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Sunday, December 27, 2009

8 Must Have Books For Any Serious Golfer

I have read at least 100 golf books and decided it would be helpful for others to boil my golf reading list down to the books that have made the most impact on my game.  I would recommend the following list to everyone that is looking to improve their game, and that’s everyone I know!  If you have any other books that are not on this list that have helped you out, please let me know by adding a comment or sending me an e-mail, I'm always on the lookout to learn more about this game.

1.     A Round of Golf with Tommy Armour by (obviously) Tommy Armour
This is a great book to start this list.  While this was written in the 1950’s, it is still the best strategy book I’ve ever read.  It is a quick read but it will help you shoot better scores immediately.  That’s the best review a golf book can get!

2.     How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time by Tommy Armour 
There seems to be a trend here, again Tommy Armour was not only a great player but was an incredible instructor as well.  This book is more mechanical and revolves more around the swing than the previous book in this list, but again, as with “A Round of Golf with Tommy Armour” it is as pertinent today as it was when it was written.

3.     Tom Watson's Strategic Golf by Watson, Tom
With the exception of “A Round of Golf with Tommy Armour”, this is the best strategy book I’ve read.  This book contains some great tips on decision making as well as some great match play strategies that I’ve been able to put to use quite effectively.  These two strategy books have really helped my game in the last year and I think every serious golfer would improve by reading these books.

This book has literally transformed my short game over the past couple of years and, along with some improvements to my course and mental strategy improvements, has made a big impact to lowering my scores.  I have read both the putting and short game books by Dave Pelz and found both to be very long and boring reads that had very little impact on my game.  Utley’s book, on the other hand, is a very quick read that contains some truly unique and effective short game techniques that can be learned and implemented with very little practice.

Again, Utley made another winner with this book on putting.  This book describes, in my opinion, a much more natural way to put than Pelz’s method.  Utley also includes some great suggestions for putter clubfitting in this book that I had never thought about.  I can’t wait to get out next spring and continue to practice what I’ve learned in this book.

6.     Golf My Way by Jack Nicklaus
Very well written instructional book by the greatest golfer of all time.  I particularly love his “trick” of keeping the left shoulder low when putting to keep the head down.  This tip has made a big impact on my putting this fall and I can’t wait to get out and use this next spring!

This is another very helpful strategy book from a very smart golfer.  Floyd writes this in a way that can help golfers of every level.

While this is not an instructional book, I still believe it is a must have for every avid golfer.  Just buy it ($10), put it in your bag and I guarantee you'll use it.  I really wish I would have had this in high school and college golf.  Unlike the USGA's Rule book (this one has all the same rules), this book is very fast and easy to use with very clear images and any rule can be found in a few seconds, which is what we really want when we're on the course, isn't it?

    Monday, June 1, 2009

    Develop The Best Preshot Routine For You

    If you have read much golf instruction in books or magazines, you've probably read about the importance of a good preshot routine. A good preshot routine is an important tool in any golfers toolbox, for several reasons: A good preshot routine will help a golfer properly and consistently prepare for a shot, while providing comfort in times of pressure because of the normalcy found in routine. The preshot routine will help ensure that you don't rush and forget to take into account the lie of the ball, the direction of the wind, the break of the green and whatever else may affect the path of the ball to the hole.

    Here are my keys to developing the perfect preshot routine for you:

    Start your preshot routine early:
    Having a sound preshot routine doesn't mean you should become a slower golfer. Learn to start assessing the conditions as you're approaching your golf ball and while the other members of your group are hitting there shots.

    Assess the conditions decisively and thoroughly:
    Always consider the lie of your ball, the direction and intensity of the wind, whether the ball is above or below your feet, whether the green is uphill or downhill from your ball or anything else that may affect the path of your shot. Based on the conditions, along with your strategy for setting yourself up properly to score well (i.e. playing away from bunkers or water hazards).

    Choose the club and the shot to be played:
    Based on your assessment of the shot, make a confident decision on which club to hit and the best trajectory to hit the shot based on the shot at hand. If your shot is an approach shot to the green and you are between clubs, you will almost always be better off taking the longer club and swinging easier.

