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Yes, watching golf on TV can make you a better golfer



As passionate golfers, we want to watch the best professional golfers play in the biggest tournaments on TV. But don’t you get the feeling sometimes that you’ve wasted the entire weekend on the couch watching golf instead of improving your own game?

Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, you can actually get better at playing golf by simply watching golf on TV. Here are a few things to look for the next time you turn on the tournament coverage during the weekend:

  • Professional golfers’ pre-shot routines do not change unless they are way out of their comfort zone.
  • Even the leaders hit funky shots and make “simple” mistakes on the back nine.
  • Professionals tend to “miss” the ball in the correct place.
  • Dial-a-Shot (I’ll explain this one later).
  • If you want to be a better player, then you only have to master THREE clubs.

The importance of a pre-shot routine

Now I know each one of you are saying, “I already have a pre-shot routine.” And you’re getting ready to skip this section, but hold on!

Yes, most of you have a few actions that you tend to repeat before you hit the ball, but let’s dig a little deeper into your pre-shot routine. Let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you have a pre-shot routine for decision making behind the ball, or do you just randomly examine each shot?
  • Do you have a set way you determine your target and how you approach alignment, or do you just walk up to the ball and begin your physical routine?
  • Do you have a set physical routine before you hit the ball, or do you just take a few random swings and go from there?

As you can see, there are multiple routines within your overall routine, and it’s up to you to understand the differences. But I promise one thing, if you watch the professionals on Tour you will see the same exact actions from a particular player over and over, time after time. The only time this will vary is if they are in big trouble and are trying to find the “feel” of the grass or slope, or if they’re figuring out a confusing wind pattern. But 98 percent of the time they approach each shot the same exact way. Do you?

Funky shots don’t necessarily mean disaster

How many times have you watched your buddy play a great front nine, then on No. 11 or 12 hit it down the middle, miss the green with a wedge and make bogey. Then you watch him beat himself up for such a “stupid mistake” and never recover for the rest of the day?

Pay attention to the leaders during a given Saturday or Sunday. At least one time on the back nine they will miss a simple drive, approach shot, etc., but do they let it bother them? Nope. If you remember Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters victory (the last major he ever won), he bogeyed No. 12 from just off the green and then played Nos. 13-18 in 5-under par. Later he said the silly bogey made him focus more. Do you react this way? Did your buddy?

Watch the professionals, as they ALL hit funky shots at inopportune moments, but most of the time they keep their cool enough to recover or at least not let it bother them for the rest of the day. Golf is all about mental and emotional management. So you have a resolve like most of the professionals on Tour?

Where to miss it

Let’s take a very simple green design and see how the professionals would play the hole. Here is the green on hole No. 9 on the Norman Course at Vidanta.


The green is firm, and it’s long and skinny with bunkers short and one long. If a professional had a similar shot with a 6 or 7 iron, where would he tend to try and leave this shot? Where would you?

I can assure you that with a firm green, you would see most professionals who prefer a fade start the ball a touch right of the left bunker and move it back toward the center of the green, thus taking the short and long bunkers out of play. If they prefer a draw, then you’d see a short right miss, if anything, taking the front bunker out of play as well.

How many of you would start the ball just right or left of the pin and work it toward the flag from 150 or so? Most of you, I’d bet. And you’d likely hit it short in the bunker, possibly plugged, or one-hop it in the back bunker; both of are very difficult up and downs. Professionals try to always miss the ball in the “easiest” places so they don’t tax their short games. It’s far easier to get the ball up and down with some green to work with than without.

While watching an event on TV, quiz yourself as to where you would aim on each shot, and where you’d want your ideal miss to end up. Then, note where that particular player ended up missing his shot. The more you play this game with yourself, the better you’ll get at managing the course in your rounds of golf.


This is where you can learn more about how to score from watching TV than you can with your shag bag at the practice area.

The fact is, if you don’t have the shot for a certain situation, or you choose to play the incorrect shot, you have made the shot 10 times harder than it needs to be!

Watch the professionals as they assess how to play a certain short-game shot, and take note of the one they elect to play. The pros you see on TV have several ways to play each shot they encounter, then select from a number of different trajectories, spins, etc. Do you?

You need to develop more weapons in your arsenal around the greens so you’re never stuck hitting a shot that’s not comfortable to you. Take notes of what shots the pros hit around the greens, and try imitating them during your next practice session. Try a new short game shot after each tournament you watch, and your short game prowess will expand like you won’t believe.

