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Yes, watching golf on TV can make you a better golfer

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As passionate golfers, we want to watch the best professional golfers play in the biggest tournaments on TV. But don’t you get the feeling sometimes that you’ve wasted the entire weekend on the couch watching golf instead of improving your own game?

Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, you can actually get better at playing golf by simply watching golf on TV. Here are a few things to look for the next time you turn on the tournament coverage during the weekend:

  • Professional golfers’ pre-shot routines do not change unless they are way out of their comfort zone.
  • Even the leaders hit funky shots and make “simple” mistakes on the back nine.
  • Professionals tend to “miss” the ball in the correct place.
  • Dial-a-Shot (I’ll explain this one later).
  • If you want to be a better player, then you only have to master THREE clubs.

The importance of a pre-shot routine

Now I know each one of you are saying, “I already have a pre-shot routine.” And you’re getting ready to skip this section, but hold on!

Yes, most of you have a few actions that you tend to repeat before you hit the ball, but let’s dig a little deeper into your pre-shot routine. Let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you have a pre-shot routine for decision making behind the ball, or do you just randomly examine each shot?
  • Do you have a set way you determine your target and how you approach alignment, or do you just walk up to the ball and begin your physical routine?
  • Do you have a set physical routine before you hit the ball, or do you just take a few random swings and go from there?

As you can see, there are multiple routines within your overall routine, and it’s up to you to understand the differences. But I promise one thing, if you watch the professionals on Tour you will see the same exact actions from a particular player over and over, time after time. The only time this will vary is if they are in big trouble and are trying to find the “feel” of the grass or slope, or if they’re figuring out a confusing wind pattern. But 98 percent of the time they approach each shot the same exact way. Do you?

Funky shots don’t necessarily mean disaster

How many times have you watched your buddy play a great front nine, then on No. 11 or 12 hit it down the middle, miss the green with a wedge and make bogey. Then you watch him beat himself up for such a “stupid mistake” and never recover for the rest of the day?

Pay attention to the leaders during a given Saturday or Sunday. At least one time on the back nine they will miss a simple drive, approach shot, etc., but do they let it bother them? Nope. If you remember Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters victory (the last major he ever won), he bogeyed No. 12 from just off the green and then played Nos. 13-18 in 5-under par. Later he said the silly bogey made him focus more. Do you react this way? Did your buddy?

Watch the professionals, as they ALL hit funky shots at inopportune moments, but most of the time they keep their cool enough to recover or at least not let it bother them for the rest of the day. Golf is all about mental and emotional management. So you have a resolve like most of the professionals on Tour?

Where to miss it

Let’s take a very simple green design and see how the professionals would play the hole. Here is the green on hole No. 9 on the Norman Course at Vidanta.

StickneyGolfonTV

The green is firm, and it’s long and skinny with bunkers short and one long. If a professional had a similar shot with a 6 or 7 iron, where would he tend to try and leave this shot? Where would you?

I can assure you that with a firm green, you would see most professionals who prefer a fade start the ball a touch right of the left bunker and move it back toward the center of the green, thus taking the short and long bunkers out of play. If they prefer a draw, then you’d see a short right miss, if anything, taking the front bunker out of play as well.

How many of you would start the ball just right or left of the pin and work it toward the flag from 150 or so? Most of you, I’d bet. And you’d likely hit it short in the bunker, possibly plugged, or one-hop it in the back bunker; both of are very difficult up and downs. Professionals try to always miss the ball in the “easiest” places so they don’t tax their short games. It’s far easier to get the ball up and down with some green to work with than without.

While watching an event on TV, quiz yourself as to where you would aim on each shot, and where you’d want your ideal miss to end up. Then, note where that particular player ended up missing his shot. The more you play this game with yourself, the better you’ll get at managing the course in your rounds of golf.

Dial-a-shot

This is where you can learn more about how to score from watching TV than you can with your shag bag at the practice area.

The fact is, if you don’t have the shot for a certain situation, or you choose to play the incorrect shot, you have made the shot 10 times harder than it needs to be!

Watch the professionals as they assess how to play a certain short-game shot, and take note of the one they elect to play. The pros you see on TV have several ways to play each shot they encounter, then select from a number of different trajectories, spins, etc. Do you?