    Pick a tiny target:
    Don't pick the "middle of the fairway" or a grove of trees or a building in the distance. Pick the smallest target possible, the branch of a tree, a window of the building, a blade of grass on the green when putting, etc.

    Visualize the shot:
    While still standing behind the ball, use your imagination and get a vivid image in your mind of your ball following the perfect path and ending up where you want the ball to finish.

    Take your grip:
    Do this while standing behind the ball. This will help you avoid tinkering with your grip when you are addressing the ball.

    Approach the ball, focused on the target:
    Once you start walking to the ball, think of nothing but the target. Don't think about where you don't want the ball to go, don't think about any swing thoughts, just think of the target.

    Practice swing until you feel the perfect shot:
    It may take you 1 practice swing to brush the grass just right on you practice swing, or it may take you five practice swings. It doesn't matter how many you take, as long as your last practice swing gives you confidence.

    Address the ball, look at the target, see the perfect shot, pull the trigger:
    Once you're ready to address the ball, move in and give one or two last looks at the target, thinking about nothing other than the target, then pull the trigger. Don't waste any time over the ball. In fact, if you have performed your entire routine properly, this last step may only take you a couple seconds. The longer you stand over the ball, the more likely it is that negative thoughts will creep in.

    Leave swing thoughts for the range or the putting green:
    Don't use swing thoughts when you play. Just enjoy the challenge of the day and focus on your target and staying within your routine.

    Enjoy the process, don't worry about the results:
    Focus on the process of hitting your shots. Follow the routine described above, not letting any distractions into your mind. If something distracts you, restart the routine by walking back behind the ball and refocusing on your target. Once you've hit your shot, don't worry much about the result. There is nothing you can do about a shot after you have hit it. Don't beat yourself up over bad shots, just try to focus harder on following your routine on the next shot.

    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    Each Shot Must Have a Specific Target

    I think most people understand that “don’t hit it in the water” is a bad swing thought, especially if it’s the last thing that goes through your mind before you start your swing. Many times, if this is the last thought in your head before swinging, the ball will go right where you don’t want it to go!

    One of the best ways to improve your scores is to have a very specific target for every shot, whether it is a tee shot, approach shot, recovery shot, or a chip or putt. If you have a specific target, it helps you to keep the thoughts of where you don’t want the ball out of your head while you’re preparing to swing.

    Keys to Picking an Effective Target

    Make your target as small as possible. If you have a driver in your hands, don’t just aim for the fairway, or even the left side of the fairway, or even a tree. Instead, aim for a branch, or a pole, or the smallest object you can see that’s on your intended target line. If you’re chipping or putting, a blade of grass or a light or dark spot on the green may be a more appropriate target.

    Don’t think about anything other than that target once you get to the ball. As you’re approaching the ball, think only of your small target. Don’t think about your last hole, or even your last shot, don’t think about what you’re going to order the next time the beverage cart arrives, and don’t even think about your swing, just let it happen and focus on the target. You will be surprised at how little your swing matters once you’re focused on a small target.

    Pick the right target. Don’t just automatically aim your tee shot down the middle of the fairway, or your approach shot right at the pin. Instead, play the hole in your head from the green back to the tee and think about the smartest place to put each shot to give you the easiest chance of avoiding a big score. If there is a big bunker or water hazard short right of the green, you may want to hit your tee shot to the left side of the fairway (or even into the rough at times) and then your approach shot to the left of the pin.

    Read your chips, then play them like a putt. When you are just off the green, think about how your chip or pitch will bounce and roll after landing, and pick the appropriate landing spot. Once you have read the break in your chip, pick the landing spot that will get the ball close to the hole, then practice swinging until you make a swing that you think will land the ball on your target.

    Play enough break on your putts. When picking your target on a putt, make sure that you play enough break. A putt has a lot better side of dropping in the top side of the hole than it does dropping in the low side of the hole. Pay attention to where your misses go and if you are missing more putts on the low side of the hole, start playing more break and you will make more putts.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Chipping/Pitching Club Selection Drill

    So by now you've probably noticed that most of my posts tend to revolve around the short game. There's a reason for this, about 2/3 of the shots you hit (and more like 80% if you shoot over 90) are from 60 yards and in. There is no better way to drop your scores quickly, no matter what your ability, than by improving your short game. The other benefit of practicing the short game is that the short swings you make will help you learn to make better contact and will help you improve your long game as well. This is why I spend 80% (or more) of my practice time on my short game, and why you should too.

