Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Golf Rangefinder Tip

If you use a laser rangefinder on the golf course, you get an accurate distance to the pin. It would be nice to know where the pin is in relation to the center of the green, though. A location indicator attached to the pin, or on the 150-yard marker, if they're used, is only an approximation.

As you're approaching your ball, and before it's your turn to hit, find a sprinkler head with a yardage affixed and stand right above it. Shoot the pin and compare the difference between the yardage to the pin and the yardage shown on the sprinkler head.

If the sprinkler head yardage is higher, the pin is nearer to the front of the green. If the sprinkler head yardage is less, the pin is nearer to the back of the green.

Most of the time we are short with our approaches (but that's another post). If you know because of what you just found out that the pin is toward the front of the green, you might what to take a longer club to make sure your ball gets to the green.

If the pin is behind the center of the green, you can take less club and hit an easier shot, knowing that you still have enough club to get the ball onto the green. Remember, most greens are at leasts 30 yards deep, which gives you plenty of room for error.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Swing Up With Your Driver? Really?

The advice you read these days is that your driver should be arcing upward when it makes contact with the ball. True enough for recreational golfers. There are some instructors, though, who would have you learn a swing separately for your driver so that could happen.

I won’t argue with them, because they might well be right in that that would be ideal way to play golf. But, recreational golfers who have time to make one trip to the range per week, and play one round of golf per week, don’t have the time to develop two swings. Getting good at just one is hard enough.

So here’s what you don’t have to do to be swinging upward with your driver.

- You don’t have to deliberately swing up at the ball.

- You don’t have to tilt your stance away from the target when you set up to the ball.

- You don't have to tee the ball higher or tee it up way forward in your stance.

None of those things. All you have to do is use your normal stance and your normal golf swing.

I figured this out when I was working on my swing with a 6-iron and no ball. I found that the club kept hitting the ground about thee inches in front of where the club was at address.

This means I would have hit a golf ball lying on the ground while the club was still going slightly down, like we're supposed to. But three inches isn’t that far in front of the ball. After that, the club would have to start arcing upward.

I laid out a few alignment rods as shown in the picture. The orange rod points to the center of my stance, where I would place the ball for an iron shot. The tee peg points to a spot three inches in front of that, marking the bottom of my swing. The yellow rod points to the ball on a tee, even with the inside of my right heel.

As you can see, the yellow rod lies well in front of the bottom of my swing (tee peg). That means when the driver bottoms out three inches in front of the orange rod, it has plenty of time to be arcing upward when it contacts the ball.

When I started swinging normally at a teed-up ball, using the same swing feelings that I do when I swing an iron, the ball just took off.

Remember, all the clubhead has to be doing is moving a few degrees upward. By using your normal swing, that will happen.

One swing is hard enough to learn. Fortunately, that one swing is good enough for everything.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2015 Open Championship Preview

The oldest championship in golf begins this Thursday on the Old Course St. Andrews (“Sinandrews”, to the locals).

The first Open Championship played here was in 1873, and won by Tom Kidd, who shot 91-88 to win by one. Twenty-six competitors teed up for the tournament that was done in one day.

The last time the OC was played here, Louis Oosthuizen won in a walk over Paul Casey.

This aerial photograph shows the first green just beyond Swilcan Burn (lower right), with the 17th green just to to the left. The course runs between the white boundary lines that head toward the upper left of the photo.

Golfing fans have seen this course so many times, it is about as familiar as Augusta National. There are a few things you might not know about it, however.

There are seven double greens, 2/16 through 8/10. They are so large that it takes a truly awful shot to encroach the oncoming group. They can also present a golfer with the longest approach putts he will ever face.

Pay special attention to the 7/11 green, fronted by the Strath bunker, which is in play on the tee shot from #11. It is easy to get into and hard to get out of.

The primary defenses of the course are its bunkers and the wind. Many of the bunkers cannot be seen until you find your ball in them.

The wind can change direction at any time. A wind in your face on the outgoing nine can easily turn around and be in your face coming home. The wind can also carry your ball onto the green, or lead it to one of the infuriating bunkers.

The place to make a score is the Loop, where the course hooks and turns back around, the 8th through the 11th holes. 8 and 11 are little par 3s, and the 9th and 10th are drivable par 4s. The short par-4 12th can be had, too.

Odd note: The course was designed to play in the reverse order from how it‘s played now, viz., 1st tee to 17th green, 18th tee to 16th green, etc. Someone said, the placement of the bunkers seems odd, but when you play the course “backward”, they all make perfect sense. Every year on the first Wednesday in September, the original routing is followed. See here for a fascinating analysis of the reverse course.

Personal note: I played this course in 1968, when you could walk right up to the starter’s shack, pay your fees, and wait for the group on the first to tee to go off and then it was your turn.

How did I do? I kind of got eaten alive, but had loads of fun.

On the first hole, I played a run-up into the green, an obvious shot just by looking at it. As I walked up the fairway, I saw this crack in the ground that gradually got wider. That didn’t give me a good feeling. Sure enough, my ball was in the Burn. “Now I know,” was small consolation.

I did, however, birdie the 17th, the Road Hole -- 3-wood over the hotel, 3-iron onto the green, 20-footer. I thought at the time the hard shot was the tee shot. I didn’t know anything about the Road Hole bunker (and look how close it was to the pin that day!). I guess the Golf Gods didn’t want my ignorance to hurt me twice.

I’ve given up predicting winners or even taking about who the front-runners are. Just enjoy the broadcast and be sure to set your clocks to wake up early on Sunday.

Oh, yes. Word is out that this could be the final OC for legendary starter Ivor Robinson.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How Far Do You Hit Your Irons?

Your irons are your offensive weapons. Once your ball is on the fairway, the shot into the green is where you set up your score. Really knowing how far you hit each iron is critical. Use this easy method to find out.

