill.  If you are going to work your wedges, take a club and pick three targets at varying lengths and rotate every ball between them.  During the lesson, he had me hit my lob wedge at targets 60, 40, and 30 yards out, but never the same shot twice.  When you get comfortable with the length of the short backswings and driving the shot with your pivot, you’ll know you’re on the right track.  I’ve got the technique, definitely need to practice, and am excited to develop this new part of my game.

No more laying up on the par-5s!

Play well.

Improve Your Golf – A Plan That Works

Are you the type of player that enjoys golf more when you have moments of greatness mixed in with poor play?  Or do you get more satisfaction from a steady level of competent performances, no blow-up holes, but with little fanfare?  The answer depends largely on your personality and your preference for risk.  If we put a professional persona on each type, Phil Mickelson might be the roller coaster riding risk taker and Nick Faldo the solid performing steady eddie.  Each had comparable levels of success in major tournaments and across their careers, but were highly different in the way they built their records.  Because I’m generally risk adverse, I’m in the Faldo camp, how about you?

For those preferring a steady course, I have some advice that may help you get to the level of consistency you seek.  The following plan has been working for me for two months (which coincides with my last lesson of the season).  In that session, my instructor made a couple of key changes to my setup.  The specifics are not important because they are unique to me and not you.  The key takeaway is that they addressed fundamentals, and to improve and play consistent golf, it starts with a mastery of the fundamentals.  I know, not very profound, but without fundamentals, good course management and sensible practice habits will only get you so far.  If you want to get to a level of real consistency, you need to work to get the fundamentals ingrained so that you can strike the ball with confidence.  It’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario.  For years I worked on various techniques to improve my practice habits and course management.  But until I understood and could replicate the mechanics needed for good ball striking, my improvement was limited.  Seeking the advice from a pro is a start, not the end of your journey.  I’ve had to iterate through three years of lessons before I found the keys that resonated to a point where I feel I can take my game to an away course, in a variety of weather conditions, and know I have a good chance to play a successful round because my ball striking will not falter.

Being well prepared with the fundamentals is a good feeling.  Handling the smallest details are also important.  In my last lesson, I discussed a concern about my grip that I had always wondered about.  Use a long thumb or short thumb on my left hand.  I’ve read conflicting points on that in different instruction books.  Stupid little topic but if you’ve been switching back and forth over the years, how can you expect to build consistency into your swing?  So I had the discussion, got the recommendation (short) and have gone with that ever since.  It’s best to dialog and eliminate these inconsistencies because they create doubt.  Get them worked out because it provides a baseline of correctness you can start from when working on your swing.  Many of the fundamentals can be applied using different techniques and it’s important to pick a single approach and stick with it.  Elevate your baseline understanding of the fundamentals, work them continuously in practice, and you will gain the consistency you seek.

After the fundamentals, you must work to simulate game conditions during practice.  This is critical for those who have limited time to practice and for players having trouble transitioning from the practice tee to the golf course.  There are two aspects to focus on.  First is creating real pressure.  If you struggle with choking on or around the greens or having your range swing disappear on the golf course try the following:  Play 9-hole games of up-and-down and / or have putting matches with a friend or with yourself to simulate real round pressure.  Go through your full pre-shot routine on every chip, pitch, or putt.  Play for small wagers.  Next, head to the driving range, where you can play a simulated round on a familiar course, hitting all the tee shots and approach shots and varying targets on every swing.  Keep score in your head.  If you are playing poorly, don’t quit!  Learning how to handle adversity is an important skill that’s worth practicing.   Second is preparing to play shots you will need during your rounds.  Last Saturday, I was on the practice tee and it was sunny and 70 degrees.  I knew my round the next day would be played in 40 degree temps with heavy winds, so every iron shot I hit during my simulated round was a knock-down.  Somebody watching me may have been wondering what I was doing, hitting all these low bullets, but conditions the next day were difficult and I felt prepared, and was able to execute a lot of good low iron approaches.

