Tag Archives: learning

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!   

First Professional Putting Lesson

Tom Watson once said, “Mechanics are about 10 percent of putting. . .feel is 90 percent, but good mechanics lead to good feel.”  Today, I got straightened out on both.  If you’ve never had a professional putting lesson, it will be well worth your hard earned dollars to get one.  The trained set of eyes a pro can provide is invaluable.  Here’s how my first ever putting lesson played out.

My instructor is great because there are no preconceived notions of what a lesson will look like.  He always asks what I am working on and trying to solve for and tailors the instruction accordingly.  Today, I told him I thought I wasn’t a bad putter but wanted to be a great putter.  I average between 31 and 32 putts per round and have a good feel for distance since I’ve been using a system of pacing off putts that I learned from Ian Hardie.  My problem for the last two years has been direction.  Basically, I don’t trust my ability to aim the putter.  If I can’t trust my aim, I lack confidence.  Recently I’ve had some success on longer putts using the line on the golf ball as an alignment aid, but have struggled with this on putts I should make.

As we got going, he asked me to start with a few flat 20 footers and to verbally take him through my routine as I read the green, rehearsed the stroke, and executed.  I hit these well but he noticed I was lining the putt up more towards the toe of my Ping Answer.  The trouble manifested itself when we changed to a small right to left four foot putt.  We agreed the line I wanted was on the right edge of the cup.  I used the line on the ball to aim the shot but when each of us viewed the line from behind the ball, we saw different aiming points.  I thought I had lined it up on the right edge, but he saw it aimed right at the middle of the cup.  Jeez-o-flip!  It was there that we agreed I should not be using the line on the ball because I couldn’t trust that I could aim it straight.  Visions of Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money were coming to mind.  Was my vision hosed?  Did I need corrective glasses?  Turns out, no.  I learned the issue was my failure to line the putt up on the center of the club face.  In addition, I was making a little too much forward press and fanning the blade open a bit.  I made the mechanical corrections and started banging them straight on my chosen line – confidence back!  It is a tremendous relief knowing I can stand over a putt, see nothing but white on the golf ball, and aim it straight at my target.

Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money. Photo by agefotostock.com

It’s hard to believe but PGA professionals sink only 50% of their putts from eight feet.  They are putting on greens that are faster and more difficult than you or I will ever putt on but even so, I’d love to make 50% of my 8-footers.  My failures hit hard last week when I missed an easy 4-foot birdie putt, and didn’t even hit the hole because I wasn’t sure where I was aiming it.  It was then that I knew I needed a lesson.

The final takeaway was to put an alignment aid on my 40 year old Ping Answer.  As it was, there were no markings and my pro felt I should have a dot over the sweet spot so I don’t have any more toe spanks.  The paint is drying as I’m finishing this post.

Hope you are rolling it pure and playing 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!

2015 Golf Goals

TargetOne of the great artifacts from this off season has been the awesome dialog from the blogging community regarding lessons learned from the previous year, and the ideas being shared for improvement in 2015.  A special thanks to  Vet4golfing51, The Grateful Golfer, and TheBirdieHunt for their thoughtful feedback and willingness to dialog new thoughts and observations.  I feel like a kid at Christmas with all these goodies to immerse in, and then step back and choose a favorite or two to work with.

A few overarching themes are taking the lead when formulating an improvement plan for 2015.

  1. Get back to fundamentals
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Be willing to let your golf swing come to you rather than trying to force one.

All worthy endeavors, but I need to get a little more specific to implement.  As most of you know, I’m a stickler for measurement, statistics, and planning.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that in my anal retentiveness, I’ve charted every practice session I’ve had since 2007 with notes and a letter grade.  That’s 320 individual events with feedback on full swing, short game, and putting.  I’ve also got playing notes from every one of my 35+ rounds per year for the last eight years.  With all this great data, I decided to mine it and look for what consistently worked in the past.  I would then leverage just a few ideas for 2015  and keep it as simple as possible.

Method:  The approach was to filter on only practice sessions with a grade of A or A-minus and ignore everything else.  That left 40 of the 320 to work with.  Then I filtered on playing notes for only rounds considered excellent (3-over par or better), and tried to observe some commonality.  Three themes kept repeating themselves (two full swing and one short game).  On the full swing, I need to shorten my back swing.  This makes sense because it’s easier to maintain my spine angle with a shorter back swing and some of my best ball striking days were using this swing thought.  I know from film study that losing my spine angle is the root of all evil.  Second, I need to take the club back on more of an outside path.  Getting it too far inside and setting it promotes an over the top move and the dreaded dead pull.  On the short game, I simply need to focus on making more of a turn and pivot on all shots.  Treat it like the mini-swing that it is and not just an arm action.  That’s it.  I will focus on those three during practice and hopefully think “target” on the course and trust that my preparation will transition.

Metrics:  No plan is complete without the ability to measure yourself.  You need achievable goals but targets that are not easy to reach.  Hitting a goal should illicit a feeling of accomplishment.  Such was the case in 2014 when I missed on all my KPIs but not by much.  As with most golfers, the GIR is the top performance indicator.  If I can stick to my practice plan, I expect to average 10 GIR per round ( up from 8.47).  If my ball striking improves to 10 greens per round, my secondary goals of lowering stroke average to 78.5 from 79.97 should be achievable.  I’m not setting a putts per round target this year because an increase in GIRs may be accompanied by a higher number of total putts because of fewer up and down opportunities.  Putts per green in regulation would feel like a better KPI, but I’m not interested in going that deep so I’ll keep it at GIR and scoring average.

There you have it.  What are your thoughts about this approach?  Would you do anything different?  Do you have targets for 2015?