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Bubba’s one-club round is GREAT for your golf game

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I thought I’d share a fun experience that took place last month at Pelican Hill Golf Club, one of the two golf courses where I teach. Bubba Watson showed up with a group of friends with three golf balls in his pocket and a 20-degree hybrid. That was it.

Are you wondering if Bubba’s other 13 clubs were hijacked on the way to the course? I know I did. But Bubba told one of our staff members that he sometimes gets bored using 14 clubs, and occasionally wants to challenge his shot making skills by playing a round with only one club.

In impressive fashion, Bubba shot 81 on the Tom Fazio-designed, par-72 championship golf course. That’s a wonderful illustration of what excelling at the game of golf is really about: having multiple skill sets that give any golfer the ability to control the golf ball with whatever club they have in their hands and whatever swing they bring to the course.

This is such an important concept for golfers of all abilities to embrace, because too many get stuck in the mold of waiting until their technique is perfect before they start to learn how to hit different shots. Here’s a simple analogy to destroy that logic: when you learned how to hold a pen, did you wait until your technique was perfect before you attempted to draw or write?

It is never too early or too late to learn how to control the golf ball, regardless of where you are in your journey of trying to achieve a “perfect swing.” There are so many golfers in the history of the game who didn’t have perfect swings, but they still managed to beat all the players who did. That should tell you that your quest for a perfect golf swing is likely shortsighted. The only way to get dramatically better at golf is to grow all aspects of your game. Don’t get stuck in the rut of perfection that we know is unattainable.

Here’s an exercise I want you to do during your next practice session on the range. Execute the following five shot patterns below using only your 8 iron, hybrid and driver. Do not hit the same club two times in a row, and do not hit the same shape of shot two times in a row. Also, do not hit to the same target two times in a row.

Even if you don’t know how to execute one of the shot patterns, try it anyways. It’s a learning experience, and the feedback you will gain will be worth your while. Grade yourself on each shot (a score of “1” is bad, a score of “10 is perfect) and take detailed notes during the drill about you ball contact, distance, direction, trajectory and the shape of shots that you were producing.

The shots

  • Stock/Normal
  • High Trajectory
  • Low Trajectory
  • Draw Spin
  • Fade Spin

The Notes

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 Bubba PDF

Putting it into practice

The shot patterns that earn you the highest scores should be the ones you hit on the golf course most frequently, especially when you are under pressure. They are the shots that your golf swing is built to hit. The shot patterns that result in lower scores are the ones you should hit the least on the golf course. You should spend the most time on the range working on them, and asking for help from your teaching professional is likely the fastest, easiest ways to make meaningful improvements.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay close attention to the notes you make, because they will immediately help you manage your current game. For example, if you hit your driver with a 20-yard slice regardless of what shot shape or trajectory you are trying to execute, you’d better make a game plan to help you manage that 20-yard slice. That will allow you to play your absolutely best with your misses, and if you’re patient enough, the notes will also help you understand the real weaknesses of your swing.

This drill is a great motivator to help you expand your skill sets so that you can hit all shapes of shots and control your golf ball to the best of your ability. It also makes your practice sessions a whole heck of a lot more fun, and better prepares you for an actual round of golf. In time, maybe you’ll get so good that you’ll want to try a one-club round like Bubba.

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Certified Teaching Professional at the Pelican Hill Golf Club, Newport Coast, CA. Ranked as one of the best teachers in California & Hawaii by Golf Digest Titleist Performance Institute Certified www.youtube.com/uranser

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Pingback: All You Need Is One Club | The Grateful Golfer

  2. Pingback: Bubba Watson shoots 81 with just one club | Golf.com Scorecard Test Import

  3. Pingback: Five Friday Favourites 06/12/2013 | Inquisitiva.

  4. hello

    Dec 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

    I don’t think anybody’s even mentioned that he never plays a 20 deg hybrid. Maybe part of the motivation was to get comfortable with one if he ever feels like putting it in play.

    I’m guessing he could hit it 250 no problem and land it soft on the green from 130 if he had room on the right.

    I would think he could usually do better with a 5 iron but I’ve never played the course.

  5. Pingback: Bubba Watson shoots an 81 with just one club - The Brable | The Brable

  6. Kelly

    Nov 20, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Nice, practical article Tim.

