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It’s time to work on your short game

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Let me bore you with some statistics: The average handicap in this country is 18 for men, 28 for women. But that’s misleading, because the real average golfer doesn’t even have a handicap.

There are 25 million or so golfers in the United States. Of those, perhaps 5 million have registered handicaps, the so-called avid golfers. So the handicap system is utilized by no more than 20 percent of all people who list golf as a hobby in this country. The rest either play too infrequently or, for whatever reasons, do not choose to record their scores. So there’s a good chance that the real average golfer handicap is a lot higher than the figures I quoted above.

We use the phrase Greens in Regulation (GIR) to describe the number of times a golfer is on a par 3 in one shot, a par 4 in two shots and a par 5 in three or less shots. But let’s flip that stat to “Greens Missed in Regulation” (GMR). The scratch (zero handicap) golfer misses seven to eight greens a round, the 85 shooter misses 14 to 15 greens and the 100 shooter misses all the greens on average.

That is why short shots constitute 60 to 65 percent of the game (putting alone is 40 percent). So the 85 shooter will take roughly 50 to 55 short shots a round. Yet 90 percent of the requests I get are for full swing lessons. In other words, 10 percent of golfers want lessons on the shots they play 65 percent of the time and 90 percent of golfers want lessons on shots they play 35 percent of the time. Go to a driving range or any practice facility in the country. If you see 20 golfers practicing at that facility, I’m betting that 17 or 18 will be hitting balls, and maybe two or three will be chipping or putting. This should be in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

I want you to consider this: If students are missing 14 greens a round, and they work hard on their swing and make a huge improvement in their ball striking, those golfers will still miss 12 greens a round in regulation. The point of all this is obvious: Take more lessons and spend more time on the short game. Here’s why I think it will lead to better scoring: Most golfers could practice until the cows come home and never hit the golf ball anything like a professional. There is so much going on in the full swing, it is unrealistic to even consider another 40 yards or the type of compression a pro generates. But I do not think it is unrealistic to believe the amateur could chip and putt perhaps, not like a pro, but more “pro like.” The motion involved in a chip, a putt or even a little pitch can be learned so much easier than a full swing. Practicing these shots is by far the quickest way to lower scores

Every year at the beginning of the season, it is a great idea to set goals and make golf resolutions. All the people who play for a living keep statistics on their games. These stats help them identify weaknesses. Maybe something like: I missed 12 greens; I was left with two bunker shots, three pitches and seven chips. How many chips did I get up and down, how many pitches, how many three-putts etc. Sometimes when players think they are strong in a certain area, they tend to spend less time working on it. By charting the shots, they soon discover how they are actually doing in that area!

Final thought: Often golfers think they lack feel in this area of the game, when in fact what is lacking is technique. I know for myself when I am thinking mechanics, I have zero feel for that shot. Worrying about hitting the ground or how far back the club goes or any other mechanical part of the swing is a prescription for disaster! Take some short game lessons, develop confidence in the stroke, and then all your  focus can be on feeling that shot. Get the little swing down so routine that you don’t have to think about it.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

 

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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

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Michael

    Feb 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    If you have any decent carpeted area in your home, you can do some chipping there. If you develop the feel for simple short chips, you’ll have the foundation for longer ones. I use a wedge to chip balls instead of putting balls into the “cup” on my small LR rug. It’s only about 10 feet long, but it still works, and it’s way better than waiting till I can get to the course. Hope you’ll give it a try.

  2. Martin

    Feb 6, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    I would like to read a article by you who focus on physical ability contra building a sound swing. How can a 40-50+ man (womens are more soft in their moves) find a swing that doesnt demand hard psysical training and flexibility.

  3. Martin

    Feb 4, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Rory McIlroy practised by hitting shots into his mothers washing machine! Thats one way to do it… If you really want to, you will find ways to practice the short game, use your imagination. On the driving range for example, there´s no rule I ever heard of that says you cant hit 30-50 yards shots. I have a putting mat infront of the tv, excellent to try to get the stroke as solid as possible. I practice a lot with only one hand at the time. Very effective both to discover weaknesses in your stroke!

  4. Roger

    Feb 1, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Play 9 holes then spend an hour putts, chip n run and sand saves.
    I did 4 x 1 hour sessions pre xmas…..love my 9i and 8i 20m to 40m chip n run opportunities now!! I did 8 greens in reg yesterday. Just bought another driver, J38, as i need to hit more fairways, only hit 12 yesterday. Keep the stats, practice those 5m,10m and 15m and loong 30m putts, keep them on line at the pin, great things will happen after only a Few Hours Practice.
    Swap putters/Wedges/Balls untill your a demon from 135m out!

    Thanks Dennis !

  5. George Ounapuu

    Feb 1, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Great article. I am a 60 year old now 12 handicapper. Over the last 3-4 years I have seen my hcp rise from a 9. Half way through last season I became dismayed with my declining game and went back to keeping stats. Your article is dead on the mark. My GIR was way out of whack and most often I was putting tremendous pressure on my putting to make par or bogey. Your article is timely as it is exactly what my 2013 golf goal is. Practice that short game and putting! Thanks.

  6. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 31, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Spot on Dennis,

    I’ve been a victim of this in the past and spent 90% of my time on the long game. The short game is just way too important these days to be overlooked.

    I now spend more time on chipping and putting than anything else when I visit the golf driving range.

  7. Nick

    Jan 31, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    For most of us with 9 to 5, or a 9 to 7 that is becoming so common for professionals, practice comes on a lit range at night, on mats. Practicing the short game is not feasible under those circumstances. My short game is what is holding me back. I can hit over half my fairways and around 9 greens. Not tour ready, but not unmitigated hacking either. Yet I am a mid 80’s player. Short game is the reason but unless I can wake up at 6 and get 30 minutes around a practice green before my commute, I just cannot find enough time. It sucks.

    • nick

      Feb 1, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Instead of complaining about the conditions rather use the one day you would play golf and dedicate it to short game. Even if you utilize the course in the afternoon when the fee is small. Or you could use a mirror at home to work on positions then travel to the local park and hit a few shots.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 1, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      I agree finding a place to practice short game is difficult. Unfortunate but true.

  8. Scott Messner

    Jan 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Yes. Go to the driving range and many high handicappers are there hitting shot after shot with their driver – a club they might use 10-12 times over 18 holes. High handicappers need to split their time between the driving range and practice green.

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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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Instruction

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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