How do you measure your success?  Your scores are the best indicator.  Say you are a 20-handicap and average between 90 and 100 strokes per round.  If you are improving your fundamentals and practicing correctly, you should hope to have a solid string of scores in the low 90s and occasionally break into the high 80s.  For lower handicap players the same holds true.  My current index is 4.4.  With my limited ability to play and practice I try to keep my scores under 80 and the current trend is good with the last seven in the 70s.

To truly improve, you need to seek professional instruction and focus on getting your fundamentals ironed out during the lessons.  Then dedicate 20% of your practice time to mechanics and 80% to the skills you’ll need on the course.  You’ll find the transition becomes seamless from practice to play.  Whether you hit it like Phil or Faldo, mastering the fundamentals and correcting the way you prepare will help you play better over time.  Give it a try.

Good luck and play well!

 

 

 

Leading Indicators Of Good Play

Can you correctly anticipate when you will play well or poorly?  What are the leading indicators?  My poor rounds are easier to predict and are usually preceded by a poor ball striking warm up.  Also, if I’ve practiced poorly the day before, it’s usually a bad omen.  If I find myself tired or disinterested, the hacks are usually coming.  Finally, if I’ve over-prepared, sometimes I’ll crash and burn.  Accordingly, it’s much harder to predict a good round.  I’ve been in awful slumps before and played great the following day with no rhyme or reason.  But this is the exception.  The one consistent leading indicator for a good round is that it’s preceded by good practice.

This was the case over the last couple of weeks.  Two Saturdays ago, I took a full swing lesson, which was excellent, and the following day  I tee’d it up and played poorly because I was thinking mechanically.  Last Thursday, I went to the range to try and fix things.  I laid my alignment sticks down and proceeded to strike it very poorly while trying to ingrain my lesson feedback.  What was wrong?  I couldn’t hit the ground if I fell from a tree.

I went out to the course on Saturday to try something new, which I will share because it worked.  My goal was to remove all vestiges of mechanics from my game and zero in on playing golf, not golf swing.  I’d use drills exclusively to improve my focus.  I had a round scheduled for The Links at Gettysburg the following day and I didn’t want to chop it up, but all leading indicators were pointing in that direction.

First, I went to the practice green and played nine holes of up and down.  The rules are simple; you throw a ball into a green-side lie and don’t improve your lie.  You chip or pitch to a cup, then putt until the ball is holed.  Even par is two strokes per hole.  The game is great for building focus because you are forced to use your vision.  An average day of playing this game yields a score of four or five over par, but previously I’ve played after chipping or pitching for an hour.  Here, I went right into it – from car trunk to game.  No warm up shots.  Final score; one-over par.

Next, I played nine holes on the putting green with one ball.  I varied the length of initial putts anywhere from 15 to 50 feet.  Again, par was two strokes per hole.  In this game, you mark your ball and go through your full on course pre-shot routine, really getting into game mode.  Again, there were no practice putts, just the game.  Final score; two under par.

Finally, I went to the driving range with a basket of about 50 balls.  I took six or seven warm-up shots with some wedges, a five-iron and driver.  Then played a full simulated 18 holes on a course of my choice.  During simulated rounds, you play a tee shot, any lay-ups, and all approaches.  Obviously there is no chipping or putting, and if you’re honest with yourself, your score usually approximates what you shoot during real rounds.  The drill is awesome for building focus especially when you start hitting recovery shots after wayward drives.  My course of choice was a local muni and previous simulated rounds usually yield about 75 to 80 strokes, which is close to what I usually shoot there.  On this day, I fashioned a 1-under 69.  I finished with about six balls remaining and just left them there.

The entire session lasted a bit under two hours and I drove home fully satisfied and thinking I had not practiced that well in two or three years.  Sure enough, the following day at Gettysburg, I played great and noticed I was focused like a laser, especially on my tee shots.

You get very excited in this game when you think you’re on to something.  Am I?  I know the key was that every drill and every shot was geared to help me play golf, not golf swing.   Tomorrow, the challenge will be if I can repeat the practice success using the exact same approach, but after a long day of work.  I hope it doesn’t rain 🙂

Do you have any leading indicators for good play?  Good luck if you do and please share. Play well!

