Sunday, October 11, 2009

Line up the Logo: Help or Hindrance?

It is very popular on the professional golf tours for players to use the logo on the ball to help them line up putts. Most enhance the logo by using a marker to darken the line. Tiger Woods has used an enhanced line on the ball to help his alignment for as long as I have watched him play. I am sure his success using a line is the main reason it is so popular with the other players on the tour. Regardless of the popularity, we have measured over 5000 putts this season alone at the United States Golf Academy and have very clear evidence that using a logo as an alignment aid is not for everyone.

The first problem is that the player has to get the line down accurately. Any line, either on the ball or on the putter, is a reference to the target. If the reference is inaccurate, you place yourself in a situation where a good stroke rolls the ball in the wrong direction. The confusion this causes and the subsequent efforts to compensate can ruin a good putting stroke.
The second problem we see is the difference in perception between sighting the line from behind the ball and the way the line appears when you stand to the side preparing to make the stroke. The line often looks like it is pointed in the wrong direction as you stand to the side. The player has to remember that you don’t see as accurately side-on as you do looking down the line. You have to trust the line even if it doesn’t look right. Once that reference is in position, that line becomes the directional target, and where you think the target is no longer matters. This is easier said than done.

Finally, there is a problem that will probably surprise you. Players that have a straight line as a visual reference on their putter often have a difficult time matching the line on the putter to the line on the ball. The putter is pointed in one direction, while the line on the ball is pointed in another. This is a recipe for disaster and is very common. In fact, it is so common that we have coined the phrase “visual interference” to describe it.

Our recommendation for a line on the ball is to give it a try, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you. You are not alone.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Late Season Tip

A frequent customer of the Academy stopped in this week. As we were chatting, he made the comment I hear far too often. “I am getting ready to put the clubs away for the season”, he said. This was not some great revelation; I hear similar comments every day. But some reason, hearing it from him struck a nerve. This person had put serious time and effort into getting his game to another level this season. He had made an equipment change, and worked very hard on developing a routine and some consistency in his swing. He analyzed his putting stroke and developed a method that was best for him, and not a copy of a method that worked for someone else. To sum it up, he had made himself a better player, and had a plan to become a greater player than he ever imagined he could be at the beginning of the summer. When I questioned his logic of putting the clubs away, his response was, “Winter is coming, whether you like it or not. What else can I do?”

Don’t put the clubs away. At least keep them where you can pick one up and pretend you’re playing golf. Now is the time to break some bad habits, most of which are not found in your golf swing, but in your preparation to swing the club. So, every once in a while, as you walk through the garage, practice your routine. Take a club and pretend you are going to hit a ball at a spot on the wall. If you can do this on a tile floor that can show you parallel lines, even better. Go through the motions of preparing to hit a shot, even to the point of starting your backswing (take it away slowly). Remember to work from the ball back. Aim the club first, then check your grip, align your shoulder s, and finally, take your stance and set your feet. I cannot stress enough the idea of placing your feet after everything else is lined up. If you can break the habit of planting your feet first and twisting into position, you will eliminate a number of problems. For example, the problem of where the ball is positioned in your stance is solved because if you set up in the proper sequence, the golf club will tell you the appropriate place to stand. If you can make your pre-shot routine a habit this winter, I promise a fast start next spring.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to the King

If you follow the golf world at all, you are probably aware that Arnold Palmer turned 80 years young on September 10th. As hard as it is for me to believe he is 80, it is harder still for me to believe it was 28 years ago this summer that I went to work for him at Bay Hill. When a guest of the United States Golf Academy sees some of the pictures on my office wall of the two of us, their first question is always the same: “What was it like working for him?” So as an answer to that question and my way of a birthday tribute to him, I thought I would share a couple of personal stories.

Mondays were practice days for Arnold and my day off. I knew if he was home, I could expect a phone call at around 9:30a.m., asking what my plans were for the day. In all my years of working for him, I never missed a practice day, but he always called and he always asked, just like every time was the first time. He never assumed or took anything for granted. So we would spend Mondays together. He would hit a few and then ask what I thought. If I offered some advice, his reply was always the same: “Why?” It took me awhile to realize that it was his way of teaching me. If I offered a thought on what he was working on, I had better be prepared to explain myself. Even today, when I give a lesson, I am always sure to know why I am offering the advice. So I share that advice with you. Never try something new with your swing without a clear and sensible reason why, and if the source of the advice can’t answer the question, don’t try it.

