By now, you’ve probably heard every tip in the book, right? I know I have, and I’m even guilty of repeating myself a few times! Fact is, some tips deserve to be repeated because they work, they’re easy to understand and they, hopefully, lend lasting improvements. In this article, I’ve taken 10 of my favorite tips through the years and assembled what I think are a handful of tips that most likely, you’ve never tried. Some old, some new, all good for your game!
#1: SWEEP THE DEW
If you’re struggling with coming in too steep to the ball when swinging a driver (which usually causes sky balls and scuffs on the top edge of the club), try this simple drill. Granted, it works best in the early morning when the grass is still wet, but that’s not essential. The key is to set the club down about two feet or so on your natural arc path. For me, that’s slightly to the inside. Once you set the club down, I want you to keep it there and sweep as much dew off the ground as possible, throw that water toward the fairway and finish with the hands high.
This will do two things for you. It’ll teach you to extend the arms, and also force you to keep your weight behind the golf ball. Do it five to six times before the next time you tee off. I bet you’ll see immediate results!
#2: CHIP LOW, PITCH HIGH
When it comes to short shots, one of the most overlooked aspects is the trajectory of your golf ball. Too many people assume that successful chipping means you have to get the ball in the air, and better pitching means hitting shots that hug the ground. Both are wrong!
The right way to hit a chip is to forget about hitting the ball up in the air. You want to keep your chips as low as possible. To practice this, I like to take some rope and two alignment sticks and practice hitting chips that stay below the rope. In doing so, you’ll see that it becomes a lot easier to hit solid chip shots with a descending blow, as opposed to trying to flip the hands and lift the ball in the air. Instead, align your body with the ball back, hands forward and your weight on your left. And keep that ball below the rope.
When it comes to hitting pitch shots, it’s okay to let the ball rise up. I like to raise the rope on my little goalpost and practice hitting higher pitch shots that fly up and over the rope. The key to hitting higher pitches is to keep your hands soft and let the wrists release through the ball. So, in reality, a pitch shot is a lot more like a regular iron shot than it is a chip. Let the club release, and the loft of the wedge will cause the ball to fling up into the sky. Keep those chips low and pitches high!
#3: THROW YOUR BALL AWAY
One of the most common mistakes I see amateurs make is they almost always underclub their shots. And unlike the pros who hit the sweet spot with their irons and wedges more often than amateurs do, underclubbing can really make the game more difficult than it needs to be. And this doesn’t just mean choosing the wrong club, but also not swinging hard enough for the ball to get all the way to the hole.
To avoid hitting your shots short and getting more comfortable with hitting the ball all the way to the hole, I like to imagine a great big trash can sitting on the top half of the pin. With that in mind, I like to try to throw all my shots into that trash can. You want to aim high to hit it tight! It’s this type of visualization that helps me hone in my focus and hit shots with a more specific distance and target in mind. And as for hitting it short? This little visualization trick has helped me so much that I barely ever hit my shots short of the pin anymore. So go out there and try throwing your golf ball away in that imaginary trash can. It works!
#4: THE MISSING THUMB
The most creative area on the golf course is around the green. It’s here where you can hit an endless number of shots, in countless different ways. In the case of what I’m faced with here, I need to hit a shot that flies high and stops quickly. A lob shot, if you will. To do this type of shot, you have to really speed up the release of the hands through the shot and get your energy beneath the golf ball. To do this, I’ll let you in on my little secret. It’s all in the grip
The missing thumb allows me to hinge my wrists quickly.
What a release! Notice the full extension of my arms here.
My wrists have rehinged, and the ball is landing softly.
To hit the high flop, try this. Take your standard grip. Only now, take your right thumb and, instead of being positioned on the top of the grip, move it to the side of the handle. By doing this, you’ll immediately see and feel a huge difference in how the hands can easily hinge, release and hinge again through the shot without the left thumb getting in the way. Give this grip a try in the bunker. It works wonders for getting the ball up and out of the sand.
#5: FIND YOUR SQUARE
When practicing short chip shots, I like to change things up and get my mind off the target and develop a better feel for where the ball lands and how much roll I should expect. To do this, I like to take four tees and make a square on the green. The goal is to hit a series of chip shots and try to hit every chip so it lands in that square. Once I can do that pretty consistently, I ratch it up a notch and try to get the ball to start landing in various quadrants of that square, I sometimes shrink the square and, if I get really motivated, I start hitting chip shots at each of the four tees. This type of practice helps me dial in my focus and gets me to think more about where I want the ball to land, not where the ball will end up. Once I have a good feel for where I think my chips will land, hitting shots around the green becomes a lot easier. It’s almost as though I switch from chipping mode to putting mode, even though I’m still off the green. If I can control where the ball lands, I can better control my distance and direction.
