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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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

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

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

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

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

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

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

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

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

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

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

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

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

4) Know your Carry Distances

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

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

5) When do you have the Green Light?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Bob Jones

    Nov 20, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Life is short and birdies are hard to come by when you “play smart.” Always go for the pin. Are you out there to have fun or what?

  2. Adam

    Nov 18, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    I am a tour pro player from 150 yard in. However, I am a bogey golfer from the tee to the 150 yd. marker. I will never conquer my driver or 3 metal off the deck. I started playing golf too late in life and no amount of practice or fantastic new driver will give me the distance and control to play par 4s, and I rate them as par 5s. Par 5s are 5 but some long par 3s are 4.
    So I rationalized my game against a personal course par of 80 +/-2 strokes. If I have a long layoff I’m nudging 90 and bogey golf. My game falls off due to ageing but I still enjoy the challenge.
    Oh, how did I get so good from 150 yds. in? I played solo golf in the evenings carrying a wedge and 7-iron, and a pocketful of golf balls. Curiously, the fewer clubs I carry the better I play!!! 😉

    • Ryan

      Nov 25, 2017 at 9:53 am

      In a site littered with awful comments, this one is, by a looong shot, the worst.

  3. DaveyD

    Nov 18, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    A very usable article. Sometimes the hardest instructions to find are course management and strategy. This article helps a lot.

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Instruction

Master your takeaway with force and torques

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Most golf swings last less than 2 seconds, so it’s difficult to recover from any errors in the takeaway. Time is obviously limited. What most golfers fail to realize is that the force and torque they apply to the club in the initial stages of the swing can have major effects on how they are able to leverage the club with their arms and wrists.

Our research has shown that it is best to see the golfer as a series of connected links with the most consistent golfers transferring motion smoothly from one link to another and finally to the club. Approximately 19-25 percent of all the energy created in a golf swing actually makes its way into the motion of the club. That means the remaining 75-80 percent is used up in moving the body segments. This emphasizes the fact that a smooth takeaway is your best chance sequence the body links and become more efficient with your energy transfers.

In the video above, I give a very important lesson on how the forces and torques applied by the golfer in the takeaway shape the rest of the swing. There will be more to come on the subject in future articles.

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Learn from the Legends: Introduction

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There is a better way to swing the golf club. I’d prefer to write that there is a correct way to swing the club, but I know that really freaks people out. People love to talk about how everyone’s swing is different. “There are lots of ways to get it done,” they say. “Look at Jim Furyk’s swing – it’s not what you’d teach, but it works for him.”

To some extent, they’re right. Elite swings do have different looks. Some take it back inside (Ray Floyd). Some cross the line (Tom Watson). Some swings are long (Bubba Watson). Some are short (young Tiger). But these differences are superficial and largely irrelevant. When it comes to the engine – the core of the swing – the greatest players throughout the history of the game are all very similar.

Don’t believe me? Well, let me prove it to you. In this series of articles, I will do my best to show you – with pictures and videos and data – that the legends all move a specific way. Focusing on these elements (while ignoring others) and practicing a certain way is the surest path to improving your golf swing and lowering your scores.

So, let’s get into it. There are a number of important elements that all the legends have, but the biggest and most important of these elements is rotation. Every great player throughout the history of the game has had elite rotation. It’s the most important thing they do, and it’s easy to see. When you’re looking down the line at all the great players at impact, you’ll see hips and torso open.

This is what the legends look like at impact:

1Hips open
2Torso open
3Both butt cheeks visible
4Left leg extended and visible

And here’s what some very good players with less good rotation look like at impact:

These are very successful players (one of them is a major champion!), but they don’t move like the legends of the game.
1Hips and shoulders not open
2Left leg not totally visible
3Can’t see both butt cheeks

Now, there are plenty of nuances to how great players rotate. They do it while keeping spine flexion, for example, and they do it with very little (or no) lateral movement toward the target (lateral movement impedes rotation). I will discuss these things in detail. My hope is that at the end of this series you will have a much better understanding of what separates the legends from the very good… and from the rest of us.

You will understand their “engine,” and hopefully this understanding will help you begin to create your own legendary swing!

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Instruction

10 reasons your golf game isn’t improving (even if you’re practicing a lot)

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One of the things I hate to see is when you watch someone come to the practice facility day after day, week after week, truly doing what they think is best for their games and they continue to get worse. In fact, you can actually do more harm than good by “practicing” if you are not careful. So in this article I want to give you my top-10 reasons your game is not improving, even if you’re practicing more than ever.