    Last night I developed a new drill that will help your chipping, your putting and as a result will help to lower your scores. Pick a 10-25 yard chip from 5-10 feet off the green. Drop 10-15 balls down and keep track of how many shots it takes you to get all the balls into the hole (no gimme's!). Then, try different clubs: sand wedges, lob wedges, pitching wedges, 8 irons, 6 irons, and figure out which club consistently produces the best results (gets the ball in the hole in the fewest total strokes).

    Since I preach a lot that using a lower lofted club (my personal favorite is the eight iron) with a smaller swing will produce the best results more often over time, I decided to put my own theory to the test. I tried an eight iron versus a pitching wedge and hit 30 shots with each club from a 15 yard chipping spot, then putted every ball out and counted up the totals.

    The Results?

    Pitching wedge: 30 shots, 0 shots holed, 22 shots up and down in two shots, 8 shots down in 3 shots for a grand total of 68 strokes.

    8 iron: 30 shots, 5 shots holed!!! 26 shots down in two shots or less, 4 shots down in 3 shots for a grand total of 59 strokes.

    So, with a pretty healthy sample size of 30 shots, that is a 9 shot reduction just by using an 8 iron instead of a pitching wedge. You can only imagine how much worse the totals would be with a sand wedge or a lob wedge compared to the 8 iron.

    This method is not only a good drill to put pressure on you to get shots up and down, it can also be used for several chip and pitch shots around the green to help you determine which club you should use from various lies to score the best when you're on the course.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009

    Learn To Play Your Home Course Better

    If you have a "home course" that you play often, I'm sure you want to shoot lower scores on this course, right? So, how do you do it? Well, I have a method that I've used with my own game and with some of my playing partners that I have found to result in lower scores and that I think can help anyone trying to shoot lower scores on a course that they play often.

    My method uses the principle that to lower your golf scores, you must minimize the holes where you make big numbers (doubles, triples, etc.). To accomplish this, we have to know which holes that we make the worst scores on. And this requires that we have a way to measure which holes give us the most problems and contribute the most to our wasted strokes on the course.

    To accurately and objectively determine which holes hurt your score the most, save your 5 (or more) most recent scorecards. Once you have at least 5 (8-10 would be ideal) scorecards, figure out your average amount over par for all 18 holes. For example, if your five scores on hole one are 5, 5, 4, 6, 5, and hole one is a par four, then your average over par for this hole would be 1.0 (a spreadsheet works great for this but you can also just use a paper, pen and calculator to do this if you want). Next, rank from 1-18 your average amount over par in descending order (highest average over par first, lowest average last). This will tell you objectively which holes give you the most problem on your home course.

    When I used this method with my scores and with those of my regular playing partners, it was interesting to see that the toughest holes for each person were varied greatly from individual to individual and they were also very different from the toughest holes according to the handicaps of each hole according to the scorecard. Some people tend to struggle on par 3's, especially if they have trouble hitting their irons consistently, others struggle on holes with intimidating hazards or out of bounds.

    After you have determined which holes you have the most trouble with, start thinking about what causes your high scores on those holes. Do you hit the ball out of bounds or into a water hazard on this hole? Do you often hit a fairway or greenside bunker on this hole? Do you leave your approach shots where you can't get the ball down in two shots? Do you often hit in the trees on this hole? Do you 3-putt (or worse) on this hole often?

    Once you have determined what causes these big numbers on your worst holes, come up with a strategy that will help you avoid these big numbers in the future. You may have to use a 3 wood (or even an iron) off the tee to help you avoid missing the fairway or going out of bounds. If it is an approach shot to a green on a par 3, 4 or 5 that is causing you trouble, you may have to play away from a water hazard or bunker, even if it means playing away from the pin or even playing to miss the green in a spot that will give you an easy chip. If it is a green that you often 3-putt, you may have to focus more attention to leaving yourself an uphill putt that you are more likely to one or two-putt.

