Breaking 100 90 80 : A monthly guide to the scoring basics – tips on mproving your game
It’s no mystery why Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Bill Rogers and Justin Leonard won the British Open. They all hail from Texas, where learning to play in wind is crucial to surviving on a golf course, just as it is on the Scottish coast. All four of those guys hit the ball low because it helped them control the distance and direction of their shots, in any conditions. If you can learn to keep the ball down, your scores will come down right along with it.
Left wrist is key to hitting crisp, low shots
Most mis-hits occur because the left wrist breaks down before impact. Not just in the full shots, but in chips, putts–you name it. Beginners think they have to lift the ball in the air by scooping it, or they try to keep the ball from slicing by flipping the left wrist at impact (inset). To hit the ball crisply, try maintaining the impact position shown here (large photo). Your left wrist should remain flat and should be slightly closer to the target than the clubhead. The ball will fly low and stay on line.
Roll It to the Hole
You really need to learn the game by starting at the green and working your way back to the tee. If you can putt, you can save strokes no matter what the flaw is in your full swing. Even on the putting surface, you should keep the ball down.
Don’t burn rubber on the greens
When you’re putting, the last thing you want is the ball to skid or bounce for the first few feet before it starts rolling. A putterhead may look flat, but it does have some loft, and a jab stroke with the hands will cause the ball to skid like a tire burning rubber. To correct this, grip the putter with your hands slightly forward (closer to the target). Then stroke the ball by simulating a rolling-tire motion toward the target.
Use irons in the wind
If you know before the round that it’s going to be a windy day, take that 7-wood out of the bag and replace it with a 3- or 4-iron.
It’s much easier to keep the ball down with a long iron than it is with a wood.
Forget about releasing the club
Too many amateurs worry about releasing the club past impact. If you make the correct swing, you will “release” the club naturally. Instead, worry about maintaining the right wrist in a “hinged” position through impact.
Don’t fight the wind
“When it’s breezy, swing easy.” That has always been one of my favorite golf cliches.
A hard swing causes the ball to spin more and upshoot into the wind.
Use a dowel rod
Another way to keep putts from skidding is to stick a dowel rod into the ground so it’s angled upward and toward the target as shown here. Now place a ball under the rod at the halfway point and make a putting stroke that starts low and finishes high, tracing the angle of the dowel. The low-to-high stroke should get the ball rolling sooner–not skidding–to the cup. Don’t hit the rod.
‘Towel Off’ Your Chips
That flop shot sure is pretty to look at, but it’s about as reliable as a weather report. It’s better to hit your pitches and chips on a lower trajectory. The lower the ball stays to the ground, the easier it is to control the distance it travels. Get those shots down, fast.
Pick a spot to land on
Payne Stewart always hated to work on the routine shots. So I gave him the Towel Drill to make the boring chips seem fun. Wet a towel (so it stays put) and lay it on the green about a third of the way to the hole. Try to chip the ball so it lands on the towel and rolls to the hole. This drill encourages you to keep the ball down and start it rolling as soon as possible. Try to get nine out of 10 to hit the towel and stop near the hole.
Is this a 2-club wind?
The simplest way to factor wind into your full shots is to use this formula: For every 10 mph into the wind, take one more club than usual. For downwind shots, take half a club less than usual.
Factor wind speed into putts
One of the hardest things to do on a windy day is putt. Believe it or not, even a 10-mph wind is enough to influence a putt, especially when it’s downhill. Be aware of the wind’s direction before you putt and try to factor that into speed and line.
Grip affects trajectory
On a windy day, the shot may seem like a full 7-iron, but it’s better to choke down on the 6-iron. By choking down, you in effect stiffen the shaft and keep the ball flight low.
How low can you go?
Do the Limbo Drill to keep your chips low. Just off the green, put a headcover behind the ball as shown, then extend a string between two poles about 24 to 30 inches high and four feet in front of you. Now make a high-to-low chipping stroke so the clubhead clears the headcover but finishes low, sending the ball under the string.
Down for the Count
Now that you’ve learned how to keep the ball down on putts and chips, it’s time for the full swing. If you want to break 80, learn how to hit drives that run down the fairway and iron shots that pierce the air and track toward the target.
Paint the divot on iron shots
To hit a crisp, low iron shot, the club strikes the ball first and then the ground. This means the divot should start at the impact position and continue ahead of it. To get a feel for this, imagine there is a paint brush on the end of a golf shaft. Now think of painting a divot with the brush starting at the impact position and moving toward the target. To paint it, your hands have to stay in front of the brush past impact and drag it through.
Use a driver off the tee
When you’re going to hit a low tee shot, it’s better to tee the ball low and use a driver instead of an iron. From the fairway, I recommend an iron, because it’s too hard to hit a driver from the deck.
Hook the ball out of the bunker
If the flag is on the other side of the green or the green has a steep upslope, try making an inside-to-out swing and hit a “hook shot” explosion out of the bunker. The ball will come out low and roll to the hole.
In windy conditions, I use a softer, higher-spinning ball. I know it sounds funny, but I feel like they stay on the clubface longer and hence can be hit lower.
Match point: Hit a topspin forehand
You may not be able to hit a 300-yard drive the conventional way, but when the fairways are hard and fast, try the topspin-forehand drive. Essentially you want to make a low-to-high swing and mimic the move you would make to hit a winner in tennis. Tee it low and hit up on the ball, rolling your wrist over as shown above. The ball will come off the club like a line drive, and when it hits the ground, it will keep rolling and rolling and rolling . . . .
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