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Short Game Essentials

Practice your short game to improve your scores.

The quickest way to see immediate improvement in your golf scores is to practice the short game.  Golfers know this and yet most people don’t practice chipping, pitching, bunker shots or putting like they should.  The general rule of thumb is to practice 50 percent of the time on these areas.  

Part of practicing the short game is to know the difference between a chip shot and a pitch shot and when to use them.  For a chip shot, the ball stays low to the ground so it’s a great shot when you want to land the ball on the green and have it roll to the hole.

To hit a chip shot, use a wedge or short iron and play the ball closer to your back foot (right foot for right-handed golfers, left foot for left-handed golfers).  You want your weight more on your front foot with your club shaft and hands pressed slightly forward.  Make a short back and through motion and you will feel the ball “pop” off the clubface.  The back of your lead hand (left hand for right-handed players) finishes toward your target.  The club head stays below your hands and finishes low to the ground.

Here are some Chipping secrets:

  • Weight forward
  • Ball back of center in stance
  • Club selection - not as much loft (pitch shots have more loft)
  • Small motion, like sweeping in a dust pan (swing motion wouldn’t go in pan)
  • Club runs into the ball
  • Back of lead hand must finish first (flat wrist)
  • Club head finishes low to the ground
  • Ball has low trajectory

Learn and own a 50-yard shot – it’s imperative for women to get great at it.  You will be amazed how the increased confidence will carry over to other areas of your swing and game.  Even if you play with golfers who hit the ball farther than you do, once you get comfortable with the 50-yard shot, you will score better with your new and improved short game.

To escape from the bunker in one shot, use a sand wedge or lofted club with some bounce.  (Bounce is an angle measurement in degrees, of how much the sole of the club head lifts the leading edge.)  Bounce is what helps the club glide through the sand to help get the ball up and out of the bunker.  Start by opening your stance so you are lined up just left of your intended target and have your weight on your forward foot.  (Just like when hitting a pitch shot, this helps you avoid the tendency to want to “lift” the ball out of the bunker. 

Open the clubface and swing out to in through the sand, hitting about an inch or two behind the ball.  Be sure to accelerate through the swing and follow-through to the target.  Many times golfers stop swinging at the ball as soon as they hit the sand.  The key to getting the ball out on the first attempt is to swing to the target.  By hitting behind the ball, the sand forces the ball out of the bunker – the club head never really hits the ball.

Practice these short game shots and you will have increased confidence and lower scores.

 

Manage Your Game By What You Measure

Golf scorecard with pencil

We’ve all heard the best way to lower your score is to practice your short game – where you can save valuable strokes by chipping the ball close to the hole or by avoiding the dreaded three-putt.  Yet another way to improve your golf game and lower your score is to keep track of your stats.

Studies show the best way to make a difference in your score is to hit greens in regulation (GIR), however, due to the length of most golf courses, this is a tough feat for many women.  Greens in regulation for women don’t have to be the same as men…so maybe your personal goal is to reach the green in three shots on a par 4 vs. two shots.  Keep track on your scorecard how many strokes it takes you to reach the green and look for a pattern (or consistent number of shots to reach the green).  If you feel like you are always hitting a chip shot to the green, you could take one more club to try to reach the green and not end up chipping on, if your previous shot was short of the green. 

Another important stat to record on your score card is the number of putts.  Many golfers keep track of putts for little side-bet games but pay close attention to your putting stats.  You should try to finish an 18-hole round with fewer than 36 putts.  If you are in the 37-40 range on a regular basis, take time to practice your putting and get rid of the three-putts.  Golf Digest reports that a typical golfer who shoots 95, averages 37 putts a round while a typical Professional who shoots 71, averages 29 putts.  To break 90, you need to have 34 putts per round and to break 80, get to 31 or 32 putts per round.

If you think about it, greens in regulation and putts account for most golfers ups and downs in their game.  If you struggle getting from the tee to the green, great putting can help you immensely. 

An easy way to track your stats on your scorecard is to circle the hole number on the scorecard when you hit a green in regulation.  Another way is to make an X in the box below your score when you hit a GIR.  Simply add up the circles or X’s to determine how many greens you hit.  Increase that GIR goal each time you play and watch how the results track over your four or five next rounds.  For putting, since your goal is two putts per green, I like to record only one-putts or three-putts (no sense writing all those 2’s on the card).  Total your putts after each round and see how GIR and putting help lower your score.