 

 

Playing After A Lesson – Smart?

Have you ever played a round where you were bombing your driver and leaving yourself with some awesome looks at approach shots, but you subsequently bungled every one of them?  Last weekend I had my best driving day of the year but the 80 I shot at Poolesville was the absolute worst score I could have recorded for that very reason. The carnage included seven unforced errors from the “A-position”.   So yesterday I took my final lesson of the 2018 seasonal package in hopes that I could correct my awful iron play.  As usual, my instructor corrected something small just as we started (I was standing too far from the ball) and then we got to work on my major issues.  Of course, they were the same issues I’ve been dealing with my entire career, which is why they’re still issues.  We made great progress on the lesson tee and I booked a time at my club to play today.

What is your experience playing after a lesson?  Smart, not smart?  I think it depends on the lesson and where you are playing.  Last time I tried it the day after my putting lesson.  There was no adjustment period and was if someone else had possessed my body with the putter.  I made everything I looked at and the game was very easy.

Today was different.  Perhaps my club is not the best venue if you are working on swing mechanics because the first four holes at Blue Mash are very demanding and often require long iron approaches.  Last time out I hit four 3-irons on the first four holes.  It’s one of those stretches that if you start 3-over after four holes, you are playing fine.  Today it was 3-iron, 7-iron (downwind) from heavy rough, 3-iron, and another 3-iron.  Before my round I warmed up poorly with my 3-iron, but my approach on number one was pure and settled eight feet from the flag.  The second on #3 was good but went into a green-side bunker and I saved par.  The third was an awful pull hook (my big miss) and I made a lucky par out of some gnarly green-side rough.  On holes 5 and 6, I hit two stunning short iron shots that yielded a par and a birdie.  I was thrilled and it seemed I had it solved, but the problem was that I was playing golf swing and not golf.  The roof finally caved in on #8 after I laid the sod over a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway.

This has happened before after taking a lesson; it’s always been a full swing lesson, and I’m always thinking too much.  I guess I was encouraged after the easy success of the putting lesson.

My favorite thing in golf is to play.  Next favorite is to take lessons, and least favorite is to practice.  But I know I need practice on this one and will get out to the range a couple times before next weekend’s round.  What has been your experience playing after a lesson?

Stay tuned: course review is coming from next weekend’s venue:  The Links at Gettysburg!

Play well!

Tips For Playing Golf Swing (If You Have To)

What’s awesome about golf is that you learn something new every time you play or practice.  As you may or may not know, I’m in the midst of a two-year experiment to overhaul my game.  I’m trying to get better at every facet and last year took four full swing lessons and one playing lesson.  This year, I’ve had a full swing lesson, a short game lesson, and am excited to go for my first putting lesson on Saturday.  As I work through the instruction, practice, and play, several themes continually emerge.

Theme 1:  Be Your Own Best Friend.  Change is difficult, especially after doing things one way for over 40 years.  It’s best to acknowledge that and while you enjoy the improvements, don’t beat yourself up during setbacks or while hitting the occasional bad shot.  Practice talking to yourself in an encouraging fashion.  Many players including myself have criticized themselves after a physical mistake, but try not to.  It’s okay to be more critical of mental miscues because they’re easier to control, but give yourself a break after a bad swing; you’re human.

Theme 2:  Integrate Feel Into Your Practice.  When you warm up before play, never work on your swing.  The easiest way to do this is to switch clubs and targets on every shot.  When you practice your swing, it’s fine to work on mechanics, but finish up with some drills to work on your mental game and touch.  It will help you transition more easily to the course.

