Monday, October 20, 2014

How to Play a New Golf Course

Many golfers shoot about four or five strokes above their usual score when the play a golf course for the first time. If you pay attention to a few details, that doesn't have to happen.

When you're in the clubhouse paying your green fees, ask about these things:

- how fast are the greens? Are they faster than the practice green?
- are there elevated tees on any par 3s? If so, how much more club should you use?
- for big hitters: are there any par 5s that you should not try to reach in two?
- are there any greens that have big trouble if you shoot over them?
- are there any greens that are sloped so much that you do not ever want to be above the hole?
- are there any water hazards that cross the fairway and can be reached from the tee?

This is a lot to ask, but if you ask succinctly and listen to the answer instead of getting into a conversation, the staff won't mind helping you.

Get a scorecard and read the local rules. Ask about anything that isn't clear to you.

In general, tee off to the center of the fairway. Aiming for the 150-yard pole, if there is one, is seldom a bad idea.

When hitting into the green, aim for the center. Aim for the pin only if the approach is wide open and there is little or no trouble if you miss the green on that side.

Chipping can be different from course to course. There can be light rough around the green, heavy rough, or no rough.

The only way to solve these problems is to be prepared for them. Learn how to chip out of varying thicknesses of rough. Learn how to use your putter from off the green.

Learn how to chip up to a raised green when your ball is on an upslope to the putting surface.

Play from the right set of tees! If you can't reach half the par 4s with a 6-iron or less, those tees are to long for you.

If you know you will play this course again, make a note of what clubs you used on each tee and a note of the one you would use, if different, when you play the course again.

When you get to your tee ball, go over the spot you now see to be the best landing area for an approach to the green. Look back the tee, then turn right around and find an aiming marker for this area.

Make any other notes about where to hit, or where not to hit, the ball on any particular hole.

Play conservative golf. Play our own game and see what happens. It will likely be good enough.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Notes From the Green

Final day! If you haven't already, go to and subscribe to my newsletter. That will get you FREE access to my latest writing, Six Fundamentals in Search of a Golf Swing. Oops, sorry. That's Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing. Words, movies, music, you'll love it. Might even help you play better, too.


Most of putting is mental. A good stroke is vital, but technique is not enough. It’s the little things that make the difference, and those little things are in your mind.

These are notes I have made to myself in the past month around the practice green.

1. Downhill putts can be scary because we fear the hill taking the ball away from the hole if we miss. While that can happen, think of the slope differently. Think of how it will help you feed the ball into the hole. When you line up your putt, think of how you can make the slope your partner in sinking the putt.

1. I do not like my putts to die slowly at the hole. For every one that lipped from the side, two have gotten knocked off their line in the last few inches. I like to hit a putt that rolls in positively into the hole instead of apologizing its way in.

1. When you take a last look you take before you start your putter back, firmly feel the ball going in. This connects your putter with the hole. Then stay out of the way and let this feeling of connection guide your body to making it happen.

1. Make every putt under twenty feet threaten the hole. Never up, never in.

1. Your entire putting process must be based on how to make the ball go in, rather than how to avoid missing. We do the latter more often than we think we do.

1. Don't let slope intimidate you on short putts. Up to about two feet, forget the slope and knock the ball straight in. From three or four feet, look at the part of the hole where you know the ball will be entering. Give the ball to the green and let the slope do the work for you.

1. However, unless the green slopes severely, there really isn’t any break in an uphill putt of four feet or less. Just ram it in there.

1. Leaving longer uphill putts short? That’s because the slope is pushing the putt back toward you. Just think of pushing back at the hill and the ball will get there.

1. You might think you have to hit long putts (>40 feet) hard. If that makes you add a little extra with your right hand, that will throw off your stroke. Instead, think that the ball is transparent to your putt and that you will first contact the ball on the inside of its leading edge. You will hit the ball smoothly and with much better distance control.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing

When I wrote Better Recreational Golf five years ago, there was a chapter missing. There’s nothing in there about how to swing the golf club. That was a deliberate omission, for the simple reason that I didn’t know what to say.

