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7 Painfully Obvious Ways To Improve That Golfers Overlook

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Golf can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. All too often, I see golfers who get too wrapped up in their swing plane, their equipment, their frustrations, and their fears. Do yourself a favor. The next time you watch the top players of today on TV (or hopefully in person), watch how they attack a golf course. They rip it off the tee, control their irons, and avoid three putting. Sometimes, golf is just that simple.

In this story, I want to highlight some obvious ways to improve your game that most golfers overlook. They will help you focus on what’s important for shooting lower scores.

1. Strengthening the Mind

The best thing you can do for your game is to make your mind and emotional state an asset, NOT a weakness. Many talented golfers have weak mental games, and it detracts from their performance. Lesser-talented golfers with more of a grinder’s mentality will take their lumps, but they’ll use it as motivation to keep fighting. Your mind can get you around a golf course just as well as a pretty swing or good putting stroke can.

The young guns on the PGA Tour today have all had years of mental coaching, and they understand how to use their minds to their advantage better than any other generation of golfers. They harness pressure situations to elevate their games in the biggest moments.

Look at a guy like Jordan Spieth, who employs a swing with a chicken wing that you’d never teach to a beginning golfer. He fights his way around the course and uses his mind to motivate him… and he has a decent putting stroke to boot. The point is, the strength of your mind and your ability to control your emotions is almost always the most important part of your game.

2. Hit the Ball a Mile

The great thing about technology nowadays is that swinging hard and hitting the ball on different parts of the club face isn’t quite as deadly as it was when we played with wooden drivers. So with the advantages of high-MOI designs, you should have little fear about learning how to hit the ball a mile off the tee.

Look at how Rory and DJ attack the course when they drive the ball well; wouldn’t you like to do the same? Hitting fairways is overrated in today’s game, so learn how to pound it and go find it. Free yourself up off the tee, and you might just find yourself making more birdies.

3. Better Trajectory Control

How many of you only hit the ball at “X” height for 99.99 percent of your shots? Of course golfers try to hit the ball lower when it’s windy, but other than that, I don’t see much vertical movement in the games of most golfers. And on the range especially, all golfers should be learning how to hit shots at all different heights.

When I was growing up, I would have loved to have been told how important it would later be for me as an aspiring Tour player to be able to hit the ball as high as possible. And today, the greens today are firmer and faster than ever, making trajectory control even more of a weapon than ever. Even still, this is such a lost fundamental that few players even bother working on it.

4. Hit Long Irons More Often in Practice

Back in the day, hitting 1, 2, and 3 irons was such a chore. It wasn’t much fun to bang them out on the practice range. The invention of hybrids and technology-packed driving irons, however, has made these shots much easier. And thanks to Mark Broadie’s book, Every Shot Counts, we now know that you will score much better when you hit your long-iron shots closer, or at least somewhere on the planet.

Most golfers would benefit from taking their high-lofted fairway woods, hybrids, and long irons to the practice range and learning to hit them straighter, higher, and farther. Your scores will thank you.

5. Have a Go-To Pressure Shot

Do you have a go-to shot under pressure… one that helps you find the fairway or the green when all else is failing? It could be a punch, a knockdown, a big slice, a squeeze fade, a Tiger Stinger… whatever. The crucial thing is that you, the player, know how the ball will be flying when you look up. Not only will this reduce pressure under the gun when you really need to hit a fairway or green, but it will help you avoid big trouble.

The only way to develop this shot is to hit it over and over again on the practice range. That way, you will be ultra confident down the stretch of your next match.

6. Be a Wedge Master

Years ago, golf clubs were only building driving ranges on the leftover plots of land they couldn’t sell as housing lots. Short game areas weren’t even a consideration. If a new club doesn’t have a wedge area these days, however, it’s behind the curve.

If you live around one of these public gems, you have no excuses not to be a wedge master. There’s simply no reason not to be able to hit the ball inside 20 feet from around the green… every time. Next time you head to the club, don’t even bother taking your full bag; just take your favorite wedge and a shag bag full of golf balls. Spend your entire practice session learning different shots and developing your feels.

Remember, having a reliable short game will not only help you save par or bogey when you otherwise would have made a big number; it will also help you take advantage of par-5s and short par-4s at a higher clip.

7. Never Three Putt 

Need I say more? Here’s how to rid your game of three putts more consistently — take more time to work on your lag putting. I never even considered working on long, big-breakers when I was younger. I stuck to practicing 5 footers or flat 20-footers to make sure my stroke was solid. Looking back, I wish I would have had a little more fun on the greens. It would have helped me develop my feel.

Take the time to look at the three-putt avoidance stats on Tour. Those numbers should be your goal on your home greens. You know those greens because you play them every day. Now make your practice count!

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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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Adrian

    Sep 16, 2017 at 5:26 am

    I would say that the other obvious variable is to play a lot of golf. Once a week or once a month stunts improvement. You have to play a lot of golf to use the assets that you gaining from your practice. If the shot you practice are showing up on the course then scores will improve quickly. The worst are the times that shots work on the range and then fail miserably on the course but you have to stick with it and accept the process !! My two cents.

    • dapadre

      Sep 18, 2017 at 9:53 am

      So true. Practice is good, but being in an actual game situation is where its at. Why? You never get a perfect lie, you are placed on different spots on the course that will test you. My pro once told me, if you have to choose between practice and playing say 9 holes, play the latter.

  2. D mack

    Sep 15, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    duh, that was so insightful, duh

  3. Joey5Picks

    Sep 15, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    You forgot a couple other obvious ones:
    8. Never hit it OB
    9. Hole out wedges from the fairway
    10. Make every 10-footer

    Sheesh! It’s so simple!

  4. AllanA

    Sep 15, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    And if you can’t hit a 1-iron you can’t swing a driver…. painful, plain and simple.

  5. Rogerinnz

    Sep 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks again Tom, a great read.

    Great to hear about higher Iron shots, no doubt 7,8,9 irons.
    Just rebuilt a set of Hogan Apex Plus so will be practicing with the 3 and 4 irons now!! Already spend 60% practice time with wedges and Chip N Run anyway. That leads to mentally ruining playing partners during the game via chipping accuracy try it
    Thanks Tom

  6. Andrew

    Sep 15, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Spieth is the best iron player on tour, he ranks 50th in putting this year. To say he “fights it around the course” Is based purely on a perceived mechanical flaw. He has a knack for holing long putts, but he also has a knack for missing short ones…such a weird narrative that all he can do is putt.

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Instruction

How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Instruction

Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Instruction

Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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