Those who know me well have been subjected to hundreds of Arnold stories. But my favorite is one that is very recent. As part of his birthday celebration, the Pittsburgh Pirates had Mr. Palmer throw out the first pitch at a recent game. I saw him on television and so I called his office the next day to leave him a birthday message and congratulate him on looking good on the throw. His secretary Gina accepted the congratulations for him, and shared that he had been practicing on making a good pitch for a couple of months. At 80 years old and with all his accomplishments, the King is still working to make his best effort, and for those paying attention, still teaching.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Venting Frustration

There has been a great deal of discussion recently about certain professional golfers verbally venting frustration using inappropriate language. In response, I have some advice on how to deal with two of the most common causes of these extreme emotions, guaranteeing relief and avoiding the embarrassment of an ill-timed phrase.

Missed Putts
Always remember that a missed putt is totally the fault of the golf club and never the player involved. It is also a well known fact that the club in question is deaf, and so no amount of yelling at the club will produce satisfactory results. It will only cause an increase in blood pressure so great that the next tee shot is sure to slice off into the woods ( see dealing with an unruly driver ). The best way to deal with a poor performing putter is to wait quietly until the end of the round, tie the putter to the back bumper of your automobile and drag it home. I promise you will feel better. If the putter is damaged beyond use, bring it to the Academy and we will fit you to a new one. It is important to bring the old one along so the new one can see what happens if it misses a putt. Fear is a great motivator for putters.

Dealing with Unruly Drivers
In most cases, it is unfair to blame the driver for a missed tee shot. As we explained earlier, a missed tee shot is often the result of a bad putt on the previous hole. So it is entirely fair to blame the putter for all missed tee shots other than one that would occur on the first hole. This is usually a result of a driver that has low self esteem. How would you feel if you were twice as big as you were ten years ago? The best thing you can do is leave the head cover off your driver. Show it you are proud to be associated with it and you are not going to hide it from view. This will make the driver feel better and make it your friend rather than your enemy like that scoundrel putter.

If the previous advice doesn’t work, try this. Laugh at the bad shots, be proud of the good ones, and if you happen to be playing for ten million dollars in the FEDEX CUP, remember how lucky you are and try to show the game and the fans a little respect.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Reading Greens

A common request at the United States Golf Academy is for help on reading greens. It is a difficult conversation to have because the decision of choosing a line for a putt is such a subjective decision or group of decisions. My perception of how the ball will travel along the green might be totally different than yours and so any methods I use for myself may be of no help to you at all. However there are some general skills and advice that I can offer so you can develop your own strategy on the greens.

Observe the big picture. This is the key to being a good green reader. When deciding on how the putt will roll be sure to look at your surroundings. Too many of us stare at the hole and a narrow path between the ball and the hole. The best green readers take in their surroundings first, looking at the entire green and the topography around them. Our Director of Golf likes to say that reading a putt begins immediately after you hit your approach. Look at how the green sits into the landscape, it will tell you a lot about the direction the ball will move, before you ever reach the green. Once you get to the green you can look for more specific influences, but remember you have to move a lot of dirt to change the basic tilt of a green so don’t forget your first impression once you get to the green.

Be aggressive. An aggressive putter has an easier time reading greens than the player who tries to die the ball at the hole. An aggressive putt will break less so you can take a more direct approach. Second, if you miss you will get a look at what the comeback putt will do as the ball rolls past. Third, while you run the risk of an occasional 3 putt because of the aggressive approach, you will also make more putts. The important thing is even if you do run the ball past, stay aggressive. Take the break out with speed is usually good advice.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. Reading a green is a prediction and you will never be sure what the ball will do until the putt is struck. Once you make a decision then do your best to start the ball on the line you have chosen and accept the results. If you are observant and aggressive the results might surprise you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Short Game Advice from Deep Rough

Someone at the Academy mentioned the other day that this past July had been the coolest on record. On the upside, the cooler weather has assisted our superintendent in maintaining the fantastic condition of our golf courses at Swan Lake Resort. On the downside most golf courses have some wicked rough, especially around the greens.

There are a couple of key tips to getting up and down out of green side rough. But before we suggest too much you have to remember to lower your expectations. The complaint the tour players have with heavy rough around the green is that it takes skill out of the equation. The ball doesn’t spin and it is tough to control trajectory because of the grass that gets between the club and the ball. So if the typical chip results in a 3 or 4 foot putt, a good result now might be a 10 foot, par save, putt. I have always thought it is easier to make a putt when you have a positive attitude, as you would after a good shot than the negative thought you have from a bad shot. So remind yourself that the 10 footer was a good result. The following is a technique we teach at the Academy for shots in deep rough around the green.

Choose the highest lofted club in your bag.

