Are you one of those golfers who absolutely pures it on the practice range with every club in the bag, but eventually goes into the tank during the course of play? It's an unfortunate scenario experienced by a vast majority of golfers, most often caused by too little time dedicated to practice or too long a time period between rounds. For most golfers, the onset of trouble starts on the very first tee, where high anxiety invariably sends the tee shot deep into the woods. For others, the tanking occurs gradually as the round unfolds–a loose swing here, a twitched putt there and poor shot selection in between–until, around the 14th hole, you say to yourself, I guess it's not my day. The worst of it is, you're right–it isn't your day. However, there are methods to protect your game from suffering a complete collapse on the course. To play your best golf, you need an arsenal of skills and strategies to insulate your game when the heat is on. This 17-page feature presents a catalogue of specific golf advice, ranging from mental thoughts and images to easy-to-accomplish swing changes that guarantee better performance during your round. Among the top 50 are quick and easy tips to harness more speed from your swing (Power section), reduce grossly off-line shots (Accuracy), create better scoring opportunities (Strategy), get up and down every time (Short Game), keep round-wrecking scores to a minimum (Safe vs. Sane) and, most important, prevent the wheels from coming completely off during the course of play (Damage Control). I call this collection of advice the Top 50–you'll call them lifesavers. Use them wisely and enjoy great results even when your A game turns into a C or worse.
1. Switch On The Power
Here's a simple thought to help turn on your power switch: Your weight shift and the clubhead should travel in the same direction. During the backswing, both the weight and the clubhead move away from the target; during the downswing, the direction switches–your weight and your clubhead move toward the target.
2. Own A Release
A horse and rider arrive at a seven-foot wall at top speed when, suddenly, the horse stops, catapulting the rider over the jump. The image that's important for your golf swing is the passing along of energy because this is how you transmit power to the golf ball.
The wall of your golf swing is your front leg. The rider is your clubhead and his separation from the horse is the release of your clubhead through the hitting zone. The key to all of this is that the release is passive–it's simply the result of your arms and hands abruptly slowing down and passing their energy down the shaft and into the ball. In other words, a good golf swing doesn't require manipulative hand action. Correctly passing energy and creating power should occur without effort. Remember, you don't do a release, you have one.
3. Generate, Transmit And Deliver
Web Tip: Learn How To Generate Power_Ê
Imagine a generating station located on the outskirts of town. Here, the big turbines generate the power that's transmitted via power lines and dumped to the end user.
In the golf swing, the turbines are the large muscles of your hips, back and legs. Your shoulders, arms and clubshaft are the transmission lines, where levers acting like transformers ratchet up the power until finally the energy is dumped to the end user–the golf ball. Power begins at the source: If you fail to coil, the amount of power available for transfer is reduced.
4. Pre-Round Tips
Before your round, ensure that you're nice and loose. I like the Superman Stretch. Stand with both arms stretched out in front of you. Reach under your left arm and curl your right wrist behind your left elbow. Keeping this relationship, place your right palm on the right side of your face (see photo). Now, bend from your hip joints into your golf posture. Make a slow-motion backswing. Hold at the top for 30 seconds, then reverse for the other side.
Upon hitting the practice range, work on two things: balance and contact. Tee the ball and choke down on a 7-iron. Make three-quarter swings, and don't worry about how far the ball travels because your goal is solid contact. In addition, strive to finish in perfect balance no matter where the ball goes. Soon, your brain will get the message–balance and solid contact are the order of the day.
Another key element of your pre-round preparation should be to determine what game you have on that day. If your A game shows (you're hitting the ball solidly and accurately), your master plan is to play aggressively. If your B game surfaces (your contact and accuracy are just okay), understand that your shots won't carry as far. Resolve to take one more club and pick your spots to be aggressive. When you have no game at all and almost every shot is a mis-hit, it's Short Game Time, where the plan is to play it safe and get up and down. Hang in there until something good happens. If you get aggressive early in the round, you're in for a long day on the golf course.
5. Remember To Rebound
As you swing through the golf ball, your club whips past your body at a high rate of speed, a result of your body whirling around your front hip joint. In order to stay balanced while you whirl, your spine must be allowed to tilt slightly away from the target–the correct reaction to the demands of physics known as staying behind the ball. Depending on your strength, flexibility and swing pattern, you may have more or less spinal deflection (in the five- to 10-degree range), but all good players have some spinal rebound.
