Sunday, March 22, 2015

Long Chip Shots

Chips from twenty yards or so can be the most troublesome shots in golf. They come in four varieties, based on the ratio of distance to the green and distance from there to the pin. I’m going to tell you how to hit each one.

1. Ten yards to the green, ten yards to the pin. Here, the distance are equal, but they are long distances. You need a moderately-lofted club, like a pitching wedge, to get the ball to the edge of the green but not run out way past the hole.

2. Ten yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a gap wedge to get the ball to the edge of the green and sitting quickly. The stroke is specialized: hit the shot by sliding the club underneath the ball, keeping the clubhead low at all times, especially on the follow-through, to get maximum spin.

3. Five yards to the green, ten (or more) yards to the pin. Use a 7-iron to get the ball on the green and running up to the hole.

4. Fifteen yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a sand wedge. This another specialized stroke. Power the downswing only with gravity, using your hands to guide the club into the ball. Emphasize hitting the ground directly underneath the ball with the sole of your club. When struck properly, the ball floats up, floats down, and dies right away. This shot takes practice.

If you have a tight lie for any of these shots, odds are you have good ground all the way up to the green. If so, and there are no obstacles to hit over, use a straighter-faced club and run the ball all the way to the pin.

With tight lie and something you have to hit over, it's best to just get the ball on the green so you can start putting.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hit Down With Your Irons - Not

Hit down on the ball. You can’t get away from this advice. It’s like bad weeds in your garden that you spray and dig up and think you’ve gotten rid of them and a month later there they are again.

Why do you keep hearing this nonsense? Because it kind of makes sense.

The club is way up there in the backswing and it has to come back down to get to the ball, so in that sense you are hitting down on the ball.

But that is not the sense that too many golfers interpret the words. They think it means to be hitting down steeply. That is the sense that leads to frustration.

It conforms with the idea that to get the ball up in the air you hit down on it.

Or maybe it’s because you want to trap the ball with an iron and hitting down is the way to to it.

I’ll admit if you hit down intentionally, you can get some pretty good shots out of the effort, at least with the short irons.

But with the lesser-lofted irons, it doesn’t work so well. Forget about it with your fairway wood, and don’t even mention your driver.

Instead of hitting down, think about the spot where the club travels level with the ground, because it does that eventually. With an iron, it’s then just a matter of addressing the ball so that it lies a little bit behind that spot, and a ball on a tee is positioned a little ahead of that spot.

That’s all there is to it.

Remember “13 clubs, 1 swing” from a few months ago? Remember about hitting the ball forward?

There’s no “hitting down” in any of that. Ditch that idea permanently.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Calibrate Your Pitching Game

The shots from 50-100 yards are hard to get right. You’re close enough that you’ll get the ball on the green. What’s hard is hitting the ball next to the pin. That means hitting it the right distance.

You can do it if you calibrate your pitching game. You'll need a laser rangefinder and a notebook. Go to the range when there aren’t a lot of people there, because you will be switching mats all the time.

The idea is to hit your wedges with two basic strokes and find out how far the ball goes with those strokes and each club.

One stroke takes your left arm back to parallel with the ground. That's your full pitching stroke. The other stroke takes your left arm back halfway that far. That is the short stroke.

Get in front of a marker in the range that is 60 yards away. Take out your sand wedge and pitch to it with the full stroke. Hit four or five balls with that same stroke and the same force.

If they all go too far or not far enough, keep moving to other mats until you find the one from where you pitch exactly to the marker. Then take out your rangefinder and find the distance to the marker. That's how far you pitch your sand wedge with a full pitching stroke.

Now do the same exercise with the sand wedge and your short pitching swing. When you're finished, you have two guaranteed pitching distances with your sand wedge. Write them down in your notebook.

Repeat both exercises with each of your other pitching clubs. I have five: 9-iron, PW, 52, 56, and 60.

When you’re finished, get a 3X5 card and write down these distances, in descending order by yards, with the club/swing combination alongside that gives you that distance. This card goes into your bag for when you play.

When I’m 78 yards from the hole, for example, I look on my card and see that the shot calls for a PW with the short stroke. And when I hit that shot, the ball stops within 10-12 feet. If it doesn't, I mishit the shot.

Pitching close shouldn’t be guesswork. It’s easy when you know what you’re doing.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Slow-Motion Golf Swing

A few weeks ago I wrote that while Ernie Els looks like he swings the club slowly, he actually swings it pretty fast. I said that you should swing at the pace that is comfortable for you, which is probably slower.

Now I’m going to ask you to slow your swing down even more, so slow that it’s barely a golf swing. Why? To use it as a drill to improve your swing like few other drills can.

Here’s what I want you to do. Go to the range and take out your driver. No golf ball is needed. I would guess it takes one second and change for you to swing the club from takeaway back to impact. Instead, take four seconds to do this. Four whole seconds from takeaway to impact. That's REALLY slow. No cheating, either. Count if you have to. Slow.

Make sure it's your true golf swing, using the 3:1 rhythm that I harp on. Let the club come though the impact area faster, like it normally does. Except in this drill it will come through at maybe 25 mph and not 90 mph.

Swing like it's a super slow-motion video of your regular swing. Everything is the same at every point except the actual speed.

