Tag Archives: swing

Keys to Good Putting

Putting is such an individualized art that I debated before writing a post/tutorial on improvement, but looking back at the full body of work which was the 2013 golf season, there was a lot of change that positively impacted my game and putting was tops.  After a full year of playing with new irons and wedges, and being set back with a mid-season hip injury, and constantly fighting wrist and elbow tendonitis, I was surprised in the significant strides I made in game improvement, and that is mostly attributed to better putting.  My 36-inch Ping Answer is still in the bag after 30 years, so it’s not equipment related; I’ve simply learned how to use it better.

Getting to the point where you consider yourself to be a good putter is quite rewarding and promotes a certain level of confidence every time you tee it up.  I always thought of myself as pretty good on the shorties, but woefully inadequate with distance control outside of the 30-40 foot range, and as a result, the victim on many unnecessary three-putts.  What follows are the list of keys I’ve developed this year that have helped me.  Give them a try and see if they can help you too.

Key #1 – Pre stroke:  Through my career, I have been plagued by inconsistency in the area of reading breaking putts.  I would frequently alter technique between sighting an intermediate target, or one equidistant from the hole, or using the hole itself.  I found that by aligning myself with the selected amount of break but then sighting the hole while taking my practice strokes gave me the best feel for distance.  On long putts, I take the practice stroke with my right hand only, but on any length, you need to look at the hole.  If you are chronically short, the right hand only practice stroke helps immensely.  Not sure why, but it does.

Key #2 – Posture:  Every wonder why on certain days your stroke feels silky smooth but on others you’re like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift, and you focus on the exact same setup?  Used to happen to me all the time but  I’ve found that to promote a smooth stroke all the time, it helps to arch your back.  Yes, the key to making a good athletic full swing is also critically important for allowing  your arms to swing the putter head more freely and consistently.

Key #3 – Elbows in tight:  Early in the year, I was pull-cutting my putts and couldn’t figure out why until a friend noticed my shoulders were open at address.  You must have square shoulders and the best way I’ve found to keep them square is to touch both your elbows lightly to your sides at address and keep them there during your stroke.  Check the down the line view in a tall mirror and make sure you can see both your forearms lined up parallel to your intended target line.

Key #4 – Rock it!  This is the most controversial because there are two schools of thought on making a stroke.  You either rock your shoulders or deliberately take the putter on an inside to inside swing path.  I’ve found that if you go with Key #3, you must make a rocking motion and the best way to promote this is to feel like you’re driving your right shoulder down and under during the down swing.

Key #5- Use the Two Tee Drill during warmup.  12-15 balls is all it takes.  I wrote a post when I tried this early in August and have been killing the shorties ever since.  Just love it!

I’ve employed the above keys and enjoyed consistent putting over a very protracted duration.  Figured I’d better get them down before I forgot everything over the winter hibernation.  Give these a try and good luck!

What Are Your Winter Golf Plans?

Golfers in the northern climates, have you shut your season down yet?  I always get a bit of the blues this time of year when the season end is in site, but today’s practice session offered a ray of hope.

I went to the driving range to work on my swing for the first time since June.  Readers of this blog know that I have foregone swing practice this year for more frequent play.  I can attest to the soundness of this approach after reviewing the full body of work since I made the decision and the results I turned in during my trip to Alabama three weeks ago.  Without the benefit of any swing preparation, I had one of the best ball striking weeks in recent memory.  Sure, you can hit it good on any given day, but keeping my head free of swing thoughts for a full week and performing for the duration sold me on the approach.

So I hadn’t hit a ball for 15 days and figured I’d better get a few swings in before next weekend’s final mini-golf trip to the Delaware shore.  I pounded a bucket at the range with essentially the same move that was working in Alabama and enjoyed continued success.  After finishing up, I rolled a few putts before heading home for the final time this year, and then some complete stranger walked over to me and asked me if I wanted some more range balls.  Not sure what was going on, I accepted and this guy proceeded to give me tokens for seven buckets of balls, for free.  Then he just walked off.

That little random act of kindness brightened my day and I had brief visions of heading back to the range ala Vijay Singh and banging another four or five hundred balls, but I came to my senses and threw them in my golf bag.  Maybe the season is not over quite yet.

