5 Keys to Consistency – tips on being a better golfer
Good fundamentals will make your mis-hits more like your good shots–the secret to lower scores
It seems like every student who comes to me for a lesson wants to be “more consistent.” A noble aim. But what is consistency in golf terms? Years ago, Ben Hogan used to say that on a good day he would be happy with the way he hit maybe only three or four shots. That means he hit 10 times that many less than perfectly. On the face of it, that isn’t very consistent. Yet, as we know, Hogan was one of the greatest ball-strikers of all time. In fact, players paired with Hogan would swear he never missed a single shot! Is consistency, then, in the eye of the beholder? Perhaps.
Hogan’s mis-hits were so close to his perfect shots that only he knew when it was a miss. And that’s the main point: Consistency is all about getting the quality of your mis-hits as close as possible to the quality of your good shots.
The key to that kind of consistency is in your fundamentals. You have to improve them to be able to hit enough good shots and to improve your mis-hits so you achieve a higher degree of consistency. The five most important fundamentals that lead to consistency are: (1) your grip, (2) your ball position, (3) your alignment, (4) your tension level and (5) your balance from address to the end of the follow-through. To understand them better, turn the page.
1. Have a consistent GRIP
You have to hold the club so you can cock your wrists properly, maintain a square clubface and keep the club from flying out of your fingers–but not so firmly that any tension goes past your elbows.
That said, you are far better with your lead hand in a stronger position than a weaker one. That’s why I like to see the back of the top hand angled at roughly 45 degrees to where you want the ball to go. A pencil stuck in the back of your glove, as shown here, will tell you if your hand is in the right position.
To prove my point, try the exercise shown on the next page. Put the back of your left hand flat against, say, the side of a golf cart. Now push.
Try it again with your left hand turned into a stronger position. Push again. Big difference. The stronger grip allows you to generate a lot more power. And the more power you have, the less you have to use, so any tension in your grip can safely be reduced.
2. Find consistent ball position
High-handicap golfers don’t always understand that you have to hit down on the ball to get it up in the air. I see them trying to scoop or lift it up. They then place the ball forward in their stances to facilitate that scooping motion. But the ball shouldn’t be played that far forward.
Good players hit down on the ball with the shaft leaning toward the target approaching impact (above), so they trap the ball between club and ground and trust that the ball will spin up into the air. Practice on the range to find the ball position that allows you to do this.
When you have developed confidence in that position on the range, the problem of ball position still isn’t over. You still have to contend with uneven lies on the course. The solution, however, is simple. All you have to do is make a practice swing (right), find the bottom of your clubhead arc, then stand so the ball is there when you actually come to hit it.
3. Aim and ALIGN consistently
When it comes to aim and alignment, most people don’t even know what to aim! They aim their body at the target, then align the clubhead to the body. That’s backward. You should aim the clubface, then position your body to the clubface.
Try this: Take your right forefinger (the clubface) and aim it straight at your target. Then take your left forefinger (your body) and aim it parallel to your right finger (above). See how far left of the target your body should aim? Imagine if your left finger (body) were pointed at the target. Your right finger (clubface) would be pointed way to the right of where you want the ball to go. That problem, of course, leads to another: If you are aligned to the right, your instincts to make the ball go where you want it to will override your desire to make a correct swing. You’ll end up trying to pull the ball back to the left–a recipe for pulls, slices and a variety of other problems.
4. Maintain consistenT TENSION
Physical tension is not necessarily bad. For example, you want to have a sense of lively tension in your feet and legs at address. But–and here is the key–you don’t want that tension spreading into your hips. You also want some tension in your arms and fingers. But, again, you don’t want that tension to get past your elbows. And that’s the problem: Too many golfers have tension in their necks, chest and shoulders. They can’t turn. They can’t swing their arms.
It is important to get your tension level correct at address. Too much at the start will cause it to “evaporate” during your swing. Too little and you’ll seize up at some point in the swing. What you want is an even flow to your tension. You want it to be relatively constant from beginning to end.
