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Senior golf: Practical suggestions for lowering your scores

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This is the second article is our senior series. I was away for a while, so let’s get back to helping you seniors! If you missed the first article, take a look.

I live just a few yards from the green of a par 3, and it never ceases to amaze me the number of times I see two shots turned into three. Or more. All golfers, (particularly seniors) looking to cut their scores need to pay attention, not just to putts, but to the simple up and down opportunities that they missed. The par three by my house plays anywhere from 160 to 200 years, has a pond bordering the green on the left, and out of bounds (MY HOUSE) on the right. So it’s not an easy hole, and golfers miss that green all day; but even the poorer shots will come within 15, maybe 20 yards of the green. I see no reason a player should leave that hole with anything more than a bogey. Yet I see fives and sixes more than you can imagine…a chip shot is a very simple shot to learn.

MOST of your senior golf years should be spent chipping, pitching and putting.  Here’s why:

After a certain age. or perhaps when one has played a certain number of years, your golf swing can be changed slightly at the most! By slightly I mean this: Let’s say you are a 15 handicap player, you are hitting around five greens a round in regulation. If you make huge improvement in your swing, you may get to seven greens a round in regulation (the average of a 10-handicap player). That still leaves you 11-12 times per round OFF THE GREEN. Now, it’s true of course that swing improvements can also lead to missing closer to the green, but even here we are talking perhaps a pitch instead of a chip from the edge. BOTH these shots are within the skill set of most any golfer if they think and play differently around the greens. Hitting more greens is not always in that player’s capability, but getting the golf ball in the hole in fewer strokes IS!

I’ll use the green by my house as an example: the green is over 25 paces (75 feet) long. Like most courses, carts are kept on the cart path on all par 3s. I can’t begin to tell you how many players leave the cart with ONE, maybe TWO clubs regardless of the length of the shot. Those clubs are very often a wedge (of some loft) and/or a sand/lob wedge. Again most golfers are short with their tee shots (on all holes not just par 3s). So now they are standing in front of chip possibly 70-80 feet long with a 55-degree club. They either stub it or skull it, leaving themselves in double-bogey (or worse) position. That club selection is like taking a hit on 16 in blackjack when the dealer is showing 6!

Again, I know studies show that ballstriking is primary. Of course, you have to get your swing to the point where you can get the ball in play off the tee, but let me ask this question: when ballstriking is as good as it is going to get, you will still miss plenty of greens. What then? Are you doomed to shoot 94 because your swing cannot change greatly? The answer is NO, if you think better, and learn to hit short shots better. A big change in a golf swing requires time and athleticism. Short shots need technique and feel, but MUCH less strength, flexibility or general athleticism.

As a general rule, I teach most of my students the following priority list when near the green

  • PUTT whenever you can
  • CHIP if you can’t putt
  • PITCH only when you must.

Putting and straightforward chipping or bumping-and-running is a MUCH higher percentage shot. Do yourself a favor and play the shot that you are most capable of NOT the one you’ve seen on TV. Look, you’re probably not gonna hole a chip or pitch, so where do you want to be on your next shot?

Many of you have heard of the “rule of 12.” I’m going to try to explain this as simple as possible and suggest quick math for the course.

  • Pace off the distance you want the golf ball to fly and land two paces (5-6 yards) on the green. NO FURTHER THAN THAT!
  • Let’s say that distance is 4 paces (two yards off the green, two yards to land on the green).
  • Now pace from that point to the hole. Let’s say for the sake of simplicity the hole is 8 yards (25 feet or so) from the landing spot.
  • You have a 2 to 1 relationship of carry to roll.
  • Here’s how to do quick course math in your head: 12-2=10 iron, PW
  • If you have 3X roll vs carry, 12-3=9, iron.
  • If you have 4X roll vs carry, 12-4=8 iron. and so on…
  • This is NOT CAST IN STONE, it is merely a guide.
  • NOTE:  This applies to chipping only; next time I’ll deal with pitching. And course, just like putting uphill, downhill, into grain, down grain etc. have to be taken into consideration.

 Simple drill:  Put a headcover two paces on the green. Chip to it, no further! See what club it takes to reach various hole positions.

No one knows better than a golf instructor of nearly 40 years how difficult it is to get someone to change their habits. I can’t tell you how many times I have suggested people try another approach around the green, and invariably they go right back to their “favorite club.” It’s your choice, but PLEASE practice your short game most of the time!

