Sunday, January 25, 2015

Trust Your Golf Swing

Trust your swing. You hear that phrase a lot from professional golfers. It means to rely on what you have practiced and play with what you’ve practiced instead of monitoring technical points as you play. That last part is still practice. Practice is over. It’s time to play.

I’ve heard Olympic athletes say that, too. They practice their skill over and over so when it’s time to compete they just do what they practiced. They don’t think about it any more. They just do it.

Recreational golfers, I think, would find this difficult to do. Very few of us (including me) practice enough that our positive habits become so ingrained and that we can rely on them without further reference.

In our game, when we address the ball, we’re often still not sure if this thing is going to work. So we decide to help it along.

There, my friend, is the worst mistake we can make on the golf course. That extra little thing, which is no more than a last-second guess, almost always makes things worse.

You might find instead that your best shots came when, by some lucky accident, your internal voice turned off for a moment and you just swung the club. What you had practiced is what came out and you got a great shot out of it.

When got to the ball for the shot after that one, you started to wonder what you did last time that made that shot so great so you began sorting through technical points, when all that really happened is you just SHUT UP for a change and played golf.

In order to trust your swing, though, you have to have something to trust. Start small.

A few weeks ago in the Transforming Your Short Game post, I asked you to hit every short shot forward, and let the club get the ball in the air. That’s pretty easy to learn.

When you go to the course, concentrate on doing that. Play all your other shots as you normally do, but bear down on those short ones and learn how to use your mind in a way that you play with what you practiced.

At first you will have to do it consciously, but after a while hitting short shots forward will become second nature. You will have learned how to trust.

Then pick another shot and work on it the same way. When you learn how to trust that stroke, move on to another one, and so on, working up gradually to your fullest swing.

I think you will see the payoff quickly.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Determining Your Golf Scoring Potential

Everyone wants to be a better golfer. Well, almost everyone. But if you’re one who does, you might already be a better player than you think you are.

Have you ever skanked a shot, then dropped another ball and hit it just great? The second time was no accident. You are that good. For some reason, that goodness didn't come out the first time.

How low would you score if your round consisted of nothing but your better shots? Let’s find out. You’re going to play a half scramble with yourself.

Go out to the course when it's not too busy, because you’re going to play two balls. Ball A you play like you usually do. Hit it, find it, hit it again.

Ball B is the scramble ball. If you don’t like the shot you hit off the tee with Ball A, hit another one, Ball B. Now two balls are in play. Remember, Ball A is pure golf. No fudging with that ball.

When you get to Ball B, you hit it. If you like the shot, take it and move on. If you don’t, drop another ball and hit it. That ball is the new Ball B. Pick up the old Ball B because it is now out of play.

What you’re doing is giving yourself a second chance on one ball whenever you need one. The other ball you play straight up.

Hole out Ball A, and Ball B. Record both scores. Here’s how it might work for one hole:

Ball A: tee shot into fairway, iron short and left, chip onto green, approach putt, putt into hole. Score = 5.

You didn't play a Ball B on the tee shot because it was a good one. You hit the iron again, though, and got onto the green. Ball B is now in play and lying 2 on the green. Your approach putt with this ball went eight feet past the hole, so you hit it again and left it two feet short. Lying three, you hit the two-footer into the hole. Score = 4.

What if you go, fairway, green, putt, putt with Ball A? Well, good for you! Put down a four for Ball A and Ball B, even though you never played a Ball B on that hole.

One little rule: Whenever you hit a shot over again, you have to play that shot. No deciding the first one was really better and sticking with it.

The greater the difference between the Ball A and Ball B score, the greater your scoring potential. Nine holes of this is enough.

So how do you bring your Ball A score down to your Ball B score? Read my book, The Golfing Self and find out. It's not in your shot-making, it's in how you use your mind.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Transform Your Short Game

We don’t hit a lot of greens. If we want to try for our par, or preserve our bogey, we need a reliable short game. This is what I mean by “reliable”, in terms of recreational golf: you make good contact every time, control the ball every time, and get the ball on the green every time so you can start putting.

