Building A Better Game

Golfers come in all shapes and sized, genders, ages and abilities. So what is it that makes the game so attractive to such a wide variety of people? Well if we think about it, although we all play the same game, there are as many ways and reasons to play as there are people who do.

There is however a common thread that runs through all of us.  The challenge, the work, testing our abilities against the course and most importantly testing ourselves. Weather were trying to break par or break 100, there’s something about the feel of a solid shot, a well played chip or perfectly visualized and executed putt that triggers that little endorphin button in us and we just can’t get enough.  That feeling is addictive and the more we experience it the more we want it. As long as we have our priorities and perspective on track, the process can be both fulfilling and rewarding for many years to come.

Quite often I am lucky enough to be a part of your progression toward better golf. No matter where you are on the ability scale, there are accomplishments and breakthroughs right around the corner. Like most things that are attained through hard work and perseverance there are basic fundamental skills, both mental and physical, that need to be developed and, just as importantly, maintained. With modern technology we can simply buy a few more yards off the tee or bring in our dispersion rate with a set of forgiving irons but the truth of the matter is that our overall game is simply a reflection of the work we put in. The body builder’s sculpted physique didn’t just appear overnight and once he or she has achieved a certain level of performance their work is far from over. Although it’s nice to receive the complements and recognition for the result of all the hard work, in the gym is where it all happens. It’s where they exercise their gift, it’s where they feel alive. If we can look at our golf games in a similar way we may be able to crack into some uncharted territory in our own performance.

Let’s get down to business.

Perspective

How important is golf to you?  Really! What do you play for? Exercise, competition, friendships, winning money, killing time? Plan on playing in College or Professionally or making a career in the industry? Want to simply enjoy the feeling of those good shots a little more frequently? What are some of the strengths or limitations you may have due to physical strength, flexibility or natural athleticism? These are some of the things we need to consider.

Defining for ourselves just what we want to get out of our golf game is probably the most important part of planning our golf development. It will help us set realistic goals, create direction and allow us to think through and plan out our journey.

In a book I read on the development of the mental side of golf a question was presented to “define what successful golf would be for you?” Most people respond to that with a number or a result like “ If I could only break 80” or “If I could get around the course with out any 3 putts”, etc, etc. We believe that being process focussed as opposed to results focused is more productive to development and performance. Results like score, handicap, fairway & GIR percentages are not necessarily ends but gages or sensors of how the machine is operating. Athletic activity is spontaneous and fluid and reactionary. That’s the thing with golf. We are not reacting to a moving ball or another person. Most of the game is played in your head and the swing part that causes the actual result is most effective when performed somewhat subconsciously. How we develop that skill is complicated. Back to the successful golf question, finding an answer that doesn’t have a number on it will be a huge step in the right direction.

For me the answer is this, “ control emotions, maintain composure and completely enjoy the process of playing golf”. It was a breakthrough! Pick something for yourself or any combination of these and consider how that will change the way you look at the game.

Once you can get THERE, your golf game immediately becomes successful. You are not a number on a scorecard, the longest or shortest hitter in the foursome or the best or worst player in the Club. You are much more than that! You are an important contributing member of the golf community. The buzz around a golf course is something special and you’re a part of that. Hitting a few warm up shots on the range or a few putts before a round not only gives you a sense of feel and rhythm but just listen to the banter around you. Good friends poking fun or throwing out the challenge of the day or genuinely listening in support to catch up on their good buddy’s situations at home or at work. For the majority of us these are the things, along with getting better, that define what golf is all about.

Evaluation & Destiny

Deciding on a goal is best determined with a realistic possibility for success in mind. If you have been playing for any length of time you have a pretty good idea of what your normal game looks like. You probably have a handicap, a regular foursome or Club that you belong to. These are all great things and all contribute to our golf experience. Now, let’s look at improving performance as an enhancement to an already great activity and the work toward that as a significant part of the fun.

Again, it’s really all up to you. Where would you like to start? Let’s look at the golf course like a board game. The object is to get the ball into the hole with the fewest strokes possible. That’s pretty much it. Now let’s refer it to poker? You have to play the hand that you’ve been dealt. This is not a hold ‘em game though. We’re not stuck with this stinker hand but we can’t just discard the problem areas and draw new ones either. We can, however, turn them into more constructive tools with a little bit of direction and a some fun hard work.

Planning

If you’re serious about improving your game let’s do it right. Let’s make a plan. Not a quick fix or a bandaid but a real fundamental change. How long are you going to give yourself?  The amount of time you invest and how aggressive a goal you choose to take on are all up to you.  I would suggest giving attention to the area of the game where we spend most of our time, from 60 yards and in. I also suggest giving yourself 6 months with a commitment to devote 1 hour a day 3 days a week and with a goal of seeing your up and down percentage reach the 50% mark. (If it’s already there or better just add 10 or 15% )

Wanting and doing are two different things. The second part of planning, once you’ve carved out the time in your schedule is to lay out the logistics of where are you going to work on your game and what are you actually going to do.  Find a facility that has a good short game area and putting green. Check the place out to see when the best time would be to be able to do your workout without too many distractions or interruptions. Also if you can include a good friend it will really add to the enjoyment and give you someone to keep you motivated and provide some competitive encouragement.