Hold the club in front of you and turn the face closed. To the left for a right hander and to the right for a left hander.

Grip the club in the normal manner with the face closed.

Play the ball off your back foot in your stance, and if the grass is particularly deep play the ball behind your back foot.

With the ball way back in the stance and the club face closed, swing the club in a steep manner right down behind the ball. The trick is to have the club enter the grass just slightly behind the ball.

The flange on your wedge will bounce under the ball rather than dig. This kicks the ball up and out of the rough with little spin so the ball rolls out a little. Be careful, as you don’t need to swing the club as hard as you might think. Note. If the ball comes out to the right of where you intended you have not closed the face enough.

After a couple minutes of practice you may find this shot to be a real stroke saver. Good Luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Secret Weapon

When we meet a new player at the United States Golf Academy, we begin our time together with a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the player’s game. It is a rare occasion when a student does not include “short game” as an area of concern. These students looking for short game help typically have another thing in common; if they own a sand wedge they only use it when they are in the sand. A good sand wedge is easily the most versatile golf club in your bag and no matter how confident you are around the green; you can only improve your results by taking advantage its versatility.
The modern sand wedge has evolved from utility club to scoring club. The configuration of the bottom of the club keeps the club from digging in as the club strikes the ground or turf. This “bounce’’ pushes the club forward through the ball as the club slides along the ground. With a sand wedge I don’t need to strike the ball as precisely as I would normally and as long as I keep the club moving, the increased loft of the club it produces a high soft trajectory and when the ball lands, a small amount of roll.
Most of us can produce a shot that has a lower trajectory that rolls like a putt. While it is nice to be able to produce this shot it becomes difficult to control when you must fly the ball in the air over obstacles like rough, sand or water. It is also necessary to use a higher trajectory when you have missed a green on the same side that the pin is located. This is called “short siding” and usually means you have little or no green to work with, eliminating the opportunity to use a low trajectory shot that needs room to roll out.
So where do you start when looking for a sand wedge? There are literally thousands of loft/bounce combinations available. I personally think the magic numbers are 58 degrees loft and 12 degrees bounce. The club has enough loft to make the soft high shots easier to play and twelve degrees bounce allows you to swing the club aggressively without fear of fat or chunked shots.
There are three essential golf clubs to lowering your score; a driver you can trust, a putter that fits your posture and a versatile wedge for shots around the green. Skipping one of the three is a sure way to higher scores.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Power of a Routine.

I received a call at United States Golf Academy from a player I know pretty well. He was concerned about the lack of consistency in his game. My answer to him was the same as always. The player never approached a shot the same way twice. He just walks up and hits the ball and wonders what goes wrong when he hits it poorly and thinks he has it all figured out when he strikes it well. The lack of a consistent approach to the shot breeds the inconsistency he fights.

As you think about your own golf game and whether or not you have consistent routine to prepare for the shot, it is important to realize that the routine is not the cure to bad shots. I have worked with many players on developing a routine only to see they have abandoned the process because “it didn’t work”. The routine is just a way to simplify the process and eliminate as many variables as you can.

Any routine is a good start. We use the following guidelines at the Academy:

Target Acquisition. When deciding where the next shot needs to go one should make the decision from a consistent location. We recommend behind the ball looking directly at the intended direction you wish the ball to travel.
Build the Robot. Once the direction is determined you have to take the time you place the mechanism (your body) in position to complete the task (hit the golf ball). As we have discussed before, this is best achieved by placing the club head to the ball, then hands on the club, then the alignment of the shoulders, working your way to your feet.
Create a trigger. The start of the swing should be automatic. It is tough to think your way to a smooth start. My daughter is a dancer and I have encouraged her to use a 5,6,7,8 count as they would to start a dance routine. She has taught herself 8 means move and so there is no additional thought to take the golf club away.

Once the routine is place practice the routine. You need not hit balls to do this. You will find the consistency of your golf shots will improve. The good swings will produce better results, but more important the poor swings are easier to fix because the misses will be more consistent so the flaws are easier to detect.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Choosing between Fairway Woods and Hybrids.

A frequent conversation at the United States Golf Academy is the use of hybrids or fairways woods and how to decide which is best for a particular player. In order to begin the decision making process we have to understand there are two ways to swing a golf club. Some players swing the club around their body on a shallower plane and some swing the club in a more upright manner, above their heads. Both swings are effective and the merits of the different types have been argued for years. For example, Jack Nicklaus swings the club in an upright manner and Tiger Woods swings the club on a flatter plane. The argument on who is better is probably yet to be decided. What is more important is to know which one you are and the pluses and minuses of each technique.

