When you're on the course and your game starts to fall apart, what should you do? Well, the most important thing is not to panic and think about all the things that you might be doing wrong. Instead, focus on what you should be doing to hit some great shots and regain your confidence.
The quickest way to improve is to go back to the game's fundamentals so you can more easily repeat your swing. When things go bad, the problem can usually be found in the setup. This leads to one of the game's four main forces (balance, pivot, path or clubface) getting out of whack.
The key with on-course fixes is to keep them simple. If you start thinking about too many things, you won't be able to clarify in your mind a simple motion that can get you back on track. Also if you hit one bad shot, don't suddenly try to fix everything. Remember, even Tour pros miss several shots each round. Start to put my quick fixes into play only if you've missed three or four shots in a row.
1 Fault: You Don't Hit It Far
Most players try to turn as fast as they can at the start of the downswing. As a result, their upper bodies outrun their lower bodies. This destroys lag–one of the golf swing's major power sources. Also this produces an outside-in downswing path with an open clubface. And, boy, that's a double-whammy power loss!
Fix: Keep Your Buttons Back
To generate distance, you need to create lag in your downswing. The key here is to get your lower body firing, first by bracing your left leg, then by rotating your hips, all while keeping the buttons on the top of your shirt lagging behind your lower body. In fact, that's exactly the image you should have on course: Keep the buttons on your golf shirt lagging behind your belt buckle until after impact.
Producing this lag allows you to establish a power base that starts in your lower body and works up the body and out the clubshaft. With your shirt buttons lagging behind your lower body, you've improved the chances of pivoting and given your hands a chance to slot the club on the correct downswing path. Now you have lag and power from both your lower body and hands.
2 Fault: You Slice It
Eighty percent of your ballfight's direction is derived from your clubface's alignment, and 20 percent from your club's path. First, let's focus on getting your clubface squared up at impact instead of being 4_¡ to 8_¡ open (and causing a weak slice). Note: A driver that's 6_¡ open at impact results in a shot that's 30-60 yards shorter. So let's square up that clubface!
Fix: Rotate Your Hands
Educated hands control the clubface. Your left hand and wrist control the face, while your right hand, wrist and forearm control the club's path.
First, draw three circles on your left-hand glove around the following knuckles: pinky, ring finger and index finger. In the impact zone, your left-pinky and ring-finger knuckles (the two red circles) should look down at the grass, while your left-index-finger knuckle (the green circle) should aim at the target. Your right hand and wrist is bent and its right index knuckle is facing the target. Once your hands are lined up, the clubface will match them and it'll square up in the impact zone.
3 Fault: Poor Iron Contact
When your tempo gets quick, you move your upper body first in your downswing instead of your lower body. This affects both your club's path and the bottom point of your swing arc, which needs to be in front of the ball. (Remember with your irons, we want to hit the ball first and take a divot or scuff mark second.)
When the bottom of your arc varies too much, the results are erratic shots that lack compression and control.
Fix: Ball First, Divot Second
Make a few slow practice swings to get your tempo and sequence working together. When you start your downswing, feel your weight moving into your left foot first. This helps your club bottom-out in front of the ball. Finish in balance.
Now, step up to the ball and imagine a tee in front of the ball. Picture yourself swinging with a descending path so your swing hits down through the ball and into the tee. This will help you get to your left side as you start your downswing. It also helps promote your hands being ahead of the clubhead at impact.
Once you start scuffing up the turf in front of the ball and finishing in balance, you'll hit more solid iron shots.
4 Fault: You're Shanking It
You've moved the clubhead (and hence your swing arc) closer to the ball. This brings the club's hosel into play, and you end up shanking it.
Shanks are vicious circles. Once you shank one ball, you start tensing up in your setup. This tightens your lower body, and you swing the club back more with your upper body as your lower body gets off balance. Then you start moving more forward on the balls of your feet, your swing radius moves out, and the hosel remains in play, creating shank after shank. That's no fun.
Fix: Free Your Right Hip
Simply set up in balance so that your weight is in your arches (balanced between the heel and balls of your feet). Now check your distance to the ball and make sure you're not standing too close to it.
Set up balanced with no tension in your hands or hips, and make sure your right hip turns back freely in the backswing and swing to a balanced finish. Turning the right hip back freely creates space for your arms and the club to swing on the correct downswing path while keeping you in balance. The key is to not think about shanking it, or you'll create more tension and destroy your motion and balance.
