Sunday, September 18, 2016

Make More Short Putts

Short putts are between two feet and four feet long. There is no reason you can’t sink them at professional rates. Here are four ideas on how to meet that standard.

1. Practice them. Hit putts from two to four feet over and over again. You can do this at home every day on a carpet. Hit ten putts or so. That will take you two minutes, tops. Put your putter down, come back a half hour later, and hit ten more. Repeat every half hour.

This is the “little and often” method that is used so effectively in foreign language learning. Do a little bit, but repeat it often.

2. Putt at an object. Do you have a water bottle that is about four inches in diameter? You can get one at an outdoor store.

In my first book, Better Recreational Golf, I suggested that you putt at a positive object rather than a negative hole. Putt to hit the water bottle. It is so easy you just can’t miss.

You’re training your mind to see a bottle rather than a hole. When you play, hit the ball against the imaginary bottle, and the ball goes in the hole, simple as that.

3. Start the putter back slowly, gradually. By starting the stroke very slowly you keep the putter under control. The face stays square, the putter goes straight back and naturally comes straight through.

There’s no need to rush your short putting stroke. On the other hand, don’t be deliberate. The entire stroke doesn’t need to be slow, just the start.

4. Take the putter straight back and bring it straight through. This keeps the putter's face square at all times. The short putting stroke is short enough that you can do that without having to manipulate the club.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't Let One Bad Hole Get You Down

You're cruising and up comes a blow-up hole. The round is trashed. For the rest of the day you can't get over what happened.

The mistake is that you were thinking about how well you have been playing up that point, and getting an inflated opinion of your true ability. You forget that even though your game can get you around the course looking pretty good for a while, it’s not so good that an X can’t pop out every now and then.

In golf, you get what you deserve. If you go fairway, green, putt, putt, you deserve that because you’re good enough to have earned it. Sometimes you get into a situation you just aren’t skilled enough to handle, and you deserve the score you get there, too. You have to accept your weaknesses along with your strengths.

So, when you write a few pars on your scorecard, don’t think you have become a par golfer all of a sudden. Learn how to write “par” on the scorecard when you get one, and then forget about it. That hole is over. Once you can do that, you can write an X on your scorecard and forget about that, too, and go back to enjoying yourself.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Few Little Things

No essay today -- just a few thoughts for you, in no particular order.

1. At the range, hit one ball at a time. Put your bucket in a place where you have to walk to it to get another ball. This will force you to set up all over again for each shot. This is how you practice your setup: grip, stance, posture, aim, ball position. Most of your bad shots are the result of a bad setup, not a bad swing.

2. Make your first read of a putt standing 50 feet from the hole. Only from that distance can you see the overall tilt of the green. Do you want to know why you missed that straight-in 3-footer? Because you couldn’t see from just a few feet behind the ball that the entire green was tilted to the left.

3. Have you figured out which club you want to hit from the fairway? Factored in lie, wind, green firmness? Good. Now take one more club and grip down an inch. Otherwise, you’re relying on a perfect strike.

4. Hit a few stock 9-irons. Your swing with a driver should take just as long, from start to finish, as those.

5. Unless you’re hitting a specialty shot, use the same ball position for all shots off the ground. Thus the ball will always be in the same place relative to the bottom of your swing.

6. You can’t generate clubhead speed by turning your hips at 100 mph. The calmer your center stays, the more speed will be built up at the outside -- the clubhead.

7. Never hit over water unless you have no choice. Bad things happen when you challenge a water hazard needlessly.

8. Make it your rule from close in to get the ball on the green in one shot. Even if you leave the ball 30 feet from the hole, you’ve done your job.

9. The conventional advice when playing a par 3 from an elevated tee is to take less club. Actually, you should take more club and punch the ball off the tee. This is a more secure swing, and keeps the ball down to get the ball on the green quicker.

