Sunday, June 1, 2003
5 Driving, 5 Wedge Play and 5 Putting Mistakes
Fix common errors in three key areas and watch your scores plummetMistakes—we’re all going to make them, especially on the golf course. Luckily, this isn’t a game that demands perfection. Even on Tour, low scores can be had without being perfect on every swing. The key is to limit the mistakes that can cause the most damage and jump on scoring opportunities whenever they arise.
At the highest level, on-course mistakes typically take the form of a slight mis-hit or an error in club selection. Within the recreational ranks, however, mistakes run the gamut from poor mechanics to poor course strategy. However, you don’t need an overhaul of your swing to keep many of these mistakes at bay and, certainly, there’s no need to correct them all. It’s a simple matter of fixing the ones that produce the type of results from which recovery is impossible. I’ll address 15 of these over the next several pages, encompassing the areas of driving, wedge play and putting. By doing so, you’ll be in better position off the tee—a blessing for most recreational players—and have greater ability to get the ball close and into the hole.
Driving is paramount to success. As you probably know, the flood of low scores on Tour is fueled by longer, more accurate drives that leave shorter approaches into the green. Eliminating common driving mistakes will leave you with the same, welcomed proposition.
Mistake #1: Equipment
A big mistake recreational players make when driving occurs even before the swing is begun—more specifically, even before the round has begun. Some golfers are dead-set in their belief that a driver should feature no more than nine degrees of loft. Most recreational players would be better served by a driver with 11 or even 12 degrees of loft for several reasons.
One, more loft creates more backspin, and more backspin means less sidespin and, thus, less slice and hook. Second, it’s becoming apparent that it’s easier to create optimal launch conditions with a high-lofted driver. Many Tour players and long-drive competitors are increasing the lofts on their drivers to create the higher angle associated with optimal launch. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking you need a stiffer shaft than what your swing realistically needs. If you’re not sure what flex is right for you, err on the “flexier” side. A key component of successful driving is getting the face square and through the golf ball, which is more easily accomplished with a softer flex. If the shaft is too stiff, you’ll have to make compensations to get that head to turn over.
Mistake #2: Level Shoulders
I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but I’ll repeat it anyway: A good golf swing follows an inside-out path on the downswing. The opposite type of path will always produce poor results unless you plan for it. There are many theories on how to create an in-out path, and that’s the problem—you can’t create path. It simply happens in response to how you move your body in the downswing—more specifically, how you move your shoulders. If you keep your shoulders level during the downswing, your club can’t trace an inside-out path, regardless of the quality of their rotation.
To keep the club on the correct plane, your left shoulder must rock up as your right shoulder turns underneath your chin as you approach impact. When I teach this to most of my students, the common reaction is to overemphasize the “rock up,” which causes the right shoulder to drop severely and hit the ball fat. The rock up must be paired with rotation. In a good golf swing, the right shoulder moves underneath the chin and through to the finish.
Mistake #3: Too Much Body
While it’s true that your lower body should pivot during the swing to hit the ball powerfully, it’s not what generates power and speed in the swing. That’s the role of the hands. They’re the fastest part of your body—it’s imperative that you use them to your advantage.
Swing with an attempt to propel the club by the movement of your hands and simply allow the rest of your body to turn with them. It’s a much simpler swing than what’s taught by other instructors, and simplicity will help keep mistakes at bay. During practice, try hitting balls with your feet together. You’ll find that your drives travel just as far as they do when you swing from a wide stance with lots of hip action. You’ll also find it easier to swing the club on-plane. Keep your lower body quiet—active legs are for the dance floor.
Mistake #4: No Control
Forget what you see on TV—you don’t need a massive shoulder turn and a parallel shaft at the top to play the game of golf. The key is to maneuver your body so that you’re in control of the clubhead at all times.
To attain such control, unify your backswing. With your hands acting as lead, rotate your shoulders, arms and chest to a comfortable stop, which, if your flexibility allows, should be when the left shoulder sits above the right thigh. Once you’re set, simply unwind that rotation, again, leading with the hands. A good swing thought is to turn your left shoulder under your chin on the backswing, and the right shoulder under the chin on the downswing. Keep it simple and you’ll find more than your fair share of fairways.
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