Category Archives: Strategy

A New Series: How to Actually PLAY Golf.

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A view of the spectacular par 3, 14th hole at Titarangi Golf Club in Auckland, New Zealand.

An Introduction to a new lesson series.

There are literally countless articles and videos on the many ways you should swing a golf club. Learning how to swing a club efficiently is vital if you are going to enjoy your current golf and keep playing this great game in the future. However, when golfers are put in real-life situations on the course, many times their practice of “golf swing” doesn’t lead to lower scores. Lets face it, a lot of bad things can happen to good swings on a golf course. There is a disconnect between what was taught on the practice tee and what one can produce on the golf course. We’ve all either said or heard the phrase, I can’t take what I do on the range to the golf course. This is the universal lament of the golfer who wants to get better, but never seems to. What I have found in my lifetime of teaching and coaching is that there just isn’t enough information for golfers about how to navigate themselves around the course to help them lower their scores.

Its frustrating for you, the golfers who put so much effort to go into improving your golf via practice and lessons, only to be disappointed with results when you actually play. Its frustrating for me as an instructor for my students to suffer needlessly—and as I say, to not get paid. Most times I see scores balloon not because of technique, but because of a player’s poor planning, trying to do too much with a shot, a bad decision, panic, or just hitting a shot out of pure frustration.

cog graphic how to playOnly about 4% of all golf lessons given are playing lessons. I believe that this is one of the big factors preventing golfers from improving as much or as fast as they should. Golfers aren’t given the knowledge to know what to do—or more importantly, what NOT to do—on the golf course. I see this as a recipe for failure. So, in some ways your poor score is not your fault. The fact is, you haven’t been trained on how to PLAY golf. In fact, years ago I was going to give a talk about this very topic at PGA training and they told me straight out, “You can’t give this talk.” I was stunned when I heard this. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to know that I gave the talk anyway.

The bottom line is this, strategy and having a set of rules for what you will do or won’t do in a given situation is biggest key for scoring. If you follow these strategies your scores will go down, regardless of how you hit the ball. My goal is to arm you with the knowledge to go on the course and lower your handicap so you can beat your mates!

So lets learn something useful and apply these principles. And by the way, if you have certain situations you’d like to see discussed mention them in the comment box and I’ll get to them either individually or in a future article.

Look for the first installment of How to Actually Play Golf in the following days.

Don’t Hit the Ball!

Here is a great tip to hit longer, straighter tee shots!

Do you hit low drives? Do you hit drives that curve a lot left or right? Are most of your friends longer off the tee than you?

If your answer to any of these questions is YES, it could be because you’re focused on hitting the wrong thing. If you want to smash longer, straighter drives then don’t hit the ball. You read this right– don’t hit the ball! Focus all of your attention on hitting the TEE!

If you look down after a drive and see the tee hasn’t moved there is a great chance you mis-hit your drive.

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Anyone who has taken lessons from me has heard me say countless times, “HIT THE TEE!” It’s a very simple way to hit better quality tee shots. I tell my students, “I don’t ever want them to hit the ball, I want them to hit what’s under the ball.”

Here is why:

If you focus on hitting the ball there is a very good chance you will lift up during impact and the ball will hit the lower half of the club face. Hitting the ball low in the club face will result in lower, shorter drives that spin more which cause the ball to curve a great deal more left or right.

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Something most people don’t know is that all of the top club manufacturers have built a “Hot Spot” on face of your driver. This spot is high on the face. If you do hit the tee, the ball will hit high on the driver face (in the hot spot). If you hit the hot spot the ball will spin far less. The result–the ball carries farther and because it is spinning less, when it hits the ground the ball will jump forward like it hit pavement. That is how the pros get the impressive distances they do. Yes, they do carry it far but much of their mammoth distance comes from the ball bounding down the fairway after it lands.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Ok then, how do we do this?

  1. Make sure the ball is teed up properly. We want to have half the ball higher than the top of the club.

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2. Your main goal on the swing is knocking the tee out of the ground (or at least have it leaning forward) after your tee shot. If you look down after the tee shot and the tee hasn’t budged, UGH! Try again.

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One thing I can promise you– the next time you’re on the first tee feeling nervous, if you ignore the ball completely and focus on hitting the tee, you’ll start off your round with a much better tee shot.

This article will also appear in February 2017 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

Photographs courtesy of Elizabeth Witton.

Commandment #2

I’ve seen it for years, players automatically pegging it up in the middle of the tee box on every hole without any thought. Then after the drive ends up in the woods or a hazard, the golfer usually curses and takes a few moments to rehearse his backswing, thinking his swing was the problem. Guess what? More times than not, the swing wasn’t the issue. But every time this happens during his round, the player continues to question his swing mechanics and tries to fix problems that aren’t there. Late in the round when his confidence is somewhat eroded you can almost count on a big mistake being made on an important tee shot.

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The real problem was that the golfer did not consider the angles of the golf hole. On each tee shot you need to ask yourself, “Where can I miss and still make par? Where is the big mistake?”

The solution is simple: Pick a side. Tee the ball up on one side of the tee box or another to create the best angle to play the hole. And, there is always a better side.

Tee the ball up on the side of the hole you wish to avoid. This allows you to hit away from trouble and dramatically decrease the odds of making the big mistake.

When I see someone tee up on the wrong place within the tee box, I can usually tell you where the ball is going to end up before the shot is hit. Some people think I’m a wizard or something, but it’s just years and years of seeing the same predictable mistake repeated thousands of times.