    A variation on the one club round: During some late evening rounds when there was barely light enough to finish 9 holes, a group of regulars would warm up on the first three holes, then use a 4 iron on hole 4, 5 iron on 5 all the way up to the 9 iron on 9. The course we played had a modest par 5 9th and it was surprising how many of us could par it. The par 3 4th was much more challenging.

  7. WarrenPeace

    Nov 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    The best club to play this game with is a 5 iron- hood it and it’s a 3 wood, lay it out flat and you can easily get out of bunkers or hit flops. It putts and chips well too. We used to play this game a lot for money so I’ve tried it with many clubs- the 5 iron is the money club in that game. A 20 Hybrid? – now that is a challenge- I mean how often do you hit a hybrid- at least practice with a club that you might use in a round more than 1-2 times.

  8. Jeff Smith

    Nov 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Why does anyone care if that guy played with one club. That guy is so out of touch with reality not to mention the guy needs a personality of his own not one that is media infused. Playing golf with one club is not golf just like long drive side shows.

    • Blah, blah, blah

      Dec 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      So you actually know him? And you know everything about him and his personality, so much so, that you know he´s out of touch with reality? Great stuff! Why is playing golf with on club not golf?

  9. Socalpro517

    Nov 20, 2013 at 12:49 am

    I’d rather play the round with a 2 iron than a 20 degree hybrid… He must have been making darn sure he didn’t wind up in front of or in a greenside bunker. At least with an iron you can attempt some sort of manipulated higher lofted shot. REALLY difficult with a hybrid. My golf coach would sometimes end a clinic session by having people hit flop 2 irons off the mats at the range, hard to do but really cool when it’s executed.

  10. Chris

    Nov 17, 2013 at 2:15 am

    We played this once often at my club. One afternoon after finishing a horrible morning round (41 on front) I played the same front 9 with a 6 iron and shot 38. Game teaches shot making, strategy and concentration. It is also a lot of fun….

  11. Ronald Montesano

    Nov 16, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    #ThadDaber

  12. christian

    Nov 16, 2013 at 2:17 am

    I somehow thought he would score better than 81..

    • Michael Shelton

      Nov 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      I was a foreman in the earthmoving on Pelican Hill, subsequently being able to play there many times. I can tell you it is amazing he shot 81 with a hybrid. Some of the up and downs could not have been easy.

  13. Ponjo

    Nov 15, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Be interesting how I would get out of our pot bunkers with my hybrid 🙂

  14. John

    Nov 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    the golf swing and holding a pen. two totally different tasks that should never be compared. They could not be farther apart on the level of difficulty. One is slightly simpler for ALL skill levels.

    • John

      Nov 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      despite the terrible comparison. I do agree creativity and shot making is important. I don’t necessarily agree that golfers with LOFT issues should be trying to be bubba watson creative right away. The reason high handicapers shoot high scores is because they can work the ball left to right, right to left, high, low. They just can’t do it on command or with quality ball striking. Working on a stock shot to lower your score in my opinion would be wiser. If your already a 10 or lower handicap then by all means go Bubba Watson out there on the course or range

  15. RocketShankz

    Nov 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Awesome stuff. We used to have a practice once a week at Vandy where we’d carry 3 clubs. 1 for the front, 1 for the back, and a putter. Only downside was realizing how much $$$ we waste on 14 club bags. Cheers.

  16. Adam

    Nov 15, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Great stuff Tim.

  17. Martin

    Nov 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

    That’s how Seve became Seve, learned to play the game with an old 3 Iron.

    It’s fun, a 20 Hybrid would be a tough way to go for me, more likely I would choose a 6-7 Iron.

  18. naflack

    Nov 15, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Some of us will do this occasionally on the back 9. 1 club, loser buys burgers afterwards. Always fun and always fast play…

  19. Jesse

    Nov 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    I’ve done this with 3 clubs its pretty fun. My College golf coach did a variation on the range where in our backswing he would tell us what to hit. Lowdraw, highdraw.lowfade, highfade. It really teaches u to slow down your backswing as well as how the hands can manapulate the club.

    • Stopsucking

      Nov 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm

      We did this in College as well. Very interesting to see how well you can actually pull off the shots if you keep it nice and slow.

  20. Dave

    Nov 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Not a new concept. We’ve always had a tin cup round at our annual guys golf weekend.

  21. David N. Simms

    Nov 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I can’t hit a hybrid to save my life. I’d probably do this with a 7 or 8-iron.