So to that mysterious stranger I say, “thank you very much!”  For the rest of you, is your season over or otherwise?

Desk Jockeys: Play Better Golf!

I finally figured out why they call us desk jockeys and not desk athletes.  Do you ever get to that point mid-round where your game starts to fall apart and you don’t know why?  Usually it’s a couple of loose swings that leave you in bad spots.  Then you begin to press to get back on track.  It can be doubly frustrating if you’ve gotten off to a good start – you know the feeling.  It became apparent yesterday when the Bill Shoemaker pull hook made an unwelcome return appearance.

Our on-course struggles can usually be traced back to habits or swing faults that are old and tough to break.  Readers who viewed my on-line lesson with FixYourGame.com know my fault is losing my spine angle on the downswing.   As a result my swing path gets too shallow and I release the club too early, creating the pull hook.  Understanding the problem is the first step but correcting is difficult.  What’s rewarding is making a fix mid-round, and being able to save your score in the face of a budding catastrophe, which I managed to do yesterday.

I knew that this move is caused because my body sometimes slips into a nonathletic position at address and I think it’s tied to my years of sitting poorly for long periods of time at work.  Special thanks to thebirdiehunt for his recent post on good posture which turned on the light bulb for me.

Pinehurst #2 - 17 tee
Poor address posture.
Adam Scott From Allexperts.com
Adam Scott
From Allexperts.com

For desk jockeys with bad posture, there’s a couple of things you can try.

  1. Visualization:  See the photo of me at address with my rounded back and shoulders.  This is a poor position to start from and I’m not ready to make a good athletic move.  Then look at the image of Adam Scott with his straight back, chin up, knees flexed and spine angle set.  He’s ready to unleash some serious power.  It helps me when I address the ball and retain the image of his setup.
  2. Over correct the swing fault.  I’ve tried many drills to fix the posture issue.  The most beneficial is the chair drill, where you take a back swing and a down swing and keep your rear end in contact with an object standing behind you.  Use a bag stand, wall, or otherwise.  Here I’m using a chair from my patio.

    Chair Drill
    Chair Drill

As part of my fitness workout, I take 50 swings and stay in contact with the chair.  In my round yesterday, I imagined staying in contact with the chair and was able to make good swings and eliminate the pull hook.  A word of caution:  you should be very comfortable with a drill you call on during play, otherwise, it will probably work for one or two swings before something else goes wrong.

Understanding your faults is half the battle.  Know that when you hit a bad shot, it’s probably the result of something you’ve done wrong in the past.  Work to identify your faults and get with your professional to develop a plan to correct.  Recognize them when they occur during play, and don’t panic.  Good luck and play well!

Learning The Same Lesson Over and Over

Golfers, more than athletes of any sport need to be reminded of the old adage that says, “If you keep doing what you’ve done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve got.”  This takes the same form as “practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent,” and today I relearned that lesson the hard way.

For some reason I periodically feel compelled to practice mechanics during my pre-round warm-up and I know you should never do this.  My guess is that today, I felt compelled to catch up from yesterday because I didn’t practice and subconsciously felt unprepared to play.  Or maybe it was the fact that I forgot to bring my golf shoes to the course and was going brain dead in general, but I know that your warm-up is designed to get your body and mind ready to play and you should avoid all mechanical preparation.  Last week, I had practiced the day before and felt prepared to play on game day.  During my pre-round warm-up, I was off kilter and searched successfully for a minor swing key to get me through the round.  This type of adjustment is okay but going out and deliberately working on mechanics is not.  Why do golfers do this?  I know I’m not alone here.

So, today, I hit the range for warm-ups determined to keep my arms and chest connected, and I put a head cover under my left armpit for a dozen swings or so to work that good solid feeling.  On or about the 8th hole, I started to pull the ball.  Struggling to recover as the pull became a pull hook, I managed to make the turn in 1-over 37, but was clearly starting to rearrange mental deck chairs.  Smothering nearly every shot, I bogeyed #10, lost two balls on #11 on my way to a snowman, and continued to fight the hook through the 16th hole.  Having already hit the proverbial iceberg, I finally realized standing on #17 tee that the head cover drill had pulled my hands too low on the back swing and I was attacking the ball from a swing path that was much too shallow and from the inside.  I made the adjustment but the damage had been done and 47 strokes later, I had my 84 and made my way to the parking lot humbled and exhausted.  The only thing worse than having a knock down drag out with your golf swing is doing it when you’re walking and it’s over 90 degrees and humid.

