Breaking 100-90-80: your monthly guide to the scoring basics
The Ball Tells All
Study your golf game
When I ask golfers to describe the flight of their golf ball, I usually get answers like, “I hit a draw,” or, “I fade it,” or the proverbial “I’m all over place.” While I don’t doubt those answers, what they tell me is golfers don’t really study their shots. The guy who hits a “draw” may actually hit a hook. Or his “fade” is really a slice. If you want to lower your scores, start studying. Watch your ball flight and try to understand how the position of the clubface at impact, the path the club takes to the ball, and the angle and speed of your swing dictate what the ball does.
If you want your shots to go where you intend, the clubface has to be square to the target at impact. To break 100, learn to control the clubface by using a sound grip on full swings and a simple preshot routine when you putt. You scores will drop almost as fast as if you carried an eraser!
When is the club square?
Remember that when addressing the ball, you only need to worry about having the bottom, or leading, edge of the club perpendicular to the target.
Tee it higher
Many 100-shooters tee the ball too low because they are worried about hitting pop-ups. But I prefer that new players tee the ball high. It’s easier to make solid contact with your driving club. Plus, the higher the shot, the less sidespin the ball will have. In essence, teeing it high helps turn your slice into a fade.
Know the four laws of contact: The clubface dictates the ball’s curve, the club’s path dictates the ball’s initial direction, the angle of the swing path dictates the ball’s trajectory, and the swing speed dictates distance.
Face the Facts
Put a stop to slicing
The simplest way to correct a slice–a common problem for 100-shooters–is to improve the top-hand position of your grip. Here’s how:
Hold the clubshaft in front of you with your right hand, the butt end of the club pointing down. Stick out your left hand as if you were a traffic cop making a “stop” gesture (below, left). Now rest the grip between the crease made by the left thumb and forefinger. From this position, wrap the fingers of your left hand around the club (below, right) and then grip it with the right hand. This strong left-hand grip position will make it easier to square the clubface at impact.
Line up the logo
Even new golfers do a fairly good job reading greens. Where their putting problems start is in getting the putterhead square to its target. To help you do that, use the logo on the ball to create an indicator line. This may seem elementary, but many golfers don’t know you can do this. Mark your ball on the green and then turn it so the logo points down your target line. Then adjust your putterhead so it’s perpendicular to the line you just created. Some balls today have arrows on them to assist you with alignment.
Too often, you see PGA Tour pros on television–or even 4-handicappers at your club–and you want to emulate their textbook swings. You don’t need to. If you want to break 90, you need to stick with your game. Make on-course decisions based on your swing–its strengths and weaknesses.
How to take it deep
Want to hit it farther? Hold your driver upside down, gripping the club near the head. Now make some full swings, trying to create a high-pitch “swoosh” sound. Then go back to hitting balls and try to reproduce that sound.
Check your divots
After every shot from the fairway, I always take a quick look at the divot I just made. I can usually tell from the divot hole whether it was a good shot. I like mine to be thin, start in front of where the ball was, and be on line with my target. Next time you play, analyze your divots.
Practice with a board
Before you head to the driving range, grab a piece of wood to take with you. It’s cheap, easy to transport and will help get you and your shots aligned better than any $29.99 gizmo that I know of.
Don’t replace your game, repair it
If you’re driving an ol’ pickup truck that veers to the left, you don’t stop at the nearest car dealership and sell it. You hold the steering wheel to the right and keep driving until you can get the alignment fixed. The golf swing is no different.
Whatever your swing tendencies are, they can be improved. But don’t make drastic adjustments on the course. Play that left-to-right ball flight until you can get to the practice range or golf school and make the necessary changes.
When the pressure’s on, go with what you know
If you’re playing an important match or perhaps need to make par on the final hole to break 90, there’s no doubt you’re feeling a lot of pressure. Anxiety can make you do funny things with a golf club, so my advice is to stick to the basics in pressure situations. If my normal ball flight is right to left but that’s not the ideal shot into a green, I’m still going to hit a right-to-left shot. My familiarity with that shot will help overcome any nervousness I might have.
The difference between an 80s-shooter and a 70s-shooter often is the ability to control a ball’s flight. Learning how to control trajectory, initial direction and shot shape is vital to turning bogeys into pars. If you can curve it around trees and stop it on the greens, you’re good enough to break 80.
The power of powder
To see if you’re hitting the ball on the sweet spot, sprinkle baby powder on the clubface before hitting a shot.
Bad lie? Get steep
Any time you get a bad lie–the ball is in a divot hole, deep rough, hardpan or pine needles–it’s important to steepen your angle of attack. Place your weight on your front foot and slightly de-loft the clubface by leaning the shaft forward. As the body turns through, steepen your downswing, hitting the ball first.
Grab some tees and paper plates and find an empty field where you can practice your pitch shots. Anchor the plates with the tees at various distances and hit shots, trying to land the ball on each plate. It will help you get a feel for all those short shots.
Control the Ball
Fade your shots–on purpose
All along I’ve been telling you to hit the shots you feel the most confident in playing. Well, when you get to this level, you need to have a better command of the ball. One of the most useful shots I’ve found for saving strokes is the low fade. When I’ve got to bend it around trees, I like to take a club like a 3-wood and grip down a few inches. Open the face slightly at address and make a swing where you resist the natural release of the forearms. This is known as “holding on” through impact. The ball will stay low and curve left to right.
Slam on the brakes with your approach shots
When tour pros are inside 100 yards, they will often hit low wedge shots that land on the green and stop after a couple of hops. It’s a useful shot because it keeps the wind from influencing the ball’s flight. Using a pitching wedge or 9-iron, set up so your body weight favors the front foot. Make a short swing, finishing before the hands pass your shoulder level. This will keep the shot low. Leaning forward will steepen your angle of attack into the ball and impart more spin to stop the ball.
Golf Digest Teaching Professional with Ron Kaspriske
Dave Maga is director of operations for Golf Digest Schools. He teaches at its headquarters at The Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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