Playing golf during a period of sustained instruction is hard because your tendency is to think mechanics on the course.  To help, try practicing your full game the day before you play.  While hitting balls, leave the last 20 to play an imaginary nine holes at a familiar course.  This gets your mind in sync with the natural cadence of play and for using different targets.  Around the practice green, throw balls into different lies and don’t improve the lies.  Hit the shots with a variety of clubs.  Try to flight them as low as possible.  Low ball flight is easier to judge distance and helps you visualize the shot.  Playing it as it lies builds mental toughness.  Vision and intestinal fortitude are two essentials.

Theme 3:  Know your tendencies.  If you are taking instruction, you will identify your common mishit and work to get it out of your game.  Mine is a pull hook.  When it occurs on the course, acknowledge it and move on.  Do not think it’s something new that’s crept into your game and do not start searching for a swing thought on every shot until you happen to hit a good one.  This is the most difficult thing about playing during periods of instruction because you’ll probably be thinking about a swing key, even if you’d prefer not to.  Keep working on what you are trying to do, not what you are trying to avoid.  It’s the only way to remain sane.

Theme 4:  Understand your physical limitations.  95% of amateurs have overactive hands and arms and under-active core muscles.  They will pull and slice the ball.  This is the most common miss and is usually caused by casting the club (early release).  Conversely, look at the pros who rip the ball.  Rory, DJ, Koepka, Tiger, Jason Day.  They all build up their big muscles because they understand power comes from leveraging their core.  These guys all look like football players and you will never hit it like them, but you can work your core muscles and build power and stamina into your game.  I pay specific attention to my back, butt, and hips.  I may not crush the ball like Brooks, but my body no longer aches after I’ve walked 18 holes and that’s a reasonable measuring stick.  Also, know that when you get fatigued, your core muscles will suffer first and making good swings is increasingly difficult.  Definitely exercise your core and if you can, walk when you play.  If it’s hot, take a cart.  If 18 holes is all you can manage, don’t try for 36.  I keep relearning this last one and probably will until I’m no longer playing.

I look forward to hearing if these tips work for you.

Play well!

Can You Trust A Bad Swing?

Relaxing at Pawleys Island, SC

Readers of Bob Rotella books know that one of his favorite axioms is, “Train it, trust it.”  The idea is to practice enough so your body will naturally recall the proper swing mechanics without trying to force them.  This is truly the best way to play golf, but what if you’re out on the course and feel your swing slipping away to the point that you cannot trust it?  What do you do?  You have two options:

  1. Work on your mechanics and try to fix your swing
  2. Try to change your perspective of the shots you need to hit.  In essence, fool your mind into getting comfortable because a couple fairways in a row will do wonders for your confidence.  Tiger does this by hitting that stinger with his three wood when he loses confidence in the driver.

Try number two.  You should do it by taking any club you feel you can make an aggressive swing with to hit the fairway.  Say, you usually hit driver on a 500 yard par-5.  A good shot leaves you 260 yards in, but a bad swing might put you in the woods and looking at a big number.  Instead, hit a four or five iron off the tee.  From the fairway, you now have maybe 330 yards in.  That’s still just a short par-4 which you should be able to hit with two more shots, and presto, you are right back in the hole.

There is another approach gleaned from the great mystery of why we play great one day and awful the next.  It’s truly mind boggling and all golfers have tried to solve for this at one point in time.  I believe it has something to do with your natural bio-rhythms.  These are the brain synapses that fire and guide your central nervous system.  They control your ability to concentrate, your stress level, your hand-eye coordination, your pleasure and pain receptors, and just how you feel from day to day.   Example:  Today I was at my local muni practicing and hit the ball quite awful.  Couldn’t tell where it was going and actually thinned a couple off the hozel.  The day before, I was at another course working short game and my touch was superb.  Oddly enough, the good practice was preceded by a frustrating day at work and I didn’t feel like practicing and forced myself to.  Yet, that had no impact on my performance.  Why?  Ultimately, I think the environment you’re in and comfort level has a lot to do with your performance.