6. Warm-Up For Power
Prepare your round for heavy doses of power with this drill. Stand upright and make non-stop practice swings as though you're hitting waist-high fastballs. Keep the motion continuous as you gradually incline your spine toward your normal golf swing position until your clubhead clips the grass. Repeat five times and you're good to go.
7. Cover The Ball
Web Tip: See The Cover Drill In Action!
The golf swing is a complicated event, full of many moving parts and varying demands on your body at different points during the motion. A well-oiled swing flawlessly keeps all of these parts in order by synchronizing their movement, from takeaway to finish. Here's a great drill you can use on the course to synchronize your swing and create more powerful, more accurate golf shots.
Assume your address position with your club soled behind the ball. Then, keeping your clubhead in position, remove your target hand (the left for right-handers) from the handle and place it on the butt end of the club so that you can hold the club in position with that hand only. Now, simulate a golf swing using your right hand, allowing it to move to the top of your swing, then down to the ball until it moves under your front forearm through impact.
I call this drill the Cover Drill (Corey Pavin once used it as part of his preshot routine) because it forces the front shoulder to move upward through impact–just as it should–without spinning open. Thus, your shoulder covers the ball at impact and returns your arms back in front of you like they were at address.
8. Don't Play Your Hunch
While it feels powerful to reach for the ball at address, it actually costs you power because it decreases coil. When you overreach to the ball, your upper back invariably hunches, and for every one degree of hunch, you lose two degrees of coil. In the correct setup, try to touch your shoulder blades at address and make sure to bend from your hips rather than your waist. If you bend from your waist, you'll hunch your back and that's a hunch you don't want to play.
In_Ê an underswing, your arms move too slowly during the downswing and can't keep up with your body turn. As such, your club becomes trapped (right) and the ball flies to the right. Underswinging is especially prevalent among women. Overswingers (mostly men) swing their arms too quickly, invariably in an attempt to produce added power. The problem with overswinging is that when you try to hit the ball too hard, you hit too soon from the top, which loops the club out toward the target line, resulting in a pull or a pull slice.
The solution is simple: If your shots are starting to the right of target, select one less club than you'd normally hit (a 7- vs. a 6-iron) and speed up your arms. If you're pulling the ball, choose one more club and slow down your arms.
10. Check Your Lies
With misfit lie angles, it's easy to groove a swing error. Lie angles that are too upright (toe up) at impact cause your ball to finish left of target. If they're too flat (toe down), your ball flies wide right. If you make good swings and the ball consistently flies to the right of the target, it won't be long before you introduce an over-the-top move to pull the ball back to target. If your ball flies left, you'll learn to delay your hands to block the ball back to target. Bottom line: Have your lies checked.
11. Line 'Em Up
Your left-hand grip (for right-handers) has a lot to do with the accuracy of your golf shots. A good checkpoint is the positioning of the small depression at the base of your wrist formed by the tendons of your left thumb when you flex your wrist. At address, it should be directly over the center of the club handle. Why? Because when centrifugal force pulls your arms straight through impact, your wrist joint, elbow joint and shoulder joint will seek alignment. Pre-align them at address for a squarer clubface at the point of contact and, as a result, straighter golf shots.
12. Predict Trajectory
You're under a tree and must keep it low, but you're not sure how fast the ball will get up. One way to learn how is to lay down the club you're planning to use with the butt end facing the target, then step on the clubface. The shaft will rise to the shot's initial launch angle, allowing you to decide if the club is the correct choice to keep it under the obstacle.
13. Beat The Tweeners
If your tweeners (odd distances between clubs) have a history of being pulled and pushed, here's the solution. If you're a fast-swinging power hitter, take one less club and hit it harder.
If you're a smooth swinger with a syrupy action, take one club more and hit it easy.
14. Go Inside
For crisper shots, aim for the inside-back quadrant of the golf ball. Doing so allows the club to make contact with the ball in a slightly open position (from which it correctly rotates to square, then to closed). As a reminder, position your ball on the tee so that the logo sits in the lower-left quadrant.