So I take some solace in the fact that I figured out what was going on with my swing, but was left to wonder why I periodically have to relearn the same hard lesson.  Has this ever happened to you and if so, same lesson or a different one?

Stick To Your Game Plan!

Henrik Stenson by Golf Week
Henrik Stenson by Golf Week

Love this post by 3underthru2 on Henrik Stenson’s work ethic.  The message of committing to steady improvement is clearly directed to everyone but applies specifically to us desk jockey’s who try to capture a swing thought at the range and adapt it to our once-a-weekend round of golf.  I’m as guilty as the next guy, and admittedly Stenson’s approach is easier dialoged than implemented.  The closest I’ve come is when I play my ten rounds in six day marathons in Myrtle Beach.  I don’t let any individual hole or round get to me and view the entire trip as a process, not a handful of individual results.  But playing that much golf is not the norm.

Fast forward to the current state and I find myself coming off the worst statistical ball striking round of the year last weekend (3 GIR), but almost fully healed from my hip injury sustained July 7, and heading out to play a very hilly and difficult ball striking course at Little Bennett today.  Last week, I took the view of my round as part of a recovery period or journey and was actually quite satisfied with myself for managing my game while dealing with a pull or pull hook on every shot as I continued to over-compensate for lack of hip strength with an over-the-top move.  I kept the driver in the bag most of the day and despite my lack of control, carded a 9-over 80 at Poolesville.

I know I need to re-synch my timing by getting my hips to fire and pull my upper body through the shot, but can I commit to a single approach, as Stenson says, and not deviate when the frustration of a tough ball-striking course presents itself?  I have a plan today and I think I can stick to it, but often struggle to stick to my plans when adversity strikes.  Does this happen to you?

In war, they say you can “plan, plan, plan, but when the shooting starts, throw out the plan.”  I’m gonna try to stick to this plan today if it’s the last thing I do.  Wish me luck!

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!

Darth Vader – The Skinny Chip Shot

Darth VaderThe Force is not with me and I’ve been trying to clear my head lately on an area of my game I used to consider a strength (chipping) but the proverbial stew of techniques, approaches, new wedges, and adjustments for Myrtle Beach is staring to take on Death Star proportions.  I am tumbling head over heels around the greens, like a big ball of matter through outer space, with giant chunks of confidence falling off at inopportune moments.   Looking for some stability fast.  Here’s how the mess started.

I’ve chipped my best when I work with one technique and can laser focus my attention on a specific landing spot.  For some reason, this method has left me coming up short on all chips and I don’t know why.  Late last season, a skinny chip started creeping in to my repertoire, mostly with my old 56 and now with my new 58 and the root cause is a mystery as well.  I’m working with three new Cleveland wedges, which I use very successfully in practice, but can’t seem to transition to game conditions.  Third, I’m trying to relearn a low spinning shot I need off the tight Bermuda surfaces around the greens in Myrtle Beach.  I used to hit this great with my old 56 and even when I clipped it skinny, it would fly very low and have a tremendous amount of spin, and would bite hard and sit down instantly.    There is no deep rough in MB but that’s all I’m playing out of in our plush courses around the DC area.  I can’t find a comfortable technique on this play.

Finally, I’ve got two techniques in my head and cannot reconcile.  The first is the Stan Utley approach of squaring everything up and making a concentrated pivot on every chip.  The second is the Michael Breed drill of identifying a percentage of distance you want to fly your chips to the hole (say 40%) and then identifying different clubs that will take you different distances.  I did have some success blending the two in my post round practice session, but during play, was dreadfully inconsistent.

Anyone with some surefire chipping techniques from good greenside lies, or on tight Bermuda surfaces, please pass them along.  KISS please, thanks!

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.

How Do You Break A McWT210 Golf Slump?

