Play Like A Pro

11 Tips To Help You Play Your Best

Every week, TV audiences are mesmerized by PGA Tour pros. It’s easy to understand why. It seems like every few minutes they hit some amazing shot, drain a long curling putt or stripe a drive down the center of the fairway. If only I could do that, golfers at home think.

Of course, to play like a Tour pro demands years of sacrifice and dedication. But that doesn’t mean the average golfer can’t hit Tour-quality shots. In fact–and this is one of the things I like most about the game–over the course of a round, I guarantee that every golfer executes at least one shot that comes off just like a pro’s.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to do that on a more consistent basis. Read on and get Tour tough.

Aim Away From The Trouble
Whenever you tee off on a hole with a hazard or OB on either side of the fairway, always tee the ball up on the side the trouble is on.

Consider the shot I’m faced with here. I’m standing on the 18th tee at TPC Scottsdale, where a large lake extends down the fairway’s left side. I’m teeing it up as far left on the tee box as possible, so I can aim right and away from the trouble. (Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of players snap-hook their drives into that hazard during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and it’s not a fun way to finish your round.)

By teeing up on the left side, I can actually aim so far right that my back practically faces the lake. (In truth, I can barely see it when I look down the fairway.) By eliminating trouble (or ignoring it), I’m free to make a more aggressive swing. That’s exactly what the best Tour players do.

Hover Your Practice Swings
Roughly 85 percent of all amateurs slice their driver, but very few Tour players do (or if they do, they do it on purpose). Why? Simple. Pros swing the club on a flatter plane and square the clubface at impact.

Slicing can happen for two reasons: a steep downswing that leads to an outside-in swing and/or an open face at impact.

To fight the slice, try rehearsing your swing on a flatter-than-normal swing plane by hovering the clubhead about a foot off the ground and making swings like you see here.

This creates more arm rotation through the impact zone and generates more clubface rotation. Do this enough, and the face will square at impact and allow for a straighter drive.

Turn Your Back To The Target
Here’s Woody Austin teeing off on the 13th hole at Riviera Country Club during a practice round at this year’s Northern Trust Open. He has selected a driver and made a full turn in his backswing. In fact, it’s so full, his back now faces down the fairway. Woody is 46 years old, and you can be sure he stays limber to torque up like that. When you combine a big shoulder turn with quiet hips, as he’s doing here, you create a lot of coil. Unleashing that is the first big step to hitting long drives.

Develop And Repeat A Consistent Preshot Routine
When the game’s best golfers get ready to play a shot, a few things happen the same way, time and again.

1. Choose A Target & An Intermediate Target

2. Focus On The Intermediate Target

3. Aim Club At The Intermediate Target

1.) To establish a target line from their ball to their target, they always stand behind the ball. In most cases, they pick out an intermediate target (a spot, blade of grass, etc.) three to five feet in front of the ball and align their clubface and body lines to it.

2.) They assemble their grip while behind the ball and then walk in to address the ball from the side. The grip assembly from behind the ball is important so you don’t have to fidget while over the ball. Like the pros, always aim the clubface at the intermediate target and then align your feet accordingly.

4. Align Your Feet & Body Lines

5. Reconnect To Your Target

6. Picture Your Target While You Swing

3.) They breathe, retain a concentrated focus on their primary target and make an aggressive swing.

Escape The Fairway Bunker
Notice how still my lower body is through the sequence of photos? When you’re faced with a shot from the fairway bunker, you’ve got to keep your lower body as quiet as possible. Too much movement equals disaster.

A good way to think about hitting a shot from here is to imagine yourself inside a barrel. Don’t let your right side bump into the barrel during your backswing and don’t let your left side touch it on your followthrough. Keep it solid and planted, and keep your movements to a minimum. Then pick the ball clean, making a divot after you hit it.