Here's the payoff. You will find that by swinging so slowly, little flaws in your swing become big flaws. Now you notice them. Now the things that get your swing out of whack stick out like a sore thumb. You'll feel what's right, too, don't get me wrong.

Keep swinging slowly while ironing out the parts that don't feel right and adding them on to the parts that do feel right. You don't need anyone to tell which parts are which. You'll know.

When everything feels right with the super-slo mo swing, you can gradually (and I mean GRADUALLY, not all at once) step it up to full speed, still being aware of all the things you're doing right.

When you get to normal speed, you can STILL feel all the things you're doing right because you trained your mind to notice them. What happens as you speed up, though, is all these parts blend in so you are left with the feeling of one entire right-feeling swing movement, from takeaway to finish.

This unified swing feeling will keep your mind from getting stuck on detailed swing thoughts when you play, which only make things worse.

I’ve been doing this drill for a few months now, and really like how it’s training my mind and my swing. If I were you, I'd try it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

To Sink Putts, Practice Sinking Putts

I’ll tell you what got me from being an average recreational putter to a very good recreational putter. I practiced sinking putts. That’s what we’re trying to do, so that’s what I practiced.

To be sure, I changed my grip, my stance, and my stroke in order for my mechanics to allow me to hit the putt where I want it to go. You have to have the technical points down or you’re not going to get anywhere.

But beyond that, I trained my mind to see a putt as a ball going into the hole. I did this by sinking three-foot putts all over the place on the practice green. Dozens and dozens of three-footers, all going into the hole. By now it's hundreds and hundreds.

You might say, it’s pretty easy to sink three-foot putts one after the other, and I would say, You’re right. But …

Because I’ve done it so often, and continue to do it so often, with such frequent success, my subconscious mind doesn’t know anything else about a putt except that it goes in the hole.

Your subconscious mind is not subtle. It is black and white. All it knows is the putt went in the hole or it stayed out. When the ball goes in all the time, the mind comes to believe that’s what the ball is supposes, and does not question it.

Believe me that changes everything. The body starts executing the stroke on that basis, and Voila! Putts in the hole all over the place.

Oh, I know, you have to read the green and get the pace right for the ball to have a chance. But when it comes time to hit the ball, it all comes down to believing in what you’re doing. Having sunk oceans of putts creates that belief.

Don’t just practice putting. Practice sinking putts.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Personalize Your Golf Grip

I won’t start off this post with a pep talk about how important the right grip is. You should know that already. I’ll just say that by right grip I mean the right grip for you, because that’s what this post is about.

Everyone has different musculature, habitus, and flexibility. You can only swing one way, and your grip must fit in with that swing. I’m going to show that how to find that grip.

Everything in your setup and your swing is designed to help you return the clubhead to the ball square and inline to the target. Since everything leads to impact, let’s start there.

Take a stance in your impact position. You might have to make a few slow swings to get that right. Hold yourself in that position.

You will probably be turned slightly toward the target, and if you have been paying attention to this blog for the past few years, your hands are ahead of the clubhead, which means the clubshaft is leaning slightly toward the target.

Keeping the shaft and your body in that exact position, hold the club in place with your left hand on the butt end of the club and let go with your right hand.

Let your right arm dangle to find its neutral position. Without turning your arm or your hand, swing it straight over to the club and grab on with your right hand.

With your left hand, take hold of the club such that your left palm is facing the target.

Your hands are now in what is a neutral position for you at impact. This is a natural impact position that your hands wants to come back to if you give them a chance.

Keeping your hands where they are, straighten up and take a normal address position. Look down at your hands, because that is your new, personalized grip.

This grip might feel odd because it is not what you are used to. I promise you, though, that it will lead the clubhead into impact like never before, IF YOUR HANDS PRECEDE THE CLUBHEAD INTO THE BALL.

I don’t teach to correct mistakes. I only teach right things and ask you do to them. Lead with your hands, take a grip as if you do, and go hit beautiful shots.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Mental Forward Press

Rhythm is everything in hitting a golf ball. From a putt to a drive, there has to be rhythm. I spend a lot of time talking about the 3:1 rhythm in this space, how to learn it, how to apply it, but there’s one more little thing I want to mention about rhythm.

Rhythm itself has rhythm.

Whenever you start something abruptly, you’re overcoming the inertia of the rest state. There is bound to be a jerk, however slight, that takes a little effort on your part to smooth out again.

Uncorrected, this disturbance can be enough to throw off your golf swing by just enough to make a difference you don’t want to be made.

We need, then, a way to start rhythmically. The rhythm of the swing is set, but the start of the swing needs to have a rhythm, too.

Think of the swing as a back and forth motion. You swing back to the left, and play off that rhythmically with a swing back to the right to hit the ball.

To start smoothy, the leftward motion needs to have something to play off of, too. That would be a slight motion to the right that we know as a forward press.

Normally that’s a physical movement, but I want you to express it in your mind, where it’s even more effective.

Just before you take the club away, the tiniest split-second before, imagine making a small rhythmic movement to the right, then move right away into your swing and its rhythmic 3:1 counting: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 up, and 5 down.

[See Six Fundamentals for an explanation of this counting.]

Remember that the mind leads the body. If the mind starts smoothly with this mental upbeat, the body will too. Guaranteed.

Try this. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.