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Play out of your comfort zone: get creative

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Have you ever found that sometimes your game completely changes when you leave your home course?

Sometimes getting too comfortable with a golf course can actually hurt our game. Playing the same course over and over often requires that you hit similar shots over and over. I say similar because we will never play the course the exact same between two rounds but you will often have similar distances to greens — on par 3s for example. Now certainly if you are playing a tournament or an important round that is the time where you want to be as comfortable as possible with the golf course, but if you really want to improve your game you need to take yourself out of your comfort zone.

Usually I am going to say that entertainment (non-instructional) golf movies are not the best source of good advice but every now and then a real gem does stand out. In this particular case I am going to use the scenes from Tin Cup where Roy plays a round with garden tools and also when he shoots even par with only a 7-iron.

Now, I am not telling you to go to your local course with a bag full of garden tools but what we can learn from this is creativity. With most amateur golfers (high and low handicaps alike), I see they have only one way in their mind to hit each club — a 7-iron goes 160 yards, an 8-iron 150 yards, and so on. The problem is that these same people would never think to hit 7-iron if they were 140 yards from the green.  Being locked into a set mindset will not benefit you in golf. In this game there is no right or wrong —  it is instead about options. How many ways can you get the ball in the hole? Options are what make Phil Mickelson’s short game as good as it is. For any shot he comes up to I can assure you he is thinking of several different ways to get the result he wants.

One of the best ways to take yourself out of any comfort zone is to play a round with only a few clubs. Limit yourself to three or four clubs and see how you can get around the golf course. Another benefit of this drill is after doing it several times you will realize which clubs really make a difference in your actual score.

Club selection when you are only allowed a few clubs can make a world of difference. Another way is to play from different tees. I don’t recommend going back to a longer tee box than normal but certainly don’t be afraid to move up. Play a few rounds from the front tees just to change things up.  It may hurt the ego walking up to the short tee boxes every time, but it will help in seeing the course from a different angle and having to hit different shots than normal. One of my favorite drills, from Jim Flick, is to hit every club in your bag 100 yards (Use the 14-Club Rule.) Again the purpose of this drill is to show that there are many ways to get the ball in the hole. The best thing for you is to give yourself options.

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

By Matt Newby

Matt Newby is a PGA Member and Certified Personal Coach at GolfTEC in Irvine, Calif.  He has more than 10 years of experience as a teacher and other facets of the golf business. In the past he was mentored by three PGA Master Professionals and has worked with the instructors of Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington, Jerry Kelly and Inbee Park.</em>

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. James Lythgoe

    Aug 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Depth perception is very important to golfer. Playing the same golf course over and over again really doesn’t test your depth perception because you know the golf course so well. Before you even reach your golf ball, you know what golf club you will use because you have played the same course so many times before.

    If you go to a golf course that you haven’t played and you haven’t walked off the distances, you can get an idea about how good your depth perception is. If you find that you are not too comfortable with your distance, you may not have the best depth perception. If, on the other hand, you do feel comfortable with the distance and your shots are ending pin high, then you may very well have very good depth perception.

  2. Matt Newby, PGA

    Jul 31, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Troy,

    You are 100% correct, Playing with just a few clubs will do exactly that…help you learn new shots. The more options you have at your disposal the more likely you are going to execute. If you typically only play on the weekends I would suggest giving this a shot late during the week before dark. Usually at this time the courses have a lower rate so you are not spending a whole weekend green fee to just go out with a few clubs. Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jul 31, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I can definitely relate to us. Having played my local course most weekends for the past 20 years you tend to get used to hitting the same clubs into the same holes.

    I actually enjoy playing around there in winding conditions last weekend because it enabled me to play a lot of long clubs with a lower ball flight.

    I have heard playing a round with just a few clubs is a great way to develop skills and learn new shots.

  4. Matt Newby, PGA

    Jul 31, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Here is the link to the Jim Flick drill (Use the 14-Club Rule)

    http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-instruction/mental-game/flick_gd0808

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Instruction

Clement: Find big power in the flying elbow!

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Matt Wolff, Bubba Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and so many more have been criticized for their golf swings and the flying elbow has been a subject of those criticisms.

When you watch a baseball hitter, a baseball pitcher, a tennis player, a lumberjack and so many more sports and disciplines, you realize they were all good to go all along!

This video will hopefully nudge you to experience this power for yourself too!

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Clement: Smash your fairway woods!

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This video is chock full of fairway wood wisdom that will allow you to understand several things including why a low spinning 5-wood would go much farther and what to focus on feel wise and sound wise with the SOLE of the club through the turf and ground. At least four solid nuggets throughout this video that will be sure to sharpen your fairway woods and hybrids!

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The Wedge Guy: Chipping away strokes

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I’ve always admired golfers who can really chip the ball well. Through my years in golf, I have seen players of all handicaps who are excellent chippers, and all tour professionals are masters of chipping it close. But for such a simple little stroke and challenge, chipping seems to be a part of the game that eludes many of us.

A good short game just cannot be achieved without a commitment to both learning and practicing. In watching the best chippers, it seems that their technique or chipping “stroke” is very similar to their putting stroke in style, form and pace. I think that’s because both chipping and putting are primarily “feel” shots. Yes, technique is important, but I’ve seen good chippers with all kinds of form and fundamentals.

This brings to mind two of my golf buddies who are both good chippers of the ball while employing totally different styles, but each one closely resembles their individual putting style. One uses a more stiff-wristed technique and quicker pace and tempo — just like his putting. The other, who is a doctor with a delicate touch, uses a more rhythmical pace not dissimilar from his syrupy smooth putting stroke.

Now let’s talk about techniques.

I personally prefer to use two different chipping techniques, depending on the chip I am facing. If I simply have to carry a few feet of collar and then get the ball rolling, I’ll choose a mid-iron or short iron, depending on the balance of carry and roll, and grip down on the club so that I can essentially “putt” the ball with the club I’ve chosen.

In employing this technique, however, realize that the club you are “putting” with weighs much less than your putter, so you want to grip the club much lighter to make the club feel heavier. It takes just a little practice to see what different clubs will do with this putt/chip technique.

On chips where the ball has to be carried more than just a few feet, I prefer a chipping technique that is more like a short pitching swing. I position the ball back of center of my stance to ensure clean contact and set up more like a short pitch shot. I usually hit this kind of chip with one of my wedges, depending on the balance of carry and roll needed to get the ball to the hole.

On that note, I read the green and pick an exact spot where I want the ball to land, and from there until impact, I forget the hole location and focus my “aim” on that spot. Your eyes guide your swing speed on chips and short pitch shots, and if you return your eyes to the hole, you are “programming” your body to fly the ball to the hole.

So, while sizing up the shot, I find a very distinct spot on the green where I think the ball needs to land to roll out with the club/trajectory I envision. From that point on, my complete focus is on that spot, NOT the hole. That loads my brain with the input it needs to tap into my eye/hand coordination. I think many golfers chip long too often because they focus on the hole, rather than where the shot needs to land, so their “wiring” imparts too much power. Just my thinking there.

One of my favorite drills for practicing chipping like this is to take a bucket/bag of balls to the end of the range where no one is hitting, and practice chipping to different spots – divots, pieces of turf, etc. – at various ranges, from 2-3 feet out to 20-30. I do this with different wedges and practice achieving different trajectories, just to load my memory banks with the feel of hitting to a spot with different clubs. Then, when I face a chip on the course, I’m prepared.

I’m totally convinced the majority of recreational golfers can make the quickest and biggest improvement in our scoring if we will just dedicate the time to learn good chipping technique and to practicing that technique with a purpose.

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