10. At the range, practice as long as your mind is sharp. If you feel your mind is losing focus, that’s enough for the day. Give the rest of your bucket to another golfer and go home. You don’t learn anything when your mind is tired.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Putting Drill

Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy a 4-foot metal ruler. It’s just a couple bucks.

Lay the ruler down on the floor and put a golf ball in the center of the ruler at about the 40-inch mark or so.


Now putt the ball down the length of the ruler so it stays between the numbers on each side.

Try not to manipulate the ball down the ruler. The ball staying between the numbers is an indicator, not the goal.

Just staying on the ruler doesn't count. The ball has to run the length of the ruler in the center.

If you need to make a correction, do, but when you hit the ball, trust your stoke and see what happens.

The practice green, is for learning pace and green-reading. Develop your stroke at home. This is a good way to do it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Back-Friendlier Golf Swing

I’m not going to beat around the bush. The human body, especially the lower spine, was not designed to withstand the stresses the golf swing places on it. As a recreational golfer, there is no sense in letting your pastime harm your health.

Stress on the back in golf is caused by leaning forward, twisting, and bending to the side. There is also compression, which is the weight of your upper body bearing down vertically on your spine.

You can’t eliminate these stresses, but, except for compression, you can minimize them. Here are a few ways to do that.

NOTE: If you have low back pain right now when you play, something is wrong. Please see a doctor to find out what that is. Continuing to play golf could be making a problem worse.

1. Slow down your swing, including the part where you swing through the ball. All the forces being applied to your back multiply when you swing through the ball, and they the faster you swing, the more force they load onto your lower back.

2. Stand a little closer to the ball. Not a lot, just a few inches. This will put you in a more upright posture and reduce the unsupported mechanical stress that leaning forward places on your lower back. The lie angles of your irons might need to be adjusted, depending on how much closer you set up.

3. Turn your left foot out. To get more hip turn, turn your left foot out 10 degrees or so. Not too much, because you will create problems for yourself on the throughswing. But do not leave that foot square, like Ben Hogan wanted you too.

4. Take a narrower stance. This frees up the hips to turn more, reducing the amount you twist your spine. This point also helps minimize lateral bending, since your right side is now closer to the ball.

5.Play the ball in the center of your stance when it is on the ground. If the ball is too far forward, you will need to put more lateral bend in your back to go get it.

6. Take a shorter backswing. Use the backswing you would use for an 80-yard pitch. This will prevent you from twisting your spine too much, too. Jim McLean wants you to have a big X-factor so you can hit the ball a long way. Your back does not like a big X-factor.

7. Let the right heel float. If it comes off the ground, fine. If it stays there, fine. Just don’t glue it to the ground. Let it do what it wants to do.

8. Let the left leg straighten on the backswing. I know, everybody these days wants you keep the angle in it you had at address. Allowing the left leg to straightening lets you turn your left hip back more, reducing your X-factor. This will not hurt your ball-striking once you get used to it.

9. Keep your weight balanced through impact. Let your weight go right after you have hit the ball, but not before. Putting the weight right early creates excess lateral bending, because while the lower body is going left , the upper body has to stay back where it was until you have hit the ball. There will always be some lateral bending at impact. Just don’t overdo it.

10. Swing the club with your hands, both hands equally. Swing like you one have one clump of hands on the club, not two separate ones. This not only a better way to swing, for technical reasons, but it will prevent you from trying to hit with your left hand, which can induce lateral bending.

11. Finish upright. Your torso should be straight up and down at the finish, not learning toward the right. A line running down the front of your torso and right leg should be straight -- no bending your torso backward, or bowing your right leg.

This article explains in detail the relation between golf and low back pain. (Accessed July 4, 2016.)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Guest Spot on The Golf Fix

I got a call from The Golf Channel a few weeks ago saying they liked my blog and would I like to be a guest on The Golf Fix. I said, sure. They said bring three things to talk about. I said that would be easy.

So when Michael Breed asks me what I have for the viewers, I will mention three things that if every golfer could do them, the sound of the nationwide crash of handicaps plummeting would be enough to put the National Guard on alert.