Every recreational golfer can attain that standard. If you do, you will prevent yourself from ringing up extra strokes needlessly.

There are two ways of shooting lower scores. One of them is to get good. The other is to stop being bad. Those two are different. This article is about the second one.

I want you to try something and see what happens. Spend some time on the practice tee learning it, then go out the the course and try it out.

Remember that article I posted a few weeks ago on hitting the ball in a flat trajectory and letting the club get the ball in the air?

That’s what I want you to do with every short shot you hit. EVERY short shot.

Whether it’s an 80-yard pitch or a 20-foot chip, hit the ball with a flat trajectory. Let the club get the ball in the air.

I’m not saying to skull it so the ball gets six inches off the ground and runs three miles.

I’m saying to keep the club low to the ground and level with it as you hit through the ball, allowing the clubface to do ALL the work of getting the ball in the air.

What you get from this solves two short game problems. First, you get much cleaner contact. No chunking. A clean, on-the-clubface strike.

Second, you get spin. You’ll have to learn how to work with this, but once you get spin, you can make the ball do anything.

Those two things add up to reliable short game shots. From there, you can start refining your shot-making to zero in on the pin, which is the getting good part.

Bonus: if you get this down in your short game, it will feed over into your long game and you’ll hit better long shots and more greens.

So try it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ernie Els, You're Not

Every golf instructor in the world wants you to swing like Ernie Els. They show you videos of him so you can see what you are aiming for. Watch out, though. His swing is not what it seems.

The main thing you get from watching Els’s swing is his marvelous rhythm. Go ahead and copy that. His swing speed is another matter entirely.

You know, it looks like he has a languid, flowing swing that any of us can imitate. But we also wonder why he hits the ball so far with such a slow swing. News flash: his swing is FAST. It only looks slow because of its efficiency.

Here’s a video from that puts a clock on his swing. From takeaway to impact, it’s only 1.033 seconds. Let’s call it one second. That’s fast.

If you can get a metronome, set at mm=60 and get it going. Now when you hear a tick, start your swing, and swing the way you normally do. By the time you hear the next tick, the club should have returned to the impact point.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts you were maybe halfway into your downswing when you heard that second tick.

My legal department advised me to warn you against trying a one-second swing right now just to see if you can do it. You could hurt yourself. Seriously. So don’t do it!

If you want to hit the ball farther, one of the things you have to do is swing faster. But if you want to pick up your swing speed, you need to do it gradually. This is not a one-week project. More like six months, at least.

When you start swinging faster, it throws your timing off. You have to do the same things, in the same order, in less time. That takes getting used to.

Not to mention, there is a practical limit to your swing speed based on your strength, flexibility, and athleticism.

And finally, you don’t want to swing at your maximum speed anyway. You want to swing at your optimum speed, which is a bit slower.

How do you know what that speed is? If you gradually pick up your swing speed and start hitting the ball worse, that’s too fast.

So let Ernie be Ernie. Let you be you. Admire his swing, but remember it’s his swing, not yours.

Monday, December 29, 2014

13 Golf Clubs, One Swing II

Many beginning golfers worry about getting the ball in the air, so they try to lift it when they swing. In time, they learn that the loft of the club will do that for them, but lifting has been built into their conception of the golf swing. Until this idea is changed, the potential of their swing will be forever limited.

Let's change that idea right now.

The purpose of the swing is to hit the ball out away from you to a certain distance that depends on the club's construction. Getting the ball up in the air is not part of that.

When you bring the club into the ball at impact, think of hitting the ball so it starts off with a flat trajectory, dead level, not up and over. Think that you will hit the ball so it goes out from where it lies with no elevation added.

The club will get the ball in the air. Forget about that part of it. Your job is to hit the ball forward in a flat, level, horizontal line toward the target.

Also, resist the urge to hit harder. Hit the ball forward at your normal pace and let this trick work its magic.

You know the reason you don’t hit your driver well? It’s because you have been told to swing down with your irons and you do. Then you were told you have to be hitting the ball on the upswing with your driver and you do.