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. DS

    Sep 29, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    My favorite columnist. I’m finally a single digit handicap and it’s via short game. I’m now focused on keeping my tee shots in play (pray for me) as I can still hit it with the youngsters but will continue to play 2 rounds a month at our local executive course to specifically focus on the short game. Keep ‘em coming, Dennis.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Aug 20, 2019 at 8:40 am

    ALL of my articles and tips that I share are SUGGESTIONS. They are ALL based on lesson tee and golf course observations over my 50+ years of playing and 35+ years teaching. Paul Runyon “little poison” was the first to observe this this. He called it the “rule of eleven” at the time, but as clubs have gotten so much stronger, the rule of twelve is the new algorithm. Try this, if you like it great. If not bag it!. Just remember, NOTHING is for EVERBODY!! Thx for reading.

  3. M

    Aug 18, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Move up a tee. Please. Leave your ego at home

  4. Gary

    Aug 17, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    Really good advice. Couple of typos, however: 1) bullet 1 – two paces is
    5 – 6 feet, not yards; bullet 4 – ratio is one to two, not two to one.

  5. Norm Wayland

    Aug 17, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    Good advice. I am older and shorter with all my clubs, so I have to pitch, chip or putt from off the green a Lot. My go-to club is 8 iron from fairway or short rough. Easier to calibrate w/ practice. Wedges need more skill/precision.

  6. Scooter

    Aug 16, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    Good stuff Dennis. I started using the rule of 12 a few years back and it’s VERY helpful. It’s also helpful and fun to work on factors such as ball position in the chip, using the club bounce vs. the leading edge, practicing from tight lies as well as rough, and even hooding the face slightly to help learn spin control etc. And even chipping with a hybrid at certain times. I developed my own “best for me” chipping techniques vs. situation and my short game & scoring improved quickly. Chipping is now one of my favorite parts of the game. I even gave up putting through longer/fuzzy patches of fringe in favor of chipping because I’m able to get the ball closer most of the time … I know this violates one of your suggestions 😉

  7. Acemandrake

    Aug 16, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    You can’t go too far wrong as a senior player if you can be competent with the driver, wedge & putter.

    It’s that simple.

    Short game practice is boring but improvement comes relatively quickly.

  8. Norm

    Aug 16, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you, Dennis! The first two articles are very helpful. I look forward to more instruction.

  9. 2putttom

    Aug 16, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    I was the 5th like. good article

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European Tour and Ladies European Tour announce Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam will co-host mixed event in Sweden

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For the first time, the European Tour and Ladies European Tour will co-sanction an event which will combine a mixed field playing for the same trophy in a 72-hole strokeplay event.

The inaugural Scandinavian Mixed will take place from June 11-14, 2020, with a field of 78 men and 78 women playing for a total prize purse of €1.5 million at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Stockholm, Sweden.

Swedish golf stars Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam will co-host the event, with Stenson set to compete in the championship. Sorenstam, who has been retired since 2008, plans to play in the pro-am.

Speaking on hosting the event alongside Sorenstam, Stenson stated

“I’m extremely excited to host the Scandinavian Mixed alongside Annika, one of the best golfers the world has seen. To have men and women competing alongside one another showcases what is great about our game.

The European Tour has been leading the way in terms of innovative formats, and I believe this is certainly one that can be part of the way golf is played in the future.”

Ryder Cup and Race to Dubai points will be awarded to the male players in the event, while winnings from the tournament will count towards the LET’s official Order of Merit totals.

Both Stenson and Sorenstam are committed to co-host the event for the next three years.

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Morning 9: Bravo, Lanto! | Wisberger wins again | Rickie Fowler is a married man

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1. Bravo, Lanto! 
AP report on Lanto Griffin bursting out of the gate in his PGA Tour career at the Houston Open…
  • “Lanto Griffin took the lead with a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole and won the Houston Open on Sunday with a 6-foot par that gave him a 3-under 69 and a one-shot victory that sends him to the Masters next year.”
  • “Griffin was locked into a battle on the back nine at the Golf Club of Houston with Mark Hubbard and Scott Harrington…Hubbard lost the lead with a bogey on the par-5 16th, while Harrington’s big rally ended with a three-putt bogey on the 17th.”
  • “Griffin’s birdie on the 16th was his first since the eighth hole. On the 18th hole, he ran his 60-foot birdie attempt about 6 feet by the hole and made that to avoid a playoff.”

Full piece.

2. Capstone on Wiesberger’s comeback 
“Austrian Bernd Wiesberger held off a spirited challenge from England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick to claim his third European Tour title of the season at the Italian Open in Rome on Sunday.”
“Wiesberger carded six-under-par 65 in the final round at the Olgiata Club for a 16-under total to overturn a three-shot deficit and beat overnight leader Fitzpatrick by one stroke.”

Full piece.