You need to develop more weapons in your arsenal around the greens so you’re never stuck hitting a shot that’s not comfortable to you. Take notes of what shots the pros hit around the greens, and try imitating them during your next practice session. Try a new short game shot after each tournament you watch, and your short game prowess will expand like you won’t believe.

Become a three-club master

There once existed a great golf school years ago called “Three Club Golf Schools,” which helped people learn how to hit their driver, wedge and putter. And the professionals you see on TV have also mastered each of these clubs.

When you’re watching an event on TV, pay close attention to how each player swings:

  • The driver. Aggressively, yet in control. They don’t guide the ball down the fairway, but rather hit the ball freely even when the fairway is tight or there’s trouble.
  • Their wedges. Without apprehension. You don’t see a player nervously decelerate, even while hitting difficult shots off of skinny lies.
  • The putter. With confidence and precision. Aside from a few rare cases of the yips, take note of a each player’s putting stroke, mainly his tempo. Practice in the mirror applying the same tempo to your putting stroke.

Remember, you want to be a master at all three, so if you notice a weakness relative to your handicap, you’ve figured out where to spend your time during your next practice session. Don’t forget, you can learn a lot by just watching, and then applying the same approach and confidence of the touring pros into your driving, wedge and putting games.

I hope by now you see that paying attention to HOW professionals play golf and score will give you valuable insight as to how you can lower your handicap. So grab your favorite bag of chips (or broccoli and dip for the fitness-conscious among us), prop your feet up and prepare to watch some golf.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Pingback: What you can learn by watching the Masters | Western Carolina Golf

  2. Philip

    Mar 5, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Great article! My game started to quickly improve once PGA Tour Live started. Being able to watch an entire round of a player, warts and all, helped me understand that my routine was weak, as well as my course strategy, among other things. The best educational rounds are when they are showing players that are not so hot that week or lower in the standings.

    I used to aim for the flag all the time, until I realized that the majority of the time they aim to spots – on the fairway, as well as, around and on the green. Playing some rounds with just an 8i showed me how much course strategy is very much like a chess game – were you should be always setting up your next shot. I also saw how many just hit little pitch and punch shots to the green all day long – especially when the stance is awkward (unlike those at the top of the standings who are on fire). The less the swing the better ones chances of executing the shot. I realized that they sink so many long putts, not just because they practice, but because they know the spots on the greens that funnel the ball to the hole – as such, I started doing that last season and I started sinking long putts again. I learned that a longer putt from certain spots on a green is better than shorter putts from most of the green. Most important – a confident, accelerating swing/stroke will always win out on a timid swing/stroke. Thus one must know their yardages and only execute the shots they believe in at any moment. If you do not believe in your ability to execute the shot required, then execute the shot you have the most confidence in moving the ball closer to the hole – the principle also applies on the green.

  3. Dr Troy

    Mar 5, 2016 at 10:52 am

    The only thing I will say that you should not learn from watching guys on TV, is pace of play. These guys are fighting for wins, big time money, tour cards, etc etc etc….A LOT of the take their time, back off shots, wait for the green to clear 250+ yards away, etc…I GET IT. They can do that if they need to….Amateurs need not mimic all this, because its completely slowing down play. I see this type of imitation all the time and drives me nuts….Learn from the guys on TV, but please don’t think you have to plumb bob every putt or wait for the green to clear on a par 5, because “I just might get a hold of one”…You probably aren’t, so don’t the rest of us up….Rant over 😉

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 6, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      0-5 handicap = 1 minute over shot
      6-12 handicap = 30 seconds over shot
      13 – 36 handicap = Just hit it!

  4. Mbwa Kali Sana

    Mar 5, 2016 at 5:35 am

    I fully agree with 4 Pillars :you don’t play the same golf as the Pro’s :first and foremost you don’t hit the ball the same distances .even the short game distances are different .You don’t “work ” the ball as they do and better not try ,you’ll foul your game .Hit it straight ,that’s far enough good for you.
    I ‘m still 7 handicap at age 81 though I lose distance every year that goes by ,but I play my own game ,not the Pro’s game .As said a famous ancient champion :”Always play the easiest club you can play in a given situation .Always play to where you want to play ypur next shot from ”
    Each 10 yards more of distance with your driver equals one point off your handicap :you can’t beat that even with a fabulous short game

  5. Jim

    Mar 4, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I almost never watch the tournament but instead watch what players are doing in their swings. Depending on what I’m working on with my own swing I try to study good players swings. And getting to study Scott, Rose, and Ooosheizen is the best. I think it really helps and you can take what you see to the range too.