Become a three-club master

There once existed a great golf school years ago called “Three Club Golf Schools,” which helped people learn how to hit their driver, wedge and putter. And the professionals you see on TV have also mastered each of these clubs.

When you’re watching an event on TV, pay close attention to how each player swings:

  • The driver. Aggressively, yet in control. They don’t guide the ball down the fairway, but rather hit the ball freely even when the fairway is tight or there’s trouble.
  • Their wedges. Without apprehension. You don’t see a player nervously decelerate, even while hitting difficult shots off of skinny lies.
  • The putter. With confidence and precision. Aside from a few rare cases of the yips, take note of a each player’s putting stroke, mainly his tempo. Practice in the mirror applying the same tempo to your putting stroke.

Remember, you want to be a master at all three, so if you notice a weakness relative to your handicap, you’ve figured out where to spend your time during your next practice session. Don’t forget, you can learn a lot by just watching, and then applying the same approach and confidence of the touring pros into your driving, wedge and putting games.

I hope by now you see that paying attention to HOW professionals play golf and score will give you valuable insight as to how you can lower your handicap. So grab your favorite bag of chips (or broccoli and dip for the fitness-conscious among us), prop your feet up and prepare to watch some golf.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.



  1. Pingback: What you can learn by watching the Masters | Western Carolina Golf

  2. Philip

    Mar 5, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Great article! My game started to quickly improve once PGA Tour Live started. Being able to watch an entire round of a player, warts and all, helped me understand that my routine was weak, as well as my course strategy, among other things. The best educational rounds are when they are showing players that are not so hot that week or lower in the standings.

    I used to aim for the flag all the time, until I realized that the majority of the time they aim to spots – on the fairway, as well as, around and on the green. Playing some rounds with just an 8i showed me how much course strategy is very much like a chess game – were you should be always setting up your next shot. I also saw how many just hit little pitch and punch shots to the green all day long – especially when the stance is awkward (unlike those at the top of the standings who are on fire). The less the swing the better ones chances of executing the shot. I realized that they sink so many long putts, not just because they practice, but because they know the spots on the greens that funnel the ball to the hole – as such, I started doing that last season and I started sinking long putts again. I learned that a longer putt from certain spots on a green is better than shorter putts from most of the green. Most important – a confident, accelerating swing/stroke will always win out on a timid swing/stroke. Thus one must know their yardages and only execute the shots they believe in at any moment. If you do not believe in your ability to execute the shot required, then execute the shot you have the most confidence in moving the ball closer to the hole – the principle also applies on the green.

  3. Dr Troy

    Mar 5, 2016 at 10:52 am

    The only thing I will say that you should not learn from watching guys on TV, is pace of play. These guys are fighting for wins, big time money, tour cards, etc etc etc….A LOT of the take their time, back off shots, wait for the green to clear 250+ yards away, etc…I GET IT. They can do that if they need to….Amateurs need not mimic all this, because its completely slowing down play. I see this type of imitation all the time and drives me nuts….Learn from the guys on TV, but please don’t think you have to plumb bob every putt or wait for the green to clear on a par 5, because “I just might get a hold of one”…You probably aren’t, so don’t the rest of us up….Rant over 😉

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 6, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      0-5 handicap = 1 minute over shot
      6-12 handicap = 30 seconds over shot
      13 – 36 handicap = Just hit it!

  4. Mbwa Kali Sana

    Mar 5, 2016 at 5:35 am

    I fully agree with 4 Pillars :you don’t play the same golf as the Pro’s :first and foremost you don’t hit the ball the same distances .even the short game distances are different .You don’t “work ” the ball as they do and better not try ,you’ll foul your game .Hit it straight ,that’s far enough good for you.
    I ‘m still 7 handicap at age 81 though I lose distance every year that goes by ,but I play my own game ,not the Pro’s game .As said a famous ancient champion :”Always play the easiest club you can play in a given situation .Always play to where you want to play ypur next shot from ”
    Each 10 yards more of distance with your driver equals one point off your handicap :you can’t beat that even with a fabulous short game

  5. Jim

    Mar 4, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I almost never watch the tournament but instead watch what players are doing in their swings. Depending on what I’m working on with my own swing I try to study good players swings. And getting to study Scott, Rose, and Ooosheizen is the best. I think it really helps and you can take what you see to the range too.

  6. Miguel T.

    Mar 4, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I agree. I actually don’t even pay attention to the tournament in general. I watch what the players are doing. Routine, stance, tempo, etc. Most people just watch for fun and pay attention only when shot is hit. Additionally, I play golf online (WGT), and believe it or not, it has helped me tremendously with course management and mental game.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Mar 6, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Agreed with the WGT. It has helped my game.