3. Beemer!
Great stuff from Eamon Lynch, who spoke with the golfer-turned-analyst-turned-golfer-for-the-week Beem.
  • Here’s Beem discussing his son caddying for him…”I want to teach him how good rounds happen, how to save marginal rounds and how to make the most out of a bad situation,” Beem said. “He’s at that age where he gives up mentally. It’s easy to teach them when things are going well. But when things are going sideways, as they did today, how do you save this thing?”
  • “Rounds of 69-71 had put Beem inside the top 20 at the halfway point, but a lousy finish earlier to his third round was chapping him. “I shot 76 today and inside I’m fuming. But there’s nothing I can do,” he said between bites of the Mexican fast food the pair were sharing. “I gave it my best. That’s what I had today.”

Full piece.

Beem tied for 55th after a final-round 71
4. Kang’s advice
Mike McAllister at PGATour.com…“LPGA pro Danielle Kang had some choice words for her boyfriend, PGA TOUR rookie Maverick McNealy, after he shot a third-round 73 on Saturday at the Houston Open.”
“…So what exactly did Kang tell McNealy, who started the week nicely with a 68 before sliding down the leaderboard with middle rounds of 74 and 73?”
“She wanted me to do three things today,” said McNealy, who then provided the specifics.
  • “1. Don’t look at the leaderboards. “So I intentionally did not look at a single leaderboard today,” McNealy said, a difficult task on the back nine given his big move that at one point had him inside the top 10.”
  • “2. Be stronger and stricter with the mental scorecards. “I did that with my 95% of my shots today,” McNealy said. “I only had two shots that I wasn’t fully focused or in the zone or committed on, so I was really happy with that. If I can keep it to two or less, it’s going to be a good day.”
  • “3. Say two good things to himself after every shot. “So it was a very positive day out there for me,” McNealy said.”
5. Kelly rallies
AP report…”Madison’s Jerry Kelly knew he needed to make as many birdies as he could Sunday in a sprint to the finish in the SAS Championship. He was so locked into the process that he didn’t realize how many he made until he marked them down on his card.”
“Locked in a tight race, Kelly ran off five straight birdies to close out the front nine and then made an insurance birdie late that carried him to a 7-under 65 and a one-shot victory in the final regular-season event on the PGA Tour Champions.”
6. Hammer’s takeaway
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”The 20-year-old University of Texas sophomore was extended a sponsor invite into the Houston Open, his hometown PGA Tour event, and walked away Sunday with a 1-over performance and four rounds under his belt.”
  • “It was a great week,” said Hammer, whose only other pro start came at the 2015 U.S. Open when he was 15 years old. “Obviously, I would’ve liked to have played a little better the last three rounds, but I made the cut and played for four days.”
  • “He also got a taste of just how tough the Tour can be. The reigning McCormack medalist as the world’s top-ranked amateur earlier this year, Hammer got a difficult draw. He had to play 12 holes in 30 mph gusts Friday and then wake up early to finish his second round on what was a 24-hole day on Saturday.”
7. Knight’s whirlwind
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…:”Cheyenne Knight drove through Whataburger on her way home from winning her first LPGA event.”
  • “After a satisfying meal of chicken tenders, sweet tea and fries, there was dancing in the kitchen with her family to “We are the Champions” by Queen.”
  • “It didn’t really sink in, however, until later on Monday when the family watched the replay from the final round of the Volunteers of America LPGA Classic. Congratulatory texts from the likes of Morgan Pressel, Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford and the Korda sisters helped too.”
  • “The whirlwind continued throughout the week, with Knight boarding a plane bound for China after getting in the field for the Buick LPGA Shanghai.”

Full piece.

8. Q-School storylines 
Zach Sepanik for LPGA.com with this on Lucy Li…”She may be gearing up for her first taste of Q-School and one of the youngest individuals competing at 17 years old, but Lucy Li (Redwood Shores, California) has big plans in her future both on and off the golf course.”
  • “As the professional ranks beckon, Li has no timetable for her announcement on making the leap. While she is still determining the right moment for a decision, one thing is for sure and that is how Li will make an impact outside the ropes.”
  • “I’m going to start a foundation giving back to junior golf part of my earnings from events I play,” said Li, who first got started in golf at the age of 7. “It is such a great sport and I really want more kids to play, especially with how many opportunities come through it. I’m going to take the time from now until next season starts to really figure things out with help from my family.”

Full piece.

9. ICYMI: Rickie’s off the market
As reported by Golf Channel’s Grill Room team…”Congratulations go out to Rickie Fowler and Allison Stokke, who just revealed that they got married last Saturday.”
“Fowler and Stokke on Friday both posted pictures of their Oct. 5 beach wedding to Instagram”
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Tour Rundown: Heroic and human in Houston

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It was a funny thing, to read on various social and traditional media sites, that this week’s PGA Tour event was not quite up to snuff. I hope that those pundits took the time out to watch the final 9 holes on Sunday. They saw a mix of heroic and human shots, of smart and silly decisions, and nerves galore. For those who decry the dominance of Brooks Koepka, this week was for them.