Readers of this space know I’m always seeking ways to improve my game and am willing to share tips to assist you in your play, but I have a new request.  I need some help breaking out of a slump.  How do I know I’m in a slump and not just experiencing a momentary downturn?  Check out this page from Golf Link detailing why players slump.  I am the poster-child for the top three reasons and feel like I’m tied to the pole, blindfolded, and on my last cigarette.

The evidence:  Carrying a five handicap, my last two rounds have been 88-88.  I haven’t broken 80 in nine rounds and haven’t played a good round since August 2012.  Essentially, I’m averaging about 10 strokes higher than my normal game.

The three main culprits from the GolfLink list:

  1. Injury.  The right elbow tendonitis has prevented me from practicing the way I would like.  Oddly, it doesn’t hurt during play, just practice.  I’ll call this the Mike Weir component.Mike Weir
  2. Swing Changes.  The attempt to get to a more on-plane move over the winter was ill-advised without the opportunity to hit balls and validate results.  Henceforth known as the Tiger 2010 component.Tiger
  3. New Equipment.  The new irons and hybrids are working great but my Cleveland three wedge system has been ghastly.  I’m a mess in greenside bunkers trying to hit the new 58, and miss my old 56 terribly.  Even suffered through a couple lateral hits with the wedges two weekends ago and you know how that messes with your head, but I refuse to give up on the new equipment.  The problem is that I practice well with these clubs so I know it’s the “carpenter, not the tools.”  Of course, this is the McIlroy component.Rory

So we have the birth of the “McWT210” slump.  How to break this thing, any ideas?  I’ve researched and web and scoured the annals of my swing fix library and come up with a possible two-pronged approach.  I know I need to simplify as much as possible and taking on more swing instruction at this time is probably not the right thing to do, especially with my Myrtle Beach trip bearing down in less than a month.  So in the interest of K.I.S.S., I’m going to try just thinking “Target” on all full swings and hitting everything with 3/4 speed in an attempt to get some rhythm and timing.  In my round yesterday, after shooting nine-over on the front, I started my inward half with a triple and a bogey, and with my head so screwed up with swing thoughts, decided to just chuck everything and think “Target” the rest of the way around and managed to play the last seven holes in 3-over, which wasn’t great, but got me to the clubhouse without killing anyone.

If anyone has some surefire slump-busting remedies, please share.  I’m a mess and need to stabilize fast, thanks!

One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer in 2013?

One GIR, one chip, and one less putt per round.  Is that the recipe for improvement in my golf game this year?  I must be suffering from cabin fever or the general malaise of winter, but this new mantra was starting to click in my brain to the tune to the old Thorogood rendition.

George Thorogood
George Thorogood

After reviewing my performance stats for the past few years, it would seem that making just minor improvements in these key areas would allow me to shave two strokes off my scoring average, which would be huge.  But it’s been incredibly tough to make any measurable improvement and my propensity to plateau has got me concerned.  Two things seem constant:  I have a continual desire to make significant changes in different areas of my game and the work I put in hardly yields any downstream positive effects.  Does this happen to you as well?

Then I read the “3 – 8 – 13” theory in a recent golf publication and decided to put it to the test.  The assumption:  If you hit 3 greens, you should break 90.  Hit 8 and you’ll crack 80.  Hit 13 and you break 70.  Since I averaged 8.74 GIR last year and 78.85 strokes per round, I figured the correlation was close and set out to measure it.  I had 23 rounds with 8 or more GIR and broke 80 19 times; pretty darned accurate.  In the last three years, I hit or exceeded 13 GIRs 11 times and shot 70 once and broke it twice.  However, my worst score of those 11 rounds was 76, so that proved there is a huge correlation between GIR and score.  Funny how it keeps coming back to ball striking.  So what now?

From various lessons and film analysis, I know my ball striking inconsistency stems from a loss of spine angle on the downswing and a bit of an early release.  It’s hard to work on swing in the winter, so I’ve been focusing on eliminating bad habits in my backswing and putting myself in the best positions possible.  This work is possible with just a mirror and a club in your basement, and as I work the various positions, the guy looking back in the mirror seems to be in pretty good shape but what’s going to happen with that first live contact in a couple of weeks?  Also, in one of those sub 70 rounds, I noted my playing strategy was to shoot for the center of every green on any iron shot longer than a pitching wedge; interesting.  Perhaps some conservative course management would be in order as well.

