Breaking 100-90-80: your monthly guide to the scoring basics
Let’s Be Realistic
Golf Digest Teaching Professional with Ron Kaspriske Shelby Futch is president of the Golf Digest Schools and has been teaching golf since 1970. He’s based at Red Mountain Ranch Country Club in Mesa, Ariz.
My friends joke that I’ve been teaching golf so long, I still refer to a 3-wood as a spoon. But kidding aside, my 33-year tenure as an instructor has taught me that average players usually don’t want an overhaul. They need to have their golf swing repaired, not replaced. They don’t have time for anything more complicated than that.
Go ahead and hit the driver … you know you want to
It bothers me when I hear instructors tell players to leave the driver in the bag. Sure, you may hit more fairways with a 3-wood, but let’s be honest: If you just spent $500 on a new driver, I’m guessing you want to learn how to use it.
Know that the driver was designed to travel on a flatter, more horizontal swing plane than the shorter clubs. To hit it well, you must swing the clubhead more around your body–not more up and down as you would a short iron. You can get this sensation by hitting drives with the ball teed on an upslope so it’s above your feet. The club’s path has to be shallowed to make solid contact.
If you’ve been struggling to break 100, it’s time to take a refresher course on the full swing. I’ll also share with you my secret to better putting. These tips will sound simple. But after watching thousands of beginners, I’ve found nothing works faster to get players out of triple digits.
Check those divots
Most people think the divot should be pointing straight or to the right of the target. In reality, it should be an arc that curves left of the target.
Bad start? Good finish
Some golfers get discouraged if they start their round with a few double bogeys. It negatively affects their play for the entire round. But think of it this way: Once that career round seems unobtainable, you can relax and have fun. Swing the club free of tension. Before you know it, that card won’t look so bad.
One swing, one thought
It’s OK to have a couple of swing thoughts when you’re on the practice tee, but when you get on the course, limit yourself to one swing thought. You’ll play better and will be mentally fresh at the end.
Learn Golf’s ABCs: Breaking 100
‘Gasp’ before every swing
To improve your consistency, remember the acronym G.A.S.P. G is for grip. As long as you can get the clubface square to the target at impact, go ahead and use the grip that feels the best. A is for aim. Aim the bottom edge of the club, not the face, so it’s square with your target. S is for stance. Beginners incorrectly align their shoulders left of the target and then swing across their body line, which often leads to a slice. P is for posture. Stand taller to the ball and maintain that angle during the swing. Don’t rise up.
Get yourself a long putter
I once videotaped five players using their normal-length putters, then gave them five minutes of instruction with a long putter, and filmed them again. The videos were shot so you couldn’t tell what putter the player was using. Then we asked everyone to judge all 10 putting strokes. The top five were all made using the long putter.
That’s why I don’t spend much time anymore teaching the putting stroke. If you really want to improve your putting, buy a long putter. It keeps the wrists out of the stroke and rolls the ball true.
By the time you get to this level, you’ve probably heard countless swing tips. Some are good, but a lot are bad. When players come to our golf schools, we often have to reprogram their brains to forget some of the stuff they’ve been told. Here are a few roadblocks to avoid on the way to breaking 90.
I’m leery when I hear golfers being told to swing the putter straight back and straight through. Practice sidehill putts from 15 feet or more. You’ll see that the putter needs to travel on an inside-to-inside arc to square up at impact.
Fast and furious
Whenever someone tells you to slow down your swing, cover your ears. Tour players may seem like they are swinging slow and easy, but they actually are taking a rip at the ball. Tempo is a result of correct movements that are well coordinated. It has nothing to do with the speed of your swing.
Don’t lock your hips
The right shoulder and right hip should turn together during the backswing. If you try to prevent your hip from turning, you’ll end up lifting up and your body won’t coil. Swing back in unison.
Ignore Bad Advice
Myth No. 1: Tuck the right elbow
When Jack Nicklaus played in his first professional tournament, I remember people saying he would never make it on tour because his right elbow separated from his body during the backswing.Well, last time I checked, Jack is still the best player ever. Keeping your right elbow tucked to your body during the backswing, as you may have been told to do, will hinder you from making solid contact with a ball on the ground. Right-elbow freedom allows the club to swing up and down.
Myth No. 2: You must delay your release
The swing position I’m demonstrating above left will keep me in business a long time. This is what PGA Tour players look like during the downswing. They square the clubhead so quickly before impact, it often lags well behind the hands and arms at the halfway mark of the downswing. For the rest of us, trying to copy this position will likely produce a nasty slice. We’re not that quick. An amateur once told me he was practicing “not hitting the golf ball” so he could get into this lag position. And he was serious! Release the clubhead earlier in the downswing.
In addition to managing your game, you have to master the most common recovery shots. Turning bogeys into pars is essential if you want to break 80. The two shots you need are the low runner and the high spinner. You can play either shot from high rough or bare ground.
Shape your sand shots
If your ball lands in soft bunker sand, the shape of your recovery shot should be a “U.” If the sand is firm, the shape should be a “V.”
Kicking yourself for going for that par 5 in two? Right or wrong, you need to commit to the decisions you make on playing strategy. If you don’t, you’ll not only hurt your chances of executing that shot but you’ll let fear creep into your game the next time you face a shot with similar options.
Ball position philosophy
You don’t need, or want, to hit every club its maximum distance. Experiment with playing the ball back in your stance and hitting a three-quarter 8-iron instead of a full 9-iron. Your tempo will improve.
Have a Go-To Shot
How to chase the ball down the fairway
From deep rough or tight lies (shown here), one option is to hit a low, running shot that bounds down the fairway.
To execute this shot, move the ball toward your back foot at address and make a full swing. This ball position will help you swing at the ball from a steeper angle than normal, which produces a lower-trajectory shot. This swing should feel somewhat violent compared with your normal swing; it’s imperative that you drive your body into the shot and follow through as if you were going to walk down the fairway after the ball. You may have seen Tiger hit his line-drive “stinger” shot with a 2-iron. This is it.
How to hit the high spinner
From deep rough or tight lies you can also play a higher shot that has a lot of backspin and lands softly. Play the ball forward in your stance and open the clubface. Now make a steep swing with the club traveling from outside the target line on the downswing to inside the target line on the follow-through. It’s very similar to a bunker shot, only you can use any iron in your bag to execute it. But if the distance normally requires a 5-iron, use a 4-iron or 3-iron. Opening the face will shorten the length you can hit the club. The open face also will make the ball fade, so aim slightly left.
By Shelby Futch
Golf Digest Teaching Professional with Ron Kapriske Shelby Futch is president of the Golf Digest Schools and has been teaching golf since 1970. He’s based at Red Mountain Ranch Country Club in Mesa, Ariz.
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