If you think back to your last good round of golf, odds are you’ll envision a number of solid drives and approach shots. We bet you’ll also remember making a few excellent par saves or maybe draining a birdie putt or two you normally would have no business making. And if you recount your last poor round of golf, it’s likely you’ll conjure images of errant drives and sloppy iron shots, combined with recovery attempts that failed to get you on the green and into the hole. For low scores, the short game is key.
All good players have one position in the golf swing that’s similar despite their very different-looking swings. This position is impact. Good players retain their wrist-cock through the hitting area so that their left wrist is bowed and the right wrist is flexed (for right-handed golfers), and both hands are slightly in front of the golf ball at the strike.
Many of my new students ask me about how to correctly initiate the golf swing. They want to know what trigger will allow them to start their motions smoothly and on the correct path. This common question comes from those who suffer from a condition that plagues everyone, from novices to touring professionals. I like to call it “paralysis by analysis.”
Here we go again. Yes, another “fix your slice” feature, which says a lot about the banana ball—it’s not going away. For some golfers, that left-to-right ballflight never seems to disappear, and for those new to the game, it represents the first true taste of golf-related frustration. While I’m sure you’ve heard your fair share of anti-slice tips, this story approaches fixing a slice in unique fashion. Position by position, I’ll compare the components of a solid swing to those typically associated with a slice, plus a corresponding fix.
Good golfers give the impression that their forearms suddenly cross over through impact, but the swing is so fast that it fools the eye. What little forearm roll there is begins in the backswing with a gentle clockwise rotation of both forearms, a motion that reverses itself as the club swings back to the golf ball.
Solid short-game performance is key for any competitive golfer, and an absolute must for those fortunate enough to play on the PGA Tour. Jerry Kelly, who ranked 16th in scoring average with nearly $1.5 million in earnings after 15 events (as of mid-July) knows this fact well, as illustrated by his proficiency at saving par after missing a green in regulation (he currently is second on Tour in scrambling).
Bunkers elicit a common reaction from most recreational golfers. That reaction is fear—fear of leaving the ball in the bunker, fear of blasting it over the green, fear of looking foolish, etc.—and it stems from misunderstanding how a sand wedge is designed to function.
If your driving suffers from inconsistency and a lack of distance, you may be tied up with too many thoughts about swing mechanics. Free your mind at address and focus on a specific target in the fairway where you want the ball to land. Then let your natural instincts take over. Swing the clubhead to that target, making an athletic move through the ball.
Visualize slice and hook causes to eliminate them for good
The precision required to hit an absolutely straight golf shot is so great that, for all intents and purposes, such shots don’t exist. For that very reason, every golfer is either a hooker or a slicer. You may only hook or slice a little at times, but your shots do have a pattern. Even the game’s best players favor a fade or draw.
Shotmaking is a broad term and one that’s typically reserved for highly skilled players. Yet all golfers, even those who have a tough time breaking 90, should consider themselves shotmakers. Face it, the game of golf constantly demands a degree of creativity, and unless you play on a perfectly flat course with no rough, no hazards and no undulations on the greens, you have to be ready with a variety of plays—just to get through a single round.
Golfers who possess the ability to hammer 300-yard drives like clockwork often talk about the importance of “firing the right side” through impact. That’s all well and good, but it’s also somewhat misleading. The right side doesn’t serve as an initiator in the downswing; it’s a reactor. The right side of the body doesn’t “fire” as such; it responds to a proper sequence of motion initiated by the left side.
If you can’t hit your woods off the tee—or when you do hit them, the ball slices uncontrollably—chances are that your downswing is too steep. The reason this occurs is that the clubface can’t return to square when it comes down so vertically, and the open clubface creates a slice.
Even golfers with technically sound swings make mistakes due to poor execution or bad decision-making. But on the whole, golfers with solid mechanics are able to consistently play solid shots because their technique allows them to do so.
You hear it all the time, especially during golf telecasts: “Look how still Freddy keeps his head,” or “Jack has made a career out of keeping his head still.” The trouble is, when you put the videotape in slow motion, the heads of good players do move.
Davis Love III is that rare breed of golfer who enters every tournament with a great chance to win. One of the reasons for this is his prowess with the driver. Last year, Love averaged 299 yards off the tee and notched a Total Driving ranking (accuracy plus distance) of 26, which fueled four wins and paychecks totaling $6 million. With such length off the tee, hitting greens in regulation—the most important scoring indicator—becomes a less daunting task.
Flexibility is a critical element in the golf swing and should play a significant role in determining what type of setup you adopt. In particular, the position of the left foot is strongly impacted by flexibility level. This is key, because left-foot positioning can affect several swing characteristics, including backswing length, hip turn and subsequent torso rotation through the ball.
It’s been well documented that a solid short game is the key to consistently shooting lower scores. A vital part of the short-game mix is the “finesse shot,” typically from within 100 yards of the green. On a finesse shot, your mindset must be quite different from that applied to the full swing. For example, when hitting a shot with a full swing, your goal is to hit the ball as hard and far as possible.
Skilled golfers know that true power results from the upper body coiling over the resistance of the lower body, and that the key to this is establishing good footwork. Typical modern-day pros are flexible enough to get the upper body behind the ball without having to lift the left foot off the ground. Instead, they shift their weight to the inside of the right foot as the left foot rolls slightly inward, allowing the left knee to rotate behind the ball. From this position, they shift weight laterally on the downswing, pushing off the ground with the right foot.
Add closed and open-faced shots to your short-game arsenal
The plethora of multiple wedge offerings is fantastic. They’ve made extinct the old saying “a sand wedge is the only wedge a good player needs.” That adage came from Greg Norman, who I bet has added a lob wedge to his set since. Nevertheless, despite owning the tools for hitting any number of specific yardages from 125 yards and in, most short shots you’ll face will require something much different than a full swing from one of the two or three wedges in your bag.
Cure the majority of your flaws by adopting a rock-solid setup
If there’s one thing a seasoned golf instructor can do, it’s spot a solid setup, even from 50 yards away. One look is all it takes for an experienced teacher to recognize athleticism and balance. The reason why? Any instructor worth his or her salt will stress the fundamentals of a solid setup if solid results are what the student seeks.
Just how important are the feet, legs and hips? Well, some argue that they are the heart and soul of the golf swing. In fact, it was Byron Nelson who brought us the idea of “flexing the shaft with the lower body.” Jack Nicklaus also has repeatedly said that the swing begins from the ground up. Then why, despite advice from two of the best golfers who ever played, does the average golfer try to “muscle” the ball with his or her upper body?
Simple tips and drills for finding the fairway more often
The higher the handicap, the more pivotal the tee ball becomes. Driving the ball into water, rough, bunkers, trees and other hazards is what causes high-handicappers to rack up strokes. As players become more proficient, they develop skills to execute trouble shots and hit pitches from the rough and sand, putting less pressure on hitting fairways. It’s almost as if good players expect to miss every now and then, feeling confident in knowing that they have the tools to recover from an errant drive. High-handicappers, unfortunately, don’t have that luxury.
In order to deliver the golf club powerfully into the back of the golf ball, you must maintain a firm base with your lower body and create a powerful backswing coil. This coil results by turning the upper body against the resistance of the lower body. Good players facilitate the creation of coil by maintaining the gap between the knees on the backswing (right). They unleash the energy stored in the coil by closing the gap on the downswing.
My standard response to a question I frequently field at clinics and exhibitions about the proper feeling at address is: “It’s like cement and spaghetti.” That strange combination of metaphors raises a few eyebrows until I explain what I mean.