Southern California's #1 Golf School
Reprinted from our monthly newsletter.
PUTTING ON FAST GREENS
HOW to PRACTICE AFTER a LAYOFF
DISTANCE and CLUB SELECTION
COMPETITION ON THE PRACTICE GREEN
DEVELOP a SMOOTH, CONSISTENT PUTTING STROKE
MAKE YOUR PITCH SHOTS "CHECK-UP"
REPAIRING BALL MARKS on the GREEN
STANCE and BALL POSITION
KEEP YOUR PUTTING STROKE SMOOTH AND RHYTMIC
GETTING MORE CONSISTENT WITH LONG IRONS
HITTING FROM DOWNHILL LIES
HOW TO LEARN FROM WATCHING GOLF ON TV
HITTING A CONTROLLED SLICE
BE SURE YOUR ALIGNMENT IS CORRECT
Most pros really like putting on fast greens. The ball rolls truer than on slow greens, reading breaks is easier and pros can depend on sound putting strokes. But, many golfers have great difficulty with fast greens. If you lack confidence on fast greens, keep focused on basic putting fundamentals while practicing:
- Constant light and relaxed grip pressure throughout the stroke.
- Start with the putter blade just off the putting surface, "hanging" from your shoulders.
- Make the stroke slowly and rhythmically by rocking your shoulders and arms together back and forward in a pendulum motion (hands and arms move back and forward together with shoulders).
- "Release" the putter by following through with the forward rocking of your shoulders and arms, eyes staring at the spot where the ball was until long after the stroke .
- Keep legs, head and rest of body motionless all during the stroke.
With attention to these fundamentals, your putting stroke will be consistent and confident, and you will enjoy putting on fast greens.
You'll see marked improvement in putting your first hour with us.
Vijay Singh says that if he misses a day of practice, it takes him a week to get back to where he was. Sound a little extreme? The point is, most of us here in Southern California, used to playing golf year round, still go through periods of not playing or practicing. We shouldn't expect to immediately get back to our normal game. So, how can we avoid the frustration of wayward drives, 3-putt greens and duffed pitch shots? I suggest the following:
- Take a day to just practice. Concentrate on the basics. Don't expect to feel totally comfortable with anything in the beginning. Swing easy, and spend most of your time with shorter irons and putting & chipping. Be sure you do some stretching before you start, and don't practice too long; perhaps an hour at the most.
- It will be really beneficial if after a couple of days you have another practice session. Work your way up to the longer irons and driver. Make sure you work on your short game also.
- Now you are ready to play. It may take you a few holes to get back into the groove; so don't give in to frustration.
One aspect of course management is to know the distance from where your ball lies to the target, usually the green (or more specifically, the hole). Most golf courses have distances written on sprinkler heads; there are also "150 yard" markers; and often there are signs on cart paths indicating 200, 150, and 100 yards. NOTE: These distances are to the middle of the green. It is, of course, the golfer's responsibility to determine whether the hole is located in the back, center or front of the green. Further, it is important to consider the firmness of the green and whether the ball will roll up or down hill. Without taking these things into consideration, an otherwise excellent shot may put your ball in a poor position from which to play the next shot. To maximize the use of all this information, I suggest the following:
- Get to know the distance you can expect to hit each club (you can do this on the practice range by hitting to targets of known distance).
- When planning a shot to a green, take a few extra seconds to determine where on or near the green you would like the ball to land, based upon conditions, hole location and wind.
- Make your club selection, and take the shot as planned, with confidence.
Make this routine a habit, and you will soon see improvement in your scores.
Most players find it difficult to putt on the course as well as they do on the practice green. One reason is that they are more relaxed on the practice green, usually putting two or three balls consecutively at the target; whereas, on the course you get one shot at it, and you may not be sure of the break or speed. Of course, confidence is a major requirement in good putting.
Setting up a competition with one or two other players during practice allows you to add a little "spice" to your practice and prepare yourself to putt better under pressure on the course. A game I often play with my golfing buddies (and sometimes with students) is called "Sevens". One player begins by picking a hole and stroking a putt, followed by the other player. The player whose ball is closest to the hole gets one point; but to keep it, he has to sink the second putt. Any player who three putts, loses a point. A player who sinks the first putt gets two points. If a second player sinks his first putt on the same hole, he gets four points. Keep playing until one player reaches seven points. He is the winner. Try playing this game next time you have a chance. It will make you a better putter.