Measure Twice, Cut Once
In construction, the saying goes, Measure twice, cut once. That is, before you cut a piece of wood, make sure it’s the right length. The same goes for golf. Take this series of photos of Padraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood. As a team, they assess the lie they have, determine the distance and then select a club based on these factors. Note how in the last photo, Harrington is locked in on the target? After he has assessed all the elements, he hones in on one thing before pulling the trigger: the target.




Control Your Pitch Shot Trajectory
To control how high their pitch shots fly (and hence, how far the ball rolls after it hits the green), I tell my students to alter how much their shafts lean at address. Hey, that’s what most Tour pros do, too.

Here’s how to do it: First, select a 56_¡ sand wedge. For a high toss, lean the shaft slightly back; for a low toss, move it slightly forward; and for a standard toss, keep the shaft at 6:00 (if the ball is at 12:00).

As a rule, the shaft should always point to the center of your body. This requires you to shift left for the low toss and right for the high toss. Your ball position is dictated by how you stand to the handle, as it were. (The more you lean to the left, the farther back in your stance it’ll be. The more you lean to the right, the farther ahead the ball will be.)

Keep your lower body passive during the backswing, and assemble your hands with a predominate arm swing. Return the shaft position to the identical spot you started with at setup. Thud the ground and really go at it with your lower body. The result should be three different trajectories that produce three different rollouts.

This is a great shot to play when you’re about 20 yards away from your desired landing spot on the green.

Practice With A Purpose
Charlie Wi and Tour pros like him don’t just play around during their practice rounds. He practices with a purpose. Here he is chipping on Riviera Country Club’s 12th green. But he’s not chipping to the hole, he’s chipping to where the hole will be cut on one of the tournament days. Lots of pros take a hole-sized rubber Frisbee that they can place anywhere on the green and putt or chip to. Just because the pin is cut in a specific position doesn’t mean that that’s the only hole you should play to.

Divide The Green Into Thirds
Here’s a maxim I always tell my students: Putt when you can putt, chip when you can’t putt, and pitch when you can’t chip. In short, the closer your ball is to the ground, the easier it is to control. All Tour pros know this.

First, however, you have to establish a landing spot. If there’s no trap or hazard in the way, it should be roughly two paces onto the green, regardless of where the pin is. Once you establish this spot, determine which club you should hit and at what trajectory. The higher the shot, the less the ball will roll; the lower the shot, the more it’ll roll.

Next, divide the green into thirds. If you hit a sand wedge or pitching wedge, the ball should not roll very much. In fact, it’ll stay on the front third of the green. A 9- or 8-iron should roll to the middle third of the green, and a 7- or 6-iron should roll to the last third of the green. Regardless of which club you hit, factor in green speeds and other conditions that’ll affect these ratios.

Make A Real-time Practice Stroke
A few years ago, I had dinner with one of the game’s best putters, Loren Roberts, the so-called Boss of the Moss. Inevitably the conversation turned to putting. I asked him what he thinks about when he stands over a putt. He answered with only one word: speed.

Without question, average golfers have a hard time controlling their putts’ speed. If that sounds like you, consider making real-time practice strokes. Take one or two practice strokes and hold your finish for the amount of time you think it’ll take the ball to arrive at the hole. Five-footers on most greens take about three seconds, whereas 50-footers (obviously) take considerably longer. In both cases, hold your rehearsal finish for the amount of time you think it’ll take for your ball to arrive at the cup. Then make the same stroke when the ball is there.

These real-time practice strokes program your brain to get a sense of the right speed and eliminate all those unwanted 3-putts.

Keep The Club In Front Of Your Chest
Look at Jim Furyk’s great postimpact position here. He has kept the club in front of his chest and has transferred weight onto his left side. (See how his right toe points down to the ground?) You can be sure that his club has synced up well with his chest on the backswing, too. Doing so is one of the easiest ways to remain consistent.

John Stahlschmidt, PGA, is the head instructor at the TOUR Academy in Scottsdale, Ariz. For more info, visit

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