15. First Tee Tips
When you arrive at the first tee, take a moment to identify the shape of the hole and what the architect had in mind. The word fairway comes from a nautical term that describes a safe passageway through potentially dangerous waters. If you keep the ball on the short grass, it stays out of harm's way. Most of the danger in golf lies to the sides of your route, so make it part of your plan to start each hole by hitting the fairway, even if you have to sacrifice some distance. In other words, don't immediately opt for driver.
If you've got the first-tee jitters, here's how to calm down: Look straight ahead, then close your eyes and, without moving your head, angle them so they look up at the sky. As soon as you feel your eyes begin to flutter, take a deep breath and hold it for a count; then expel the air and open your eyes.
Once you're calm, it's target time. Most of your clubs have a distance and a landing area built in, but your driver distance is open-ended, and this can lead to mindlessly overpowering the ball. Therefore, anytime you have a driver in hand, choose both a direction and a destination–a specific landing area for your tee ball. For the direction, aim at something on the line on which you want your ball to fly. It might be a mound, a tree in the background or even a cloud in the sky. For the destination, pick a tire track or a discolored patch of grass in the section of the fairway from which you want to play your next shot.
16. Get Some Skills
All great golfers develop skills packages–shots that are often hit back-to-back during the course of play. Practice your fairway wood swing in combination with pitching wedge shots, so you'll be ready to link them for your second and third shots on a par-5. When was the last time you saw a golfer on the driving range alternating a 3-wood with a pitch to the flag? Other packages: sand wedge/putter; driver/short iron; driver/3-wood.
17. Make The Right Choice
One thing you have complete control of on the golf course is deciding which 14 clubs you'll use for the round. While you have a core set composition that doesn't vary much, there should be room for specialty clubs in your gameday set, depending on the course and the conditions. For example, if you're playing a course with large greens, you might carry two putters–a chest-anchored one for short putts and a regular-length model for lags. Other choices include wedges with varying degrees of bounce and loft for varying sand textures, utility woods, a four-degree closed and a four-degree open driver for doglegs, a long-shafted driver for long courses and a rescue club for courses with high rough.
18. Calm The Savage Beast
When you have your best swing, anchor it to a piece of music by using your Walkman while you practice. Once the link between your music and your best swing is established, then everywhere the one goes, the other follows. Put on the music when you game slips and your best swing will reappear.
19. Obey The C Line
To think like a champion golfer, draw an imaginary line between you and your ball on every shot. Call it the C line for the commitment you're going to make to the shot before you cross it and step to your ball. Once you've made your shot selection and it's clear in your mind, cross the line and take your address position. If you lose your commitment, step back behind the C line and start the process all over again.
20. Over Look The Ball
Web Tip: The Correct Head Movement Every Swing Needs
During a good golf swing, your head makes its own mini-swing. Certainly, it doesn't remain rigid.
Your head should rotate in the same manner as your front shoulder–away from the ball during the backswing and toward it during the downswing. This rotation shouldn't be confused with moving the head forward. Moving the head forward, or up or down during the downswing, can cause a myriad of problems. The head should rotate in its place until the power of your swing pulls your body forward and up into the finish.
Think of it this way: During the downswing, your head should release. When you release your head correctly, you'll look over the ball as it flies away and track its path immediately from the point of contact. If you hold your head rigid, you'll look under the ball and hinder your weight shift.
21. Get Your Body In Balance
Hit a few balls left-handed during every warm-up session by turning over your 7-iron. In so doing, you'll accomplish two things: 1) You'll practice an awkward shot that could save strokes in an emergency and; 2) Since your golf swing is two-sided, you'll strengthen the golf muscles on both sides of your body equally to keep your body in balance.
22. Treat Every Par-5 As A Par-3
Suppose I told you we were going to play a course with four par-3s only 100 yards long. You'd be anticipating shooting one of your lowest rounds ever. Well, here's a way to turn every course you play into a course like this. Instead of automatically blasting your driver and fairway wood on every par-5, figure a two-shot combination that will position you 100 yards from the green. Once there, you can think of the hole as an easy, 100-yard par-3.