1) You’re not practicing, you’re just getting exercise

We all know the guy who walks into the grill room and boasts that he has hit five pyramids of balls that day. The problem is, at least 90 percent of those shots were a complete waste of time! This guy is only getting exercise, not doing himself any good whatsoever. As a matter of fact, this is my number one pet-peeve for my clients who have retired and are looking for something to fill their day. When you hit this many balls, you have no chance to get better as you are only ingraining poor swing flaws or improper motions from getting tired.

Please limit yourself to one hour per range session, and use this time wisely with slow motion swings, proper feedback, and mirror work; this way, you just might improve. Anything past that hour mark (unless you’re a trained professional athlete or top-level amateur), and you are spinning your wheels, in my opinion.

2) You don’t understand “feel vs real”

Feel and real are two different things, and if you don’t know the difference, you’ll have to practice twice as hard for twice as long to get any better. Remember the feeling of making that “new” move? How weird it feels and how similar it actually looks on camera? Don’t be afraid to exaggerate a new move in order to make the change you want; if you don’t exaggerate it, then you may have to put in much more time in order to eradicate yourself of whatever move you’re trying to eliminate.

Use video feedback to remind yourself of what is actually happening when you’re making a swing change. Huge changes in our mind often translate to very small changes in real life; the camera will remind you what needs to be done.

3) You only practice the fun things

How many times have you gone to the range and worked on smashing your driver versus working on hitting trouble shots around trees, or your super-long lag putting? In fact, we are all guilty of working on things that we are already good at or enjoy doing with the excuse that “we don’t want to lose it.” Personally, I hate practicing my long irons and seldom did when I was playing, and because of this fact, I am not too stellar from outside 200 yards still today. Why? Because that was in the days of small bladed forged irons and whenever you missed them they felt terrible and therefore I avoided them. Not a smart idea. Hone your strengths, but work hard on your problem areas to really improve.

4) You’re not making practice uncomfortable and pressure filled

Another one of the things I constantly see is where a player can hit the ball like a champ on the range, but the moment they walk on the course, things change for the worse. Why? Because they become too outcome focused. If they could reverse the mental process — making practice pressure filled and the course worry-free — they would be a world beater. My favorite drill is to set a goal during a practice session, such as making 100 3-footers in a row; and if you don’t reach that goal, open up your wallet and throw $20 on the ground for someone to find. If you do this, I promise you will focus and feel pressure. These are the type of things that one must do in order to simulate game-like conditions.

5) You’re not testing your changes on the golf course

Ok, you’ve worked on it, and you feel that you have mastered the “new” move that will cure your snap hook… now take it to the course and test it out! There is no better way to see if your no-double-cross swing is working by aiming down the line of trouble and trying to work it away from it. The course is the only place for you to see if you truly have a grasp of the new move, and under pressure on the course is the only way to actually know for sure!

6) Your equipment isn’t truly fit to what you’re trying to do as a player

If you have faulty equipment, then how can you actually know you have eliminated a faulty move or funky shot? Maybe those super-slick grips are causing your grip pressure to increase at address and this is the reason why you tend to swing the club too much to the inside on the way back? Or is it a faulty motion of the forward arm and wrist? If your clubs are not correct, then you will always fight something that might not actually be your issue.

Think about the buddy of yours who has irons that have an incorrect lie angle… how much easier could the game be if they were correct?

7) You don’t have any… goals, practice, evaluation or feedback

I’m sorry, but just swatting balls daily is not the best way to get any better! Have you ever asked yourself “what is today’s goal?” and then “what is the best way to work toward achieving that goal?” Next time you’re at the range, ask yourself those two questions, and then ask yourself how you will measure this and understand the feedback you’re given. Most people do not even think of these things, nor do they have factors in place in order to do so.

To be a better player, like in life, you have to have clear-cut goals in mind, or else you are being sloppy. Remember to take into account the four things above, or you will not improve as rapidly as you’d like!

8) You’re working on mechanics only, not how to score

Yes, you can do either or both in your practice, but don’t get them confused! What is your first objective in a given practice session — making a more consistent motion or lowering your score? Most of the time, they don’t have anything to do with one another.

9) You’re overly focused on the “look,” not the function

Are you too focused on making a perfect swing instead of one that is functionally correct and repetitive? Yes, we’d all like to look as pretty as Adam Scott, but understand that Furyk has a better record — it’s not about beauty, it’s about function at the end of the day.

10) You’re working on your swing with a non-professional

This is one that hits close to home, as I HATE to see people working on the incorrect things on the range, or from their buddy who can’t break 90. It kills me to watch someone working on their exit pattern when their grip or transition is the fault. Please make sure you at least consult with someone who knows more about the game and the swing than you do, and if your thoughts check out, then by all means go at it alone. I’m a big fan of players being self-sufficient, but for every Watson or Trevino who figured it out on their own, there are millions of golfers who screwed themselves up royally doing this.

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