It was a lean week for professional golf, with the European Tour and PGA Tour Champions as the only other games in town. As with the Houston Open, each of those offerings provided an 11th-hour finish, providing attention-grabbing golf until the final putt was holed. Lest we forget, golf from October on used to be called the Silly Season, and it featured free money for dour professionals. Count how lucky we are on both hands, that the wraparound season, and the Schwab Cup, Race To Dubai, and Race to CME Globe came about. Let’s have a quick Tour Sprintdown, starting now.

PGA Tour: Houston Open readies for Memorial Park with Lanto’s win

The PGA Tour might have unknowingly stumbled onto a vial of elixir at this week’s H.O. With nary a star golfer to be found, the event came down to a battle of the also-rans (Stewart Cink, Chad Campbell, Harris English) guys who once were at the top, but now, are not; versus the wanna-get-theres (Lanto Griffin, Scott Harrington, Mark Hubbard) golfers freshly promoted from Triple A, itching for the security and confidence that a big-tour victory brings. I’m not sure how to package it, but there is something there! Paging Chris Harrison. Bring roses.

Back to the tournament. The Houston Open used to hold the door for the Masters, entertaining the best of the world; now, it doesn’t. That’s a negative. The tournament used to be played at a yawner of a tour course, in a town called Humble; in 2020, it returns to the city center, to a public course reborn from Tom Doak and Mike Nuzzo. That’s a huge positive. In 2019, viewers watched as a trio of non-winners soared and stumbled down the stretch, risking all to gather in an initial tour triumph.

It was a tale of three golfers: Lanto Griffin, the 3rd-round leader; Scott Harrington, the survivor; and Mark Hubbard, the best Twitter handle on any tour. Hubbard got nothing going on the back nine. Just one birdie would have brought him a tie for 1st. Instead, a lone bogey at the 15th cemented a tie for 2nd with Scott Harrington. Harrington narrowly missed a tour card during last season’s Korn Ferry schedule, but redeemed himself in the playoffs. He had four birdies and two bogeys over a 6-hole stretch late Sunday. Like Harrington, just one more birdie might have done the trick. Instead, it was Lanto Griffin, also a KF Tour graduate, who made a 6-feet putt for par at the frightening 18th, to win an inaugural tour title in style.

European Tour: Wiesberger holds off surging Fitzpatrick

Good old internal out of bounds. It snagged Rory McIlroy in Northern Ireland this summer, and it tackled Matthew Fitzpatrick at this week’s Italian Open. Something that should not exist, yet does, once again changed the course of a tournament. Fitzpatrick had the lead at the 9th, then he did not. He fought back gamely, but missed a golden chance for eagle at the 17th. The resulting birdie forced him to birdie the 18th, and he could not muster a 2nd-consecutive chirp.

Finishing a few groups ahead of Fitzy was Bernd Wiesberger, the talented Austrian who summoned all his skills over the closing 55 holes. From the 9th hole on Saturday through the finish, Wiesberger had 12 birdies and 0 others. He was flawless when he needed to be, and there was just enough flaw in Fitzpatrick to let Bernd through the door. The young Englishman had four birdies on the day, 3 on the inward half, when he needed to press. Would he have made them, had the 9th hole yielded par or birdie, rather than double bogey? Impossible to say. For the champion, Olgiata provided a venue for his 2nd Rolex Series title of the season, pairing well with Wiesberger’s Scottish Open triumph over the summer.

PGA Tour Champions: Kelly collects 3rd title of 2019

Jerry Kelly has never been one to hide his emotions. One imagines the glee on his Wisconsin-bred face as he birdied holes 5 through 9 on Sunday, racing to an outward 29 and the lead at the SAS Championship. One also imagines the consternation as New Zealand’s David McKenzie turned the tables, coming home with 5 birdies and 1 eagle for an inward 31. Fortunately for Kelly, he added birdies at 15 and 17, granting freedom to bogey the last and win by a stroke.

Kelly hasn’t been a Champions-Tour golfer for long. He won twice in 2017, a year after he reached the senior circuit, then dipped to 1 victory last season. 2019 has been a veritable motherlode for the tour grinder. SAS represented his 3rd title of this campaign, following wins in June at the AFI and September, at the ALLY. It also means that Kelly closed the gap on Scott McCarron, in the race for the Charles Schwab Cup. Three events remain, spread out over the next 5 weeks. As with everything else autumn, this race will not decide itself until the final putt falls.

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