  6. Miguel T.

    Mar 4, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I agree. I actually don’t even pay attention to the tournament in general. I watch what the players are doing. Routine, stance, tempo, etc. Most people just watch for fun and pay attention only when shot is hit. Additionally, I play golf online (WGT), and believe it or not, it has helped me tremendously with course management and mental game.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 6, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Agreed with the WGT. It has helped my game.

  7. Butch

    Mar 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I nearly always play a better than average round after watching the LPGA tournaments – always gives me better tempo!

  8. Gorden

    Mar 4, 2016 at 3:43 am

    Why we are not like the pros (I know there are a few out there becoming pros someday and some super quality armatures) Have you ever hit a huge drive right down the middle on the first hole, or dropped one in the hole out of the bunker or hit a 5 iron to within a foot? And do you remember by the next hole how you hit one of those wonderful shots…Well besides having super hand eye coordination touring pros have super ability to remember how and what they do and did… You can hit 300 balls out of the practice sand the day before you play and the first bunker you get in your first question is “How did I do that again” How many years have you played and you still do not understand how the lie of the ball can effect your shot…We have to live with our short comings and like any sport golf leaves us with plenty/

  9. Dave

    Mar 3, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    4pillars:
    Yeah, you can learn nothing about golf watching the best players in the world on television (or in person). Just like you can’t learn anything about writing by reading Shakespeare or insert-another-author. Or a musical instrument by listening to…whatever. You can’t tell what they were thinking, either.

  10. Other Paul

    Mar 3, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I read about a study done with kids. Teachers took a bunch of kids and had them watcb great golf swing for some time before a lesson. The kids that watched did better than the kids that didnt watch the swing video.

  11. Ryan k

    Mar 3, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Always like your articles. I’m confused on one part of this one, probably in an area I need to work in myself. Number 2 where to miss; could you further explain the thinking behind the draw player? I completely understand the fade player, I think, but can’t understand why the good miss is short right for a draw.

    • Duncan Castles

      Mar 4, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Ryan. Short left is probably in a front bunker. Long left probably in the back bunker. So the percentage shot is to aim right of the flag, with a club that can’t reach the back bunker. If he strikes the ball well it draws from the right onto the green. If he doesn’t catch it properly it stops short of the green and right of the flag, avoiding the front bunker and leaving a relatively easy wedge shot with plenty of green to work with.

  12. blaise

    Mar 3, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    negate 4pillars comment and really take these notes to heart. one of the easiest ways to get better is by playing (watching) people who are better than you. ask questions and learn either on or off the course. And actually you have a pretty good idea what they are thinking because there are only a few things for them to think about. 1) Yardages (pin, front, middle, back, slopes, bunkers, water) 2) factors (wind, elevation) 3) ideal bail out placement. (away from water hazards).
    and listen to the commentators as well, especially Johnny Miller if you are trying to improve your game. he says a lot of things that are going through the Pros mind, some are very obvious (last week when talking about adam scott hitting two balls in the water “if you hit the first one in you definitely don’t want to hit the second one in”) and some are very insightful.
    4pillars, its pretty obvious you have absolutely no idea what youre talking about. if you read up on Tom’s bio you can see he is a very respected teacher of the game.

    • 4pillars

      Mar 3, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      Never said he wasn’t a respected teacher.

      I just said. you can’t learn from watching TV.

      And if there are only a few things to think about you don’t need to spend hours watching TV.

      Which brings me back to my main point. Tom may know what they are thinking about because of your experience.

      But an individual watching it doesn’t.

  13. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    4pillars…I have played with countless PGA Tour and Web.com Tour Players…I don’t just watch, I ask questions, therefore I have a good idea, as well as, being a tournament player myself.

  14. 4pillars

    Mar 3, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I normally regard your articles very highly, but cannot with this one.