Anyone with some good drills for maintaining spine angle, increasing lag on the downswing, and overall course management improvement tips, 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?

Fighting your golf swing? Give yourself a fighting chance.

The great thing about the game of golf is that you inevitably learn something new every time you play.  I had a big fight with my golf swing today and will share what happened in hopes that you can learn from my experience.

Today I played my worst ball striking round of the year, but also shot my lowest score of the season (73).  What happened?  Off the tee, I couldn’t hit water from a boat and was looking at big pushes with my driver and irons the entire day.  After trying every WOOD bandaid I knew of I finally figured it out on the 17th tee.  I had reverted to my classic miss when I come up and out of my spine angle.  On the next two tee shots, I exaggerated the spine angle retention and everything re-clicked into place.  There are two important lessons here:  1)  If you’ve identified a swing fault through professional instruction and start missing shots and seeing a consistent recognizable shot pattern, you are likely falling into the same old habit, even though you may not feel as if you’re making the old move.  2)  You get out of this game what you put into it, and you need to focus on practicing what you’ll need the most during play.

The first point validates that we are human and humans are creatures of habit.  Good and bad, those habits are hard to break and should be recognized for what they are.  Focus on identifying and correcting the bad and don’t get sidetracked on a bunch of other stuff.  To the second point, I had reviewed a period of time in the past where I enjoyed a nice stretch of play and had correlated that with a certain type of practice which I had recently gotten away from.  In short, I got lazy.  Yesterday I decided to buckle down and duplicate that old practice session and it paid off handsomely.  The drill was hitting 100 uphill putts from four feet using my alignment sticks to frame the putt.  I made 19 of the first 20 but noticed I was cutting the putts and they were leaking in the right side of the hole.  I patiently worked each group of 10 by checking one fundamental per set until I hit the right one and proceeded to bang in 50 in a row with confidence.  The fundamental was to feel the club brushing  the ground on my backswing which helped keep the putter head low and promote solid contact.  Now this drill is quite boring and takes a considerable amount of time, but the payoff was worth it.  Today I had my best day putting, especially from long distance, which was crucial since I wasn’t hitting my irons close.  The confidence boost the practice provided was invaluable, as I felt totally ready and prepared for success over every putt.

On the swing fight, give yourself a chance by managing your game and having the courage to admit your swing is off and make good playing decisions.  Once I recognized I was off, I kept the driver in the bag and worked the 3WD for position.  I found that even when you lose distance, it’s important from a mental perspective to get your tee shot in play because you can become despondent  and disinterested when you drive the ball into trouble too often.  So when your swing deserts you, continue to make an aggressive swing with a more conservative club.  Use whatever you need to get the ball in play and keep your mind in the game.

What I admire most about Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods is not all the major championship victories, but the ability both had to play great golf and keep their head in the game when they didn’t have their best move.  It’s frustrating to not hit driver on the par-5s or on the long par-4s, but trust me on this; it’s more important to stay in play and give yourself a chance.  Often, as you lower the pressure on yourself to drive it straight, you’ll regain confidence that will help your swing to come around.  Good luck!

Golf Improvement Plan – The Big Test

It’s June 1 and I’m two weeks out from the final exam for the 2012 Improvement Plan.  Yes, end-stage preparations have begun for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Myrtle Beach) and a quick review of my 2012 KPIs vs. 2011 and some anecdotal observations are in order.

Positive trends:

  • Scoring average has dropped from 79.17 (six rounds) to 77.80 (10 rounds).
  • GIR average has increased from 8.83 to 9.20 with 7 out of 10 rounds at or above 10 GIRs.
  • Putts per round has decreased from 32.66 to 31.90.
  • More play.  Number of rounds up from six last year to 10 in 2012 with two or three more scheduled prior to MB.
  • Number of practice sessions has been reduced from 20 to 13 for the same time period.  Intent was to be more efficient by playing more and practicing less.