Control the environment and you control your ability to relax.  Relax and you play better.  For me, it’s the avoidance of feeling crowded and being in tight spaces.  I get tense in traffic jams, shopping malls, in long lines, and even on crowded beaches.  When I’m tense on the golf course, my game goes in the crapper.  Conversely, when I loosen up and relax, I perform much better.  The course I practiced at yesterday is much less populated than my local muni.  There’s plenty of room to spread out and work all your shots.  Nobody gets in anyone’s way.  I always seem to practice well there.  On the other hand, my muni is the popular hangout.  Today was 80 degrees and it was packed, but it’s always crowded.  My practice and play are spotty at this track.  I’m much more relaxed at the first course and therefore perform better.  Tomorrow, I play at Rattlewood, where I’ve had considerable success.  I always seem to warm up well before my round and that relaxes me.  Oddly enough, the driving range was constructed with a slight upgrade from left to right for all hitting stations.  Ding on whomever poured the foundation, but this silly little nuance forces me to start hitting the ball right to left during my warm-up, and that’s a ball flight I’m comfortable with.

Need more evidence?  Think of some courses you play regularly.  Do you routinely play well at some and hack on others?  The pros do.  I travel to Myrtle Beach every year and always play good on the same courses.  Legends-Heathland, Thistle, Oyster Bay, and True Blue come to mind.  Some of these are hard tracks, but the common factor is that I like the look of the tee shots.  They’re generally a little more open, have great sight lines, and distinct targets.  I feel relaxed and loose and can let the shaft out.  Other courses like TPC of Myrtle, Legends-Moorland, and Heritage are super tight off the tee and I struggle with every round.  I feel squeezed on the tee box and always worry about keeping it in play, and I usually don’t.

In summary, my two keys.

  1. Trust your swing. If you can’t, find a conservative shot you can trust
  2. Practice and play at venues where you feel relaxed

Got any others?  Please share and play well!

Still relaxed at Oyster Bay, Sunset Beach, NC

The Golf Gap: Connecting The Dots

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

 

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.

Good luck with your gap analysis and play well!

After a rainy round at TPC of Myrtle Beach

 

First Tee, Fast Start!

You get to your golf course early.  Hit a large bucket of balls, work on your chipping and pitching, then then putt for 20 minutes.  You’re fully warmed up, mentally comfortable and step to the first tee.  You then proceed to knock one out of bounds or cold top your tee shot.  Or worse yet, you hit the fairway and lay the sod over your approach shot.  What went wrong?  Why are you so out of kilter?  Has this ever happened to you?

A lot has been written about the first tee jitters, but this is more than combating nerves. It’s about conditioning your mind.  Most of last season, and early this year, I was plagued by these poor starts, but I’ve learned there are several tricks you can play on yourself to ease the transition from warm up to game time.

Don’t discount the need to warm-up physically, and you should experiment to learn how many swings you need.  When I was younger, I would often start my round just as the sun was coming up but without the benefit of any warm up.  I’d notice that it took about four holes until I had my golf senses fully activated and I was in rhythm.  Doing the math, I figured this came out to about 12-15 full swings.  Now, I’ll stretch, and hit a minimum of 15 balls (five sand wedges, five 7-irons, and five drivers) and that’s what I require to get loose.  Then, I’ll start work on the mental side by simulating play of the first two holes of the course using my full pre-shot routine.  I’ll sight targets with my range finder, check wind direction, pull the right club and hit.  In essence, I’m getting my brain into game mode from warm-up mode.  This is an important concept because most folks rake range ball after range ball when practicing or warming up.  When you rake, there’s little focus and no consequences.  Hit a bad shot and just pull another.  During the simulation, you pressure yourself to hit a good shot.  This is what most players struggle with on the first hole because their brains are in rake mode, not consequence mode.  Get to consequence mode and you’ll feel more relaxed.  You should feel like you played your course but reversed the nines.  You want to feel like you are hitting your tee shot on #1 with nine holes under your belt.

Next, I’ll move to the putting green and roll putts of various lengths for about five minutes.  Then I’ll take one ball and start playing holes.  The key is to make it hard on yourself.  Start with a 50-foot putt from the fringe.  Mark your ball, go through your full pre-shot routine on every putt and hole everything out.  Don’t worry if you three-putt because the goal here is not to score but to feel some pressure.  Make all the starting putts difficult.  Use big breakers, downhillers, and long uphill putts.  This is game mode.

