We are fortunate in South Texas that we really haven’t had much winter yet. As I write this, they are forecasting 80 degrees for this afternoon. But I understand the rest of the country isn’t faring so well. (And I know ours is coming, sooner or later.) As I’ve made friends around the country, who live in areas where they have a genuine off-season, it has made me aware that not all are so fortunate as to be able to work on their games year-round.
So today’s article is for those of you who might not be seeing grass for a while.
Because you have a short season, I can imagine it is important for you to want to get the most out of it. But it’s not realistic to think those golf muscles, your skills and your golf mind won’t atrophy over the winter layoff. But you don’t have to settle completely that your first few weeks will be awful. Here are five solid tips for making 2020 your best year of golf scores ever. Here goes:
1. Putt short putts better. If you will just work on your putting, your scores will come down dramatically. The first area to focus on is getting deadly on putts under five feet. That you can practice in your living room or basement every day if you are so motivated. All you need is one of these cool putting mats, or nothing more complex than a six foot piece of smooth commercial carpet. Learn how to groove your stroke so that your short putts become automatic. The left side
leads, keep a soft grip on the putter and your weight favoring your left side (all for righty’s of course). And tempo, tempo, tempo. Slow back, slow through.
2. Strengthen your left side. If you are a right handed person, your left side is likely not strong enough to maintain a leadership role in the swing, because you don’t use it as much. On the simple side, keep a 5- or 10-lb dumbbell near your desk or sofa and do curls and other exercises several times a day. Even better is to swing a weighted club with only your left hand 15-25 times a day. A strong left side will do more for your golf swing than just about anything else you can do.
3. Improve your short game. Sorry, but that means practice, guys. Again, you can learn and groove a good chipping/pitching stroke in your garage off a piece of carpet. Refer back to my articles on technique; read books by Utley and Watson—learn, learn, learn . . . . then practice, practice, practice. Get better at getting up and down and strokes will fly off your scores.
4. Sharpen your mind. There are some really good books about the mental side of the game and this is a good time of year to spend some time with them. I’m a fan of Dr. David Cook and his book, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days in Utopia.” Besides that very fine story, he has written several books about this aspect of the game. But there are many more that are fine as well. Remember that a round of golf covers much more time thinking than it does actually hitting shots. The better y you get at the former, the better you are likely to be at the latter.
5. Visit TopGolf or other simulators. There is never a substitute for actually making swings and hitting balls, so treat yourself to some time at TopGolf or other simulators. If none are close, and you have a basement, set up a net and hit balls regularly. If none of that is available, at least get a short weighted practice club and take regular swings.
Bonus Tip. Have fun! We don’t do this for a living, so don’t let bad shots or bad rounds mess up a day in the sun with friends.
And when you get back out on the course, have realistic expectations—after all, you’ve been out of the game for months possible. When you do get out there, however, remember the old adage: One bad round—forget it. Two bad rounds—practice. Three bad rounds—get a lesson.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
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