Here is a great way to improve your putting, especially those four, five and six footers. It is so important to keep your head absolutely still throughout the putting stroke. After you have taken your stance over the ball, focus on the back of the ball. In your periphery, you can see the putter head moving away from the ball on your back swing and return to the ball. As the club impacts the ball, continue to focus on the spot where the ball was. Keep your head and eyes in the same position until the ball has had time to reach the hole. It takes practice and discipline to do this; but the reward is that you will sink more putts.
You'll see marked improvement in putting your first hour with us.
Most golfers have difficulty with short shots of ten to thirty yards. When the ball lands on the green it often rolls past the hole and even off the other side of the green. This is caused when a player tries to "scoop" the ball into the air by releasing his hands to early on the down swing or "slapping" the ball. When the ball does land on the green, it has almost no backspin, which is needed for it to land "soft" and "check up". To create backspin on a pitch shot and better control the ball once it lands on the green requires two key elements: 1) The club head must be traveling downward as it impacts the ball, and 2) On the down swing, the club head must approach the ball from a fairly steep angle.
On a pitch shot the back swing begins with lifting the club with the right arm, shoulders rotating in response. Keeping the left arm "inert" allows the left wrist to cock early on the backswing. Since the distance is short, the back swing is relatively short (depending on the actual distance). After the back swing is completed, the down swing begins with a gentle, slight turn of the hips. The rest of the body follows and the left wrist remains cocked until just before impact, and releases naturally at the right moment. The club head strikes the ball from a steep downward direction, the loft of the club forcing the ball into the air with backspin. When the ball lands on the green, its backspin will slow the ball's momentum, and it will "check up" (usually with one bounce and then check up). The amount of checking up depends upon the amount of backspin imparted and the balls trajectory. NOTE: When hitting this shot from tall grass, less backspin will be produced due to grass coming between the club and ball at impact.
With our help, you will become confident with this shot.
OK, so this isn't your usual golf tip; but it is very important to the game. We all notice the chunks taken out of greens where balls have landed, or see brown spots where someone has repaired a ball mark poorly, and the grass in that area has died. As you have, no doubt, experienced, this can be challenging and annoying if it occurs in the line between your ball and the cup. Assuming all of our readers respect this important bit of golf etiquette, let's review the process to most efficiently and completely repair a ball mark.
- Begin just behind the and ball mark (the part furthest from where you had hit your approach shot. If you are using a golf tee, put it into the ground there and push the raised grass towards the front, usually filling in much of the mark. Then put the tee back into the ground at the side of the mark, pushing the grass towards the center. Continue this around the entire mark until it does not show. Then, tap the area with the sole of your putter to smooth it.
- If you are using a "divot repair tool", these have two prongs, which can be put into the ground, as is the golf tee, but you can twist the tool as well as push the grass toward the center of the ball mark. When you learn to use this tool, it may do a better job than a tee.
- If a small bit of grass is detached from the ball mark, or barely attached, discard it off the green. It cannot be used in the repair
- Ball marks have to be repaired as quickly as possible after they are made. The longer they are left to dry out in the sun, the less effectively they can be repaired.
- On the course we try to set an example by fixing our own marks, plus two or three others on each green. I wish more people did the same.
When professionals and other players who are diligent about repairing ball marks have finished on the green, there will be no signs they were ever there.
"Where should I play the ball in my stance? Do I play the ball further "back" in my stance for a 9 iron than for a 4 iron?" There is a bit of confusion on the subject of stance and ball position.
Most people take an increasingly wider stance the longer the club. This is correct, because the stance is your "base" to help keep you balanced. The longer the club, the more momentum created by the swing, the wider the stance needs to be. For the driver, position your feet slightly wider apart than the width of your shoulders; for long irons, even with your shoulders; and for short irons, less than the width of your shoulders. For pitches and chip shots, your stance is even narrower.
Rather than playing the ball "forward" or "back" in your stance, play it in relation to your left heel (right-handers). I call this "the 2-ball position". With your driver (tee shot), play the ball opposite or just inside your left heel. For all other clubs, play the ball 2 to 3 inches inside your left heel (the ball will appear to be forward or back due to the differences in your width of stance).
