Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Play Par 5s

The par 5s on your course are the holes where you can get your pars more easily than the rest. Think of them as really long par 4s that you are playing for bogey, and you have the idea.

As with a par-4 hole, the key to the par 5 is the second shot, an advancement shot which sets you up for an easy shot onto the green. Of course, your drive has to put the ball in the right spot for that second shot.

A long hole does not automatically mean a long drive is needed. I did a survey once of the par-5 holes on eight courses I normally play. The average length was 485 yards, from the white tees. The longest was 525, the shortest was 460.

Let’s go with the average, 485 yards. Say you can get 200 yards out of a hybrid iron. Tee off with it. You don’t have to hit that short off the tee, we’re just seeing what happens if you do.

That third shot into the green needs to be a gimmee. The right second shot is how you get it.

You have two shots left to cover 285 yards. Divide by two, and that’s about two 7-irons. Or you could cover the same distance with a 5-iron and a pitching wedge.

Not bad. So let’s go back and tee off with a driver. That puts the ball in the fairway at 230 or so. Now you have two 8-irons to get the ball on the green. See how this works?

There’s no need to be a manly man when you’re 240 yards away from the hole by going for it all at once unless you are VERY good from that distance.

Of course you want to get as close to the green as you can for your third shot, but the number one priority is to hit the second shot, the advancement shot, with a club you handle well.

On your third shot, resist temptation to go for the flag even if you’re close to to the green. Just get the ball on the green inside 40 feet or so, and there’s your par. That’s a big target that I’m sure you can hit. You’re likely to get closer than 40 feet, too.

The idea of a par 5 is not to be concerned about distance. They give you an extra shot to get the ball on the green, so use it. Wisely.

Get the ball in the fairway off the tee, keep the ball on the fairway with your second, and just get it on the green with your third.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How to Make a Swing Change

Making a swing change? Do it like this.

Step 1: Start by making slow-motion swings with your driver, no ball in front of you. Do this over and over until you feel the change is being integrated with the rest of your swing.

Then hit some balls, with the same slow-motion swing. If you get good shots, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Spend a week swinging your 9-iron with the slow-motion swing. Hit some balls. Hit lots of 9-irons. When you’re satisfied that you can hit a 9-iron with your new swing, move up to the 8-iron.

Keep the pace of your swing slower than normal. Resist the urge to step it up and see how far the ball will go. All you want is clean contact and straight ball flight.

Work your way through the bag one club at a time. If switching to the next club causes your swing to break down, that’s a sign you weren’t really ready to switch. Go back to the one you were swinging before for a few days.

Take your time, there’s no rush. Spending three months on the transition will pay off a lot more than spending three weeks.

Monday, May 9, 2016

How to Play Par 4s

A standard golf course has ten par 4 holes. They’re hard. Even the pros average a touch over par on them in aggregate. The key is the second shot, but the first and third shot are right behind in importance.

The tee shot needs to be in the fairway. Colin Montgomery said, “The reason people think I’m such a good iron player is that I’m always playing my second shot from here (pointing to the fairway) instead of from over there (pointing to the rough).”

If the rough is low, if fairways bunkers have shallow lips, if there are no trees to hit into, you still have a chance if your ball ends up in one of those places.

Best, though, to play for the fairway. That might mean leaving your driver in the bag occasionally. Something to consider.

The key, now, is the second shot. The big mistake is hitting short of the green. You either overestimate your how far you can hit a club, or you have the right club but don’t make good contact.

Start out choosing your club based on the distance to the pin. Then take one more club (say, a 6-iron instead of a 7-iron), and grip down about an inch. Put a normal swing on the ball.

A good shot will get you past the pin (always good), and if you don’t quite get all of the shot, you’ll be short of the pin, but still on the green.

In addition, most of the trouble around the green is in front, and you’ll be hitting over it.

When selecting your club, do not forget to consider other factors such as differences in elevation between you and the green, wind, dampness in the air, your lie, and how you’re hitting the ball today.

If you got green-high in two, odds are your third shot won’t be that close to the hole, so you’ll have a longish chip or approach putt left.

This is where chipping practice and long approach putt practice (30-40 feet) comes in. You have to get the ball to three feet or less with your third.

Having gone through all that, the advice that puts it all together is to plan the hole backwards, from green to tee.

If you know the course well, you should know where in the fairway you want to hit into the green from. Now you know where in the fairway you want to put your tee shot.

Finally, some par 4s are just to hard for you. Play those as a short par 5 to keep the double off your card.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How to Play Par 3s

Par 3s are golf without the driver. As from the fairway, the key to a good score is choosing the right club to hit off the tee.

That means, first of all, you have the right club in your bag. I have room in my bag for either a 21-degree or a 19-degree hybrid. I look at the scorecard of the course I'm going to play and take along the one that suits the longest par 3 best.

Base your club selection on the listed yardage plus seven yards. That's the yardage to play the hole at regardless of where the pin is, unless it's a deep green. Say it's a 148-yard hole. Your 150-yard club will be short. Take one more club to get hole high.

Tee up the ball. Never hit it off the ground. The height of the tee should be no more than a half inch. Less than that is better. All you're trying to do is give yourself a good lie.

The green on some par-3 holes is surrounded by hazards - mounds, bunkers, high grass. Most of that will be in front of the hole or to the side. Forget the pin. Take enough club to land the ball on the green beyond the trouble.

Unless you hit the ball pretty straight, consider deliberately playing short and chipping on if it takes more than 5-iron to reach the green. Such a long par 3 is more likely to be a bogey hole than a par hole, and laying up like this could keep a double bogey off your card.