    Firstly in your article you are saying what the Tourplayer is thinking. You have absolutely no way when watching the TV to have any idea of what he is thinking about, whether he has an easy miss area identified.

    If you look at tour pros, even if they show the full pre shot routine which is rare they are not that consistent. There is a Youtube of 90 mins showing Jordan and Justin’s round and Jordan is not consistent in his routine. Justin is far more consistent.

    Watching doesn’t translate into action

    You have no reseach data whatsoever to back up your views

    • Jafar

      Mar 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Yah, because this is a peer reviewed research website.

      Good for you for taking on all of these non issues with amateur sports writers and columnists.

      • 4pillars

        Mar 3, 2016 at 5:59 pm

        Tom validates his swing articles with Trackman and 3D motion.

        There is no validation.

        Even a small before and after test with training and watching the Masters would prove things.

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Instruction

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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Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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Build A More Consistent Short Game Through Better Body Movement

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So far in my collection of articles on GolfWRX, I’ve talked at length about the importance of posture, stability and movement patterns in the full swing, particularly utilizing the GravityFit equipment for feedback and training load. Many coaches use the same equipment to teach better movement in the putting, chipping, and pitching actions.

To help give some more insight into exactly how they do this, I have recruited Matt Ballard to co-author this article. Matt is an Australian-based coach and short game specialist who has been working with Adam Scott for the past year.

Matt Ballard (right) with Adam Scott.

According to Matt, the short game issue that the club players he coaches struggle with is contact and delivering consistent loft with their wedges.

“Most people tend to get steep, the handle comes in first and not enough loft is delivered,” he says. “This means that the bounce of the wedge isn’t being used properly, which makes control of contact, trajectory, and distance very difficult. ”

As Matt explains in the video below, this problem tends to manifest itself in chips and pitches that are either fat or thin, fly to short or not far enough, and either check up too soon or go rolling on past the pin.

The really frustrating part is the inconsistency. Not knowing how the ball is going to react makes committing to a shot extremely difficult. This has the unnerving effect of turning a simple task into something difficult… and pars into bogeys or worse. For the past few months, Matt has been using the GravityFit TPro to teach correct set up posture and body movement for chipping and pitching.

“I use the TPro to first of all establish spine and shoulder position,” Matt says. “I like my students to have the feel of their shoulders and forearms being externally rotated (turned out). From this position, it’s much easier to control the clubface (i.e. not getting it too shut or too open). The second benefit of using the TPro is controlling the golf club radius during the swing, with the radius being the distance the club head is from the center of the body. Controlling the radius is paramount to becoming an excellent wedge player. The third reason I use it is to help teach that pure rotation from the thoracic spine (mid/upper back), minimizing the excessive right side bend (for a right handed player) that gets so many people into trouble.”

20170712-_MG_5867

Nick demonstrating how TPro drills can be performed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essentially, Matt uses the GravityFit TPro to train a simple movement pattern that, once mastered, all but eliminate the typical problems normally associated with chipping and pitching.

“When (golfers) learn to turn using their thoracic spine and keep their arms in front of their body, it has a dramatic effect on how they deliver the club to the ball,” Matt says. “They are now able to maintain width or radius on either side of the ball, shallow out the club, and engage the bounce (sole) of the wedge to interact with the turf effectively, which is a key trait of all excellent wedge players. Doing this greatly increases their margin for error from a strike perspective and produces a far more consistent outcome in terms of loft, trajectory and distance control.”

Here is Matt’s 5-step process that you can follow with the TPro:

  1. Push handles out in front of your body, keeping slight bend in elbow.
  2. Stretch tall. Feel the green spikes in your middle/upper back and your shoulder blades on the paddles.
  3. Hinge forward into posture for pitching or chipping (the shorter the shot, narrower the stance.).
  4. Slowly turn chest into backswing, keep arms out in front of body, and maintain pressure on the spikes and paddles.
  5. Turn through to finish position using normal tempo, maintaining same pressure on the TPro and keeping arms in front of your body.

In summary, using the TPro and Matt’s drill can help you train a simple movement pattern that can give you far more control over the strike, trajectory and distance of your chips and pitches.

Click here to learn more about the TPro. To discover more pearls of wisdom from Matt, take a look at his website here and his social media activity here.

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