Tag Archives: golf illustration

How to Actually Play Golf

This is the first of a multi-part series on how to negotiate the golf course to achieve lower scores without having to think about swing or technique.

Over the years I have had countless golfers come to me seeking to answer a great big question: I’m great on the range, so why don’t I shoot lower scores?

Many times the reason is not swing-related, its a course management issue. The lessons in this series are designed to give you quick guidelines as to what to do, and more importantly what not to do, in common situations on the golf course.

Lesson 1

Understanding Green Complexes

Understanding what is going on around the green is essential if you want to score your best. Truth is, most golfers don’t hit the ball as far as they’d like to believe. Golfers tend to choose a club based on their absolute best strike, not their usual strike.cog How to play golf lesson 1 Also, I find that most golfers have an innate fear of hitting the ball long, which rarely happens. Combine these factors with how golf course architects design most holes and you’ve got a recipe for higher scores.

Study the green complex before you hit your shot, then follow the simple tips illustrated in this graphic and you’ll see your scores drop dramatically.

Bonus Hint: Hit one more club! You’ll make more pars and birdies, guaranteed. Also, the extra length allows for you to be the imperfect golfer you are. A miss-hit won’t be so penal.

Sure there are times when it is best to end up short of the green. If that is your intent, great! But most times, coming up short is born out of poor planning or not accepting the fact that you don’t hit a 7 iron as far as Dustin Johnson. Or even Zach Johnson, for that matter.

When I was a university coach I used to always say to my team, “During a round of golf one of two things are happening. Either the course is putting pressure on you to give up a score, or you’re putting pressure on it to give up a score.”

The latter is much more fun.

 

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

Are You a Shotgun or a Laser ?

I have found over the years that poor alignment is the root cause of many issues that golfers have with their game.

We all know that mental focus is a very important aspect of playing good golf; focusing the body is also essential.

shotgun

Alignment points are located from your head to your toes. Your body has six important parts that need to align together in order to hit crisp, consistent and predictable golf shots. These six are the feet, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders and eyes. If any of these are not aligned to the same target, the effect is much like firing a shotgun: the pellets go everywhere! Some pellets will hit their target, but the majority of them will miss. Not a solid strategy for shooting lower scores. Now, if all six parts are focused on the same target—that’s powerful! That would be like focusing many rays of light on the same object, much like a laser. The concentrated focus of the rays become so concentrated and unified that they can actually cut through metal! That’s the kind of power and concentrated focus that we are looking for during the pre-shot routine.

All too often I see a golfer’s feet, for example, aiming off in one direction—say right—and another part like the shoulders, aiming to the left as shown in the green graphic. In this case the feet want the ball to go right and the shoulders want the ball to go left. Opposition has been created within the body. This opposition makes it very difficult for the body to focus on a single target. This opposition creates confusion, which kills focus, which then affects the physical action of hitting the golf ball, which directly affects the outcome, which in turn kills confidence. What is the result? You hit the ball everywhere, especially on important shots! The effect will likely be magnified even more because of excessive side spin that poor alignment puts on the ball.

Simply put, the entire body must be in agreement on where the ball should go. Otherwise, it’s far less likely that you will hit your target.

laser

So, lets talk about how to do this easily at address so that we look more like the blue graphic…

FEET: Align your toes parallel left of the target (if you are a right handed golfer). Very often I see golfers make the mistake of aiming their feet at the target, which actually aligns the feet right of where you want the ball to go. We want the clubface aimed at the target. The feet should be set up parallel to the target line.

KNEES: Make sure you look down you have the same amount of knee flex in each leg. You should be able to see the same amount of each of your feet.

HIPS: If your knees look good, then your hips should be good.

ELBOWS: All of our six alignment parts are important, but aligning the elbows is absolutely crucial to success. I can tell my students all day to work on their shoulder alignment, but it’s very difficult for them to feel what’s right, because you can’t see your shoulders at address. They can, however, see their elbows. So if I ask them to make sure the the line drawn from the elbows match their toe line, then matching up the upper body and the lower body becomes easy. Another thing about the elbows– if you have too much tension in your right arm (if you are right handed) it will usually lead to setting up with your shoulders open.

SHOULDERS: The shoulders will follow the alignment of the elbows.

EYES: This is a part of alignment that is often overlooked. Many of my students unknowingly have their head tilting to the right which throws off their perspective of what proper alignment is. Make sure you check your eyes.