Negative trends:

  • Short game is not as sharp, especially with greenside SW shots
  • Tendency to pull hook the occasional mid-iron off the tee on par-3 holes

General observations:

My focus has been on improving core conditioning in hopes that the changes would result in more consistent ball striking.  This has worked and I’m enjoying more length off the tee and better accuracy with my three wedges inside of 120 yards.  My GIR stats are skewed down a bit by an early round where I hit only two greens but actually struck the ball decent.  That day the course was playing hard and fast with the greens impossible to hold.   It’s clear that ball striking has seen the best improvements.  Along those lines,  I’ve been resisting the temptation to work on my swing and finally succumbed last weekend, but the key here is that I continued to focus on my single most prevalent weaknesses (not maintaining spine angle).  My Saturday range work helped result in 12 GIRs during Sunday’s round.

Adjustments:

Players of this game all know that just when you think you have it, you don’t, and that golf requires constant adjustments.  I didn’t want to work on my swing but started to see some familiar misses that were not evident early in the season.  Now that I think I’ve got that fixed, it’s off to work on the greenside pitches.  I’m not too worried because these are clearly a problem with technique and lack of reps.   I changed short game approach over the winter and have not practiced it enough to get comfortable.  With my focus on conditioning, the short game suffered.  The good news is that it usually takes only one or two dedicated sessions around the green to get comfortable.

So a little short game work, a round this weekend and next, a few last minute adjustments for whatever else pops up, and I’ll be ready to go.  Wish me luck!

Feeling pressure to tinker with my swing

Suffering a short-term hangover from playing in the Jess Carson Foundation charity tournament at Queenstown Harbor last week.  While the team did well and shot 11-under, which was good for 2nd place, I’m starting to feel the urge to do swing analysis, probably brought on by the scramble style format.  To get ready for one of these tournaments, you are afforded the luxury of not having to work on your full game and focus only on driving and putting.  Leading up to the tournament, I mentally prepared myself to optimize distance by making the most powerful and technically correct move possible.  I struck the ball well in the tournament but missed a few shots and felt the sudden urge to work on my swing.

With a certain major milestone only one month out, I think it best to resist.  Yes, Myrtle Beach is 30 days away and every year faced with the proposition of playing 180 holes in six days, I haul down a minivan full of swing thoughts that inevitably twist me into a swing pretzel.  While my short game usually sharpens from the reps, the carnage of bad shots I leave is not pretty.  Why the constant need to over-prepare for this venture?

To date, I’ve let the off season conditioning plan drive my swing performance and have yet to film swing or hit balls all spring, except to warm-up before a round.  With a clear head and a relaxed demeanor on the course, I’ve made more good swings than I have in years so why am I feeling the urge to tinker?

Between now and Myrtle, I’m thinking I’ll try what Bob Rotella advocates:  Commit to only two things on the golf course -try your hardest on every shot and have fun.  Think it will last?

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.

Found the perfect warm-up routine!

I’ve been experimenting with several warm-up techniques this season and have finally hit on one that fully prepares me to play.    Several routines have left me fidgety and uncomfortable for the first few holes until my natural rhythm takes over, and usually with some bad scores on the card.  My goal is to feel as comfortable and confident on the first tee as I am after playing five holes.  Here we go:

Start by getting to the course early.  Normally, I’ll arrive 50-60 minutes before my tee time but have recently found that an additional 15 minutes is required to eliminate any feeling of being rushed.  I’ll start the warm up on the driving range by slowly swinging my 4-iron with a weighted doughnut around the hosel.  I’ll deliberately hold the finish position on each swing to ensure I’m fully rotated, weight is distributed correctly on my forward foot, and my rotational muscles have been fully stretched.  I’ll take about 15 of these.  Next I’ll hit about 15 balls off a tee with my pitching wedge.  I use the tee to promote good contact and to build confidence.  Next I’ll hit about half a dozen 7-irons, again off a tee to build more confidence.  Next, I’ll move to driver and hit half a dozen.  If I feel really good, I’ll try to shape a few because drawing or fading the ball on command is a tremendous confidence boost, but only try this if you understand how to shape your shots.  The warm up is for getting loose and building confidence, NOT for experimenting with new moves or getting overly mechanical.  Finally I’ll wrap up with about 10 shots off the turf with my 56 degree wedge.  On every shot, I’ll alter the target because I don’t want to get robotic and do want to get my mind in game mode.  I find it helps to pause between shots and maybe chat up a friend or fellow competitor, just to remove any focus on yourself and set your mind in a relaxed state.