Go to an executive course nearby with a laser rangefinder. The idea is that you pick a club to analyze and drop a ball in the fairway at a measured distance and hit the club you think will go that far. As the holes, go by, you can refine the distance at where you drop the ball until you have it just just or nearly so.

Let's start with you 9-iron. Maybe you think you hit it 130 yards. Drop a ball 125 yards at from the pin. It's better to start off conservatively. Hit your shot, and if you would call it a representative shot, go to the spot on the green where the pitch mark is. Step off the vertical distance (see illustration) from that mark to the pin. Add that distance to, or subtract it from 125 yards, accordingly, and do the same on the next eight holes, if possible.

After nine holes, you will have a good number of data points to work with. Estimate the distance you hit your 9-iron by taking out the longest four and the shortest four. The one in the middle is the distance to use.

Now play nine more holes, from 145 yards, analyzing your 7-iron.

You can also do this with your 5-iron and your 3-iron or hybrid equivalent.

Now look at the yardages you have for these four clubs. There should be a consistent progression from club to club. It won’t always be ten yards. I hit my irons at nine-yard intervals. When in doubt, adjust a club distance downward.

Determining distances between hybrids is more difficult. Because we don’t hit greens with them too often, it’s hard to tell exactly where the ball landed.

I have twelve-yard intervals between hybrids, as well as between my longest iron and shortest hybrid. I learned that by keeping watch on the course and adjusting as I gathered results.

Play several rounds on a regulation course now, sticking to the yardages you just figured out, and see how it goes. Adjust if you are always short, but if you are always long (but not too long), don’t change a thing.

I would go through this exercise every year. You change, your swing changes, and especially if you bought a new set of irons, do this right away.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Don't Let the Golf Ball Distract You

We all have a practice swing that is sheer poetry, but put a golf ball in front of us and we become our old selves again. How do we stop doing that?

First of all, why do we do it? It’s because we get too caught up in results instead of process. If we do the right things, and the ball is in the way, it will go where we want it to go.

We just can’t resist adding a little extra, trying to make the ball go where we want it to, just to be sure. We can’t believe it is as simple as just swinging the club correctly.

But it is.

So here’s my advice on how to re-train your brain not to get distracted by the ball -- how to see your swing at a ball in the same way as you take your practice swing.

Put a ball on the ground in front of you, and address it. Now back away from it about six inches so when you swing you won’t hit it.
Make some swings, five or so, heck, ten, but as you swing, look at the ball. Don’t ignore it as you do with a practice swing. Look at that ball head on.

After a time, your mind will start associating the ball in front of you with a smooth swing that does not contact the ball in funny ways. Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha.

Because there is no result with this swing, your mind stops thinking about results, and focuses just on swinging.

Your conscious mind is in on the deception, but your unconscious mind is not at all this subtle. All it knows is that when you swing at the ball, nothing happens. There’s nothing to worry about. Your fears never arise, and it’s from the unconscious mind where they originate.

Since you’re re-training your brain, you have to practice this exercise a lot. You can’t just give yourself a suggestion. That’s working with your conscious mind. Habits are formed in the unconscious mind.

Doing this drill over and over is how you build a new habit, one that leaves you feeling like hitting the ball is doesn’t add anything to what you’re already doing. That’s how you keep the ball from distracting you.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Relax Your Upper Body at Address

Before we hit a shot, our mind must be relaxed and at peace with what we are about to do.

Now it might sound odd to think about being at peace with something as minor as hitting a golf ball, compared to the truly big things in life that deserve that frame of mind.

Yet, whenever we are challenged and have to perform our best, we are challenged in the same way, and we respond in the same way, regardless of the nature of the challenge. That’s the way our mind works.

Since this is a blog post, and not a book, I can’t address all the issues that arise from this simple beginning. I’ll just pick out one, and hope it helps you in some small way.

The mind leads the body. What you feel in your body is a reflection of what you feel in your mind.

When there is tension in your mind, you will feel it somewhere in your body, guaranteed. You might have become so used to it that you do not notice it, but it’s there. I promise you.

In golf, mental tension is often felt in the upper body, in the shoulders and across the upper chest at shoulder level. That tension radiates down to your arms and hands. They all feel tight, like force is being applied, but not against anything. It’s just there, and it’s an indicator that you’re not ready to hit the shot.

When address the ball, check yourself for this tension. It doesn’t help you swing the way you have trained yourself to do. Remember it’s there because of tension in your mind, so get rid of it by getting rid of the tension in your mind.

How much tension do you have in your mind when you make a practice swing? None. Zip. Nada. Step up to the ball with that same feeling in your mind and swing away.

I’m not promising you that you’ll hit a stellar shot, but I am promising you the odds of hitting shots like you expect to hit will be much greater with a relaxed mind than with a tense mind.

If you think about it, many of your bad shots were caused by mental tension in the moment rather than bad technique. This is one way to solve the problem.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

How to Hit a Fade or a Draw, in 50 Words

(and one video, q.v.)

1. Always align your body parallel to the yellow rod.

2. Always aim the clubface halfway between the two rods.

3. Fade: the orange rod is the target line and the yellow rod is the swing line.

4. Draw: The yellow rod is the target line and the orange rod is the swing line.

All this is predicated on being able to hit the ball straight at will. Otherwise, you’ll just be adding more uncertainty to your game.

Practice these shots before you use them on the course.

Make sure the swing line points in a direction that won’t hurt you if the curve doesn’t come off as planned.

When you set up, disregard your target. Think only of the direction you want the ball to start. If you think of where you want the ball to end up, you will try to move the ball there deliberately, ruining everything.

The amount of curvature you get depends on the angle between the two rods and your ability to curve the ball. Experiment to find out your results.