You can track and record any number of other shots as well.  Some people like to track hitting fairways with their tee shot.  Assuming there are four par 3’s during the round, you can track how many fairways you hit out of a possible 14 tee shots.  Also keep track of the par 3’s you hit in regulation and try to score 3’s and 4’s on every par 3. 

When you finish a round, you can create a spreadsheet to record the stats from each round.  Keeping track of your stats is the best way to see what areas of your game need more concentration and practice.  By tracking your stats, you can note your progress to an improved game and lower scores.

 

Talk Like The Pros: Masters Edition

For many, the Masters Tournament marks the unofficial start of the golf season.

The Masters Tournament is the first of the four major championships in men’s professional golf.  While the other three majors are played on a different venue each year, the Masters is held at the same location every year.  Augusta National Golf Club, a private club in Augusta, Georgia has hosted the event for 83 years.  While the tickets are not expensive, they are the most difficult sporting ticket to obtain.  Practice round tickets are available every year for Monday through Wednesday, but the actual Tournament Badges for Thursday through Sunday have been sold out for years.  Many corporations and individuals offer their tickets for sale every year, much to the delight of people who have attending the Masters at the top of their “bucket list.”

People watching the Masters have all heard CBS Analyst Jim Nantz’ famous line “It’s a tradition unlike any other.”  Here are some of those great Masters traditions…   

Here are some of the best traditions and some trivia from the Masters to share with your friends as you are viewing the broadcast this week:

  • Magnolia Lane – the 300-yard tree lined entrance to Augusta National.  There are 61 Magnolia trees – more than 150 years old – that form an archway down the road to the clubhouse.  Whether a TOUR player is playing in his first or 20th Masters, many describe getting chills when driving down Magnolia Lane.
  • Founders Circle – the flower garden shaped like the Masters logo outside the clubhouse at the end of Magnolia Lane.  At Founders Circle patrons line up for a photograph next to the famous flower garden.
  • Azaleas – more than 30 varieties are planted on the grounds and are typically in bloom every spring for the tournament.  This year however, the Azaleas bloomed early in March.
  • The Champions’ Dinner – held on Tuesday night of the tournament with the current champion hosting all the past champions for dinner in the clubhouse.  The current champion selects the menu for the evening – many times featuring food unique to their home state/country or simply their favorite food.
  • Skipping golf balls on the 16th hole – it’s a practice round tradition for players to intentionally skip golf balls across the water hazard on the Par 3 16th hole – sometimes even for a hole-in-one.
  • The Par 3 Contest – a fun, casual event held on Wednesday afternoon on the par 27 short course.  Players take advantage of the casual, fun event by having their spouses or kids caddy and even hit shots for them.  The event has become so popular it is now a televised on Wednesday afternoon.  There are usually multiple hole-in-ones plus a crystal trophy presented to the low scorer.  Many players will not putt-out or post a score as it is considered bad luck to win the Par 3 event since no Par 3 winner has ever won the Masters in the same year.
  • Ceremonial Tee Shot – prior to the start of the event on Thursday morning there is a ceremonial tee shot by honorary starters – players who are no longer competing.  This tradition started in 1963 by Jock Hutchinson and has included Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
  • Amen Corner – the most famous three holes in golf are Augusta National par 4 11th (505 yards downhill with a pond on the left side), par 3 12th (crosses Rae’s Creek to a narrow green) and par 5 13th (510 yard dogleg left that crosses Rae’s Creek twice).  The phrase was coined by golf historian Herbert Warren Wind feeling that if a player on Sunday can navigate those three holes without making a mistake, he can sigh and think “Amen.”
  • Pimento Cheese Sandwiches – a staple tournament favorite made from pimento cheese and mayonnaise served on soft white bread in a green sandwich bag for $1.50.  Food prices have stayed consistent for decades and it’s been said you can eat everything on the menu for less than $30.
  • Caddie Bib – the Caddies are required to wear a white jumpsuit, a green Masters Cap and white tennis shoes.  The number on the left pocket of the jumpsuit is important - Number 1 is reserved for the defending champion with the other numbers indicating when players registered for the tournament.
  • Green Jacket – the ultimate prize in golf – the Green Jacket.  In 1937 members began wearing green blazers to identify themselves as guides, should patrons need information.  In 1949, the club started awarding a green jacket to the tournament champion that is presented by the previous year champion on the 18thgreen as well as in Butler Cabin.  The green jacket is allowed off-property only by the current champion and is then returned to the club house one year after the victory, to be worn anytime the player is on the grounds.  The tournament has had three players win consecutively – Jack Nicklaus in 1965 & 1966, Nick Faldo 1989 & 1990 and Tiger Woods in 2001 & 2002 – when there is a consecutive champion, the Chairman presents the green jacket.
  • Special terms used at Augusta National:
    • The people viewing the tournament are patrons (not spectators or gallery)
    • To enter the event, you need a badge (not a ticket)
    • Holes 1-9 are the first nine and holes 10-18 are the second nine (not front nine and back nine)
  • All buildings, garbage bags, even sandwich bags and drink cups are “Masters green” so they “blend in” and don’t distract television viewers.

