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Seven tips to help shave 10 shots off your game

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For golfers, the change from being a 95-shooter to scoring in the low- to mid-80s is huge. It changes the way they feel about the game and opens their eyes to their true potential.

I remember when I made that jump and how it fed into my lifelong love for the game. I’ve heard more than one new student say that they aren’t scoring well and are not enjoying the game enough to continue playing, and the recipe below has helped them lower their handicaps by as many as 10 shots in a season and enjoy the game again. You’ll notice that none these steps has anything to do with crafting the perfect swing. A few of them won’t take much time at all. And these steps are not just for 18 handicaps; they will help players of every level.

No. 1: Assess Your Skills

Your coach should be able to assess your putting, short game and ball striking, and determine where you stand relative to your goals. If you’re a 12 handicap, want to get to an 8 and your short game handicap is 15, that’s probably the area you need to focus on most. ShotByShot.com, one of golf’s leading analytics company, allows a coach to handicap every skill area. Together, the coach and student can prioritize their work on the areas that will lower scores and boost their confidence the fastest. Doppler radar launch monitors like my Flightscope X2 and Trackman are also incredible teaching tools. They help show players exactly how far they hit their clubs, how accurately they hit them and even how weather changes affect ball flight.

No. 2: Assess and change your clubs

Most new students have at least two clubs in their bag that actually hurt them. They often have too little loft, or shafts that are too long and too stiff or have the wrong playing characteristics. Shafts, grips and club heads all need to suit your swing and your skill level, and they need to be fitted to your specs. Every club in your bag should suit the conditions you play most and your clubs need to be properly gapped so you can hit more greens. The only way to know how to gap your clubs accurately is to use a launch monitor.

No. 3: Work on keeping your tee shots in play

Contrary to popular myth, distance is not as important to an average player’s improvement as it is to PGA Tour players. Peter Sanders from ShotByShot.com has an extensive amount of data on how regular golfers play the game. Statistics that he has collected for 20-plus years indicate that a shot in the fairway can be worth as much as 50 yards versus a shot in the primary rough for the average player. That means that most golfers cannot control a 9 iron out of the rough (or from behind a tree) as well as we can control a 6 or 7 iron from the fairway. If you play the proper tees, keep the ball in front of you and hit it at least 220 yards, you will score much better.

How do you do that? First, get a properly fitted driver with a loft and shaft that will help you get the most out of your swing. Second, understand that hitting your driver is only necessary a handful of times a round if you play from the correct tees. Lastly, find a coach who can help you develop a balanced, repeatable swing that will allow you to generate speed and make solid contact with a square club face. The “5 Simple Keys” system allows players to clarify their thought process and focus on making a better, more athletic motion.

No. 4: Work the Wedges

The PGA Tour average for greens hit in regulation is just more than 12, but regular golfers hit fewer than five a round. The best players in the world keep their momentum by getting the ball up and down, which they have to do five or six times a round. Unless you are an extraordinarily gifted amateur, you have to do it more often than the pros, and whether you’re successful will determine the direction of your round.

The best way to do this is mix technical training with “transfer” training. The first step is learning good pitching technique. Keep your weight on your lead foot during the entire stroke. Play the ball no farther back than the middle of your stance and farther forward if you want to hit a higher shot. Aim the face of the club at your target and open your stance more or less depending on how high you want to hit the shot. Then just fold your trail elbow in the backswing, turn your chest through impact and feel like you’re dropping the club head on the back of the ball. Finish on your lead leg facing the target and let your arms softly fold in the follow through. This technique leads to great distance and trajectory control, the two key elements to pitching the ball around greens. Practice it around a putting or chipping green, but don’t be afraid to drop balls in different spots during casual rounds. Remember that shotmaking is basically improvisation, which you must develop through on-course transfer training.

No. 5: Focus on putting and get fitted for a putter

If they actually practice putting, many golfers grab a sleeve of balls, go to the putting green and hit putts of random length and break until they feel they have finished their lap. Whether this occurs in the minutes before teeing off or for the 15-to- 20 minutes after a long-range session, neither provides effective practice. You need to have a strategy for getting better, and that means going to a teacher who can give you the tools you need because he or she is trained to teach putting and to fit you for a putter. According to industry data, fewer than 10 percent of golf lessons are on putting, so choose wisely.