We emphasize the little details that will make a BIG difference in your game.
Tip coming soon!
For almost all golfers, the "long irons" are the most difficult clubs to hit. With 2, 3, 4 and 5-irons, the longer shafts plus lower loft, allow less room for error when we swing them and, to many, these clubs are intimidating. Also, we tend to swing too hard when we use a "long iron". Here are some suggestions that may help you improve your consistency in this part of your game:
- Swing at 80% of your power capacity. In other words, instead of selecting a 5-iron for a shot of a particular distance, take a 4-iron and swing easier. You'll make a better swing, and even if you don't hit it perfectly, you have a better chance of getting a good result.
- Take a 5-wood or 3-wood instead of a 3-iron. Most of us can hit it better. Recently, at the PGA Championship, we saw several players hit 5-wood and hybrid on a par 3. Why not us? A nice, easy 5-wood will probably go higher and have a better chance of staying on the green. Just swing at 80%.
- At the practice range, when aiming at the flags, use one club longer than usual, concentrate on the basics and swing easy. Your long irons will become more consistent.
Invest a few days with us, and your long irons and hybrids will be much more fun to hit.
Even with a sound putting stroke, we often miss putts we could have made. Here are a couple of green reading techniques, which are often overlooked. First, as you walk up toward your ball after you have hit it onto the green, take a good look at the entire green. From further away you can get a perspective of all the undulations and general direction it slopes. When you are lining up your putt, this information will help you read the breaks better. Second, as your approach shot hits the green, watch as it rolls, especially if it is rolling in the direction of the hole. Also, be sure to focus on the direction your first putt rolls if it passes the hole. This will make the come-back put much easier. And, of course watch the ball as each member of your group is putting.
The on-course time with your instructor will be a great help with this.
Most golfers are challenged when having to hit from downhill lies (terrain sloping down in the direction of the target). Very few players practice this shot and lack confidence when the situation occurs during a round. Before we discuss how to play such a shot, let's make sure we understand the challenges:
- When hitting from a downhill lie, the ball will fly lower than normal and, will tend to fade, depending upon how steep the slope.
- There may be a problem staying in balance (especially during the downswing).
- Being unsure of your technique and tightening up during the swing, there may be a tendency to "scull" the shot or "chunk" it.
To be successful hitting a shot from a downhill lie requires the following
- As the ball will tend to fade, align left (right-handers) of the target (depending upon the degree of slope).
- Try to stand so your upper body is perpendicular to the slope (this will mean angling your upper body forward down the slope. Take a wider than normal stance to help you maintain your balance.
- Play the ball further back in your stance than usual.
- Make sure that the pace of your swing is rhythmic, and allow your left wrist to cock early, maintaining a relaxed grip throughout the swing.
Now for the most critical part: allow the club head to "lag" by using your lower body to make the down swing providing a natural "release." As you practice this shot and learn to execute it properly, it will reinforce correct downswing technique for all your swings.
Our private practice area is perfect for working on these shots.
Proper alignment is key to making a good swing. Many golfers set up aligned to the right or left of target to compensate for a hook or slice. The thought is, "I can't get rid of my hook, but I can keep my ball in play". Unfortunately, improper alignment impedes the application of correct mechanics to the swing: results, loss of distance, accuracy and consistency.
I like to equate proper alignment to railroad tracks. The ball is on one track, which is aimed directly at the target (target line); and you are standing on the other, which is aimed just left of the target (right of target for left-handers). Your feet, knees, hips and shoulders are aligned parallel to the target line. In other words, your body is aligned parallel to the target line.
When you are practicing, lay a club on the ground, approximately where you will take your stance, parallel to the target line. Toe up to the club, and align your body with it. Practice this way until you are confident you can line up correctly. Repeat this while practicing from time to time just to make sure. You'll see; the other swing fundamentals will be much easier to employ.
If necessary, we will help you with this detail.
people see Tiger as having a very fast and powerful swing. But, next time you see him, look how slowly he starts the club back on his back swing. Or, notice the pause at the top of V J Singh's back swing. Most of us yank the club back and swing the club down quickly in an effort to get more power, which only prevents us from employing the procedure necessary for an efficient swing. I like to point out to my students the many examples of proper fundamentals in action that you can see watching golf on TV.
