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Bowden: Speed golf can help your game

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Jaacob Bowden runs on to the 7th green at Bandon Dunes during the 2012 Speed Golf World Championships

Mark your calendars.

Coming up on April 13 at 1:30 p.m. EST (Masters Saturday), CBS will be airing the Speed Golf World Championships from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where yours truly notched up a fifth-place finish.

For those not familiar with the sport, speed golf combines your normal golf score with the amount of time that it takes you to finish the round. For example, if you shoot 85 in 75 minutes, your speed golf score would be 160.

The rules of speed golf are basically the same as regular golf except you are allowed to putt with the flagstick in the hole to save time, and lost balls or out-of-bounds balls are treated more or less as lateral hazards. This was done because it was thought to be too severe of a price to pay to not only be assessed the penalty stroke but also the lost time from having to run back to the place where you played the original shot.

Elite speed golfers can shoot in the 60s and 70s in under an hour. Take a look on YouTube at my friend and fellow speed golfer Christopher Smith as he breaks 70 in less than 54 minutes.

[youtube id=”zQ43miMu0lw” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Obviously, speed golf won’t be for everyone. However, there are numerous things that regular golfers could learn from speed golfers to help them play better. One thing in particular that I’d like to bring up in this article is how to control your distances when you are between clubs.

You see, speed golfers typically only carry four to seven clubs in their bag during a round of speed golf. For example, in the World Championships, I used a driver, 20-degree hybrid, 5-iron, 8-iron, 52-degree wedge and a putter.

As you might imagine, very rarely will you encounter a shot in speed golf where you have the exact distance for a full shot with a particular club. For that matter, speed golfers usually don’t even bother checking the distances to their targets because it wastes time.

Playing this type of golf where you don’t know the distances isn’t new. As I understand, courses weren’t marked with distances as extensively prior to the 1960s, except for maybe a bush or something like that at the 100- or 150-yard marks. So back in the old days, everyone would have had to play like this.

But in our modern era with all the detailed course guides, distance markers on sprinkler heads, etc., and having fancy launch monitor technology like Trackman or Flightscope to get your yardages dialed in, I think the general mindset has trended more towards using your clubs only for their full swing distances.

Maybe you think of your 7-iron distance as 140 yards (or whatever else it might be), but really it’s 1 to 140 yards. There’s no rule that says you can’t use it for 80 yards, 120 yards or whatever other distance. Aside from technology, perhaps there’s also an aspect for some of us men with our egos and needing to show our playing partners that we took less club than them for the same distance shot. In any case, the skill of playing anything less than a full shot on approach shots seems to have become more of a lost art.

So how do you know how far to hit the ball on those non-full shots without knowing the distance?

There’s a number of ways to develop the skill, but one of my favorite drills to work on it is called the “all clubs all flags” drill. Basically, when you are at the range, take out every club from driver to your highest lofted iron or wedge and hit a ball to each flag that is within range of that club’s maximum distance.

For example, for the 75-yard flag at the range, I’ll hit my lob wedge, sand/gap wedge, pitching wedge, etc., all the way up to the driver. Then I repeat the same thing for the 100-yard flag and so on and so forth. I don’t consciously think about anything technical like how far to take my lead arm back. I just look at where I want my ball to go and instinctively react with a smooth swing.

It’s sort of like baseball. If an outfielder catches a ball in the outfield, he doesn’t suddenly whip out a range finder from his back pocket to laser the exact distance that he needs to throw the ball back in to an infielder. He simply identifies his target and intuitively makes the throw necessary to get the ball to the target. It’s the same mindset with golf.

What I suspect you’ll find is how relatively quickly you can get good at your distance control doing this drill. Once you feel comfortable on the range with it, try it out on the course for a few rounds too. You might even bring only your odd or even irons to force you in to have to hitting more of those in-between type of shots.

The first round trying this may be very scary. It was for me. But over the course of the round, it became easier and easier to trust myself. The more I trusted the better I got. After several rounds of doing this I became just as good at my distance control either with or without knowing the distances. In fact, these days I would say I’ve become better at distance control when I don’t know the distance to my target, which I’ve found interesting because when I first was taking on golf I was a very technical player.

Interestingly, this skill has other benefits as well. Aside from taking less time to play my shots and becoming more target-oriented with less swing thoughts, I also have found it more fun to play this way. To me, I feel like I’m playing the game more creatively like an artist.

And when I get in trouble, I have a nice repertoire of shots to choose from as well. For example, I remember one time when I posted 69 (3-under) in the first round of the Long Beach Open at El Dorado, I decided to take out my driver on the short and narrow 377-yard par-4 No. 15. I missed a little bit right and found myself just under a tree. I was inside 100-yards but I had no room to hit a normal shot. So instead I took out a 5-iron and hit one under the trees up on to the green right next to the flag and made an easy birdie.

Similarly, I’m not sure if it will get shown on the telecast, but the par-3 No. 15 at Bandon Dunes during the Speed Golf World Championships had the tees up and was only playing 131-yards. Using my 8-iron was my first choice since I only had six clubs in the bag and hitting my 52-degree accurately that far would’ve been difficult. However, as I was running up to the tee box I felt utterly exhausted and was too tired to even make the shorter length of swing I would have needed for my 8-iron. Instead I quickly decided to play a cut bump-and-run with my 5-iron up that funneled around the bunker through the front of the green and up to about 10 feet. I missed the birdie putt, but having that skill from the “all clubs all flags” drill gave me an additional option for playing my approach shot and I ended up with a great opportunity for birdie.

