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10 rules for sticking your irons

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By Johnny Miller
A Golf Digest Article
With Guy Yocom
Photo By Joey Terrill

01 Play more than you practice.
Shortly after I turned 14, in 1961, I became the first junior member (whose father was not a member) at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Playing Olympic day in and day out made me the good iron player I turned out to be. You never seem to get a level lie at Olympic. You’re required to hit a lot of awkward shots, such as playing a fade with the ball above your feet. You can’t work on shots like that on the practice tee, which is why I always played more than I practiced. A lot of things I learned on Olympic defied conventional teaching. For example, from a sidehill lie with the ball below you, the tendency is to pull it dead left—not slice it, as most instructors say—because you straighten your right arm to reach the ball, and you swing over the top. Don’t be one of those driving-range superstars: players who can make their irons sing on the practice tee but are only so-so on the course. Get out and play.

02 Don’t fall in love on demo day.
In 1974, I got a set of old Tommy Armour irons with no chrome on them. These dull-gray clubs had a soft feel to them that was just exquisite. The irons were 25 years old, but after I sawed down the hosels and added some lead tape here and there, they were like magic. I got on the hottest streak of my career. I won eight times on the PGA Tour in 1974, knocking down flags every week. The following year I signed an equipment contract and had to put the Tommy Armours in the garage. Big mistake. No matter what I did, I couldn’t make the new clubs perform like the old ones. If you’ve got a set of irons you really like, think twice before switching to a new set. There are a lot of great new irons out there, and you might fall in love with how well you hit them on demo day. But when you get on the course and face funny lies and try to hit shots, like a high draw or a low fade, you might find they’re completely different.

03 Listen to your shots.
In the winters when I was a kid, my dad had me practice in the basement of our house. I’d hit balls for hours into a canvas tarp tacked to the ceiling. Because I couldn’t see the ball flight, I relied on two kinds of feedback: how the shots felt and how they sounded. Thin shots, balls struck on the toe, and shots hit a shade fat have distinctive sounds. You’re always looking for that crisp thwack at impact. Even from the TV booth, I can usually tell immediately if an iron shot is mis-hit and if it will come up short or not have enough spin to hold. Sound can definitely give you clues as to how well you hit the shot.

04 Distance trumps direction.
If you’ve ever wondered what magic threshold you must cross to become a first-rate player, it’s simple: You must control distance with your irons. I’ve always been obsessed with distance control. When I felt my iron game was at its peak, I’d sometimes ask my caddie for the distance to half a yard. You control distance by hitting the ball solidly and varying the length and speed of your swing. If you do that well, you become more precise, which rubs off on your direction, too. The week I won the 1974 Tucson Open, I hit hole or the flagstick 10 times.

05 Get down on it at impact.
I’m a swing-sequence junkie. I love poring over sequence photos of the best players. The feature all great iron players have in common is that their heads are lower at impact than when they were standing tall at address. They really go down after the ball, not by bending at the hips or dropping their head but by increasing the flex in their knees. They sag their knees down and toward the target at the same time, moving on a downward diagonal line. Now, you’d think this would make you hit the ball fat. But if you lean the club forward, toward the target, so that the shaft is angled ahead of the left arm, you’ll absolutely pure it. Which leads to the next rule.

06 Keep the angle in your right wrist.
Through impact, the hands lead a trailing clubhead. That delofts the clubface and makes it possible to hit down on the ball and squash it against the face. If you’ve ever wondered how good iron players make their shots bore through the air, this is it. Every effective iron player maintains the semi-cocked position in the right wrist through impact, the right palm facing down. Every bad ball-striker has the palm up. As I said only half-jokingly on a telecast last summer, if you want to be a terrible iron player and avoid getting to single digits, just flip that right wrist so the clubhead scoops and passes your hands.

07 Don’t sweat every detail.
Because iron play is all about precision, there’s a tendency to focus on details that are irrelevant or uncontrollable. For instance, a slightly wet clubface won’t affect distance. And you can’t predict how a small glob of mud on your ball will influence ball flight, so don’t stress about it. A light breeze won’t affect distance much if you hit the ball solidly. Concentrate on things that matter: alignment, rhythm and solid contact. Perform those well, and the small things won’t really come into play.

08 “Photograph” impact.
During one of my nice streaks in the mid- 1970s, Jack Nicklaus stopped me on the range one day and asked what I was working on. I told him I was concentrating on impact, trying to “freeze frame” that fraction of a second. “You can actually see that?” asked Jack. When I told him I could after months of training my eyes to take a “photograph” of impact, Jack said, “You’re crazy; the club is moving too fast.” But, as I said to him, it’s not only possible, it’s one of my secrets for hitting great iron shots. When I took the picture, so to speak, I checked that the clubface was square and delofted slightly, and that I was making crisp contact. Satisfy those impact conditions, and you’ll start chasing flags.

09 Identify the sweet spot on your irons.
I’ll bet that if you asked the typical 15-handicapper to point to the sweet spot, he’d point to a spot too high on the face. Remember, all perimeter-weighted irons have the majority of their mass around the sole of the club, to help you get the ball in the air. That means the sweet spot is below the center of the face. This really comes into play on par 3s, where you’re allowed to tee up. Your objective should be to tee the ball so your “lie” is slightly better than a perfect fairway lie. And even with perimeter weighting, because of the design of the clubhead, the sweet spot is going to be slightly closer to the hosel than the toe.

10 Speed kills.
I can see wanting 10 more yards with the driver, but squeezing extra distance out of your irons is the kiss of death. In my prime, my standard distance for the 9-iron was 125 yards. I hit my 6-iron 160, and my 4-iron 185. I didn’t want to be long with my irons, only smooth. Reining in my swing speed was key to distance control and accuracy. If you can resist the tendency to swing more than 75 percent, you’ll have better balance and rhythm. Your mechanics will be better, and you’ll find the sweet spot more often. You don’t need a crazy swing speed to spin the ball, either: Pure backspin comes from good contact more than anything else.

Read More http://www.golfdigest.com/magazine/2009-01/millerrules#ixzz1fd6UL9UZ

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. rehcuagflog

    Dec 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I apologize for my english writing, I’m a french speaker so…. Simpicity, balance teaching, kind of ABC you should work all day long… like blopar, we need more this kind of inside, particulary Golfdigest need to reconsider the serious of some articles, like who is the hottest golfer…? who care…

  2. MK

    Dec 19, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Fantastic tips, gives me something to think about when I go out this week.

  3. blopar

    Dec 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    there is more great advice packed in these 10 tips than there is in a years’ worth of golf digest, golf, and golf tips combined

  4. Mizunate!

    Dec 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Invaluable tips from a true legend. Thanks!

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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