The easiest way to decide what type of player you are is to have a friend watch you swing a club standing behind you looking toward the target. As you swing the club to the top ask them to observe the relationship of the lead arm (left arm for right handed swing and right arm for left) and the shoulders. If the arm is above a line drawn through the shoulders you have an upright motion. If the arm is on the same line as the shoulders or below it is a flatter swing.

The basic rule of thumb is that a flatter swing plane will have better success with a fairway wood and the more upright swing will prefer the hybrid. The reasons are that the fairway woods, 3,5,7 and even a 9 are built longer with a flatter lie angle between the club and the shaft. The longer club suits the flatter swing plane. Hybrids are built more like irons, with shorter shafts, and more upright lie angles. This works best with a more upright swing plane.

A great example would be Tiger Woods. When Tiger replaces a club in his bag he replaces his 2 iron with a 5 wood rather than a hybrid club. Tiger has over the past few years worked very hard at swinging on a shallower or flatter plane. A hybrid doesn’t perform as well for him. So as you fill in the distance gaps in your set think about how you swing the club to help find the club that performs the best.

Friday, July 31, 2009

2009 British Open – Lessons for all Golfers.

For the past week, the topic of conversation at the United States Golf Academy has been Tom Watson’s remarkable 2nd place finish in the recent British Open. As I watched the event unfold, I must admit I was excited, but not really surprised. I am old enough to remember that Tom Watson is and has always been a great player and just because he is older he has not forgotten what it takes to win a golf tournament, especially, a British Open. There are some very clear lessons that all of us can take from his play.

Have a Plan – All week long during the interviews Watson spoke of his “plan” and sticking to it. I won’t pretend to tell you what I think it was, but I do know the following.
1. He knew the golf course. How many times have you played a course you know and hit a shot in a position that makes the hole much more difficult? Not because your miss hit the shot, but because you weren’t paying attention. Every golf hole ever built has a “best way” for you to play the hole and it is not always the most direct or shortest route.
2. He accepts the ups and downs of playing links golf. Watson, probably better than anyone in the field, knew he would get good breaks and bad breaks during the four days of the tournament. The secret to playing well is to not let down when you get a good break and make a great score, and just as important is to not let a bad break ruin your round.
3. Find the strength in your golf game and play to it. All of us have parts of our game that are better than others. For Watson it has always been his ability to hit the ball in the middle of the clubface. This ability to hit the ball with solid contact reduces his need to alter his trajectory in bad weather. So he doesn’t need to change his swing in bad weather. He just accounts for the wind and chooses the club that will fly a specific distance. What are your strengths? Create a plan that plays to your strengths and avoids your weaknesses and keep playing until the round is over. You might surprise some people like Tom Watson did.

Better Preparation - Better Golf Shots

One of the most difficult aspects of playing golf is trying to determine the cause of a bad shot. There are so many factors that coming to the wrong conclusion is almost inevitable. For the vast majority of students visiting the United States Golf Academy the conclusion was that they have “bad swings”. Sometimes their conclusions are correct, but not always. More likely they have mechanically sound swings, but the ball is positioned in such they have to adjust. Need proof? Ask yourself, “Is your practice swing better than when you try to hit the ball?”

Imagine a robot with a perfect golf swing. In order to utilize this perfect swing we have to calibrate the ball position to the robot. Calibration is easy because the swing repeats. So all you have to do is place the ball at the bottom of the swing. What most golfers don’t realize is that good or bad your golf swing will repeat with remarkable consistency. So if you have a routine to find the correct ball position, this repeating swing will produce a consistent result. Good or bad, one problem is much easier to deal with than a variety.

These are the guidelines I teach at our schools to develop consistent pre-shot preparation. You can vary the manner you use to achieve the following steps, but you must maintain the chronological order. WITH YOUR FEET TOGETHER, place the club behind the ball and point the face the direction you want the ball to go. Next place your hands on the club, maintaining the face in the playing position. Now, adjust your arms and shoulders so they are parallel to the direction you want to swing the club. Finally, without moving your hands or shoulders, you can now set your feet. If allowed to move without influence your feet will automatically move to a position under your shoulders. The result is a parallel and balanced set up with the ball in a consistent position relative to your body. Now there is an easy way to tell if your swing is sound. Go through the procedure as written and then close your eyes and swing the club. Most hit the ball on the first swing; many feel a balance issue and fix it themselves within a couple of shots. All are shocked they can hit the ball with their eyes closed.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Common Swing Faults

At the United States Golf Academy we are firm believers that each of our students are unique and swing the club differently. Our goal is to help each player find their own technique, but in doing so we also find ourselves saying the same things to different players each day. So with the hope of helping you to a better second half of the season I thought I would comment on two of the most common problems we observe.