Next I’ll move to the short game area (hopefully you’ll have one), and hit some easy chips off good lies to a flag that has ample room to run out.  Very important to hit easy shots because you want to see the ball getting close (or in) to build confidence.  Chip for about 5-10 minutes.  Then take a few pitch shots from good lies to easily accessible holes, again to build confidence.  See a pattern developing here?  Finally wrap up with some lag putts of 10-20 feet.  You want to see the ball get close or go in and not end up in three putt range.  Finish up by making half a dozen very short putts of two feet or less, just to make sure you make them all.  It’s VERY important to see the ball go in the hole.

Want to be prepared for success on the first tee?  Try this routine.  Let me know how it goes and good luck!

2012 Golf Improvement Plan – Quarterly Review

Three months into my improvement plan and I passed a major test on Friday.  Again, the simple goal has been to better my satisfaction through improved ball striking.

Between a family vacation at Disney followed by a brutal week at work, it had been three weeks since I touched a club,  and Friday I headed out to Northwest in Silver Spring with legitimate concerns.  Boy did I surprise myself.  Going stone cold (straight from the parking lot to the tee) I managed to hit 12 greens on this long tough course and continued to see performance gains with my swing that appear to be permanent.

After five full rounds, it is crystal clear that maintaining my spine angle throughout the backswing and downswing is so important to ball striking consistency.  Again, a HUGE thank you to Brant Kasbohm at Fixyourgame.com for calling this out on my video lesson last fall.  Being able to execute without warming up, and without playing for three weeks is an excellent validation on my approach.

The beauty of this plan is that I haven’t been working on my swing at all; just conditioning.  The core exercises designed to strengthen my back and shoulders, and build flexibility in my hips and ankles are working great.  The obvious payoff has been in driving distance.  It’s been pretty dry in the DC area but for all five rounds, I’ve been pounding drives on familiar courses into places I’ve never been able to hit.  I’m no longer blocking my short irons to the right, and have picked up 1/2 to a full club length of distance with my irons.

It’s great when a plan comes together and the best part has been the confidence I’m gaining.  To know when you go to the course that you’ve got a great chance for a good ball striking day is extremely encouraging.  Can’t wait for the weekend!

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 Season – Great Opening Day!

Teed it up today at my local muni to get the season underway  and if today’s round is an indicator of things to come, it’s going to be a great year.  I’ve been working on conditioning as part of my 2012 improvement plan and was just dying to battle test myself and boy did I come through.  Normally on opening day, I tee it up with no swing thoughts and no expectations and just try to bang the rust off, but today was different.  Along with the exercise program, I was armed with new short game and putting techniques, courtesy of Stan Utley, and was testing out my spankin’ new Bushnell V2 rangefinder and there were no disappointments.

On the exercises; the most useful was the opposite end swings designed to build club head speed.  I found these awkward at first but noticed after a couple weeks that my finish was much more in balance with 90% of my weight correctly distributed on my left foot and my body was fully rotated.  Today I came out of the chute with an aggressive move and felt in balance the whole round.  My short irons were dialed in but more importantly, I was taking big solid divots flying straight at the target, which were inconspicuously missing last year when I was pulling up and out of my spine angle on the downswing.  The feeling of balance and ability to go after the ball was exciting, and at the end of the day, I had 10 GIR and had rolled in three birdies – exceeding any and all expectations.    Yes there was rust, and I still need work getting comfortable with the new pitching techniques, and just to keep it real, I left the course with a slow burn about a missed 4-footer straight uphill for birdie on #18. :(

There’s snow in the forecast for tomorrow and it might be a short while before I play again, but this early taste of success was important because it validated the hard conditioning work I’ve been doing for the last month.  Again, the target this year is to play twice per week and practice less, and I can’t wait to exercise tomorrow!  See you in the gym.