We often hear the terms "playing it safe", or "laying up", or "missing the green in a good spot." These and many other terms are part of a concept called "course management". Good course management is valuable at any level of the game.
On TV, we see Tiger Woods tee off with a 2 iron, insuring that his tee shot ends up in the fairway, in the best position from which to hit is next shot. He could hit his driver much farther, at the risk of ending up in deep rough or worse. This is an example of good course management.
You may remember during the British open a few years ago, a Frenchman, Jean Van de Velde, was leading by two strokes going into the final hole, needing only a bogey to win. He hit a wayward tee shot with his driver. Then, from a poor position, he tried to reach the green with a fairway wood, landing in a creek and taking a penalty stroke. I watched, stunned, as he continued to make poor decisions, until, finally, he ended up losing the tournament. He threw it away by his poor course management.
At our golf school, by having the opportunity to play with a professional, you learn course management skills that can lower your score; when to pitch out to the fairway from the trees; when not to shoot for the pin; when to lay up to the best distance from the green. Imagine bringing better course management as well as a better swing to your own game.
How many stokes will you save by learning course management from a professional?
All of us occasionally, at least, find our ball to the right, off the fairway, after we have pushed a tee shot. Now, the next shot may be obstructed by trees, so that we don't have a clear shot down the fairway or to the green. Strokes are thrown away trying to hit the ball straight anyway, hoping it will get through the trees; only to end up in a worse position afterward. But, hitting a "controlled" slice enables you to take double bogey (or worse) out of play, and gives you a chance to make par. Here's how:
- Select a longer club than you would normally use for the distance required.
- Take a normal stance aligning your feet and club head in the direction you would "like" to hit. Now, change you foot alignment so it is aiming left, as if to hit the ball well left of the trees.
- Re-grip your club so that the face remains open (facing in the original direction). Now, the clubface is open, aimed approximately at where you would like the ball to end up.
- Swing normally, and watch the ball start out in the direction you were aligned and then curve toward the target.
Experiment with this shot on the range by choosing a target, aiming to the left, and seeing how open the face has to be to hit the target. This handy shot is not difficult to execute, but is sure to impress the rest of your group.
We can help you learn this and other "specialty" shots.
When you are practicing on your own, it is not the amount of time you spend that counts, but your ability to invest that time wisely. Always have a plan of action in mind. What shot(s) do I work on today? Today let's practice putting. Have the basic fundamentals in mind when you begin:
- Eyes over the target line
- Aim the putter blade before you take your stance
- Take your stance … knees, hips, shoulders and eyes parallel to the target line
- Light grip pressure and firm wrists throughout the shot
- Swing the putter back only with your arms and shoulders together (no lower body movement)
- Head remains still throughout the shot
- Throughout the stroke, the back of your left wrist remains flat, and your right wrist remains bent
We'll see that you gain a thorough understanding of basic fundamentals.
Have you ever heard the expression, "Alignment is the key to the golf swing"? Well, it's true. Incorrect body alignment when preparing to hit usually results in poor swing mechanics. Let's say you are intending to hit the ball to a green 150 yards away. You look at the target and stand accordingly as you prepare to hit the ball in that direction. However, if your feet and/or shoulders are aligned differently, this will cause you to make compensations during your swing in an attempt to hit the ball in the direction intended in spite of your poor alignment. Making an "outside-in" downswing, creating a slice, is a very common result of shoulders and feet being aligned differently. How can you make sure your body alignment is correct?
- Think about railroad tracks. The ball is on one track, and you are standing on the other. Of course railroad tracks are parallel; and your feet, knees, hips and shoulders should be parallel to the intended target line.
- When you practice, set a club (or yard stick) on the ground close to where you place your feet, aligned parallel to your target line. Be sure your toes are equidistant from the club as you hit practice shots. Do this often (pros do it much of the time when they practice).
- Holding a club straight out in front of you and then bending forward at the hips is a good way to insure your body is aligned. Swing your arms back and forward to get the feel of being parallel. Get used to looking at the target in this position.
If alignment has been a problem, with practice, you will soon be making better swings.
We'll show you why proper alignment is the key to a good golf swing.