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.

 

Tuesday Tip: Downhill Lie in Bunker

SandHollow_Links_009It doesn’t happen often, but it happens too often!  One of the toughest shots in golf is dealing with the dreaded “downhill lie in a bunker” situation.  What does that mean?

A downhill lie means the ball is on a slope.  The ground is sloping from a high point to a low point, and the low point is in the direction of the target.

This situation is extremely difficult.  Most amateur golfers will end up hitting a thin or bladed shot far far over the green, or they may end up chunking the shot (hitting behind the ball) and merely advancing the ball a few feet in the bunker.

Setup

The setup for this shot is not as difficult as one might think.  It is important to realize that the low point of the swing, where the golf club bottoms out, is going to be more toward the player’s back foot, farther up the slope.  Therefore the ball must be positioned at that point, not typically middle or forward like one might play a regular bunker shot.

In short, ball back in stance.

Next the player needs to setup so that the shoulder line is the same angle as the slope.  Some players may bend a knee to level out their stance.  This will not work.  The shoulders must be parallel to the slope.

Swing

Now that the setup is correct, what is the swing for this tough shot?  Many bunker shots call for aiming behind the ball and taking a lot of sand out of the bunker along with the ball.  Doing so with a downhill like will produce bad results.  This swing needs to extract very little sand.  The player should try to “pick” the ball off of the sand if possible.

Result

It is nearly impossible to fully control the downhill bunker shot.  The ball will run quite a bit after landing on the green. Plan accordingly and make the aiming point short of the pin to allow the ball to roll, and settle as close to the pin as possible.

This shot takes practice and confidence to execute.

Tuesday Tip – Putting Challenge

balls-on-greenMany amateur golfers think they are helping their game on the putting practice green, but they may be repetitively doing nothing beneficial.  Practice putting can often be unrealistic, failing to accomplish anything other than eating up time before the player hits the first tee.

Putting Challenge

Next time at the putting practice green try this challenge, similar to what Phil Mickelson and many other PGA Tour pros do.  Place five balls around the hole in a circle and start at a foot or two in distance.   If you make them all, increase the distance one foot and repeat the five.  If you miss a putt, you must start over, from scratch.

Proceed with this until you reach five feet, or if you are a glutton for punishment, pick something longer.

Conclusion

The pressure and intensity of knowing you have to start over puts a premium on each putt with regards to concentrations, nerves, and execution.  Those same qualities will present themselves on the golf course in a real round and because of this drill you’ll be ready.  Those pesky five foot and under putts will be much easier to make, and who doesn’t love making more putts?

We do.

Tuesday Tip – One-Handed Putting

Frogger_PutterOne problem amateurs, and even some pros have, is breaking the wrists in their putting stroke.  Another bad putting habit many have is jerking the putter, or swinging with bad transition timing from backstroke to follow through.  This drill helps fix all of those issues, and can greatly improve the way both arms and hands work together.

One-Handed Putting

The next time you are on the practice putting green, start the practice session with one handed putts on both arms.  Pick a number of strokes, 5-10-25, and putt that many right-handed, then putt that many left-handed.

Using one hand with the putter is a great way to prevent a jerky motion and promote a smooth stroke.

Putting with one hand also makes it much more difficult to break the wrists (wrist in the case of one hand).  The dreaded “flip” stroke is almost impossible with one hand.

After getting a great feel for the stroke, the tempo, and the feeling of one-handed putting, put both hands on the grip and try to keep the same feel in both hands as they stroke together.  The hands should each have the same stroke and feel, but work together as one piece or unit.

Tuesday Tip – One Shot Ahead

Bandon_Preserve_TopThe great Tom Watson offers the golf tip, “think one shot ahead.”  This is such a simple tip which could save countless strokes off a golfer’s game.  Not only that, there are no swing adjustments, lessons, or new equipment to buy.  Instant stroke saver!  Let’s look at a couple of situations.

Tee

You’re on the tee of a tricky par-4 hole.  The approach to the hole is guarded by many bunkers short right of the green, and the flag is tucked behind them.  The best approach to this green would be one which takes as much of those bunkers out of play as possible.  The best angle to do that is from the left side of the fairway.  Thinking one shot ahead, knowing that the best approach is from the left side of the fairway, the proper club to hit off the tee or the proper shot to hit is one which places that ball in the position above.  Whether that’s driver, a long iron, or other club, that’s the ticket.

Trouble

A bad shot has resulted in a position behind some trees.  There’s no shot at getting to the green.  Where is the best position to hit the NEXT shot?  One must analyze the situation and make that call.  Usually the best place to hit from is one which is not IN trouble; one which provides a clear shot at the target or green.  Knowing that going toward the green may result in a next shot which is still in trouble, it may be the best shot to go backward, or sideways away from the trouble to a shot which is clear.

TNGCPutt

We have a simple 100 yard approach to a difficult green.  The green has a very severe slope from back to front and the pin is just past middle.  From 100 yards we are thinking of the best place for the NEXT shot.  There is no way we want to be long or above the hole on this tough green.  The best next shot is a putt from below the hole.  We must calculate the proper club to hit the green, but be below the hole.  With the pin just past center, there are about 10 yards between the pin and the front edge.  Therefore a 90-95 yard approach is the best for this situation, leaving the next shot 5-10 yards below the hole where the putt can be aggressive and more safe.

Conclusion

Think about where the best position is for the NEXT shot, and hit the current shot to that position.