The U.S. Open at Pinehurst is coming up, and many of us remember the role the SeeMore putter played the last time the Open was held there in 1999. Fifteen years later, the SeeMore Putter Institute has more than 300 certified instructors all around the globe who can custom fit you to a putter and teach you the system that helped numerous major champions.

No. 6: Go through a ball fitting

The ball you play and its compression matters a lot. The only way to know definitively is to go through a ball fitting with a qualified professional. There’s a debate now on where a proper ball fitting should start. Should golfers place more importance on the performance of their ball around the green or off the tee? Bridgestone has it right. First, the science shows that compression matters. Here’s an example why: Bridgestone makes the low-compression U.S. Kids Golf Yellow ball and a junior golfer can gain as many as 15 yards by simply switching from a high-compression adult ball. That could be a three-club difference when it comes to a junior’s approach shots, which is the difference between loving golf and being discouraged by its difficulty.

Bridgestone offers different compression balls with different spin options to satisfy your feel needs around the green. Start with your swing speed and then make your choice about how you want your ball to spin and feel on short shots.

No. 7: Focus on scoring, strategy and your target

Hogan said that “placing the ball in the proper position for your next shot is 80 percent of winning golf.” Most players get enjoyment from hitting the ball pretty well and scoring well. If you don’t think about golf strategically, there’s no way you’ll get to the second part and your frustration will probably prevent reaching the first part sooner rather than later.

Everyone, even golf pros, have limited time to practice and play. Keeping expectations reasonable and focusing as much as possible on the tangible, real things that will allow you to play the shot at hand as well as you can is the best use of that time. For “real-life” golfers, the game is simply not about hitting the most glorious drive you’ve ever seen then trying to get it close with a wedge. It’s about creating a more complete toolbox of skills and scoring with strategic choices and well-executed shots.

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Paul Kaster was selected by U.S. Kids Golf as one of the top 50 Kids Teachers in the world in 2017 and was named by Golf Digest as one of the top teachers in New Jersey for 2017-2018. He learned the game on Chicago’s only 18-hole public golf course, Jackson Park G.C., and went on to play Division I college golf, and on mini tours including the Tar Heel Tour (now EGolf Tour), and the Golden Bear Tour (now Gateway Tour). After suffering a wrist injury, he left the golf business to pursue a career in the law but after passing two bars and practicing for several years decided to return to golf to share his passion for the game and for learning with his students. He is a a level II AimPoint certified putting coach, a member of Foresight Sports’ Advisory Board, Cobra-Puma Golf’s professional staff, Proponent Group, and is a National Staff member with the SeeMore Putter Company. Paul coaches his clients out of a state of the art private studio located in Little Silver, NJ, featuring a Foresight GC Quad simulator and putting software, K-Coach 3D system, and Boditrak pressure mat. His studio is also a SeeMore Tour Fitting location and features a fully adjustable putting table that Paul uses to teach putting and fit putters. Website: www.paulkastergolf.com

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Pingback: Golf Ball Compression,.. a Closer Look | Hix Magazine - Everything for Men

  2. Pingback: 5 Tips to Improve Your Golf Game | Sturbridge Homes

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  4. B

    Jun 3, 2014 at 3:09 am

    Just the article I needed to read this morning! Range or multiple rounds daily? I hit the driving range with approximately 50 balls then play 18. What I do on the range does not transfer. Any advice?

    • Paul Kaster

      Jun 5, 2014 at 7:53 am

      We need to learn technique and play golf to get the most out of our game, but I would err in the side of playing more golf and spending a smaller percentage of time on the range. We don’t play golf on a perfectly flat lie with multiple tries a the same shot. My best advice is find a qualified coach who can assess your skills and target instruction to the areas that need the most help.

  5. Adam

    May 30, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I Think the article is right on point on everything except the title and the numbering (if the list is hierarchical). If we’re talking about 10 strokes saved, based on 7 things, we’re talking about 20+ handicappers or we’re talking about a lot of time. The 20+ handicapper needs something to get them back on the range, which is number 3 the long straight drive (with a driver- no new golfer brags about a 200 yd straight 3 wood). If we’re talking about going from a 15-5 we’re essentially in the world of cliché- “do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” “practice, practice, practice.” Hierarchical list: 3,5,1,6,2,4,7.