Faithful readers of this space should already know what two of them are.

The first one is rhythm and tempo -- 3:1 rhythm from takeaway to impact, at a tempo that lets you get the center of the clubface on the ball.

The second one is the hands lead the clubhead into impact. This leads to mastery. The clubhead getting to the ball first leads to one disaster after another.

The third one is to replace your urge to hit the golf ball with the joy of swinging the golf club. If there’s a ball in the way of the swing, so much the better.

Then I would show drills you could use for each point.

To get rhythm and tempo right, just count as you swing. 1 is the moment of takeaway, 2, 3, 4 to the top, and 5 at impact, performed at a pace (tempo) that, to you, feels unhurried.

For the hands leading the clubhead, I demonstrate drill from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book on swinging down slowly to hip level three times and on the fourth, at the same speed, continuing down and through the ball.

For the third point, I would say take practice swings, as many as you like, with a ball in front of you, but a few inches farther away so you can see it, but won’t hit it. By seeing the ball but never hitting it, you gradually replace “hit” in your mind with “swing.”

I would say, Do each of these drills for two minutes every day (six minutes, total), and see what you get after 60 days.

Then I would look at Michael, who for once would be speechless. After all, what more would there be to say?

This is what I’ll present for my guest spot on The Golf Fix. But you don’t have to wait. Start doing these three things right now, and let me know in 60 days how it came out.

So when will my fifteen minutes of fame be on the air? Well, unfortunately they had the wrong number. When they found out who they were really talking to, they apologized and hung up.

I guess all this will remain our little secret, and my little fantasy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How to Break 100, 90, or 80

Breaking a milestone scores is a major event in a golfer’s life. It signals improvement and gives assurance that going lower still is a possibility.

There are books written on how to break each of these three scores, filled with technique. If you’re a few strokes away, you already have the technique. Think instead about how you plan your round. It makes a difference.

Breaking 100

If you got a double bogey on every hole you would shoot 108. So you can get a double bogey on just nine holes, a bogey on the rest, and there’s 99.

What is killing your score now is not a lack of pars and bogeys. It is the triples and quads. At your level your job is not to take fewer strokes on a hole, but to avoid taking extra ones.

Do that by shoring up your play at each end of the hole.

First, leave your driver at home. Leave your 3-wood at home, too. Tee off with a hybrid iron, one that gets the ball out there 175-180 yards but in the fairway.

Second, from 50 yards and in, just get your ball on the green in the same area as the pin. Do not get cute and try for the pin.

You’re not that good yet. Just get the ball on the green and take your two putts.

Nine bogeys + nine doubles = 99

Breaking 90

Now you have to start making pars. I would still leave the driver at home. Use the longest club with which you can reliably get the ball in the fairway from off the tee, to be on offense from the start.

You also have to get better around the green. Eliminate down-in-four from 50 yards in. You should be getting down in two from just off the green half as often as not.

Get your pars by parring one of the par 3s, one of the par 4s and two of the par fives.

You might say, if I get four pars that gives me an 86. Yes, but you’re still going to have some doubles and maybe a triple.

Your game is in the middle where you’re capable of making pars, but still capable of making big scores, too.

Four pars + eleven bogeys + three doubles = 89


Breaking 80


Now you have to play well all around. Seven over sounds pretty tough, but that’s more wiggle room than you think it is.

Your goal should be to have a putt for par on every hole. Sometimes that putt will 45 feet long, not two feet, but the ball is still on the green and your putt is for a par.

At your level, par is a reasonable expectation on all but a few holes on your course. For those few holes, go for bogey, but give yourself a chance for par. Don’t go all out for par and end up with a double.

Get your pars on two par 3s, five par 4s, and all the par 5s.

Eleven pars + seven bogeys = 79.

In reality, you have to throw in another par somewhere, because going 18 holes without a double bogey is really hard for an 80-shooter to do. Birdies are still happy accidents at this level.