If the green you're hitting into has no safe place to bail out to, hit a knockdown shot. Take one more club, and swing it back three-quarters. Think of keeping the clubhead low on the follow-through and continuing straight toward the target after contact. Finish with your hands in front of you.

If there is water in front of the green, find out exactly how long that carry is and take TWO more clubs from there. Grip down halfway and swing normally.

When you miss the green, think carefully about the chip. Start by finding a spot to chip to from where you can easily two-putt, and zero in from there.

Final thought: the night before you play, spend some time with a pencil and paper and practice writing 2s. Nice, clear, florid 2s. This is mojo that will pay off the next day.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Swing

I write posts to help you play golf better. I try as hard as I can to make it clear what I think works and how you can do it, too.

This post is different. This is my personal instruction manual. These are my notes on how I swing the golf club. Parts of it might not mean anything to you, but all of it makes sense to me.

There are 230 words on the setup, 140 words on the swing. And I have't left anything out. Here goes!

[Modified for left-handed golfers]

You are in complete control of your setup, so there is no excuse for making a mistake here.

Get your mind moving before you start.

Use the cathedral grip.

Hold the club with the leading edge of the clubface vertical. Do not disturb that alignment when you apply your hands to the handle.

Turn your hands toward each other so the right thumb presses lightly against the pocket in the palm of the left hand, but not so much that you feel tension in your forearms.

Envelop the handle with a light grip pressure.

Hold the club at its balance point.

Check your aim before every shot.

Ball position: fwd-back, ball on the ground, center; driver, graze the inside of the left heel. Away, where a free swing delivers the clubhead.

Stand straight as you can with each club, with a feeling that your hips are high, and your upper torso is high and open, not sunken inward. Bend forward from your hip joint. Do not let your abdomen collapse, or your hips sag, when you bend. Your knees will bend a bit, but you should feel tall. Your shoulders and arms hang naturally from the suspension point at the back of the neck.

Your posture should be a comfortable position you look forward to getting into. You should feel in it the potential for powerful movement.

Rhythm is 3:1 from takeaway to impact. Tempo is the fastest you can swing and yet feel unhurried.

The backswing is a reaching movement, taking the right arm straight to a position where the hands are beside the head and far from it. The body turns as the arm reaches. This automatically takes the club back to the control point. There is no guessing. Nor does the right wrist change its shape at any time.

The downswing is a simultaneous combination of the hands dropping straight down and the body turning. Because nothing is forced, two key principles, the hands lead the clubhead into the ball, and the left knee must break forward, are observed.

Think from the start about following through to a finish, not about hitting the ball.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Swing Speed

A few days ago, I was on a course which in one spot has the tee boxes for consecutive holes right next to each other. One is a par three, which you play, then walk back to where the next tee is, a par five.

There was a group on the tee of the par five, so when we got the other tee, we waited until they finished teeing off, sitting down on the bench to watch the show.

One guy tees off with a long iron (there’s a pond across the fairway such that if you have even moderate length, you’ll hit into it), takes a vicious swing, and cold tops a 40-yard dribbler. You’ve never seen so much effort deliver so little result. Well, maybe you have.

Anyway, he says, "I’m going to hit another one.” I think to myself, “Yes. Please. Hit another one.”

So he tees up another one, puts this graceful swing on the ball and just kills it. Beautiful, powerful shot, straight down there.

He picks up his tee and says to his buddies, “You know, it’s amazing how well you hit the ball if you just slow down your swing a little bit.”

Thus endeth the lesson.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Vertical Dimension of Impact

Impact is the big thing these days. We have all learned that the bottom of the swing should take place somewhere in front of the ball.

How deep the bottom of the swing should be is another discussion -- do you take a divot, or do you sweep the ball off the grass?

There is a third dimension, which describes hitting the ball off the heel or toe, but we’ll skip that one here.

I’ll be talking about depth today because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it is of vital importance to consistency in shot-making. First, a story.

Last summer when I had a playing lesson in which one of the shots was hitting an 80-yard pitch into a tight pin.

I took three rehearsal swings, each one of which felt good to me. The pro stopped me before I hit the ball and said each swing had been to different depths, which would send the ball to different distances.

He said if I wanted to master this shot I had to learn how to come through the ball at the same depth every time. Here’s how I’m doing it.

I have a piece thick-pile carpet and practice swinging across it with a half swing, making the same sound each time the sole of the club brushes the carpet. That means the club swung down to the same depth.

Here’s a way you might go about feeling your swing so this happens.

As you stand over the ball, feel like your arms are hanging from your shoulders like a shirt would hang down on a coat hanger -- no tension, very relaxed.

Now swing the club from the point where the coat hanger is suspended, on your spine at the spot level with the top of your shoulders. Just swing back and forth with that spot as the pivot, with a good rhythm and an easy tempo, and let your arms and hands follow.

Keep a relaxed feeling in your arms the entire time. All you want in them is enough muscle power to move the club and be in control of the clubhead -- no more. Don’t try to control your stroke consistently with your arms. You can’t do it, and it all gets frustrating pretty quickly.

As you repeat your swings, key in on that consistent sound of the sole of the club brushing the carpet.

Admittedly, this is all fine tuning that you don’t need if you just want to get the ball around the course. If you want to get GOOD, though, start attending to this detail.

Not to mention, after a month or so you should have a new and effective pitching stroke that will bleed over into your full swing as well.