Both the physical and mental warm-up are important.  Most courses have a practice putting green where you can do the majority of your work.  But some don’t have a driving range.  The next best thing to driving balls is hitting bunker shots.  It’s essentially a full swing and the impact of club into sand will jar your golf muscles and senses into order.  Hit 10 or 15 bunker shots and you’ll be close to warmed up.  With no bunker, try hitting pitch shots and then playing a short game of up-and-down.

The key is to trick your mind into thinking you are in game mode during warm-up.  These are the techniques I’ve successfully employed.  Give them a try and let me know if they work for you.

Play well!

Halfway Point Discoveries

Last weekend I played my 20th round of the year.  Tomorrow I embark on the inward half of the journey to completing 40 for the season.  The news is mostly good.

After finishing a series of four lessons with my instructor, I’ve seen payoff in three primary areas; driving distance, consistency of contact with the fairway woods, and accuracy with the wedges inside 100 yards.  The latter of which was my primary reason for seeking professional assistance.  The long iron game remains a work in progress.  Mentally, I’m more at peace around the greens after switching back to my old Cleveland Tour Action sand wedge.

What’s most encouraging is my ability to play a good round right after a bad one, and I attribute that to the conviction in my approach.  During a period of learning, your swing WILL fall off the rails, but rather than search for a band-aid, if you return to the fundamentals you are trying to correct, more often than not, you will have your fix.  Fans of Tiger Woods know that when he changed instructors to Sean Foley, he entered a perpetual state of playing golf swing instead of playing golf.  He became an engineer instead of an artist.  This is to be avoided at all costs and my goal is to move steadily away from engineering to artistry.  I’m still at some point in between but the difference is that when I hit a bad shot, I can take comfort knowing that it’s just the old habits reappearing.

Whether you’re an engineer or artist, at the end of the day, we measure improvement by score.  2016 concluded with my index rising to a recent historical high of 6.3.  It’s down to 4.9 which is super encouraging since I’ve just completed the most difficult stretch of the season (Myrtle Beach trip).  I had one goal at the beginning of the year and that was to improve to 10+ GIR.  Through the tough stretch, I’m still between eight and nine but my index is down which is telling me my proximity performance with the wedges has improved.  I also feel more confident with my short game.  Now as I distance myself from the bi-weekly instruction, it will be interesting to see how quickly I can return to thinking about shots rather than mechanics.

So the learning process has been very satisfactory.  One final note on instruction.  My last lesson included only 15 minutes on the practice tee and then we went for a four-hole playing lesson.  Get a playing lesson if you can.  The time spent on the course with my instructor watching every aspect of my game was invaluable.  I picked up information on ball position for bunker shots, course management, club selection, and a simple putting tip that made a huge difference in my round the following day (took only 27 putts).

See you on the lesson tee and play well!

What are the Do’s and Don’ts of taking a golf lesson?

World class instructor Hank Haney with Charles Barkley.
Photo by Associated Press

As golf season gets ramped up, many of us will be investing in lessons in an effort to improve.  High handicappers right down to touring professionals all benefit from formal instruction.  I took my first lesson of the season last weekend and have scheduled a series every two weeks for the balance of the spring.  I’m reminded of a few Do’s and Don’ts when taking lessons:

Do:

