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.