  7. Butch

    Mar 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I nearly always play a better than average round after watching the LPGA tournaments – always gives me better tempo!

  8. Gorden

    Mar 4, 2016 at 3:43 am

    Why we are not like the pros (I know there are a few out there becoming pros someday and some super quality armatures) Have you ever hit a huge drive right down the middle on the first hole, or dropped one in the hole out of the bunker or hit a 5 iron to within a foot? And do you remember by the next hole how you hit one of those wonderful shots…Well besides having super hand eye coordination touring pros have super ability to remember how and what they do and did… You can hit 300 balls out of the practice sand the day before you play and the first bunker you get in your first question is “How did I do that again” How many years have you played and you still do not understand how the lie of the ball can effect your shot…We have to live with our short comings and like any sport golf leaves us with plenty/

  9. Dave

    Mar 3, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Yeah, you can learn nothing about golf watching the best players in the world on television (or in person). Just like you can’t learn anything about writing by reading Shakespeare or insert-another-author. Or a musical instrument by listening to…whatever. You can’t tell what they were thinking, either.

  10. Other Paul

    Mar 3, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I read about a study done with kids. Teachers took a bunch of kids and had them watcb great golf swing for some time before a lesson. The kids that watched did better than the kids that didnt watch the swing video.

  11. Ryan k

    Mar 3, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Always like your articles. I’m confused on one part of this one, probably in an area I need to work in myself. Number 2 where to miss; could you further explain the thinking behind the draw player? I completely understand the fade player, I think, but can’t understand why the good miss is short right for a draw.

    • Duncan Castles

      Mar 4, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Ryan. Short left is probably in a front bunker. Long left probably in the back bunker. So the percentage shot is to aim right of the flag, with a club that can’t reach the back bunker. If he strikes the ball well it draws from the right onto the green. If he doesn’t catch it properly it stops short of the green and right of the flag, avoiding the front bunker and leaving a relatively easy wedge shot with plenty of green to work with.

  12. blaise

    Mar 3, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    negate 4pillars comment and really take these notes to heart. one of the easiest ways to get better is by playing (watching) people who are better than you. ask questions and learn either on or off the course. And actually you have a pretty good idea what they are thinking because there are only a few things for them to think about. 1) Yardages (pin, front, middle, back, slopes, bunkers, water) 2) factors (wind, elevation) 3) ideal bail out placement. (away from water hazards).
    and listen to the commentators as well, especially Johnny Miller if you are trying to improve your game. he says a lot of things that are going through the Pros mind, some are very obvious (last week when talking about adam scott hitting two balls in the water “if you hit the first one in you definitely don’t want to hit the second one in”) and some are very insightful.
    4pillars, its pretty obvious you have absolutely no idea what youre talking about. if you read up on Tom’s bio you can see he is a very respected teacher of the game.

    • 4pillars

      Mar 3, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      Never said he wasn’t a respected teacher.

      I just said. you can’t learn from watching TV.

      And if there are only a few things to think about you don’t need to spend hours watching TV.

      Which brings me back to my main point. Tom may know what they are thinking about because of your experience.

      But an individual watching it doesn’t.

  13. tom stickney

    Mar 3, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    4pillars…I have played with countless PGA Tour and Tour Players…I don’t just watch, I ask questions, therefore I have a good idea, as well as, being a tournament player myself.

  14. 4pillars

    Mar 3, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I normally regard your articles very highly, but cannot with this one.

    Firstly in your article you are saying what the Tourplayer is thinking. You have absolutely no way when watching the TV to have any idea of what he is thinking about, whether he has an easy miss area identified.

    If you look at tour pros, even if they show the full pre shot routine which is rare they are not that consistent. There is a Youtube of 90 mins showing Jordan and Justin’s round and Jordan is not consistent in his routine. Justin is far more consistent.

    Watching doesn’t translate into action

    You have no reseach data whatsoever to back up your views

    • Jafar

      Mar 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Yah, because this is a peer reviewed research website.

      Good for you for taking on all of these non issues with amateur sports writers and columnists.

      • 4pillars

        Mar 3, 2016 at 5:59 pm

        Tom validates his swing articles with Trackman and 3D motion.

        There is no validation.

        Even a small before and after test with training and watching the Masters would prove things.

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The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo



One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.


If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots



You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?



As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.


  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]





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