  1. When you sign up for lessons, ensure your instructor has the “PGA” acronym after his/her name.  Some courses and training facilities employ instructors or managers who give golf lessons at a discounted price.  If they aren’t PGA certified, don’t go for it.  Membership in the Professional Golfers Association is an indicator that your instructor has spent the necessary time in the business, has been formally trained on how to teach, and has given many lessons.
  2. Prior to or during your first lesson, set clear expectations with your instructor.  Let them know your skill level, current handicap (if you keep one), what your goals are, and how much time you have to devote to practice.  You may get a completely different lesson if you indicate you plan on practicing every day, compared to if you can only devote one day per week.
  3. During instruction, ask questions!  Your level of engagement will often get you a better lesson.  Golf pros are human.  They get bored at work too and often perform better when fully engaged with their students.  If something doesn’t feel right or if you’re getting it and enjoying the success, dialog it.
  4. Take full swing lessons outdoors on the range.  Some instructors will teach at indoor facilities and you can make improvements using a simulator, but there is no substitute for seeing actual ball flight.  Sometimes what feels good on a simulator may not be the shot pattern you want.
  5. At the completion of your lesson, reiterate with your instructor two or three key points that you’re going to work on until the next lesson.
  6. Practice between lessons.  Sometimes during a lesson, you may perform poorly because the changes you’re making are difficult to implement.  Try and get out multiple times between lessons and reinforce what you’ve been shown, and do it at your own pace.  Often, you will “get it” during practice, because you’re able to take your time and you won’t feel like you’re being watched.
  7. World class instructor Hank Haney advocates taking 100 swings per day in your back yard.  Do this even if you can’t hit balls and try to feel the change you’re working on.  It’s the fastest way to ingrain the new feel.

Don’t:

  1. Try and change too much at once.  Learning can be confusing, and we learn best by focusing on one concept at a time.  Sometimes even a seasoned professional will give you too much to think about.  The pro wants you to succeed and if the first or second swing change doesn’t immediately work, they can introduce more in an effort to find something that resonates.  When this happens, tell your pro you’d like to focus on one concept and ask what that should be.
  2. Play the day after a lesson and expect to score well.  Your mind will be in mechanical mode and you will be playing “golf swing” not golf.  Forget your score and just focus on enjoying your time in the outdoors and trying to focus on the changes you’re trying to implement.
  3. Seek swing tips from your inexperienced playing partners.  Best to stick with your pro’s advice and remember the old axiom, “Amateurs teach amateurs to play like amateurs.”
  4. Fail to practice between lessons and then claim you got a bad lesson when the changes don’t work on the golf course.
  5. Forget about short game and putting.  Instruction is not all about full swing, although the vast majority of lessons are given on the practice tee.  Ask your professional about a short game lesson or if they’ll take you out on the course and play a few holes to help you with your course management.

Got any more Do’s and Don’ts?  Please share and good luck if you’re taking lessons.  Play well!

The Best Golf Lesson Ever!

It was Saturday, June 5th and I was at True Blue in Myrtle Beach, and I could not make solid contact on the driving range while warming up for my round.  I thought I was simply gassed from playing so much golf on the trip but that was not the case.  Two weeks later on June 19, I had an awful time trying to hold my swing together during a round at Poolesville.  My poor strikes were starting to put pressure on the other parts of my game and my attitude soured.  Was I was facing mid-season burnout?  The next weekend, I practiced down in Delaware and took swing video during a rough ball striking session.  I spotted several things I didn’t like and tried to implement fixes but nothing worked.  Last Wednesday was the final straw.  I went to my school field with a bag shag and a sand wedge and discovered I could not advance the ball 70 yards.  I left despondent.  The next morning I called for a lesson with Justin Keith, the PGA pro at Falls Road Golf Course in Potomac, MD.

The lesson:

I arrived at the course and warmed up for 10 minutes.  On the five minute ride to the lesson tee, Justin took my history and golf vital signs.  I didn’t reveal I was a mental basket case, just that for the last seven years, I’d averaged 8 GIR per round and wanted to improve the consistency of my ball striking.  He asked if I had taken any recent lessons or been working on anything in particular.  I told him my last lesson was a few years ago where it was pointed out that I lose my spine angle on the downswing, and that the fault would be a very hard to correct.  Essentially, it was the source of my inconsistency.  He understood and we went to work.