23. Read Your Lie
When the grass is against you in the rough (growing away from the target), put a firmer grip on the club, swing harder on pitches, and add at least one club for long shots. When the grass is growing toward the target (a flyer), swing easier around the greens and take at least one less club for full shots using your normal grip pressure.
24. Come Prepared
Don't be in a hurry to leave the course the next time your round of golf is interrupted by rain. Instead, put on your rain gear and tough it out for a few holes. You certainly don't want to experience playing in bad weather for the first time in a tournament.
25. 1, 2,_Ê 3 Chip
Web Tip: The Easy Basics For Expert Chipping_Ê
If you're having problems with your chipping, try this: Set your feet in position and look down the line to the hole counting one; then bring your eyes back to the ball on two; draw the club back on three; and hit the ball on the count of four. Your goal using the count of one-two-three-four is to eliminate any need to think about chipping mechanics. Once you ingrain this routine, your move will be automatic.
26. Angle Your Putting
There's a key angle created when you place your trail hand on the putter: Your wrist bends backward slightly toward your forearm. Many successful putters keep this angle intact through impact to prevent overuse of their hands.
27. Look Where You're Going
If you leave yourself a lot of long putts, here's a simple tip that will help prevent three-jacks: Always take your practice strokes looking at the target. This gives your brain the information that links feel to force, so you can hit the ball the right distance.
28. Go Toe-To-Toe
Web Tip: Develop A Stroke For All Distances
Before every round, calibrate the length of your stroke by widening and narrowing your foot width. For short putts, use a very narrow stance, position the ball in the center, and then stroke the putt by taking the putter back to your back foot (big toe) and through to your front foot. Do this for different stance widths until you develop a feel for how long a backstroke you need for each length of putt. Once on the course, simply match the distance of your putt to your foot width and putt toe-to-toe.
29. First Green Tips
On the practice green, check the grain by lightly dragging your putter across the grass. If the grass stands up, you've scraped your putter against the grain; if it stays down, you're with the grain. When you're playing, the Rules of Golf don't permit you to test the green in this manner, but you can test the collar or apron of the green without penalty. Just make sure it's the same kind of grass as the putting surface before you factor the information into your read.
In addition to grain direction, learn how the greens drain. A well-designed putting surface has drainage patterns that draw water off to the sides and away from the center of the green. In general, you can expect swales to channel the water away from the bunkers and toward ponds and lakes. Therefore, if you have a putt with a bunker directly behind, the putt probably breaks away from the bunker. Changes in grass color surrounding the green as well as damage from past accumulations of water also are clues to how the drainage flows. The ability to read the drainage patterns is a key to good putting.
30. Lag With A Purpose
Not wanting to be too aggressive on the first hole, you left your iron shot 40 feet from the cup, and the first hole isn't the place for a three-putt. Here's the tip: Most good lag putters don't ascribe to the three-foot circle theory. Good putters try to hit the ball in the hole, not three feet from it. Think about this: From a long distance, it's easy to leave your putt three feet short of where you want it to stop and, if you miss the three-foot circle by that much, you're six feet from the hole.
31. Triangulate Your Putts
You should read all your putts from three vantage points–from behind the hole, from midway between the hole and your ball, and from behind the ball. Using this process of triangulation maps out the putting surface perfectly for your brain to interpret. Anything more is overkill; anything less is not enough.
32. Stop The Nega-Talk
You're bound to miss some putts you should make, so it's important to eliminate nega-talk, the kind of self-talk where you berate yourself and destroy your self-confidence. If negative autosuggestion works, so must positive autosuggestion. Tell yourself you're great on the greens.
Safe Vs. Sane
33. Seventh Hole Tips
Your round is one-third complete. It's time for a tension check. You should feel what I call Selective Tension, where some of your muscles (your lower back, the insides of your thighs, ankles and the inside of each foot) are tense and ready for action, and others (like your jaw, neck and shoulders) are relaxed.
At the 7th is also a good time to check in on your Time IQ (how you handle time during your round). At the first sign of bad shotmaking, you need to do everything in slow motion. Drive the cart slowly, walk slowly, stop at the water cooler, be the last one on the tee, etc. In other words, fake it until you make it.