I could do it, but I couldn’t say it. Now I can.

The above-titled publication, my latest, fills that gap and is now available to you. It is the result of years of trial and error, a few lessons, some hard thinking and logical analysis, and trust.

By following these six fundamentals I now hit the ball as straight as I ever did, but much more often, and I know why I’m hitting it straight.

You can put these principles into your swing no matter what it looks like. They adapt themselves to anyone.

The six fundamentals are:

1. Swing slowly so none of it “disappears.”
2. Swing with both hands.
3. Take the club straight back to control.
4. The left knee moves right.
5. The hands lead the clubhead through impact.
6. Swing straight through the ball toward the target.

Six Fundamentals is a 3,600-word page on my other blog site, The Recreational Golfer.

Here is how you get your copy. Go to my website,, and sign up on the green form for my monthly newsletter. When you do, you will be sent an e-mail message with the link and password to this password-protected page.

That’s all you have to do. It’s FREE. Just sign up and Six Fundamentals is yours.

There is one small catch. The offer is good this week only, from October 6 through October 13. Sign up right away.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Swing's the Thing

There’s a chapter by Lou Riccio in Johnny Miller’s book, Breaking 90, that talks about the importance of good play up to the green. Riccio says:

“If Phil Mickelson did your putting for you, you’d probably break 90 only a handful more times per year. On the other hand, if you putted his ball, he’d still score in the 70s.”

Hale Irwin said, in an article in the January 2010 Golf Digest magazine, “The shortest route to improvement is to get on the green in fewer strokes.”

If you want to become a good golfer it is imperative to have a good swing.

A good swing is one you can rely on to hit the ball straight. With a driver in your hand, you expect to hit the fairway. With an iron in your hand from, say, 150 yards out, you expect to hit the green. Maybe from 160.

What happens if you don’t have a good swing is that you don’t get the ball on the green or close to it in the regulation number of strokes. It’s likely that your next shot is from too far away to get the ball close enough to the hole for one putt. It could be that just getting the ball on the green is an issue.

The solution is not to learn how to hit those demanding short shots better. The solution is to get a better swing so you don’t have to hit them so often.

Now the golf swing is a very complicated act, and there’s a lot of instruction out there in print and video meant to guide you around the curves.

Lessons? By all means take lessons. Most lessons, though, are meant to patch up your swing. To get a better swing you really have to start over and build it from the ground up. That’s a huge commitment most recreational golfers do not have the time to make.

What to do? It’s me to the rescue.

My latest publication, Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing, identifies six key features of the golf swing that lead to straight shots, in the air, time after time. That good swing I defined earlier? Here’s how to get it.

I took long-standing swing principles, added a few twists of my own, and came up with an organized way to get the clubhead to the ball with a square clubface and traveling toward the target. And if that doesn’t happen (nobody’s perfect), you’ll know why and you can correct yourself before the next swing.

Six Fundamentals is FREE, and there’s a version fully adapted for left-handed golfers. I’ll let you know in next Monday’s post how to get your copy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Importance of the Golf Swing

Everybody tells you the best way for an amateur to shoot lower scores is to have a good short game. That is one way to shoot lower scores, but not the best way. The best way is to have a good swing.

Let me get right to the point by quoting from On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer. In his chapter on putting, Boomer says that sayings such as, “A good putter is a match for anyone,” are pure nonsense. Instead, Boomer says:

“Golf is one whole game. It is true that if you cannot putt you cannot win, for no hole is own until the ball is down--but good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green.”

The saying should be, according to Boomer, “A good golfer is a match for anyone,” but it all starts with getting the ball on the green as quickly as possible. That means you have to have a swing that can do the job.

I have a collection of golf shows from the 1950s and early 60s--All-Star Golf, Challenge Golf and so on. When you watch every shot you really see how the pros make their scores, and it’s by hitting fairways and hitting greens.

I’m not playing down the importance of the short game or putting. Once you’ve gotten the ball up to the green, you need to close out the hole as soon as you can. But if you’re getting the ball up to the the green or on it in regulation every hole, you can be mediocre around the green and still shoot a good score.