Developement

Now a really good place to start is to develop your sense of feel. This is the foundation of a solid game. From tee to green to into the hole nothing adds more consistency to your game. It needs to be developed and maintained. Every time you play and every time you practice, “play a shot”! Soak it in, remember it, FEEL it! Feel is a hard thing to explain and an even harder thing to teach but can be developed through exercise and repetition. One thing we stress, no matter what area of the physical game we’re working on is to ALWAYS play a golf shot. Let’s not just HIT THE BALL but think of things like rolling it, compressing it, landing it softly, getting it running… We want you to start visualizing pace and flight, check and roll. See it, feel it and hear it.

~Putting

The best place to start to develop feel is on the putting green. Before you go out to play it’s a good idea to step onto the green and roll a few. We’re trying to get a sense of pace and speed. Are the greens firm and hold pace of soft and slow the ball quickly.  When putting or chipping speed is everything! Speed determines break which determines line. You first determine the speed and then find the line that fits. Start your practice by focusing on making SOLID CONTACT. What does that feel like? What does that sound like? Can you hear the ball rolling away? Does the green sound crusty and hard or wet and spongy? Hit some long ones and notice the pace that the ball starts out on. How long does it keep up the speed? How quickly does it slow down and when it does, how quickly does it react to the break? These are the things you need to start being aware of taking mental snapshots and videos so the you can visualize them in preparation of a shot or shot decision.

Honing in your speed on long putts will pay off huge in giving you excellent chances of converting pars and also give you the real possibility of holing out a few birdies. To finish it off we need to have speed control on the short ones as well. Maintaining speed is critical in holding a line. A good exercise for this is to go off to an area of the green where there isn’t a hole cut. Throw down a quarter and from 3 feet practice rolling putts over the quarter and have the ball stop 3 feet past the quarter. Find a fairly flat area at first. This will take your focus off of the hole where we sometimes tend to only hit it hard enough to get there, and helps you develop your sense of pace and line and a solid accelerating stroke. In no time at all you should be hitting the quarter almost every time. Move to a location with some slope. You’ll start to see the pace and lines that hold true and help you make positive confident strokes. That’s the visual you want out on the course. The confidence of knowing you can hit a quarter will make the hole seem like a peach basket. (well, not quite but you get the point 😉 )

~Chipping

Now lets move off the green to where we find ourselves more often than we’d like. Shots around the green are some of the most fun and rewarding in all of golf. There are no two shots the same and yet they all share some common ground. This is where you draw on all of your experience, use all your knowledge, get creative AND when it all comes together it’s MAGIC!

There are an endless combination of scenarios that can be considered and I’m preparing a entire video library of content that will get into as much depth as you want to go. First of all we need to lay a solid foundation, one that will equip you with a solid base to work from.

As with any shot in golf the most important fundamental is to accelerate the club through the ball weather it’s a 1 foot putt to a booming drive. Shots around the green are no exception. Because this is a shorter action there is less body movement which simplifies things a bit but care needs to be taken to set up in a way that supports a solid impact position and allows you to comfortably create the desired path through the ball. If you think of the impact position of a full shot you know that when the hips clear to make room for the arms to swing from the inside that you are somewhat connected and supported, or at least you get the feeling. When setting up for the basic chip we want to open our stance a bit to allow our bodies to preset a similar impact position. You’re not going to move into that position during the shot but that’s where you want to end up, so let’s just start there. The important thing is to be comfortable and allow yourself to generate a smooth accelerating stroke, and making solid ball before ground contact with your hands slightly ahead of the ball at impact.

Starting with a basic chip from a couple yards off the green to several locations at several distances get yourself comfortable making solid contact and start collecting that mental data of how the different impact positions with different club head speeds produced different launch angles, spin rates, checks & releases. You’re developing a feel here as well and the more you can contribute to your senses the more you will be able to anticipate what you’ll be able to do with the ball in certain situations. It’s difficult to visualize something that’s not there but if you watch it enough times when it is there, you’ll start to find it easier and easier to create those mental images.

Now the flight of the ball all depends on the club face to path relationship. Notice how much different the ball reacts to a pitching wedge strike as opposed to a sand wedge strike that has been turned into a pitching wedge loft by turning the head down and leaning the shaft forward. Use spin to check speed and then use trajectory. Which one works better from which situation. Get the ball down and running or fly it half way to the hole and have it put on the brakes. Which one works better for you? Which one are you more comfortable with?

So have some fun with it. Experiment and remember the rule of thumb to land the ball on the green whenever possible and get it on the green and rolling as SOON as possible. Play a game with yourself like how many can I get up and down from some tricky spots or if you’re lucky enough to have a friend along you can play closest to the pin from different locations with the first person to 5 winning. What ever it takes to get the reps in is worth it because the more you practice the right things the better you’re going to get. 

Everyone wants to get better because when you get better you have more fun.  That’s what I hope for you.

More specific drills and instruction are on the way so until then here’s to more saves and lower scores.