5. Keep consistenT Balance
You can tell a decent golfer from a distance just by the way the player stays balanced throughout the swing. Good balance will definitely make your mis-hits more consistent.
To check your balance at address, get a friend to push you in the chest or in the back, as shown here. If you are properly balanced, you’ll be able to maintain your posture.
Balance at the end of your swing is just as important. Try this: Hit your shot, then hold your finish position until the ball lands.
If you can consistently do that, then you are well balanced.
Two key suggestions
The reason consistency is so difficult to achieve is that it is not something in and of itself that you can work on. It is, rather, a testimony to the quality of the fundamentals in your golf swing. So while you may think that practicing your grip or perfecting your setup aren’t terribly important, they, along with the other fundamentals in this article, are the true building blocks for consistency.
Most people feel that they are more consistent on the driving range than on the golf course. If that’s you, then you should pay particular attention to these two suggestions:
* Practice perfect, play comfortable
Consistent shots come from a consistent swing, which is the result of a consistent setup and good fundamentals. Always perfect your fundamentals with practice on the range that is as perfect as you can make it. But when you go to the golf course, play with what’s comfortable and trust your fundamentals.
* Have a preshot routine A fundamentally sound routine will consistently get your mind and body prepared to hit the shot. Setup, aim, grip, balance, ball position and tension level should all be controlled with your preshot routine. Once you get that consistent, you’ll be well on your way to the all-around consistency you’re looking for.
RELATED ARTICLE: ‘I tried it.’
I’ve been using a closed stance with closed shoulders that were actually aimed right of the target. I’d normally hit a pull hook or a slice. When I tried aiming my shoulders as far left as Peter Kostis recommends, I felt as if I were aimed way left in an open setup that would result in a slice. But when I hit the ball, it actually had a straighter ball flight than usual and went right at the target. Kostis comments: The key to Tony’s problem was that he was trying to “aim” his shoulders. Remember, you aim the clubface first, then align your body to the club. Tony only felt aimed too far left because it was new to him.
RELATED ARTICLE: The mental keys to consistency
There are four mental areas that commonly lead to inconsistency:
1. Fear. When you’re afraid, your big muscles freeze and your small muscles speed up. Step in front of a truck and your legs seize up while your arms fly in the air. It’s the same in golf.
Fear can come from a number of sources: a water hazard; a narrow fairway, a tight lie, the first tee, bunkers. To handle any of that, you need a game plan–a consistent routine and technique for each shot.
A lot of golfers get fearful when they sense a queasiness in their stomachs. It is just adrenaline–your body’s way of giving you extra ammunition to fight the battle. Great players want that feeling. It gets them pumped up and ready to be successful. You should be, too. Try to enjoy that “queasy” feeling.
2. Doubt. You want to be free of doubt in your swing. Even if you think you might have the wrong club in your hands, you still need to make a good swing. Let the shot come up short or fly long. That’s still better than making a wrong swing. Whatever your choice of shot, stay 100 percent committed to it.
3. Mental tension. Golf is not like, say, ice hockey, where a player having a bad game simply tries harder. The harder you try in golf, the worse you get.
Trying too hard often stems from battling the elements: wind, cold, rain, or your opponent’s great shot. But the reality is, you hit your best shots when you’re not too tense. In golf, you have to try hard not to try hard.
4. Bad thinking. Few players go into a round with a game plan–how they plan to play each hole, how they approach each shot. As a result, they lack focus. For example, they get so worried about a shot over water, they don’t notice that they have a downhill lie. Failing to put the ball back in their stance, they hit the shot fat and the ball ends up in the water, anyway.
To avoid this, you need a game plan for each hole, and a preshot routine for each shot that includes a quick analysis of key factors like distance and lie. You want every shot to feel like a familiar situation rather than one full of fear and uncertainty.
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