#6: TOSS A MELON
When it comes to bunker play, too many people feel as though they have to try to scoop the ball up out of the sand. Or, they feel they need to stab down into the sand to dig the ball out. In actuality, the best motion is a sweeping one where the arms and body work in unison and sweep through a layer of sand to lift the ball in the air.
To clarify, I like to think of hitting bunker shots as you would throw a heavy training ball, or in my case, a small melon. To throw this with two hands so it travels both far enough and high enough, I have to turn my arms and body, get low and release the melon up and out of my hands. The motion better resembles a sweeping stroke, as opposed to a steep motion that promotes hitting and digging into the sand. There’s no up and down motion here, just a simple sweep through about an inch of sand.
Hitting good bunker shots is the same motion as throwing a heavy ball! So try this yourself. Grab a heavy ball or even a melon like this. Practice heaving it up and out toward the target. Then do the same motion with a club and ball.
#7: GRAB A RAKE
Rakes are great for cleaning up bunkers, but they’re even better for tidying up your short shots. If you’re struggling with flubbing your chips or hitting them thin, try this. Grab a rake and place a golf ball above a foot or so in front of the teeth (as you see here). Now practice hitting some shots without touching the rake. This will steepen your chips almost immediately and help you get that much-needed descending blow into the ball.
Also, consider the handle of the rake. As you do this, the rake handle makes a great alignment tool. Align the rake at your target and practice hitting shots along the rake’s handle. You’ll hit straighter shots in no time.
#8: COIL AND THROW
Pow! Due to a stronger coiled backswing, I’ve hit this one a mile!
Ever wonder how the pros can hit such crisp, powerful iron shots? Part of it has to do with their ability to coil their body on the backswing over their right leg. Think of it this way. Imagine your right leg is a cork, and your upper body and hips are the corkscrew. As you swing back, you want to twist the corkscrew into that right leg. As you do this, maintain some flex in your knees (both of them) and really drive that corkscrew into that leg! From the top of your swing, you’ll unwind and release that tension into the back of the golf ball. Avoid swaying or dipping at the top of your swing!
Another reason better players can hit powerful iron shots is they understand that the clubhead acts more as a slingshot than an extension of the shaft. To better feel this, try this simple drill. Grab some mud, sand, whatever you can find to stick to the face of the club as you see here. Then, from address, I want you to fling the mud toward your target. Keep doing this until you can start to feel the whipping slingshot effect of the clubhead and the added speed in your hands. Then hit some real shots and you’ll feel some added speed in your release.
#9: TOE YOUR DRIVES
We can’t have a handful of tips without a slice fix, right? Here’s one of my favorites. Take a look at this wooden driver. I’ve cut the toe off and made a face, which sits about 90_¡ from the real face of the driver. I can actually hit shots off the new face, and I do it to demonstrate to my students the importance of closing the face to start hitting straighter shots.
If you slice, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to imagine hitting your shots with the toe of your driver. And by toe, I don’t mean the toe of the face, but the actual toe of the clubhead! The reason I think this is such a great imagination/visualization drill is because we’ve become a group of golfers too fixated on having a square clubface through impact. In reality, that’s somewhat of a myth. The face ought only be square for a split second, and no matter what, the face should be in the process of closing to the left. So, the more we focus on square faces at impact, the more often golfers will try to prevent the closing of the face. This, folks, is why so many golfers slice the ball. The face should always be closing!
By imagining you’re hitting off the toe of the club, it’ll instinctively get you to start rotating your hands more effectively through the shot and close the face at impact. Try it if you’re a slicer!
#10: BRUSH ‘EM, FLICK ‘EM
Think of brushing the grass to avoid lifting the putter.
Even after impact, the putter should stay low.
Another overlooked aspect of putting is forgetting to hit the putter’s sweet spot. Many golfers tend to lift the putter up too soon in the stroke, often causing contact with both the bottom of the putterface and the top half of the ball. This combo wreaks havoc on your distance and directional control. Instead, think of the putterhead as a brush on the ground. You want to make as long a brushstroke as you can across your stroke. As you can see here, I’m actually using a brush to demonstrate keeping the putterhead low to the ground through the whole stroke. Do that and you’ll find the putter’s sweet spot more often.
But what if lifting the putter isn’t a problem? What if you swing the putter too low and often stub the putter on the green while you putt? I’ve got the drill for you. Take two coins, a penny and a dime or a nickel. I’m using a dime here, and have it situated on top of the penny. Now, here’s the trick. I want to make a stroke and knock off the dime without touching the penny (if this is too difficult at first, try a nickel instead).
It’s a challenging drill, but a fun one, and a great way to keep the putter low, without touching the ground.
Wally Armstrong is a lifetime member of the PGA Tour and has played in more than 300 professional tournaments worldwide. For more information, visit wallyarmstronggolf.com.