Tuesday Tip: Long Green-Side Bunker Shot

We’ve heard the long green-side bunker shot called the hardest shot in golf many times, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.  Bunker shots of roughly 40 yards can be much less difficult when the proper club and technique is chosen.

Sand Trap

Don’t

When faced with a long bunker shot to the green of 30 or 40 yards the first mistake most golfers make is to pick their regular sand wedge as the club of choice.  Knowing there is more distance, they swing harder with the sand wedge.  More often than not this attempt will come up woefully short and the extra hard swing will put even more spin on the ball, preventing it from releasing and perhaps even spinning the ball farther from the target.

Do

Instead, pick less lofted club like a pitching wedge or gap wedge.  Open the club up slightly.  This adds some bounce to the sole of the club.  The added bounce helps prevent the club from digging into the sand.  With that slightly open face take a normal full sand swing as if using a sand wedge closer to the green.  The reduced loft of the club will carry the ball longer.  The shot should have a good amount of spin, stopping the ball well after it lands.

Conclusion

Don’t make the hardest shot in golf harder by picking the wrong club!

How Foot Spray Can Be A Stroke Saver

footsprayLet’s face it.  We don’t hit the perfect center of the club face often enough.  Most amateurs would have an easier time finding Jimmy Hoffa than finding the sweet spot.  In order to fix those missed shots, it is important for us to first understand where the misses are occurring.  How do we do that?

Foot Spray

Grab some foot spray or something similar from your bathroom cupboard or local store.  Baby powder might work as well.  Head down to the practice range with your clubs and your foot spray.

When hitting balls, first spray the club face or coat with the baby powder.  Look at the club face after the first shot and note where the spray or powder shows the impact of the ball.  By knowing where the face impact is we can make quick and easy adjustments.

If the majority of impacts are on the toe, the most simple solution is to move closer to the ball in your setup.  Conversely, shots close to the hozel (where the shaft meets the club) may be fixed by moving a small bit farther away.

Shots which are on the very bottom of the club face are “thin” shots, indicating the golfer may be “lifting up” during the swing.  Stay down.

Shots which are very high or at the top of the club face may indicate that the golfer is coming down too steep toward the ball.  Flatten out the path to the ball and try to sweep it off the ground more rather than hitting so much down on the ball.

Conclusion

Obviously there can be many other reasons for off-center shots, mostly technique related.  The foot spray solution is a quick and easy fix and could help the golfer learn more deeply what the true causes of mis-hit shots are.

Tuesday Tip: Look at Hole on Short Putts

Jordan SpiethThe Masters finished this past weekend and the golf world is abuzz about the fantastic performance by 21-year-old Jordan Spieth.  His four rounds combined in many ways to produce all sorts of scoring and birdie records.  One of the reasons for Spieth’s great performance and subsequent securing of the coveted green jacket was his amazing putting.  Spieth was dropping putts from all sorts of difficult places, making it look quite easy, though most know that putting at Augusta National in the Masters is anything but.

Look at Hole

Did you happen to notice that on shorter putts Spieth is actually looking at the hole when he strikes the ball?  Yes isn’t that oddly interesting.   When he is in a range close enough to see the hole and his golf ball at the same time, Spieth looks at the hole at impact.  He first reads the putt, looks down at the ball, the hole, the ball, then when he looks at the hole again he strikes the putt.

This is a very interesting way of putting, and could provide an outlet for those of you (like me) who struggle with short putts of perhaps eight feet and under.  Looking at the hole during the stroke could give the player a better idea of the amount of strength needed for that particular distance.  It could be a way of helping the player keep the putter on the proper target line.

Flip Side

On the flip side there are some potential drawbacks to this concept.  If the player is not able to keep his/her body still there’s a high probability that the contact between the ball and putter will not only be off-center, it could be quite far off-line.

Conclusion

If you struggle with your short putts, try looking at the hole when you’re sure your setup is correct.  It might be a game changer!

Tuesday Tip: Handling Tiered Greens

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 9.40.02 AMThis week keep a close eye on the short games of the contestants in the Masters Tournament.  See if they use the same concepts in today’s Tuesday tip, handling tiered greens.