Easily the most common fault is in an effort to create more club speed the player over swings the club in the backswing. Two fundamental rules apply. You can only swing the club back as far as your balance allows and you should coordinate your arm swing to your shoulder turn. Basically, when your shoulders stop turning your arms should stop swinging. If the arms swing beyond the shoulders the arms are always trying to catch up with the shoulder turn on the down swing. You reach top speed before you get to the ball and the club is slowing at impact. Hall of Fame Golfer Jimmy Demaret said the best tip he could give any golfer is to keep your elbows in front of you as you swing. In other words don’t let your arms out race your shoulders.

The second most common is what I call the twisted set up. Feet point one direction; the shoulders another; your spine leans in the wrong direction; one leg is bent more than the other and/or any number of other combinations. The best way to have a balanced swing is to use a balanced set up. One where the shoulders, hips, knees and feet are aligned in a similar direction and parallel to each other. The twisted set up usually happens because you set your feet first and then twist your way to get the club behind the ball. A very famous golfer once told me the difference between a great golfer and the average golfer is that the average golfers start with their feet and twist their way to the ball at address. The accomplished player starts with the club behind the ball and works backwards moving their feet last rather than planting them first.

Spend a few minutes working on these two points and I am sure you will see some improvement in your ball striking.

Putting Clinic

On July 19th the Swan Lake Resort and United States Golf Academy is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an open house. For my portion of the day’s festivities I will be doing a putting seminar that afternoon. We have over 30,000 measured strokes on our Puttlab technology and in studying those strokes we have found some data that is contrary to many accepted practices. Admission to the festival is free and I hope you can attend, but for those who cannot I thought I would share some of what we have learned.

To get the results you hope for when putting there are two things to consider, what direction you wish the ball to go and how hard you need to strike the putt in this direction. The direction the putt leaves the putter is influenced by two variables. The angle of the clubface at impact and the direction the putter is moving at impact. Of these there is no contest as to which is more important. 82% of the direction the ball leaves the putter is determined by face angle at impact. Only 18% is determined by putter path. Unfortunately, for most of us we become more concerned with the direction of the path the putter swings rather than just getting the face to the correct position at impact. The easiest way to learn to control the face is with a two by four. Set the board on the ground and line the face of the putter to the board. Swing the putter back and then into the end of the board. Did you strike the board squarely or was the face open or closed? Work with this board will give you the feedback necessary to fix the problem.

If you have a problem with controlling the distance, look to the length of your stroke. The best putters in the world vary the length of their putting strokes to the length of the putt. They use longer strokes for longer putts and shorter strokes for shorter putts. To the contrary we mortals usually take the putter back the same distance for every putt and then try to vary the speed of the putter through impact. Use a yardstick to measure the length of you backstroke visually. With no target hit a few putts at a 6 inch backswing and then measure the distance the ball rolls. How far with an 8 inch backswing and so on. This drill will help you develop the feel necessary to roll the ball the correct distance.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pick your Spots.

At the United States Golf Academy our approach is simple. We are going to do what ever necessary to help you lower your scores. While the how and why of swing technique is important, even a perfect swing will not automatically help you shoot lower scores. Why? Because of the importance of the short game, the shots inside 100 yards, shots played around the green and putting. The fastest way to lower scores is improvement in these areas.

A basic problem in creating a short game strategy is understanding the difference and relationship between air and ground. How far should the ball fly and how far will it roll? Too many of our students consider only the distance between themselves and the hole and that is not enough. The following are some steps to follow that might help you get closer to the hole.

Does the upcoming shot require a low or high trajectory? Look at the shot and try to imagine the best way FOR YOU to get the ball close to the hole. What would the shot look like if you hit it high? What would the shot look like if you came in low? Obviously there will be some bias based on your preference or ability. Some prefer to carry the ball to the hole, some have more success playing lower shots that roll out more. ONE CHOICE IS NO BETTER THAN THE OTHER!! What matters most is you make a choice.
Once you have made a trajectory choice you must now choose the spot where you need the ball to land. This is critical. Whatever club you choose will have a ratio of air to ground. For example my 52 degree gap wedge on a level surface will roll just about as far as it flies. My pitching wedge is closer to 1/3 air to 2/3 ground and my 58 degree wedge is more like 2/3 air to 1/3 roll.