    • Paul Kaster

      Jun 1, 2014 at 9:27 am

      Thanks Adam. The list isn’t hierarchical – all of these are going to depend on what a individual player’s strengths already are. Obviously keeping tee shots in the fairway is very important, but it may not be as important for you as it is for another player. That’s where the assessments come in. If your swing speed is 85 mph and you’re very straight, playing a lower compression ball could help you gain 2 clubs on shots from the fairway which is a big deal for scoring…

  6. Wayne L

    May 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Paul, I think your article is spot on. Focusing on #3 has taken me into the low 80’s with a legitimate chance of getting into the 70’s. Short game work, especially greenside bunker play has made the game “fun” again. For most of us weekend warriors, solid wedge play helps on days when ball striking isn’t quite there.

    • Paul Kaster

      Jun 1, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Thanks Wayne! Glad you’re improving and enjoying your golf. Getting better at short game and putting can really change our golf outlook. If we can get the ball up and down and make putts, we start to believe we can play the golf of our dreams.

  7. Martin

    May 29, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    It’s a good article, I did most of those things(not a putter fitting) and it took me from a 23 to a 15.

    When I went from to an 8-10 player though, distance did matter. The past couple of years due to a chronic knee problem I have lost about 10 MPH off the driver and instead of hitting 6 iron in I often am hitting 3 hybrid. Puts a lot of pressure on the short game.

    This year, I switched drivers, went to a R shaft, I moved up tees last year to the whites, not sure I will be able to maintain a single digits handicap only hitting the ball 200-210 off the tee though.

  8. Daniel Kidd

    May 29, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Nice article Paul and thanks for writing. I agree that trying to perfect the full swing is not the most effective way to trim 10 shots off someone’s score. It’s so sad to watch guys hit balls for an hour, with mostly their driver, and then go hit 5 chip shots and a couple of putts and think they put in a good practice session. Focusing the vast majority of practice time on short game and putting will knock strokes off the quickest, like you said in tip #4 and #5. I love the idea of #7, players are usually too mechanical on the course and almost always will benefit from focusing on target and thinking about strategy.
    I can’t agree with you on #6 though….I really can’t see how much difference it will make for a 20 hcp to get properly fit for a ball. As long as someone isn’t playing a ball that’s bounced off the cart path a few times, it’s not going to make much difference whether they use a ProV1 or B330 or Pinnacle Gold. Obviously feel and spin around the greens will be affected, but the golfer can adjust to that, especially if he plays the same type of ball all the time. Have you actually seen players knock shots off their score by getting ballfit?

    • Paul Kaster

      May 29, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks Daniel, it’s my pleasure. My point about ball fitting is that typical golfers don’t have high swing speed, which means they will benefit from a lower compression golf ball with the correct spin characteristics for their swing. If, for example, you have an 8 iron in your hand from a fairway lie instead of a 6 or 7 because your drive went 10 or 15 yards further, that changes the way you think about scoring.

  9. Ryan

    May 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    I really liked the article, I can see a lot of my game here and where to improve.

    I just hate how the solution is always just to get fit. It’s expensive, and I am still skeptical on how effective this is.

    • Mark M

      May 29, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      I share the same sentiment about fitting. I’m sure it will help, but I’m not confident I could find a reputable fitter in my area. My hesitation is that the “fitter” won’t know more than I do and will simply be trying to sell me whatever he is pushing at the time.

      • Paul Kaster

        May 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

        Getting fitted for clubs doesn’t always mean buying a completely new set. I assess my students’ clubs and take them through a fitting to determine if there is something out there that can help them. They pay for my time but often times we only change a couple of clubs. Gapping irons and wedges is enormously important and usually doesn’t require a lot of investment.

        This is a great place to start when you’re trying to find good fitter: http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-equipment/2013-05/100-best-clubfitters

  10. Mark M

    May 29, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Great article. I especially agree with the advice on improving the short game and putting. That is where I know I need a lot of work personally, and from what I see with others that is where they fall short as well.

    I also agree with the points about distance being overrated. Keeping it in the fairway will shave more strokes than 20 more yards every time, in my opinion. I think we have a tendency to fear hitting long irons and fairway woods or hybrids (whatever works best for you) as the second shot but if you practice practice practice it’s not that big a deal. I think people tend to favor the short irons on the range as a confidence builder: I know I do

  11. ParHunter

    May 29, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Quote: “Contrary to popular myth, distance is not as important to an average player’s improvement as it is to PGA Tour players.”
    Interesting, Mark Broadie, the Inventor of the Strokes gained stats comes to the opposite result in his book ‘Every Shot Counts’. An extra 20 yards of the tee gives and PGA professional only 0.8 Strokes/round while for an 100 golfer it would be 2.3 Strokes gained. PGA (0.8), 80-golfer (1.3), 90-golfer (1.6), 100-golfer (2.3) 115-golfer (2.7).