That’s two different swings and you’re only going to get one of them right, if at all. Normally it’s the driver swing that suffers the most.

But a swing built as if to send the ball off on a flat trajectory works with every club you put in your hand.

Try it.

(Remember that post from a few weeks ago about a little squaring up move at impact? If you do what I'm telling you in this post, you'll take care of that move at the same time.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

How Far Do You Hit It, Really?

We all think we hit it farther than we do. You hear that a lot. Actually, I think each of us has a very god idea of how far we hit it. It’s just not as far as we would like.

This chart tells the approximate truth. If you have a swing speed with your driver of 95 mph, which is high for the majority of recreational golfers, you will carry the ball 210 yards. With adequate roll, you can get about 225 yards out of that shot.

Now roll is highly variable. Have you ever seen an aerial shot of a Tour event and there’s a shot of a drive that falls straight out of the sky and maybe gets two yards of roll?

But, it was hit in the air a ton. Recreational golfers don’t hit those kinds of shots. Ours go lower and roll more.

So don’t kid yourself. If you are an average recreational golfer and you hit your driver 200 yards in the air, that’s a good shot. Add on maybe 15-20 yards of roll and you can play with that length.

Want to hit it farther? Assuming you hit the ball on the center of the clubface regularly (and that’s a big assumption) you’ll hit it farther by swinging faster AND maintaining good tempo.

A more lofted driver might help, too, but that’s another post.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Build You Swing Around Your Wedges II

A few years ago I started advising anyone who would listen that this is the way to build a competent, consistent golf swing. Hit wedges, lots of wedges. Take the club back halfway, swing through to a full finish.

This is my second post on the subject, hence the quantifier in the title. But the notion is so important that I don’t want to let it be one and done because you might never find that first post. So I’m posting the idea again.

Actually, I should post it every other week, it’s that important, but that probably would create a different impression in your mind than emphasis, so I won’t.

There are three reasons why this is such an important drill.

One. It teaches you how to bring the club into the hitting area, through impact, and into your follow-through. If you want to work hard on the Six Fundamentals, this is the drill to use. Because it is a short swing, you can concentrate on getting those parts of it just right.

Two. It teaches you how to hit your longer pitch shots, probably the last shot recreational golfers learn to hit well. You can drop a lot of strokes off your score if you expect to get down in three from 75 yards, and maybe two, than down in four and maybe three.

Three. This is the big one. If you hit enough of these shots, you will create a swing feeling in your mind that is not tied in any way to your technique. You train your mind to just step up and swing automatically. Believe me, you will play much more consistently if you can learn to do that.

Drill. Take your sand wedge to the range. Just that one club. Make four dry (no ball in front of you) half-wedge swings. Swing halfway going back, and follow through to a full finish. After the four dry swings, pull a ball forward and make the same swing without thinking of the ball. Just repeat what you did four times.

When making your dry swings, do not take too long between them. Take just a few seconds to get set up again and swing. You’re not rushing, but what I want you to avoid is giving yourself enough time to think about what you’re doing. I don’t want you to think. I want you to swing.

Then when you pull the ball over to hit it, keep up that same rhythm instead of thinking, “OK, now I’m going to hit a golf ball,” or anything else. Just swing.

Say you have a small bucket with 30 golf balls. That will be 150 swings. That’s a lot of practice which will pay off if repeated frequently. If you do this all winter, every time you go to the range, I guarantee your swing will be miles better next spring than it is now.

Heck, you can even do this drill, without golf balls, of course, in your living room.* Put down a throw rug underneath your club so you don’t scuff your carpet. Swing five times and take a break for a minute. Repeat nine times. Do this daily, or as often as you can get to it, and you’ll get in a LOT of practice that will pay off more than you know.

And like I said, your swing will be miles better next spring than it is now.

In advance, you’re welcome.

* What about the ceiling? I’m 6’6” tall, and with a sand wedge I don’t even come close to hitting my 8-foot ceiling at any time.