It's already the middle of the golf season, and I'm sure some of you are finding yourselves stuck in a rut. Don't worry, it happens. Golf is a fickle game. One day you have it; the next day you don't.
Knowing that every golfer–even Tour pros–suffer from common faults, I've come up with 10 common ones, and the fixes that will best address them.
I've structured this article so that it moves fluidly from tee to green, from fundamentals to feel. If you want to completely overhaul your game, try each tip in the order I've written them. If you find one tip that speaks directly to your current needs, then practice that one. Everything here was meant to address common faults, and hopefully after reading it, you'll be able to fix whatever ails you.SETUP IMPACT
1. START FROM IMPACT! I always tell my students to play with "educated hands." And by "educated hands," I mean hands that hold the club properly so they can optimize how the clubface makes contact with the ball.
So how do you do that? It's simple: Go to a correct impact position and then grip the club in a way that it squares up the clubface. Consider what the clubshaft looks like at impact. The golf shaft has a forward lean and is in line with your lead arm. While that's happening, the clubface is aimed at your target and delofted. At that moment, your hips have rotated and your weight favors the forward foot, all while your hands are in the best position to make solid contact. Educate your hands so that your grip promotes a forward wrist that's flat/unhinged, and your rear wrist is bent.My rear wrist is bent, and my forward wrist is flat.
In the photos at left and above right, notice that I've secured door hinges to my wrists to help illustrate this point. When you grip your club at the impact position, it allows your hands to lead and control the swing so you return the club to impact and "smash" it into the back of the ball.
To begin ingraining the feeling of a proper hand position, hit some short chip shots so your forward hand controls your shot's direction, and the rear hand controls the club's loft. Once you've successfully hit a number of shots in a row, increase the size and speed of your swing until you're making full swings and producing noticeable ballflight control. Educated hands are critical to playing great golf!
2. VISUALIZE THE CORRECT SWING PATH To eliminate over-the-top swings, you need to picture hitting the inside third of the golf ball. To do this, simply keep your back to the target longer so that your hands can drop the club into a correct downswing slot when you start the downswing transition. Remember to start the transition with your lower body first.
Check out the three colors on the ball just like your traffic lights: red, yellow and green. You always want to swing your clubhead on the path that will deliver it to the green "light." If you're on a yellow-light path, be cautious; and if you're on a red light, you'll slice the heck out of it or have to yell, "Fore left!" Either way, it's time for a lesson! Avoid those red lights. Work on getting your clubhead on the green-light path and go, go, go!
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3. DRIVE ACCURATELY Not all tee shots need to end up in the fairway, but they definitely have to be in play if you want to score well.
To ensure this, it's important that your backswing matches your followthrough. When that happens, you can be sure your swing is on the same path. And that will help you produce a lot of great shots. Therefore a flat backswing should result in a flat followthrough, and an upright backswing should produce an upright followthrough.My body has unwound too quickly. This causes a slice.
To start hitting more consistent drives, practice this simple drill: Choke down on your driver so that your hands are at the bottom of the shaft and make a swing. As you do this, keep the butt of the grip on the same plane in your downswing and followthrough. If your body unwinds too quickly and your hands are too slow, the club will lag behind you and produce a high right slice (the butt of the grip doesn't return to the same plane). If your hands outrace your body and the club crosses over, you'll hit a low left hook (the butt of the grip rolls over too quickly).
Remember the key to consistent tee shots is a swing that looks the same on the downswing and forwardswing. Once you've grooved that for a while in a 3__ã4 swing, extend it to a full swing and start striping it down the fairway.
4.FEEL THE CORRECT SWING PATH If your swing path tends to move all over the place, there's an easy way to fix this, especially if you're a feel player. Just hold onto two irons and give them a swing at 1__ã2 to 2__ã3 speed. If you feel any jerks in your back- or forwardswing or a lack of balance or tempo, then you're on the wrong swing path. Continue to swing the two clubs and, as you're doing so, focus on creating a smooth swing. Try to match the backswing to the forwardswing so both are on the same path and you finish in balance.
Notice in the photos at left how my right shoulder mirrors my left in the backswing and followthrough? On the backswing, my left shoulder is in the same spot as my right one after I've swung. My swing doesn't jerk or sway–it's a compact, precise movement that moves around a fixed point. With two clubs (and twice the weight) you'll swing slower and create a more precise path. After feeling the right path, take that feeling and apply it to your normal swing.TOO FAST! I turned my body first rather than starting with a lateral hip shift.
5. START THE DOWNSWING WITH A LATERAL HIP SHIFT A proper golf swing is one that stores up a lot of power in the backswing and then releases it in the downswing. Unfortunately a lot of golfers tend to get off path in the downswing and lose power. This happens when the shoulders turn too quick in the start of the downswing, often causing the clubshaft to go outside the ideal downswing path, which often leads to an open clubface producing a high, weak sliced shot–not a winning combination.
Turning the body first in the transition before bracing the left foot will cause a loss of clubhead force. To hit with power, start your downswing with a lateral hip shift instead, keeping your back to the target until your left foot is braced. As you do this, feel a slight increase in your knee flex. This creates a slight downswing squat that all great players have. It also stabilizes the upper body in the transition and allows your hands, arms and shoulders to follow in the proper downswing sequence. As a result, you'll have a firm left side and deliver the clubhead into the ball from inside of the target line and create a down and out swing path with maximum clubhead force. So shift first, then turn–just like throwing a ball!
6. BALANCE IS KEY FOR RHYTM AND TEMPO Anytime you make a swing that's out of balance, your rhythm and tempo get disrupted. And when that happens, it's very hard to make solid contact.