I hope you have fun with the drill and find it as useful for your own game as I have with mine.

See you at Masters Saturday in April on CBS!

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also holds the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – More than 2.8 million video views

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jaacob Bowden

    Jan 15, 2014 at 5:34 am

    Here’s a little clip of this “All Clubs All Flags” thing in action. Just step up and react to the target. With a little practice, distance control becomes good without even knowing the number.

    http://youtu.be/z3fvxyxJpro

  2. Jaacob Bowden

    Oct 23, 2013 at 12:46 am

    For those that want to watch, this year’s Speedgolf World Championships will be telecast at http://www.oomba.tv on Saturday and Sunday (October 26th and 27th) from 8am-12pm PST.

  3. Jaacob Bowden

    Jun 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

    For those that missed the CBS telecast, it’s up on the internet now.

    You can watch it here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NJr3bhI1WI

  4. JB

    Mar 27, 2013 at 1:28 am

    I can’t do this speed golf thing but I have played pretty fast golf. First guy out on the course and I’m done in 2 1/2 – 3 hours. You know what? I shoot my best scores whenever I play fast.

  5. Ryder

    Mar 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this is a very nerdy article. But I do know better, and this is an awesome article and topic!!!! Great stuff!

  6. Bruce

    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I didn’t see any ball marks repaired. I’m thinking he’s the guy that’s messed up my putting!

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 12, 2013 at 6:05 am

      Ha!

      Fortunately, Bandon’s greens are pretty good like that. It’s hard to make pitch marks in them.

      Plus, during the actual World Championships there were multiple volunteers stationed on each hole to help us with things like pitch marks, divot repairs, bunker raking, etc.

      • Jaacob Bowden

        Mar 12, 2013 at 6:06 am

        But in a casual round of speed golf, yes, you would definitely still want to do all the things necessary to take care of your course!

  7. Anthony

    Mar 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Yep…having no yardages is great for ones feel and intuition; a purer form of golf (not running golf).

  8. Marty

    Mar 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Yay! Was just YT’ing speed golf stuff last night, thinking about playing instinctively vs technically. Glad to see Speed Golf get its due on national tv!

  9. Forrest

    Mar 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for a reminder on this drill. It’s one that I really enjoy doing but haven’t in months. I’m going to use it this afternoon to get away from evil swing thoughts and make sure to incorporate the half bag of clubs into my next few rounds. I did that for 5 or 6 rounds last summer and found that I could score as well (and sometimes better) with half the bag rather than all 14 clubs.

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WATCH: How to hit your driver more consistently

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In this video, I share two great drills that will help you improve your driving today.

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3 keys for getting out of bunkers with soft sand

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One of the most infuriating things in golf is to land in a bunker that has too much sand, or sand with the consistency of a truckload of talcum power. Now, I am not picking on the Superintendents; they do have to add new sand from time-to-time, so no hate mail please! It’s my fault for hitting it in the bunker in the first place, and bunkers are supposed to be hazards; I know that.

The one thing we will assume for this article is that even though we are in soft sand, we will have a good lie, not a plugged or semi-plugged one. We are in a bunker that just has a bunch of sand, or it’s soft and fluffy sand. Everyone asks me what the secret is to handling these types of conditions and I’m here to help you get better.

1) Get a wedge with the correct bounce

Let’s consider that you play the same golf course every weekend, or that you mostly play on courses that have the same type of playing conditions mostly. When you have this luxury, you should have wedges that fit the conditions you tend to play. So, if you have a low bounce wedge with a sharp flange and you’re playing from bunkers with lots of sand, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Why alter your swing if the wedge you have can help you? Use a high bounce wedge (9-12 degrees of bounce) for soft sand, and a low bounce wedge (6-8 degrees) for firm sand.

2) Control your Angle of Attack 

As with most things in golf, there are always things that you must pay attention to in order for you to have the odds in your favor. Simple things such as paying attention to the lie you have can help you save shots in the rough. In bunkers, you cannot test the surface, however, you can use your feet to feel the density of the sand. Pay attention to what you feel in the balls of your feet. If you feel a ton of sand below you, then you know you will have to alter your angle of attack if you want any chance to get out of the bunker successfully.

So what do I mean by this?

The setting of your wrists has a very dynamic effect on how much the wedge digs in or skids through the sand (assuming you have an open face). When there is a surplus of sand, you will find that a steeper attack caused by the maximum cocking of your wrists makes it much easier for the wedge to work too vertical and dig too deep. When you dig too deep, you will lose control of the ball as there is too much sand between the blade and the ball — it will not spin as much and won’t have the distance control you normally have.

The secret to playing from softer sand is a longer and wider bunker swing with much less wrist-set than you would use on your stock bunker shot. This action stops the club from digging too deep and makes it easier for you to keep moving through the ball and achieving the distance you need.

3) Keep your pivot moving

It’s nearly impossible to keep the rotation of your shoulders going when you take too much sand at impact, and the ball comes up short in that situation every time. When you take less sand, you will have a much easier time keeping your pivot moving. This is the final key to good soft-sand bunker play.

You have made your longer and more shallow backswing and are returning to the ball not quite as steeply as you normally do which is good… now the only thing left to do is keep your rear shoulder rotating through impact and beyond. This action helps you to make a fuller finish, and one that does not lose too much speed when the club impacts the sand. If you dig too deep, you cannot keep the rear shoulder moving and your shots will consistently come up short.

So if you are in a bunker with new sand, or an abundance of sand, remember to change your bounce, adjust your angle of attack, and keep your pivot moving to have a fighting chance.

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