Something that many golfers don’t realize is that one of the tools that golf course architects use is illusion and deception. Course architects will create angles that make golfers feel uncomfortable. This is a golf course’s best defense against giving up a score. Bunkers, hazards, the direction of the holes (doglegs, etc.) aren’t there just to look pretty; they are there to create doubt and fear.

Stand behind some of the tee boxes at your home course. Notice that many aren’t aiming you down the middle of the fairway. Sometimes they are actually aiming you toward the trouble.

Using the tee box to your advantage is one of the easiest of The Commandments to apply. I’ve seen it change a decent college player into a very effective one. This Commandment is so important because you apply it on every hole BEFORE you have ever hit your first shot. If you commit to using this strategy you’ll be amazed how much more effective your tee shots are.

Golf is a game of misses. You are going to miss some of your targets; even the pros do. If you allow yourself room to for your imperfection, you’ll be okay. If you regularly have to reach into your bag for another ball, you won’t have much fun.

“The Commandments” – an Introduction

About six years into my career as a college golf coach, I noticed a trend: golfers tend to make the same mistakes in tournaments year after year. It got to the point that I could predict with great regularity the error a player was going to make before it happened—an error that would either wreck his hole or change the course of his round. Seeing these mistakes year after year became increasingly frustrating, especially when my own guys were making them. Most of the errors I noticed were not swing related; surprisingly, most were strategic, stemming from poor decision-making or from a lack of awareness on the course.

commandments stoneEventually, I had enough and began writing down my observations. Before long I had a list of the most common errors I saw golfers make in tournament play. Determined to teach my team to avoid making these common mistakes, I started sharing the list with them. I knew that if I could teach my team to recognize these “traps” that players from other teams were falling victim to, we would have a decided advantage when competing.

Thus, The Commandments were born. I have been teaching my team to play The Commandments for about a dozen years now. My players even carry a copy of The Commandments with them every round. We talk about them just about every day.

There are eleven Commandments on my list—eleven things I ask my players to do, or not do, every round. Again, none have to do with swing. Surprising, I know. My guys have learned that the fewer commandments they break during the round, the greater their chances of shooting a great score—even if they don’t hit the ball well. Because of these playing rules our teams have had a lot of success. Once my players buy into using them during play, The Commandments become the glue that helps our players and team achieve great things. The Commandments give my players rules and structure to guide their decision-making and to help them stay patient, which translates into fewer careless errors and a less stressful round.

Over the next few years I will introduce each of The Commandments to you. I know that if you follow them, they will make a big difference in your score. And the best part is you don’t need to get golf lessons.

Wind + Machismo = High Scores

As a coach I observe a lot of golf. I observe much more than I play. As I study golfers, I notice tendencies in individuals, teams, demographics, whatever. After years of observation coaches develop a sort of sixth sense. I now have the ability to see into the future. I can see the mistakes that golfers are going make before they happen. As a result, watching golf can be a very sad and predictable affair for me. In this lesson I am going to speak of one of the most frustrating miscalculations that I see. It involves playing in windy conditions.

Here’s the scenario:

Lets say Joe Golfer shows up at the course to play, and today it’s gonna’ be windy — a constant 20 mile per hour wind. He gets to the first tee and the hole is playing straight downwind. Joe hits a much longer drive than usual, because the wind is pumping at his back. Because of the wind he then hits 2 clubs less than normal into the green on his approach shot. The next hole comes back in the opposite direction, with the wind straight into his face. He hits his drive solidly but ends up noticeably shorter than normal. He can feel the force of the wind on his face but on the approach shot he only takes 1 extra club into the wind. Of course his approach comes well short of the green and he is standing in the fairway with his hat off scratching his head wondering how in the world, because he is so manly, the shot could have come up so short. I’ve seen it a million times. This is one of the main reasons I see scores balloon on windy days.

Pop Quiz: If 20 mph tailwind = 20 more yards of distance then when does 20 mph of headwind = 10 yards less distance?

a) always

b) after 3 Red Bulls

c) never

I’ll wait while you think about it………..

The correct answer is c) never.

The force of the wind is EQUAL whether it’s in your face or at your back.

I don’t know if it’s ego or disbelief or what, but most golfers can’t find it in themselves to take enough club into the wind, and it costs them a ton of strokes. Here’s why:

Think of the course architecture of your home golf course. Green complexes are usually designed to have most of the trouble (bunkering and ponds) just short of the green or in the first third of the green.

Constantly coming up short puts tremendous pressure on your chipping, pitching and putting. The last thing you want to do on a windy day is put extra pressure on your putting. If you are always putting from 6-10 feet for par or bogie when the wind is blowing you’ll quickly find yourself losing strokes, energy and the ability to stay focused.

So, here’s the lesson: If you are hitting 2 clubs less downwind, you’ll also need to hit 2 clubs more when you are hitting into the wind.

There is no shame in pulling more club. No one has to know. Anyway, who cares? All that matters is score. Also, I’m sure you have heard that hitting less club into a headwind and swinging hard creates more spin and causes the ball to rise, or balloon in the air. Well, it’s true.

One thing I can tell you is this: rarely do I ever see anyone go over a green when hitting into the wind. And like I said, look at your home course’s architecture. Most of the time, missing long provides you a much easier chip or pitch than you’d have if you miss short.

Macho Man Tip: Missing long always appears more macho than constantly coming up short.