Knowing what club to play and where to land it a personal decision, so when you get a chance to practice try the following experiment. Without any target hit some shots with different clubs using the same length swing and tempo. Watch how the ball reacts. How far did it fly and how far did it roll. This will go a long way to helping you choose the right club and spot to land the ball to improve your short game.

Golf Swing Speed

In our initial interview with the students of the United States Golf Academy we ask a number of questions about the new student’s goals. Without exception the most common request is for more club head speed. Longer drives and using shorter clubs into the green is the desire of just about every player we meet. While finding more club speed is a good thing, I normally suggest it is easier to be more efficient with the speed they create.

Using the data from our Trackman ball flight monitor we know at sea level, with no wind and normal ground conditions a player with 90 mph of club head speed under optimal conditions can hit a golf ball 256 yards with a driver. It is a very rare occurrence that the average player comes anywhere close to that distance. In other words they can generate the club speed just don’t use it very well.

A great measuring stick to check the efficiency of your swing is to find a facility that can accurately measure the golf ball speed at impact. The ratio of club head speed to golf ball speed is commonly called the smash factor. For example, at 90 mph the fastest ball speed obtainable is 135 mph. The smash factor is then 1.5 as 135 is 1.5 time faster than 90. Under perfect launch conditions this would create the 250+ yard drive. However, the average smash factor at the Academy is probably closer to 1.4. So the 90 mph player with a smash factor of 1.4 creates a ball speed of 126 mph rather than the 135 for a distance of 239 yards or 11 yards shorter with the same club head speed.

The slower ball speed can come from a variety of reasons. But all of the reasons come from what is most simply described as a glancing blow at impact. The clubface is open to the path, the angle of approach is too steep, or you just don’t hit the ball with the center of the club or any combination of those factors and others.

So the solution is not to look for more club speed

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Plan for Better Scores.

In this day and age of endless information we realize our students come to visit us at the United States Golf Academy as much for clarification as information. They have read and watched and listened to a point of confusion. “I am thinking too much,” is a common complaint. Our answer is usually the same, “It is not that you are thinking too much, it is that you think at the wrong time.” Way too many missed shots are caused not from a lack of talent or skill, but a lack of planning. The following is basic guideline on how to plan for more successful golf shots.
Before you ever strike a shot there are a couple of questions you have to answer. The first is quite simply; “Where an I going?” Make a conscious effort to choose the place you want your golf ball to be to play the next shot. This is rarely the flag!!! When playing a hole we need to know how many shots it is reasonable to expect to reach the green. If you miss a spot then begin a new plan. We then need to know the expected landing area for each shot and once those decisions are made we can ask:
So we now have a basic plan to play the hole. Now, how do we deal with the shot at hand? To answer this question we need to know the distance to the target, and then chose the club and type of shot that will best get us to our destination. This choice can be as simple or as complicated as your skill level allows. Regardless, you need to make a choice and stick with it.
So we have described the task at hand and how to complete it, now is the time to just do it. Set the chosen club behind the ball, point the club the direction you would like the ball to travel; set your feet and swing the club. In that order! Don’t think about where and how as you have already decided that when you step up to the ball. If there is anything we know for sure is that you can’t make any of the prior decisions while you are in motion. Just trust your judgment, and swing the club.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Advice for the Ladies

The majority of the golfers we work with at the United States Golf Academy are female. Our female students are players of all types; some are competitive, some social, some are young and some are like me who have been young for a long time. With the exception of some political issues which many of us in the industry are diligent about changing, golfers are golfers and their problems are the same.
1. Their clubs do not fit their posture or swing. Easily the most common problems we address are club fitting issues. Too long and too heavy being the most frequent. Unfortunately, many women play with “hand me downs”, which are often old technology and much heavier than we play today. We have seen some miraculous results for players by just changing equipment.
2. More club speed. I am “gender blind” when it comes to golf swings. Every player I work with man or woman has problems that are unique to them. So for every player there are two ways to develop more club speed. Physical strength or better technique. Technique is what holds most players back and so time spent to improve technique is valuable, especially when combined with a proper club fit.
3. Neglected short games. Physical strength or stature has very little to do with shots around the green. Putting and chipping are learned skills and have the most influence on our final score. Again you want to make sure you have equipment that fits your stature. Especially when it comes to a putter. There is very little room for error when it comes to shots around the green making our equipment choices much more important than shots form the fairway or off the tee. Simply put, for shots around the green, you need a club that lofts the ball in the air, one that you hit on a lower trajectory that runs out, and a putter that fits your posture.
4. Find your favorites. For less experienced players, we encourage them to find their favorite clubs and use them. You need a favorite from off the tee. You need a favorite for longer shots from the fairway, for shorter shots from the fairway and clubs for around the green. As you get better you will add more favorites to your bag, expanding your options, but for now don’t hit a shot with a club you don’t like. It takes the fun out of the game.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