So, now you are aligned properly. Providing that your clubface is also properly aligned you’ll find it much easier to hit your target because the club will start and continue on a better, more reliable swing path.

Result: You’ll hit far fewer off-line shots. This should really help lower your score.

So, now you are aligned properly. Providing that your clubface is also properly aligned you’ll find it much easier to hit your target because the club will start and continue on a better, more reliable swing path.

Result: You’ll hit far fewer off-line shots. This should really help lower your score.

This article was also published in the October 2015 issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

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.

Print

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 Littlest Shots Make the Biggest Difference

If you’re like most golfers, you spend most of your practice time on the range, and finish up with a few quick minutes on the practice green. I believe everyone should reverse that and spend the majority on your practice or warm up time on the practice greens and less time beating balls. If you look around your club you’ll notice that the best players hang out around the practice greens a lot. If you want to be one of the best players at your club I would suggest you do the same.

COG 11 Ball Drill

At least half of your shots during a round come from on or around the green. Most of the time it’s the quality of the Little Shots that determine the quality of your score. You could improve half of your game simply and quickly by improving your skills around the green—without going through swing changes or investing money in lessons or equipment!

Many years ago, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. We drove from town to town seeing the sites and enjoying the Scottish culture. Almost every evening, almost everywhere we went, we noticed townspeople of all ages practicing putting and chipping.

COG 11 Ball Drill

Practicing your short game is a great after-dinner activity. I find it very relaxing. Late afternoon and evening is the most beautiful time of day, and there usually aren’t many people around to distract you so you can get in some quality practice.

It beats sitting on the couch, or trying to squeeze in a quick nine and being frustrated by poor play. Try investing time instead of spending time.

Here are two great drills that will help your short game. You only need a dozen balls and if you spend an hour or two a week doing these drills you’ll see real results.

I know these drills will help you score better and enjoy your rounds more.

A Golfer’s Biggest Hazard, Part 2

In a previous post (A Golfers Biggest Hazard, Dec. 2012) I wrote, When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.” 

golfers biggest hazardGolf is a tough game. If you want to enjoy it you need to be equally tough. Golf can and eventually will beat you up mentally. Every golfer goes through tough times. As I have said to every golfer I have coached over the years, “you must embrace the struggle.”  The crazy thing about the game we love is that we can hit hundreds of shots perfectly, but if we hit one poorly at the wrong time it can make us doubt everything we do. A golfer’s memory seems to be very long when it comes to remembering the negative, and very short when remembering the positive. I’ve seen it more times than I can count: One of my players is going along great and all of the sudden he hits a poor drive or misses a short putt and for the remainder of the round, and perhaps for weeks after, doubts his ability. Now he is totally distracted from the task at hand – playing golf. As he wonders what happened and why, he hits more poor shots, and as his score goes up his confidence goes down. And so the spiral downward begins.

I prefer to take a more philosophical approach. I believe golf is a living, breathing thing. It can sense fear and weakness, and when it does, it will devour you. The only way to prevail against the beast is to remain upbeat and optimistic and as you do, the beast will go away and then golf will reward you.

I believe, when you struggle, golf is actually trying to teach you something. Golf has a great way of exposing your weaknesses. For instance, if you struggle with chipping you will find yourself missing greens and having to chip. If you practiced chipping more it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it is human nature to avoid practicing what you’re not good at. Instead of avoiding the weakness you should practice to overcome the weakness. So, in essence, golf is giving you exactly what you need – opportunities to chip! Golf always exposes you.

In the December 2012 post I told the tale of Makenzie Denver, a young man on my team who learned the importance of not giving up mentally when things got tough on the golf course. If you haven’t already I encourage you to go back and read the story. It’s a good one that can help all golfers.

CoachandDenver crop1Denver, my most talented player, struggled during his freshman year with staying mentally engaged when he had tough rounds. When things got tough he would mope and sulk believing he was a victim and the only one golf was picking on. This cost him strokes. Afterward, when looking at the leader board, he realized that if he would have stayed mentally tough during the round and hung in there and fought hard, three things would have happened: 1) he could have helped our team more; 2) individually, he would have finished high in some important events; and 3) he would have gone away from the tournament with no regrets. As Ghandi said, “Full effort is full victory.”