    • Paul Kaster

      May 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks ParHunter, I’m aware of Mr. Broadie’s work and think it’s very valuable for understanding how TOUR Players play the game. I guess my point is that recreational golfers are different. The work it will take a typical 100-shooter to gain 20 yards is not worth the 2.3 strokes…There are other more efficient ways to skin the cat. If someone is shooting 100, it’s usually because they need help in a lot of different areas. These are the things I do with those kinds of players to get them better, faster so we don’t lose them to other forms of recreation.

      • ParHunter

        May 29, 2014 at 5:48 pm

        I agree, chipping and putting is the easiest way to cut strokes (when you are rubbish at it) but it won’t save you 10 shots

        • IH8

          May 30, 2014 at 9:59 am

          Totally agree here. I get that short game practice helps (especially, as ParHunter says, when you suck at it), but I think ball striking is undervalued. I play with guys who struggle to break 100 and they’ll say their scores would drop with short game practice. Sure, they have lousy short games, so it would definitely help, but getting rid of those o/b slices and water balls would help even more. A duffed chip costs you a stroke, a fat 7 iron into the creek costs you 2. Pretty simple math there.

  12. IH8

    May 29, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I’m actually a high 80’s-ish shooter and am currently working on many of the things referred to in this article. It’s all well and good, but I don’t think it matches up with your original premise, i.e. people quitting. If people are quitting because golf is too hard (which is a fair opinion to have), I don’t think coming back at them with ‘Well just drop a couple grand on equipment and lesson and you’ll improve by summers end’ is going to convince them to stay. Your points are totally valid and I’m sure many people on this site are totally down with what you’re writing (myself included), but lets keep in mind that we are a choir here and you are indeed preaching to us. These types of tips would only work for someone who’s pretty thoroughly invested in the game.

    • Paul Kaster

      May 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for the comment and glad you are working on many of these aspects of your game. This isn’t how I sell my programs (new students come to me mostly by referral), it’s what I actually do with my students. To get better at golf, you have to be invested. One of the problems with the culture of the game is the idea that there is a quick fix or route to becoming a much better player.

  13. G

    May 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Stupid article. The most reasonable reason 95ish golfers can’t shoot in the 80s is because they are inconsistent. At driving, at irons, at chipping, at putting. One inconsistency per round can cost you an 80ish…

    • Paul Kaster

      May 28, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks for your constructive criticism…Numbers 3,4 and 5 addressed the things you mentioned.

      • Jeff

        May 29, 2014 at 3:34 am

        Really good article. I’ve basically done what you’ve outlined and with the help of other wrx writers/ statisticians articles from guys like Rich Hunt, I’ve tried to find a Money Ball approach to improvement.

    • SBoss

      May 29, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      Actually, it’s not a stupid article at all. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself of some of the finer points of the game that can make a difference. Just working on chipping properly is one great way to lower scores. First, if you have the right chipping motion it’ll make you a better ball striker and second it’ll shave some strokes around the greens every round.

      I always marvel at short sighted people who throw out comments like “stupid article”…like they’ve got it all figured out. Actually, nobody forces anyone to implement any advice. And it’s typically somebody that can’t play the game at a decent level making the comments.

  14. Cris

    May 28, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I’d take hitting a 9 iron from the light rough over a 5 iron from the fairway any day all day. That would be the 50 yards gap between my clubs.

    • Paul Kaster

      May 28, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      You don’t always get a decent lie in the light rough when you miss a fairway though Chris…

  15. paul

    May 28, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    I found that not hitting driver off the tee, and learning to hit straight irons shot was the key to success. And a laser to know distance.

  16. Daniel V

    May 28, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    People often worry about having a picture perfect swing, buy cleaning up your short game, can really shave off some strokes.

  17. Paul Christianson

    May 28, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Check out http://www.scorerings.com if you are looking for a quick and easy solution for making target circles on the golf green.

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WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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