He had me hit half a dozen 7-irons and videoed my last swing on his tablet.  We sat down in the cart and reviewed my swing.  I had two problems.  One was a cupped left wrist at the top of my back swing which was getting me off plane.  The second, which was likely a result of the first, was a downswing initiated with my hands instead of my body.  This was the reason I was pull hooking long irons, hitting wedges fat, and push cutting everything else.   He pointed out that in my follow through, I had a big chicken wing with my left elbow, and that was an indicator that I hadn’t rotated through the ball but had released early.  He also thought that I’ve been able to maintain a 5-handicap with this move because I could time my down swing well enough to square the club face at the impact.  But when my timing was off, I had no chance.

Then we worked for a half hour just hitting nine-o-clock to three-o-clock punch shots with my 7 and 5-irons.  On my back swing, he had me flatten out the back of my left wrist using Dustin Johnson as a mental image.  DJ bows his wrist more than anyone, but this thought worked great.  On the down swing I worked to initiate the move with a bump of my left hip.  On the follow through, he told me to cut it off halfway, with both my arms fully extended and elbows close together (to get rid of that chicken wing).  This was hard and felt very weird at first, but after a few swings I noticed that when I executed I had easily maintained my spine angle without even trying.  The thought of the spine angle fix as an artifact of the other changes filled me with tremendous hope and enthusiasm.

At the conclusion, Justin videoed my last swing and we went back to the cart to view.  He showed me the correction I had implemented along with a down the line shot of Hunter Mahan in his follow through, and how I had gotten much closer to the ideal position.  I thanked Justin and with my head full of positions and excitement, went home for lunch.

Here’s a picture of my follow through with a 6-iron.  Notice the chicken wing left elbow:

Chicken Wing Follow Through

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here’s a picture of Hunter Mahan down the line with a 5-iron.  Notice how he’s fully extended his arms and how his elbows are close together and how he’s retained his spine angle.  This is the image I’m working to get to:

Hunter Mahan Down The Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implementing the change:

After lunch I went out to my course for a large bucket of 7-iron punch shots, just trying to get the feeling of the new positions and to initiate the downswing with my body.  The contact was excellent and the ball flight lower than normal but very straight and controlled.  I finished with a few sand wedges and discovered I had regained 15 yards of distance that had mysteriously disappeared a few years ago.  The only issue was that all this work had been done off a mat.

The next day, I headed out to Blue Mash for an extended practice session off the turf.  My first indicator of progress was that my divots were flying straight with the gap wedge and 7-iron.  Previously even well struck shots had my divots flying left with that early release.  Again, contact was good, and I mixed in some 4-irons.  Later I added some 3WDs and a few drivers.  Towards the end of the session I started to hit some loose shots with the 3WD and driver, but figured I may have been getting tired since I had hit the equivalent of six buckets of balls in the last two days.  So I rested the next few days and went to work 🙂

Thursday after work I hit a bucket off the mat and received excellent feedback with the gap wedge and 7-iron and I began to experiment with different ball positions and hitting knock-down shots.  I was pleased that I could now control trajectory better by moving the ball back or forward and rely on maintaining  good contact.

On the course:

A special shout out goes to The Grateful Golfer.  Jim had recommended that during my learning, I mix in 9-hole rounds of play without keeping score.  What an excellent idea!  I did that yesterday on my executive nine and was pleased with the results.  While shooting at actual targets, of my 11 full swings I only missed one.  It was the old swing, but the number of new good ones was very satisfactory.  I hit 7 greens and a fringe and the single I joined up with was impressed enough to ask for the name of my teaching pro.

What’s next:

The back swing position is starting to feel natural but the down swing and follow through need more reps.  I have also not hit a driver on the course yet.  I could probably play real golf with this move if I had to but will not rush it and will use the balance of July to keep working the move and getting comfortable with the driver.  Hopefully my play will take off in August.

A special thanks goes to Justin Keith.  In the past, I’ve taken a lot of golf lessons.  Some good, some mediocre, some poor.  This was the simplest most productive, and well timed instruction I’ve ever had.  If you are in the DMV and need help with your golf game, call Justin at 301-299-5156 or email him at jkeith@mcggolf.com Thanks Justin!

Play well everyone.