Otherwise, your greens game is all about preserving bogeys and maybe even doubles, not about shooting a low score.

Now maybe for you 90 is a low score. What I mean by a low score, for a recreational golfer, is 78. A 90-shooter has twelve strokes to lose, and you won’t lose them by becoming a wizard around the green. You’ll lose them most of all by improving your swing and then by learning to hit the ball with that swing more often.

In two weeks I will release my latest publication, Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing. These fundamentals are the distillation of my work over the last three years to identify explicitly what I do when I hit the ball well. If you install these fundamentals into your swing, you WILL hit the ball better and shoot lower scores.

This publication is FREE. I will give you details on how to get a copy in subsequent posts.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Suspension Point

Should your head move in the golf swing or not? Depends on who you listen to. Many commentators say it has to move, just don’t move it to certain places. Others say with almost religious fervor, Don’t move it!

I think all this talk is about not moving is about the wrong thing. It is the suspension point that does not move.

Reach behind your head and feel at the base of your neck. There is a hard lump there, a big one. That is a vertebra, the last one in the cervical (neck) spine. That is the suspension point. That is what does not move.

Paul Runyan, one of golf’s short game masters, talks about this point in his book, The Short Way to Lower Scoring. He calls it “the axis of the golf swing. The arms swing and the shoulders revolve around it.”

While he says it should not move, he allows that it is difficult to keep it still and thus it may shift minimally.

However, a few years ago at the LPGA’s Safeway Classic in Portland, Oregon, I made it a point to watch the players from behind, that is with their back facing me, to see what this point did when they swung. Much more often than not, it did not move at all. Not the tiniest bit sideways, up, or down.

Runyan goes on to say how pre-setting the position of the suspension point helps you hit different short game shots. I’ll let you get a copy of his book to find out what he says. About the full swing, he doesn’t say much.

But I think this is something you might experiment with, not to make that spot rigidly still, but to use it as the pivot point for your swing. More like, it can move, but you choose for it not to.

I like to check it every now and then to make sure I’m not getting too carried away and letting my body go all over the place.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Golfing Cycle

Concentration is key to playing your best golf. To play your best golf all the time, you have to be concentrating all the time. We can break the cycle of shotmaking, which I call the Golfing Cycle, into six parts, each with its own demand on your concentration.

Gathering. This is the stage when you stand beside your ball and look at the course ahead of you. You see the possible shots and assess the variables (lie, wind, hazards, etc.). To gather effectively, you must not analyze logically, but calm your mind and let impressions come to you.

Deciding. After you have taken in all the information the course is presenting you, allow the shot to be decided in a process I liken to a wordless knowing. The right shot just makes itself apparent to you on an unspoken level. Do not go through a rational decision-making process.

Preparing. You step up to the ball, take a rehearsal swing, get into your setup, all with nothing more than the feeling of the shot in mind.

Hitting. The movement of taking the club away from the ball can cause your concentration to break. This is where mental strength is most important. Continue to have that feeling of your selected shot in mind. It will guide your swing so that your body will hit that shot as well as you are able to.

Watching. Once the ball has been struck, watch it until it comes to rest or is no longer visible. Do not comment to yourself on how the shot came off, especially if it was a poor one. Critical self-talk erodes your confidence. Besides, too many times I have thought I would be in trouble, but when I got to my ball it turned out to be a lot better than it seemed earlier.

Walking. When you start walking toward the ball you have just hit, that shot is over. Forget about it. Immediately put your mind on the next shot. Even though you don’t know what shot that will be, get yourself in a positive frame of mind, right now, about how well you will be hitting it.

When you get to the ball, it’s back to Gathering.

I know golf is a social game, and you want to spend time talking with your playing companions. That doesn’t mean you have to take yourself out of the frame of mind that lets you play your best. Going through this six-part cycle as you make your way around the course helps keep your concentration at a peak for the entire round.

This cycle, and the concentration you need to apply it, are developed fully in my latest book, The Golfing Self. If you can learn to play this way, golf will seem like a different game.