This past March we were playing at the Jekyll Island Intercollegiate on the coast of Georgia over spring break. It’s a very important event. In fact, it’s the largest tournament in NCAA golf.

In the first two rounds Denver played okay, +1 in the first round and +6 in the 2nd. Not bad considering the winter we had in the Northeast and the fact it was the first time we had seen grass in four months.

In the final round Denver got off to a solid start, parring the first two. The 3rd hole is probably the easiest par 4 on the course — just a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee, and a short pitch of about 60-80 yards to the green. Denver hit some poor shots, and ended up with double-bogie on the hole. On the very next hole, a tight par 4 dogleg right, he followed up the double with an eight. Yep, a snowman.

During all of this I was on another part of the course with one of my other players but knew what was happening because the tournament had live scoring and I was watching the gruesome events unfold on an app on my phone. Denver was now 6 over par after four holes—not the start he in anyway imagined. I didn’t rush to go see him right away because I knew he’d be okay. We had been working on turning his weakness into his strength for a more than a year now and I knew he had the tools to stay “up” mentally and accept the adversity and move forward.

I caught up to him on the par 3, eighth hole. The first thing he said to me with a smile on his face was, “Did you hear what happened?”

I told him, “Yeah, I heard.”

We laughed about it and said to each other, “Lets get some strokes back.”

Denver was in a great frame of mind and I stayed with him for most of the remainder of the round. His attitude remained terrific and he fought like a champion. After his disaster on the 3rd and 4th, he fought his way around and played the rest of his round 2 under par to finish at +4 for the day—really respectable. In fact, he came back to tie one of his playing competitors and beat the other.

Denver 1 crop

Golf isn’t always about winning. Many days it’s about salvaging. Golf always teaches you something, especially on the hard days, but you have to be willing to endure pain in order to get the reward. Denver had already learned the lesson and because he didn’t panic, mope or sulk, golf rewarded him. He didn’t have to win or shoot the lowest score to demonstrate his greatness. A lesser player would have quit mentally and shot a high score. Not him. He earned the respect of the young men who played with him; not only that, they learned a lesson from him — how a champion responds when things get tough.

I was an extremely proud coach that day.

A Golfer’s Biggest Hazard

golfers biggest hazardThe biggest hazard that a golfer will face during their round is the temptation to mentally quit during a round of golf. For some reason, golfers go into a round of golf not expecting adversity. This is flawed thinking because it is inevitable. Because they are not mentally prepared, they are shocked and saddened when adversity arrives and too many times they are unable to cope. Like in the illustration, they willingly jump off into the abyss of despair, where there is no recovery and the penalty lasts for the remainder of the round.

Somehow golfers believe that every shot will be hit perfectly and that golf will be easy. That is not reality, not for any golfer at any level. Golfers must remember that golf is usually a struggle. Golf is the equivalent of salmon swimming upstream. It’s hard. It’s hard almost every day.

When you prepare for a round of golf, you should make a mental commitment — a commitment to accept whatever happens, good or bad, and in the words of Winston Churchill, “Stay calm and carry on.”

Staying calm and carrying on no matter what is the only good option you have. Some days are easy, most are hard. You must remain positive and fight with everything you have until you arrive at the clubhouse. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable, you’ll make your playing partners miserable and you will be guaranteed you will shoot a miserable score.

I know all of you have watched Tiger’s top 10 shots on the Golf Channel. Did you notice that none of those shots was from an ideal position? Only one of shot happened from the middle of the fairway, and he hit that shot in almost total darkness.

The point is, one of the reasons he’s been so successful is that he believes with every fiber of his being that something good will happen even when he is in a tough spot.

I have a great example from my university team in 2012. One of the freshman on my team was named Makenzie. He was a fine player and I believed he could become a superstar, but as with most freshman, he had a lot to learn — especially when it came to keeping his head in the game during tough rounds.

We were playing in a prestigious tournament. The Golfweek Fall Preview in Florida. This is an account of Makenzie’s final round.

He had high expectations, too high. When I saw him on the range, Makenzie was upbeat, “minting it” as he says, and was telling me he was going to tear it up.