With years of tradition and the first men’s major of the year, many golfers feel spring has officially arrived when they watch the Masters Tournament.  Who will 2016 Champion Danny Willet slip the Green Jacket on this year?

 

Watch the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals

Now in its fifth season, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf development competition aimed at growing the game by focusing on three fundamental skills (driving, chipping and putting) used in golf.  It is a joint initiative founded by the Masters Tournament, The PGA of America and the United States Golf Association (USGA).

The competition is open for girls and boys ages 7-15 and provides an opportunity for junior golfers to compete with other qualifiers nationwide.  Local qualifying takes place at 268 sites in all 50 states from May to August and attracts nearly 200 golfers at each site.  The top three golfers in each age group advance to one of 53 sites for the sub-regional competition held in July and August.  Again the top three golfers in each age group advance to the regional competition that takes place at 10 sites in August and September.  The top boys and girls in each age category (40 boys and 40 girls) advance to the National Finals, which takes place at Augusta National Golf Club the Sunday before the Masters Tournament the following April.

Each participant competes in the three skills (Drive, Chip and Putt) and accumulates points for each skill.  Each participant gets three shots in each skill with each shot worth 25 points for a maximum of 75 points per skill.  For Driving, a shot must finish in the 40-yard wide fairway to accumulate points (with more points awarded for distance from 25 to 300 yards).  For the Chipping skill, each participant hits three 10-15 yard shots at the hole, with scoring rings determining the points earned.  The Putting skill involves the participant attempting one putt from 6 feet, 15 feet and 30 feet, with scoring rings determining the points earned.  The champion in each of the four age categories is the person earning the highest number of accumulated points for all three skills.  

Be sure to tune in to Golf Channel to watch the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals broadcast live on Sunday, April 2 at 8am EDT from Augusta National Golf Club.

Click here to find a local qualifier near you for the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship and help a young woman in your life fall in love with golf.

 

How to Get Your "Touch" Back

Touch around the green will help you improve your scoring opportunities.

If you’ve had time away from your golf game due to weather, work, an illness or injury, you are likely excited to get back to golf. Many players who return for the first time will comment they are “knocking the rust off” their swing or their game. So how do you get your touch back and quickly get into your golf groove?

Work on getting comfortable with the feel of the golf club. If you are inside, practice your grip and waggle the club from side-to-side until you “feel” the weight of the club head in your hands. This is a great drill to get the feel back in your hands. Also work on grip pressure – be careful to not grip the club too tightly. You want the same grip pressure or tension as you have on the steering wheel of your car…holding the club too tightly causes tension in your forearms and prohibits a good golf swing.

Next step is to practice some putts (may be done inside to a small target) or on the practice green. Your focus is on distance control more than accuracy. Again, get a feel for the stroke and rolling the golf ball. If you are practicing outside, start with short three foot putts and gradually move back (one putter length or three feet each time) until you are 20’ to 30’ away. Continue to focus on distance rather than trying to make the ball in the hole. Move to chipping, pitching and bunker shots to help get a feel for those short game shots. Your target area should be a three foot area near the hole – so people will lay a towel down on the green and use that as a target as well.

Finally, don’t forget to get your body ready for golf as well. Stretch and condition your body for the upcoming golf season including your legs and feet. Perform some exercises so your body is ready for that first round on the course. If you prefer to walk when playing golf, get out and walk prior to playing the first time. Make sure you have comfortable golf shoes when walking the course as well. As always, consult your physician before beginning any stretching program and know your limitations. By getting your touch back, you’ll be ready when you step up to the first tee.

 

How to Practice Effectively

Make effective use of your time on the practice range with these tips.

Most golfers would rather play golf than practice, however, when you look at the time element of playing vs. practicing, you can accomplish much more in an hour of practice, than you can in two to four hours of playing.  That said, most golfers don’t really know how to practice effectively and simply go to the practice facility and hit golf ball after golf ball until the bucket is empty.  Let’s take a look at how to practice effectively that will best help your game.