The greens at Augusta National are very fast and difficult.  It is very important to position the ball in the proper location to have a chance at par or birdie.  Balls which finish above the hole introduce a high possibility of 3-putting, and chips which miss the green will be very tricky.  Today we are covering those chips and pitches.

Many of the greens at Augusta are severely sloped, and may have tiers in them.  Tiers equate to different levels.  It can be difficult to chip to a green with multiple levels because the flight of the ball and the tier location can make a big difference in whether the shot gets close or runs far away from the hole.

Most amateurs will attempt to hit high, lob-type shots to tiered greens.  This is the completely wrong way of approaching these shots.  The best shots are ones which bump into the tier or slopes, and run, but the situation will dictate the type of shot.

In the case of a back pin on top of a tier, it is best to hit a low running shot which climbs the tier.  The tier will slow it down and the ball will hopefully stop near the hole.  Attempting a high shot in this scenario will most often result in the ball hitting the slope and coming back.  If the ball carries past the slope it will bounce too hard and go long.

In the case where the pin is in the back on the bottom tier, a running shot which nearly stops is best.  The ball will come close to stopping at the crest of the tier, then creep over, picking up speed to the pin.  Once again a high shot is not a good idea here either.  If the shot lands on the slope it will bounce too far and go over the green.  If it lands too short, it may not run to the tier before stopping, leaving a very difficult putt.

Watch the Masters this week and see how the players handle these situations, then try to implement the same strategies in your practice and subsequent golf rounds!

Avoid a “What the Heck” Moment

Certainly Phil Mickelson has access to the best golf clubs and best club technicians in the world, right? The video below might raise a few eyebrows given that statement.

During round one of the Valero Texas Open Mickelson was presented with a bunker shot of about 150 yards on the 12th hole. After changing club choices, Phil took a lash at the ball with his 8-iron. The club head snapped off just above the hosel and nearly went as far as his golf ball did. The ball went 40 yards.

If you listen close enough to the audio you can hear Mickelson say “what the heck?!”

Check your gear before you go out this weekend for a round of golf. You might find a club which is loose and be able to avoid a “what the heck” moment.

Tuesday Tip: Trust Big Muscles Under Pressure

Great release here. Can you tell who this is?

Whether in our club championship, a tournament, a match, or simply a game against the regular weekend buddies, pressure can be a big part of golf.  How we deal with that pressure and how our minds and bodies react to that pressure can make the difference between winning and losing.

Accept

First, we must accept that we feel pressure.  It is okay to be nervous.  In fact, it is a good thing. That’s our body and mind telling us they are in a heightened state.  It tells us we really value the moment.

Small Muscles

When we are under pressure our big muscles don’t move well and the smaller muscles can take over.  The smaller muscles move quicker and move in many more directions, which can be a recipe for disaster. We might twitch or produce jerky movements in the full swing or in putting.  We become more dependent on hands and arms in the swing, rather than the big muscles and the body.

Big Muscles

When we are under pressure it is best to concentrate on the big muscles and how they are moving.  Make sure the swing is initiated by big movements, not small muscles or single areas like the nands.  The transitions in the swing should be done via big muscles and big movements, no one small part like the hands or arms.

Take some practice swings with a full shoulder turn and concentrate on the body rotation, not its individual parts.

Commit to the shot and make sure the small muscles are under control and the big muscles are doing the work.  The swings will be more consistent, more powerful, and more dependable.

Tuesday Tip: Reading Sand Texture

Green-side bunker/sand shots do not have to be that difficult if the player is able to read the sand properly and use the correct technique.  Just like reading a lie (how the ball sits) in grass, one must read the sand.  Different lies in the sand will mean different shot types may be needed, and will produce different types of results.  Today we are going to discuss soft sand versus firm sand.

Sand Trap

Read The Sand

When entering the bunker the golfer should use all available senses to get a read for the type of sand.  Most of this read is done through the feet.  The golfer should be aware of the texture and firmness of the sand, and how the feet sink in or if they stay on top.  Visually one should be able to gain more information as to how firm or soft the sand is, for confirmation.

The golfer can’t use a club to test the firmness of the sand though, as that is a violation of the rules of golf!