No Bad Shots

The first point we try to make when we work with a new or inexperienced player at the Academy is the idea that you will never hit a “bad” golf shot. Now I am sure you are thinking, “Of course I hit bad golf shots; in fact I hit more bad than good.” In reality that might be true but there are a number of reasons for you to not judge every result.
1. The difference between a great shot and a poor one is very small. Take for example a topped shot that just runs along the ground. The difference between hitting the ball on the bottom of the club and the one you strike in the center of the club face is at most about ½ inch. Let’s say you have a golf club that is 42 inches long. To miss by ½ inch is less than a 2% error. You were 98% correct.
2. It is human nature to try to fix the previous shot on the next attempt. We see it all the time. The ball goes into the woods on the right. I promise you on the next shot the player will aim a little farther left to make sure they don’t repeat the same mistake. The shot goes off without a hitch, they hit the ball where it was aimed and the target is now missed to the left. Next shot goes right to fix the left and now we are a mess. There is a name for this phenomenon, it is called Army Golf. Left, right, left right.
3. Good shots can produce bad results and bad shots can go in. My only hole in one bounced out of a tree and off a bank at the back of the green. Awful shot – great result.
The only way your game is going to get better is to be consistent. In order to achieve this consistency you have to do things the same way for every shot, regardless of result. Create a routine, use the same grip on every shot. Align yourself to the ball in the same manner every time. Swing the club the same length back and through. Try to swing each club and make each swing with the same tempo and rhythm. If you do this you will find your ball striking will become more consistent as well. The results might still be “bad”, but the mistakes will be similar. It is easier to fix one miss than many different ones.

Tips for the Ladies

Thursday, April 30, 2009
The majority of the golfers we work with at the United States Golf Academy are female. Our female students are players of all types; some are competitive, some social, some are young and some are like me who have been young for a long time. With the exception of some political issues which many of us in the industry are diligent about changing, golfers are golfers and their problems are the same.
1. Their clubs do not fit their posture or swing. Easily the most common problems we address are club fitting issues. Too long and too heavy being the most frequent. Unfortunately, many women play with “hand me downs”, which are often old technology and much heavier than we play today. We have seen some miraculous results for players by just changing equipment.
2. More club speed. I am “gender blind” when it comes to golf swings. Every player I work with man or woman has problems that are unique to them. So for every player there are two ways to develop more club speed. Physical strength or better technique. Technique is what holds most players back and so time spent to improve technique is valuable, especially when combined with a proper club fit.
3. Neglected short games. Physical strength or stature has very little to do with shots around the green. Putting and chipping are learned skills and have the most influence on our final score. Again you want to make sure you have equipment that fits your stature. Especially when it comes to a putter. There is very little room for error when it comes to shots around the green making our equipment choices much more important than shots form the fairway or off the tee. Simply put, for shots around the green, you need a club that lofts the ball in the air, one that you hit on a lower trajectory that runs out, and a putter that fits your posture.
4. Find your favorites. For less experienced players, we encourage them to find their favorite clubs and use them. You need a favorite from off the tee. You need a favorite for longer shots from the fairway, for shorter shots from the fairway and clubs for around the green. As you get better you will add more favorites to your bag, expanding your options, but for now don’t hit a shot with a club you don’t like. It takes the fun out of the game.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Choosing the Correct Golf Ball.

One of the most productive services we offer at our Academy is to help our friends find the right golf ball for their game. For most, the first choices are the golf balls we receive as gifts or those we find on the golf course. It is hard to argue with this plan but the reality is that all golf balls are not created equal, and if you are looking to improve there is a better golf ball for you.

Step one in finding the right golf ball is to answer the following question, “Do I need more distance or do I need a golf ball that improves my performance around the green?” Think hard about this. It is easy to say we want more distance but what will help your score the most? When considering your short game. The important question is whether you use spin or loft and trajectory to control the golf ball.

Step Two. Spend some time getting an accurate appraisal of how fast you swing the golf club. The latest generations of golf balls are tweaked to perform best at certain speeds.

Step Three. How much are you willing to spend? Golf balls come in three basic prices, $20.00- $30.00 per dozen, $30.00 – $40.00 per dozen and more than $40.00. There are some that think like to buy recycled premium golf balls, but I can’t recommend it. You never know where they came from and if they have been sitting in a pond they are sure to be duds.