34. Make Up Your Mind
At the '03 Masters, Tiger Woods was about to hit an iron for position off the third tee when his caddie suggested he take a chance and hit driver. Tiger had already made up his mind, so the suggestion to hit another club literally un-made it. Woods, lacking permission from himself to carry out his plan, drove his ball into the woods, made a double-bogey and kissed his chance for a Masters three-peat goodbye. What can you learn from Tiger's mistake? Play the shot you have permission to play.
35. Don't Play It Too Safe
Sometimes when you play too safe with one shot, you set yourself up for an extremely difficult and dangerous next shot. For example, if you're too cautious off the tee with a 2-iron when you should have used a 3-wood, you effectively change the next shot's degree of difficulty. Along those same lines, if you're aggressive on the front end of your plan, make sure you're aggressive on the back end (unless circumstances suddenly change). It's foolish to play safe and then, on a whim, go for broke.
36. Shoot At The Pin Only If You Have A Rifle
Try this experiment the next time you play a round of golf. Aim for the center of every green with every full shot and forget about the pin. This will take some will power, but I'll bet you'll shoot one of your lowest rounds ever. How? You'll miss less greens.
37. Assess, Then Address
If a pin is protected by two conditions, such as a bunker or a strong sidewind that will steer your ball into the bunker, it's a red (don't attack) pin. Aim away from the flag by selecting a different part of the green as your target.
If the pin is protected by only one condition, such as a bunker with no wind, then you can aim closer to the flag, but proceed with caution by giving yourself about a 10-yard margin of error on the safe side of the pin. When there's no trouble surrounding the pin, and you have a club in your hand in which you have confidence, go for it.
38. Sand Matchups
In the bunker, you can save some strokes by matching your sand wedge system to the texture of the sand. When the sand on the course you're playing is soft and fluffy, use a wedge with a large flange and a lot of bounce. When the sand is hard, wet or crusty, select a wedge with minimal flange and bounce.
39. At The Turn Tips
The turn is a good place to ask yourself if you've been a victim of the spider syndrome. When a spider is threatened, it curls up into a ball because, for the spider, motion is error. Many golfers under stress do the same thing–driven by the idea that motion is error, they cut back on their swing and steer the ball to minimize off-line shots. This robs them of distance and accuracy, so they tinker, and by the 14th hole, they've lost it completely. Resolve on the back nine to freewheel it.
A loss of distance can also be fueled by a single shoulder turn, where you turn your front shoulder, but shrug your back one. For longer, straighter shots, you need to turn both shoulders–the left under your chin and the right behind your neck.
40. Go Lean On The Fats
On short-iron shots, many golfers fail to shift their weight and execute a weak, arms-only swing. However, in order to hit crisp short irons, you've got to make a weight shift just as you do for full shots. Most high-handicappers leave about 40% of their weight on their back leg through impact, whereas Tour players leave only about 10%. The solution to prevent fat short irons: Shift your weight onto your front foot very early in the downswing.
41. Choke In The Sand
In a fairway bunker, be careful when you dig your feet into the sand. Digging your feet two inches into the sand effectively lengthens the club by two inches. The tendency here is to hit the sand first, a no-no when you need to pick it clean. Make sure you choke down the same amount.
42. Alternative Sand Play
If you skull your sand shots using the standard bunker technique, try this method. Open your body to the target line more than normal and position the golf ball in the middle of your stance. Now, make sure that the majority of your weight is set and remains on your back foot (the opposite of the normal technique) all the way through the swing. This ensures that you'll hit the sand first and guard against catching the ball thin.
43. Pick Your Putt
Conventional wisdom advises golfers to get their approach putts and chips into a three-foot circle around the cup, but when the pin is on a slope, not all three-footers are equal. Three-footers from above the hole or from a side slope can be score-wreckers. Your goal should be to position your approach directly below the hole so you can ram your next putt straight back up the hill into the cup. Remember, from where you putt is as important as how you putt.
44. Ruin Yours Or His?
Playing golf with someone who doesn't know etiquette can ruin your game. Usually, breaches of etiquette aren't done on purpose, but there are golfers who do it by plan, so if you've got a little something on the line, keep an eye out for gamesmanship. If you don't like this kind of stuff, you have two options: Say nothing and ruin your game, or look him or her right in the eye and say, Have you seen the USGA's video on etiquette? See if the games continue after that.
45. 14th Hole Tips
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