  1. Practice a specific skill – many people think practicing involves beating balls at the practice facility and often times fail to spend time practicing their short game (pitching, chipping, bunker play and putting.)  If you are struggling with a specific part of your game (off the tee, fairway, approach shots or putting) or particular club (driver, fairway woods, hybrids, mid-irons or short irons) take time to practice and gain confidence again.
     
  2. Set goals for practice – rather than just hitting endless golf balls, begin your practice session with a specific goal (to hit your 7 iron at the 100 yard flag well for seven out of 10 golf balls.)  This gives you a measurable goal that helps you determine how effective the practice session is going for you.  Many times golfers hit ball after ball without a specific target or goal in mind and judge the “effectiveness” of the shot by whether it went in the air or went straight.  You will be happier with goals that you can measure and achieve.
     
  3. Create a plan – this goes with setting goals for practice.  Once you determine a club or skill to practice and have goals for practice, you can create a plan that helps you meet your goals.  Create situations that you might find on the golf course.  Do you really hit five hybrid shots in a row on the course?  Then why do golfers hit 10-15 shots in a row with one club at the practice range?  Practice like you are playing a few of your favorite holes – hit a driver, then a hybrid and a short iron and strive for three good shots in a row.  This will help your confidence and easily transition your good practice time to the golf course.
     
  4. Measure results – now that you have specific goals and a plan to achieve those goals, it’s time to evaluate how your practice session ended.  Keep a record of your goals and how your practice session was so you can make changes and revise the goals.  This will help you recognize what you may wish to concentrate on during the next practice session.  Don’t get discouraged if your practice didn’t go as well as planned – this allows you to concentrate on a trouble-some area next time. 

Golfers who dedicate time for practice quickly learn their strengths and weaknesses.  By practicing effectively you will soon see the benefits from your good practice habits on the golf course.

Focus on Your Fundamentals

Focus on the fundamentals, including the grip, as you restart your season

If your golf season has been hampered by winter weather, no doubt you are excited to get back out on the golf course.  Start by looking at and reviewing your fundamentals before you head to the practice facility or for that first round of the season.  Reviewing and practicing your fundamentals is the best way to improve.

Posture – how you stand to address the golf ball is important in your golf swing.  It determines the path of the club so it’s important to work on your posture (even without a golf club.)  You can work on your posture inside, outside, at the gym, the office or wherever you are comfortable.  Stand with a slight bend in your knees (so you can see the laces in your shoes – with a slight knee flex.)  With your arms hanging at your side, place your hands just above your knees.  This creates a perfect position for your golf posture – now let your arms hang again – move them in front of you like you are gripping a club.  Practice this a few times a day and when you head out to play, you will feel comfortable and have great posture.  

Grip – how you hold the club in your hand.  As Ben Hogan once said, “Good golf begins with a good grip.”  The grip choice (interlock, overlap or baseball) is personal preference but reviewing the basic fundamentals will help.  Take your normal grip and check to see if your right hand covers your left thumb (for a right-handed player).  A favorite drill of mine is to take two golf tees and put one in each hand, right between your thumb and index finger.  Then take your grip and see if the golf tees line up or are pointed in opposite directions.  Ideally you want the golf tees lined up, so work on adjusting your hands on the club until they line up with the shaft of the club.    

Aim – lining your body and club to the desired target.  Get in the habit of standing behind your ball and looking at your target.  Then pick a spot (grass, divot, broken tee, discolored grass or weed, etc.) that is about a foot in front of the ball.  As you take your stance, aim the clubface at the spot, then align your body with the clubface.  This is a great pre-shot routine that can be used with every swing and will help you line up toward your target and not setting up to the right or left.  Most amateur golfers tend to line up to the right of their intended target but think they are fading or slicing the ball to the right, when in fact are hitting it straight, but just lining up incorrectly.  Practicing with an alignment rod (or a golf club) at your feet helps with aim. 

Ball Position – where the ball is in your stance.  There are two locations for ball position – moving the ball forward and back in your stance and how close or far the ball is from your body.  Most Professionals will teach ball position for the driver and woods as being just inside the heel of your forward foot.  As you move to irons, it’s usually accepted to play irons from the middle of your stance or where the golf club is at the lowest point of the swing.  As far as how close to stand to the golf ball, a simple check-point is to take your grip with the club and hold your golf club straight in front of your body (parallel to the ground.)  Now move back to your set-up position and where the club makes contact with the ground is where the ball should be in your stance.  As the club length increases, you will stand a bit farther from the ball. 

Practice your golf fundamentals so they become comfortable and you’ll be on your way to hitting better shots and lowering your scores.