    When you are starting to use this method, start by working on your worst 2-3 holes until you improve your average on these holes. By using a smarter strategy on these holes, you may even be able to turn these holes into your best scoring holes! Once you have improved your score on these holes, move on to your next "big number" holes and work on your strategy on these holes.

    For some ideas on how to play smarter golf, there are many great books out there to read. Some of my favorites are "How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time" and "A Round of Golf", both by Tommy Armour, "Strategic Golf" by Tom Watson and "The Elements of Scoring" by Raymond Floyd.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    Don’t Practice When You Play

    Improving your golf swing is not something you should focus on when you are playing. I consistently see people that never take the time to practice but they consider playing a lot of rounds of golf their “practice” and they wonder why their scores never improve! While you can work on your course strategy, your confidence, focus on your shots and your overall demeanor when playing, you should not be working on your full swing, your chipping, or your putting stroke when you’re playing!

    If you truly want to improve your game, you will need to take the time to learn better fundamentals, whether you do that by going to a professional for lessons, reading about fundamentals or intently watching the pros live or on television and trying to learn from them. You will also need to dedicate some of your golf time on the range or on the practice green to drill these fundamentals in until they feel normal for you and until you can comfortably take them to the course and apply them under increased pressure.

    Part of the reason I am writing this is to try to wake people up and get them to devote some time into improving their game, and by doing it the right way, by learning the fundamentals. But a bigger reason I am writing this is to try to encourage people to have more fun when they are playing by setting more appropriate expectations and by just playing the best you can with the current ability you have and not beating yourself up for what you are not capable of doing.

    So, go out, have fun, try as hard as you can to hit each shot well, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t pull off every shot. Also, pay attention to the shots that are hurting your scores the most. Be honest in your assessment and dedicate some of your “golf time” to practicing these weaknesses away from the course. Don’t just aimlessly practice these weaknesses though; seek help from someone who is not only good at these shots but also someone that can explain to you how to hit these shots. Then, practice the new techniques you learn until they become habit and enjoy the results the next time you play.

    The golf course is where we play the game, not where we practice. So when you go out to the course, have fun but don’t expect to work on your driving, or any other part of your game for that matter. Dance with the swing you brought to the course that day and have fun by trying to work out the best score possible with that swing!

    Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Short Game Practice

    If you are fortunate enough to have a good short game facility near your home or work and are serious about improving your scores, use it! Lucky for me, I have a great facility within 3 minutes of my office with a driving range, practice green, pitch and putt course, and a par 30 course.
    About once a week, a few of us from the office will go to the practice facility over lunch and work on our games. In the past, we would usually just beat balls on the range, but after a little coaxing, I have convinced my co-workers to try out the pitch and putt course and we are now all hooked.
    The nice things about the course are that it is cheap (about $6), doesn’t take long (about 35 minutes for 9 holes with 3 guys) and it is a great way to learn the distances of your short clubs and to improve your short game scoring. The holes on the course we play range from 40 yards to 95 yards, and generally the greens are small so accuracy and distance control are at a premium.

    In the 3 weeks that we’ve been practicing on this course, everyone’s score for the nine holes has started to go down as we have all started to learn better the distances that each wedge shot goes. I really think that this will also translate into lower scores on the course as well; since the shots practiced on the short course (shots within 100 yards) are the shots that we hit more often in a given round than any other shots.

    What I’ve also noticed is how closely our scores on this short course follow our handicaps. For example, I play to a 2 handicap and I have been beating my 18 handicap coworker by about 5-6 shots on the short course (or 10-12 shots for 18 holes). The great thing about this is with a little practice, anyone should be able to score well on this short course since it has nothing to do with hitting 300 yard drives. If you can hit a shot 90 yards, you can score well by improving your consistency.

    So, if you are lucky enough to have a pitch and putt course nearby, use it and work on lowering your scores and your scores on the course will drop as well! If you don’t have a pitch and putt course, find a good practice green at a course or practice facility and set up different “holes” on your own and keep track of your scores and work on your short game weaknesses to turn them into strengths and your scores on the course will drop much faster than they would by just beating balls at the range.