Techniques

If the sand in the green-side bunker is firm, the club will bounce quickly.  Therefore it is important to position the sand wedge close to the back of the ball.  If the club is too far behind the ball the club will bounce up and “blade” or hit the ball with the leading edge.  The blade shot will produce horrible results, either over the green or perhaps embedding the ball in the lip of the trap.

With the sand wedge opened up and closely located behind the ball, the shot will be a crisp strike which produces a fair amount of spin and not a lot of roll if executed properly.

If the sand is soft one must depend on the bounce of the sand wedge to prevent the club from digging into the bunker too much.  The club should be placed farther behind the ball, and opened up to produce more bounce.  A full swing which enters the sand a few inches behind the ball should take out a good amount of sand, and the golf ball with it.

This shot will land and roll quite a bit, so plan accordingly.

Conclusion

Green-side bunker shots do not have to be that tough or intimidating.  Often times PGA Tour pros “hope” to hit the ball in the sand if they’re going to miss their approach shots to the green.  It can actually be an easier shot out of sand than out of long rough next to the green.

As always, practice these shots if possible before trying them on the course.

Tuesday Tip – 2/3 Pitch and Roll

BladedWedgeMost amateur golfers immediately grab their lob wedge or sand wedge when around the green chipping and pitching.   The margin of error when hitting higher lofted shots around the green is much higher, meaning those shots are far tougher and more risky.  The shot must carry more, and carry spin after it lands.  Most amateur golfers cannot control either that distance or the spin.

2/3 Rule

A far better option for most golfers is the 2/3 rule.  No matter what distance the shot is around the green, it is best for the shot to roll 2/3 of the way.  Therefore the shot should carry 1/3 of the way.

Take a pitching wedge or lower lofted club instead of a lob or sand wedge, and play a rolling shot with little to no spin.  Aim to land the ball at a point 1/3 of the distance to the hole and try to strike the ball in such a manner that it will roll the other 2/3 after it lands.

Using this technique will result in much closer proximity to the hole. It will also help eliminate the terrible things which can happen when trying to hit lofted shots, like fat chunks or skulls.  Chunks will go nowhere, leaving a chip from about the same position.  Skulls or thin shots will likely go over the green, leaving yet another chip/pitch coming back and the same basic situation.

If it is a shot you’re not used to be sure to hit the practice chipping area first so as not to get discouraged on the course with lack of feel for the shot.

Tuesday Tip: Embrace Your Nerves

ryoishikawaHow many times have you stood on the first tee in a tournament, or even just a regular round of golf, and felt a little woozy?  Stomach churning… butterflies… shakes.

Perhaps you should consider having less coffee before the round?

Just kidding.

Nerves are a part of golf we all have to deal with.  Any golf partner or person giving out advice who tells you not to be nervous is not realistic.

Nerves are good.  They show that we are highly focused and aware of the gravity of the situation.  The anxiety we feel helps us stay focused.

Once we realize it is okay to be nervous, those nerves will not hurt our games like they did before.  Once we face the nerves, we can control them and work doing so into our pre-shot routines by taking a deep breath and relaxing before pulling the trigger.

Relax.  Take a deep breath. Focus. Pull the trigger.

Tuesday Tip: Don’t Trust Your Eyes for Alignment

alignmentrodMost amateur golfers miss to the right.  Granted, many of those misses are due to the average amateur hitting a slice.  Many misses to the right are not slices though.  What’s the issue?

Eyes

Studies have shown that most golfers misalign with their eyes.  What looks to be a square alignment is most often a setup which is aiming to the right.  So when the golfer hit is well, the shot misses to the right.

In a properly aligned stance, the golfer’s feet, shoulders, and hips should be parallel to the target line.  A great way to work on this alignment is via the use of alignment aids.  A common aid can be simply laying a golf club on the ground parallel to the target, then lining the toes up.  Rather than using a club, many like to use useful alignment sticks or rods, which are very light and easy to carry in the golf bag.

Frogger offers a very nice set of alignment sticks, seen below.

fro_alignment_sticks

Click the image above or the following link to Frogger Golf alignment sticks.