So, I caught up with him on the 7th hole, a par 5. I thought he has just played his 2nd from the fairway, but I then learned that it was actually his 4th shot. His 2nd shot had gone out of bounds. He was completely despondent because after finishing his 7th hole with a double, I learned he was now seven over after seven holes. The round was not going at all the way he had envisioned. I could tell he had mentally checked out and he had no fight in him. If I had given him the option he would have walked off the course. I told him, “Sorry dude, I don’t get to substitute like in other sports. You’re stuck out here and have to make a decision to make. Are you gonna cry or try?” It’s something I used to say to my young son. He would always take on projects that were beyond his abilities and eventually get frustrated to the point of tears. I would say to him, “Son, we can cry or try, we can’t do both. We’ll do which ever one you want. But you have a decision to make.” Back to Makenzie… he was mentally checked out and we still had 11 holes to play in the final round of a really important tournament. I wasn’t going to let him let his team down or himself down. I told him, “We can still salvage this round! So, lets get started right now!”

makenzie action wedge

On the par 3, 8th tee he hit last so we had time to chat. I got his mind away from his troubles and told him how much I thought of him as a person and as a golfer. I reminded him how beautiful this part of Florida was and how blessed he was to be able to play college golf.He hit a nice approach. As we walked to the green we laughed as I told him stories of other golfers I coached through the years and the times when they were able to make something out of nothing. When we got to the green we were surprised to see he was left with a really difficult 36 footer that was down hill and a double breaker. We read the putt from every angle and what do you know, we made it for birdie! Big smile on his face! He was back!

On the most difficult hole on the course, the par 4 ninth, he played the hole well but ended up 3 putting from long range for bogie. Just like that, his world was coming to an end once again. I said, “What is so bad? You’ve just played the last 2 holes at even par after a terrible start on the first 7 holes! So I continued to make him smile, telling him funny stories about coaching and golf as we played the par 4, 10th hole and what do you know, we made a really good 18 footer that broke from left to right for another birdie!

Once again, big smiles, life was good. Unfortunately, he bogeyed the par 5, 11th and was once again in the dumps. Total despair. Life sucks! He thought, golf hates me! After more cheerleading from me, he made a routine par on the par 3, twelfth. I pointed out to him that in spite of the ups and downs that he had just played the last 5 holes at even par and that he’s doing fine. But now I had to leave him to go check on other members of the team. I had him promise me that he would remain optimistic and upbeat. He assured me he would be fine.

I caught up with Makenzie again as he was walking from the 13th green to the 14th tee. His life was over! He had just triple bogeyed! All of the fight was completely gone. There was nothing left. He was now 10 over par.

At this point, I’ll admit, I had had enough! I “coached him up,” as we say in the biz, albeit firmly. I told him he had a decision to make — this time, it wasn’t as much about this round, but more about what kind of player he was going to be. I challenged him, “You’ve got to decide right now, is golf tougher than you, or are you tougher than golf?”

I had his attention. Once again, I told him that if he had total 100% belief that something good was going to come out of this, it would, and conversely, if he didn’t, it wouldn’t. Whatever he decided would happen, would actually happen. He was now completely on board. We then took a moment to map out the final stretch of 5 holes. I thought we could birdie 3 of the last 5. He completely bought in, had total belief in his skills and Makenzie went on to birdie 14, 15 and 16! He had completely erased the triple! Now he completely refused to let his mind have a single negative thought. We were on the 17th, probably the best chance for birdie and after a monster drive, ended up making a tough par after pretty much chopping up the hole.

He played the par 4, 18th perfectly and made a 10 footer for birdie to finish out his roller coaster round. We hugged and laughed. He had birdied 4 of his last 5 holes and 6 of his last 11. Makenzie played the last 11 holes at -1.  He shot +6 for the round and ended up helping our team.

Ironically, not once did we talk about swing during his round.

It wasn’t the most impressive round ever shot — a 77. But for him it was the springboard that propelled him to be a great collegiate golfer. As we stood there watching the others in his group putt out, I’ll never forget he had his arm over my shoulder thanking me for my help and telling me how much he had learned.

His collegiate playing career is now over. I can assure you, that’s one of the few rounds he remembers. That’s how it is in college golf. You play a lot of rounds in a lot of places. You don’t remember much about the good days. There isn’t much to remember. Those days are easy. The proudest and most memorable rounds are the ones where you dig deep when faced with adversity and come out on the other side learning something about yourself. The ones where you made something out of nothing.

If you never give in and jump off into the pit of despair, you too will have great stories to tell.

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.

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