5 Fault: You Can't Hit A Draw
You've been hitting high cuts all day–the face has been open at impact, creating loft and a weak cut–but now you need to hit a low draw.
Fix: Close The Clubface, Then Grip It
Aim a little right of your target and play the ball about an inch farther back in your stance to help promote a more inside-out swing path. Then turn your club's toe toward where you want your ball to finish and regrip the club. With the face closed and the ball back, you can impart a lot of right-to-left spin while hitting a lower, drawing ballflight. Make sure your hands release the club instead of pulling and blocking through the impact zone.
6 Fault: You're Topping It
Topping happens for a lot of reasons. Usually the bottom of your arc changes because you're losing your balance, and your spine straightens to help you regain it.
Fix: Start In Balance, Stay In Balance
In your setup, check your balance by lifting your heels first and then the balls of your feet without moving your knees to ensure you're in balance. Then make a smooth practice swing and focus on cutting the grass/scuffing up the turf and finishing in balance. Once you've done that, you're ready to repeat this with the ball simply getting in the way. Note in the photos below how my impact positions are affected by my setup positions.
7 Fault: You Can't Escape The Rough
When your ball is in the rough, you still make a sweeping swing. That gets the clubhead stuck in the taller grass. As a result, the club decelerates and twists, sending your shots short and to the left.
Fix: Hit Down With A Hybrid
To create a more descending strike instead of a sweeping stroke, set up with your weight favoring your left side. The ball should be slightly back in your stance, and your shoulders more level. Now make a 3/4 swing and make sure you stay on your left side and create a slightly steeper angle into the ball so that you have less grass to work through.
Remember to make a shorter backswing and feel that you're into your left side as you hit down into the ball. The deeper the grass, the more lofted club you'll need.
8 Fault: You Leave It In The Bunker
The more you try to help the ball out of the bunker, the more difficult those greenside shots become. Golfers tend to open up both their stances and clubfaces too much at setup. This creates too much loft. Then they flip the clubhead as they try to help the ball get up and out of the bunker. This results in the ball staying in the beach instead.
Fix: Square The Clubface
Take your normal stance, aiming at the target and slightly open the clubface so its scoring lines point at your front ankle. Set up to a spot in the sand roughly two inches behind the ball and simply make your standard pitch-shot swing. Focus on hitting the sand first. Don't try to help the ball out; instead focus on hitting the sand with your hands ahead of the clubhead and throw the sand forward. The ball will go up and out on the green with the sand.
Hint: If you have a 10-yard bunker shot, make a 30-yard pitch-shot swing. The sand cushions the shot so it only travels about a third as far as your normal pitch-shot swing.
9 Fault: You Miss Short Putts
Correctly aiming your putter's face is the most important component to making short putts, yet believe it or not, from six feet out, 80 percent of amateurs can't do it. If you suffer from poor aim, you aren't going to make most of those short ones.
Fix: Rehearse Behind The Ball
Pick a specific target line, then line up the name on your golf ball at your intermediate target (a depression, discoloration, etc.). Now set up two feet directly behind the ball and make your practice strokes while seeing the line. When you set up to the ball, never lose sight of the target line you want to start the ball on. Just make sure your putter matches the ball line/target line, and trust your stroke. Hold your finish, then look up to see the ball going into the cup.
If you were aiming wrong before, you had to manipulate your stroke. Once you improve your aim, your stroke will eventually change to match the target.
10 Fault: You Can't Get Long Putts Close
When faced with a long putt, most players focus too much on their mechanics or try to get the ball rolling on the perfect line. But research shows us that most three-putts come from poor distance control in the lag putt.
After you've established your target line, focus more on speed instead of line.
Fix: Look At The Target
Once you've determined how much break your putt has and you've identified a target, it's time to focus on your distance control. The best way to do this is to look at long putts from a side view to get a better feel for distance. When taking in the slopes of the green, your brain will remember exactly how far you should hit your putt.
Next, stand two feet behind the ball and make a couple practice strokes while looking at the target. With your eyes on the target, feel the putter swing back so the two become one. Now step up to the ball and repeat this same feeling.
On downhill or faster greens, look at a target short of the hole; on uphill or slow greens, you may need to focus on a target past the hole. The key is to get your eyes and putterhead working together in your practice swings.
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, California. pelicanhill.com.