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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 and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) 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 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

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

The 3 best ways to train your golf swing

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Understanding how to effectively train and practice is critical to transferring skills to the golf course.

In golf, I view training as a thoughtful, deliberate rehearsal of a motion to develop technique. This is better rehearsed away from the golf course. Practicing golf consists of developing your skill to take to the golf course—an example being learning to hit shots in certain winds and shot shaping.

“A lawyer will train to be a lawyer, then he or she will practice law” – The Lost Art of Golf

I find the below examples the best ways to train effectively. These techniques will also help facilitate a swing change and make your training and practice more efficient.

Mirror Work

I like my student to implement what I call “mirror work”. This is done by looking into a mirror from the face-on position.

This is a great way to get external feedback (information delivered from an outside source). Learning by external feedback will help facilitate the required body movement to produce a particular shot. It’s also a cheap and effective way to train. Research suggests observation in a mirror is considered external, so the use of mirrors will elicit external feedback, enhancing the learning process.

I prefer students to only check positions from the face-on view. If a player starts checking positions in a mirror from down-the-line, moving your head to look in the mirror can cause your body to change positions, losing the proper direction of turn.

Train Slow

Learning a new motion is best trained slow. At a slower speed, it is easier to monitor and analyze a new motion. You will have increased awareness of the body and where the shaft is in space. At a faster speed, this awareness is more difficult to obtain.

I often use the analogy of learning how to drive a car. First, you took time to learn how to position your hands on the wheel and position your foot next to the break. When comfortable, you put the car in motion and began to drive slowly. Once you developed the technique, you added speed and took the car on the freeway.

In martial arts, there are three speeds taught to students: Slow-speed for learning, medium speed for practice and fast speed for fighting. Again, the movement was trained slow to start. Once comfortable, the motion was put into combat. This should be similar to golf.

Finding Impact

Use an impact bag to get the feeling of impact and an efficient set-up. If you don’t have an impact bag, a spare car tire, bean bag or something light and soft that can be pushed along the ground can be used.

I like to refer to the impact bag as a “Push bag”. Start by setting up into the bag, lightly pressing the shaft into the bag. You will notice how your trail arm slightly tucks in and as your right shoulder drops below the left with your body leaning forward, an efficient set-up.

To get the feeling of impact swing the club back and down into the bag while maintaining your body shape. Don’t move the bag by hitting it, rather pushing it. Note how you maintain your wrist angles while pushing the bag (not flipping) and the right side of your body moves through impact.

Train your swing with these three training techniques to play better golf.

@KKelley_golf

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How posture influences your swing

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S0 what exactly is posture and how can it alter your swing? Posture is often the origin to a player’s swing pattern. I like to look at posture as the form of the body from the front view and down the line position at address.

“Shape” in posture is the angles our body creates at address. This includes the relationship between the upper and lower half of our bodies. This article will examine the importance of this shape from the face on view.

For an efficient posture that creates a simple, powerful, and repeatable swing, I like a player’s shape to be set into what I call their “hitting angles.” Hitting angles are similar to the impact position. In the picture below, note the body angles at address highlighted in green.

Once we are set into these hitting angles, the goal of the backswing is to maintain these angles, coiling around the spine. When these angles are maintained in the backswing, the club can return to impact in a more dynamic form of our set-up position. This creates minimal effort that produces speed and repeatability—essentially doing more with less.

The further we set up away from these hitting angles, our bodies will have to find impact by recovering. This is often where a player’s swing faults can occur. We want our body to react to the target in the golf swing, not recover to strike the ball.

Think of a baseball player or football player throwing a ball. When the athlete is in their throwing position, they can simply make the movement required to throw the ball at their intended target. If their body is contorted or out of position to make the throw, they must re-position their body (more movement) to get back into their throwing position, thus making them less accurate and powerful.

The good news about working on your posture is that it is the easiest part to control in the swing. Posture is a static motion, so our body will respond to 100 percent of what our mind tells it to do. It’s talentless.

Here is a simple routine to get you into these hitting angles.

To start, tuck in your trail arm making it shorter and below the lead arm, which makes your trail shoulder lower than the lead shoulder. This will give you the proper shape of the arms and wrist angles. Pictured right is Ben Hogan.

With these arm angles, bend from the hips to the ball and bump your body slightly forward towards the target getting ‘into yourself’. You may feel pressure on your lead foot, but your upper half will still remain behind the ball. Note the picture below with the blue lines.

Practice this drill using a mirror in front of you, head up looking into the mirror. Research has shown mirror work enhances motor skills and performance. Anytime you have external-focus based feedback, the learning process will escalate.

There are a lot of different postures on the PGA Tour and many ways to get the job done. There are no cookie-cutter swings, and players have different physiology. However, research and history have shown that an efficient posture gives us the best chance for solid contact and our desired ball flight. Work hard on the areas that are easiest to control: the set-up.

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Golf 101: How to chip (AKA “bump and run”)

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Although golf for a beginner can be an intimidating endeavor, and learning how to chip is part of that intimidation, this is one part of the game that if you can nail down the fundamentals, not only can you add some confidence to your experience but also you lay down a basic foundation you can build on.

How to chip

The chip shot, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-golf swing. To the beginner, it may seem like a nothing burger but if you look closely, it’s your first real way to understand contact, launch, spin, compression, and most importantly the fundamentals of impact.

What is a chip shot? A pitch shot?

Chip: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a 3-iron to a lob wedge that launches low, gets on the ground quickly, and rolls along the surface (like a putt) to the desired location.

Pitch: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a PW to a lob wedge that launches low- to mid-trajectory that carries a good portion of the way to your desired location and relies on spin to regulate distance.

Now that we have separated the two, the question is: How do I chip?

Since we are trying to keep this as simple as possible, let’s just do this as a quick checklist and leave it at that. Dealing with different lies, grass types, etc? Not the purpose here. We’re just concerned with how to make the motion and chip a ball on your carpet or at the golf course.

Think “rock the triangle”

  1. Pick a spot you want the ball to land. This is for visualization, direction and like any game you play, billiards, Darts, pin the tail on the donkey, having a target is helpful
  2. For today, use an 8-iron. It’s got just enough loft and bounce to make this endeavor fun.
  3. Grip the club in your palms and into the lifelines of your hands. This will lift the heel of the club of the ground for better contact and will take your wrists out of the shot.
  4. Open your stance
  5. Put most of your weight into your lead leg. 80/20 is a good ratio
  6. Ball is positioned off your right heel
  7. Lean the shaft handle to your left thigh
  8. Rock the shoulders like a putt
  9. ENJOY!

Check out this vid from @jakehuttgolf to give you some visuals.

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