To remedy this, you must first set up properly so that you're in balance. To do this, tilt from your sternum as you see me doing in the top two color photos. This places your head, shoulders and arms in front of the balls of your feet while your hips, thighs and lower back tilt behind your ankles. When you're in this position, you're counterbalanced. A good way to check your balance is to lift up either the heels or balls of your feet without changing your knee flex. If you can do that, you're in good shape.
For a visual check, use a mirror or a sliding glass door and picture two vertical lines, one that runs up from your ankle, and the other from the balls of your feet. What's in front of your forward vertical line is counterbalanced by what's behind the back vertical line. Once you're balanced, hit some ½ to ¾ wedge shots. Swing the club, turn the hips and finish in balance facing the target. The correct blending of hands and hips while in balance will establish the correct rhythm and tempo. Remember that feeling when you transition to full swings–just stay in balance until the ball lands!
7. BE YOUR OWN CADDY –AIM AWAY FROM TROUBLE As you can see here, I've hit two different shots. The pin was tucked over a bunker, and in one instance, I took dead aim and ended up in the kitty litter. From there, it's pretty hard for the average player to get up and down. During golf schools and playing lessons, I see students shooting for pins like this all the time. And they often end up short-sided, as you see here. Difficult shots like this are almost impossible for the average golfer to hit consistently near the hole.
The next time you're confronted with a tucked pin, aim for the middle of the green, as you see by my shot at left. I might have a long putt, but at least I'm on and I have a much better chance of two-putting than getting up and down from the bunker.When you sweep a broom, your "backswing" is short.
The last factor to consider when hitting approach shots to tough pins is what kind of putt you want to leave yourself. While it's hard to control those shots from 150-200 yards away, you still want to position yourself for an easy putt. If you miss the green, make sure your upcoming chip or pitch shot leaves you in a position where you'll have an uphill par-saving putt for your next shot. You can always make a run at a putt from under the hole, but get above it on a fast green, and look out–you'll be lucky to walk away with two putts!
Why am I swinging with a broom? Well, I hope that it'll illustrate a few things. First, you should be making a sweeping motion that "brushes" down to the ground, not up. Second, the swing I make with the broom has a longer followthrough than backswing. On chip, pitch and bunker shots, I often see students do the exact opposite. They want to help the ball in the air, so they swing up on it. They also tend to make a long backswing with an abbreviated followthrough. Neither one of these faults produces good shots. Hitting up on the ball leads to thin shots, short finishes, and stubs and chunks.And its "followthrough" is longer than its backswing. Copy this movement when you chip.
The broom also should illustrate the importance of a third key point–forward shaft lean. By making impact with a forward shaft lean, you'll let the club do the work for you. And finally, notice that my broom is sweeping down until it passes my left shoulder. This is the low point of your golf swing. Once you decelerate, the club races ahead of your hands, which creates all kinds of problems.
Remember, make solid, crisp contact to accelerate and let the club's loft get the ball up in the air and onto the green. If you keep your hands forward and sweep down as if you're using a broom, your short game will become more consistent.
9. AIM, AIM, AIM All too often, I watch my students walk up to a putt without taking a true look at how the putt breaks. When you consider that the game's best players are usually the game's best putters, you know that the greens are the best place to lower your scores. That means averaging 30 or less putts per round.Pick your aim point–the line you're going to aim at. Choose an intermediate target 2-12 inches in front of your ball. Alignment time! My putter alignment aid matches the line on my ball. That aims at my intermediate target and the stick. With the right speed, I'm draining this one!
Improving your putting doesn't take a lot of time, but there are three aim steps you need to keep in mind. First, it's important to consider how the green breaks. Are there any slopes or ridges that the putt will break away from? Are there bodies of water, drains or valleys that the putt will break toward? Are there nearby bunkers that the architect doesn't want water to drain into? (Hint: Your putt won't break toward it.) Once you've assessed the lay of the land, it's time for Step #1: Pick your peak aim point. This is the aim line you're going to aim at!
To give you the best chance at starting your putt on line, you need to learn how to aim your ball correctly. Check out what I'm doing here. I used an alignment aid to draw a straight line (you can also use the manufacturer's name on the side) down the side of my ball. Step #2: Aim that line where you want the ball to start, (your peak aim point). I'm using a directional stick to indicate the line I want my ball to start on. This putt will break to the left, and it's a little downhill, so it's vital that I start the putt on the peak aim point. Step #3, create an intermediate aim target two to 12 inches in front of the ball, so when you set up to the ball, your putter, ball and intermediate target are all on same line. When all three aim points line up, you can trust your aim and putt with feel. Now you'll make a lot more putts inside 10 feet.
10. FEEL THE GREEN SPEED It's important, when you play golf, to not get too technical. Leave all the tweaking and swing analysis for the driving range, because on the course, it'll just lead to overthinking and tension, and your athletic skills will start to diminish. When playing, you want to have simple images and play by feel so you can be an athlete, not a technician. In putting, speed determines the line, so it's critical that you develop speed/distance control with your putter.
To help get a feel for a green's speed, stroke some long putts, as I'm doing here, when you warm up for your round. Place three balls about 30 feet from the cup and putt them. Try to make all three, but more importantly, get a sense of how fast or slow the greens are that day. A great way to improve your feel for speed/distance control is to practice putting with your eyes looking at the hole. Feel the putterhead as you stroke your ball. Once the feel of the putter converges with your eyes' target, you'll improve your control. Once you develop a feel for control, you'll get connected to the greens and you'll start to literally develop a sensation for playing with feel. And once you can control your speed, you'll eliminate most three-putts.
PGA professional and Senior Instruction Editor Glenn Deck is regarded as one of the country's top-100 teachers. He's director of instruction at The Pelican Hill Golf Academy at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast, Calif. For more info, visit pelicanhill.com.