  22. mick

    Nov 14, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Better not short side yourself with the hybrid

  23. LorenRobertsFan

    Nov 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    It helps if you hit your 7 iron farther than 150.. I wouldn’t reach the fairway at my golf course :/

  24. Pooch

    Nov 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I try to tell people I fit that getting at least one or two hybrids will make the game easier. “You can use these clubs for everything from teeing off to putting” Sometimes you can’t help a drowning man.
    Thanks for the great article.

  25. Chris

    Nov 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Great stuff. I first played a round with 1 club (5-iron) 30 years ago when I was 13 years old and tend to do it every couple of years it seems.

    A few years ago at a stag (bachelor) golf outing it paid off when someone suggested a $20 per man 1-club sudden death challenge…4 holes and 4 pars later I was $240 richer!

    If you haven’t tried it you should.

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Instruction

Functional Golf vs. Optimal Golf

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Optimize this, optimize that. We hear so much about “optimal” golf these days. It’s great that we now have the technology to seemingly optimize every aspect of the golfer, the golf swing, and the golf club, but we have to be realistic in terms of our goals. Ask yourself this question: If I can’t do this optimally, is there a way I can still do it better?

And… how do we define better? That’s easy. More solid impact.

Yes, optimal golf is what we’d all like and perhaps that is the concern of highly skilled players. But for the vast majority of golfers, functional golf might be more realistic. John Jacobs, the best teacher ever, called his approach “practical.” I’m using the term functional in a similar, albeit more specific way. And many of my regular readers know by now that I credit Jacobs for whatever success I’ve had as an instructor.

During a recent lesson, I pointed out a particular swing flaw to a student while we were reviewing his swing on video. He stopped me and said: “See that, what you’re showing me right there? I have done that my whole life. I’ve taken a number of lessons and they all mentioned that very move, and I CANNOT change it. Why is that?”

I thought, man, if I had a few bucks for every time I’ve heard that I’d be, uh,  pretty comfortable.

There are certain habits some golfers simply cannot break no matter how hard they try. For one reason or another, they’re physically incapable of changing. I have observed this for more than 30 years over thousands and thousands of lessons. Does this mean you can’t change the problems these moves may cause? No, absolutely not. There’s a long list of major champions with so called  “flaws” in their swings, from Nicklaus’ flying elbow to Furyk and his quirky move. But what these greats did is find a move that they CAN make, one that’s compatible with their core move.

If you have a move that, for whatever reason, is embedded in the fabric of your golfing DNA, it is probably best you do not beat your head against a wall trying to  change that move, however flawed it may seem. Rather, let’s see if we can find something that blends with that move that you CAN execute.

The golfer I was teaching suffered from fat shots and blocks due to an early release. He simply never learned “lag” or a later hit. So the bottom of the swing arc ended up behind the golf ball more often than not. This golfer has done this for some 20 years, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel I took a different approach. I asked him to address the golf ball with more weight on his left side. Things got a little better. More weight on the left side, even better, and so on. In other words, we started his motion from a different place, one that was more functional for him.

To help this golfer create a more functional golf swing, I had to move his center of mass forward. It wasn’t optimal perhaps, but his real problem (fat shots) had to be addressed within his current skill set. “If I could just stop drop kicking every shot, I’d be happy,” he said. In other words, we worked out a compromise, a way he could hit the ball more cleanly and enjoy golf more.

As an instructor, that’s pretty much what I do every day. I’m always looking for a compatible motion that balances golf swing equations. “If that is a band aid, you better buy a whole box,” Jacobs would say.

I teach in a community of largely senior golfers. Senior but serious, I call them. They are looking for a way to put the club on the ball more often, which means a better impact position. There is no “in the long run” for seniors. I don’t say, “Let’s make a plan for later” because some are fearful of buying green bananas, let alone working hard on a long-term plan. There is also no “new” when your old move has been around most of your golfing life. Senior golfers, myself included, are on the back nine, much closer to the 18th green than the 1st tee. And most golfers are not going back and starting their round over… believe me. But this doesn’t mean they can’t play better. And they do. Every day.

This lesson likely applies to you even if you are younger and more physically capable. Some things just don’t change, and perhaps the learning psychologists or biomechanists can better tell you why. That’s why I encourage all serious golfers to work with an instructor to identify what moves in their swing simply will not change. Then they should learn to work around them, not try to fix them. That’s the way to better golf.

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A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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