Step Four. Find a knowledgeable person to help. Let’s assume you have determined that you while you could always use more distance, your short game is better when you use a lower trajectory shot around the greens. This requires a ball that spins. Let us also assume your swing speed is around 85 mph with the driver. Not all high spin golf balls perform well at speeds of less than 100 mph, but every manufacturer makes a golf ball for this speed without sacrificing distance. Finally, your budget demands a ball in the moderate price category. When a salesperson is presented these facts they should be able to make a recommendation. Once they make the recommendation be sure to ask what it is about the construction of that particular ball that makes it best for my game. If they don’t know why, they might be recommending a ball they need to sell. An educated sales person will be able to tell you why.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Golf - Are you ready?

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs at the United States Golf Academy every year about this time. Regardless of weather conditions, the Monday after the time change, the phone starts to ring. With every call comes the same question, “When is the golf course going to open?” This latest round of extreme weather was no help but for us the answer is soon, very soon. Are you ready for the new season? The following are a couple of simple tips to help make the start of the season a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable.

Check the grips on your clubs. Over time rubber grips become slick, even when not in use. Wash them thoroughly with hot water, soap and a nylon brush. For grips a year old or so this is usually enough. If the grips are more than a couple of seasons old it may be time to replace them. A good solid grip is a basic fundamental and holding on to the club is obviously easier when the grips are fresh and a little tacky.

Start Simple. There are only two things that influence the flight of the ball, the position of the club face at impact and how fast the club it is moving. Experiment with your hand position on the club to find the grip that brings the club back to square at impact.

Start Slow. When coming off a layoff it is not the mechanics of your golf swing that have changed as much as the timing and tempo of your swing. Go out in the back yard and start swinging a golf club with your eyes closed. You will quickly find out how fast you can swing the club before you lose your balance. For the first couple of outings of the year try to maintain that speed and no faster. Focus on making solid contact with the ball at the slower speed. You might find you have been working way too hard and the early season swing tempo produces the same or greater distance with less effort.

Start Short. Find a place to hit some wedges and short irons before you grab the driver and start whaling away. Once you find a swing that works with the short clubs, the swing for the long clubs will easily come back to you.

Invest in a lesson. None of us have extra money to throw around these days, but a ½ hour lesson with the right pro can do your game a lot of good. Look for teachers who are full time instructors or teach some everyday. There is a rhythm in golf instruction just like anything else and teachers can get rusty just like students. Talk to the instructor prior to the lesson. Tell them you are just looking for a review of your fundamentals. Now is not the time to go to a “method” teacher and overhaul your game. Look for the pro that can enhance what you do, rather than change you to their preferences.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Winter Help

We are extremely fortunate to have a year round golf facility at the United States Golf Academy, so even as Mother Nature decides what type of precipitation she wants to dump on us today, we can at least swing a golf club, and take out some of our frustrations on that little white ball. Over the years there has been a number of theories as to the benefit or detriment of hitting golf balls indoors. We believe it can be very good for your game and the following are some ideas on how to make the most of the “indoor season”.
Avoid Mindless Repetition. There is no real gain from practice without a purpose at any time of the year. Hitting a couple hundred golf balls into a net just for the sake of hitting balls probably does more harm than good. Instead, now is the time to develop that routine you have heard would help but you were never able to accomplish on the golf course. Pick a spot on the net, aim the club at the spot, and then use the club as the reference of your alignment to the ball. Make your swing and watch where the ball strikes the net. Even this simple feedback is beneficial as you relate your setup process to the result. Another good practice is to note where you strike the ball on the clubface. Take a dry erase marker with you and mark the ball on the side closest to the golf club. The dry erase will leave a mark on the clubface so you can see the impact point on the club.
Video Tape Your Swing. Winter is the best time to get with a PGA professional and video tape your swing. As we said earlier feedback is a good thing and nothing points out the flaws like video. A word of caution; make sure the camera or cameras are positioned correctly. If you are looking down the target line make sure the camera is parallel to the target line, directly behind your hands. If the camera is face on it should be perpendicular to the target line and pointed at your sternum. Video taken from positions other than these can give you an inaccurate picture of your swing and lead to improper conclusions.
Practice your Short Game. Now is the best time to get familiar with your wedges. Learn to hit shots with different length swings. Work on using an even tempo. Short game strokes (less than a full swing) have a three beat rhythm. 1 starts the club back. 2 is the transition from backswing to forward swing and on 3 you accelerate the club to the finish. This is also the best rhythm for putting as well. Hitting short shots thinking only of rhythm and tempo will pay real dividends at the end of the season.