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Instruction

10 rules for sticking your irons

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By Johnny Miller
A Golf Digest Article
With Guy Yocom
Photo By Joey Terrill

01 Play more than you practice.
Shortly after I turned 14, in 1961, I became the first junior member (whose father was not a member) at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Playing Olympic day in and day out made me the good iron player I turned out to be. You never seem to get a level lie at Olympic. You’re required to hit a lot of awkward shots, such as playing a fade with the ball above your feet. You can’t work on shots like that on the practice tee, which is why I always played more than I practiced. A lot of things I learned on Olympic defied conventional teaching. For example, from a sidehill lie with the ball below you, the tendency is to pull it dead left—not slice it, as most instructors say—because you straighten your right arm to reach the ball, and you swing over the top. Don’t be one of those driving-range superstars: players who can make their irons sing on the practice tee but are only so-so on the course. Get out and play.

02 Don’t fall in love on demo day.
In 1974, I got a set of old Tommy Armour irons with no chrome on them. These dull-gray clubs had a soft feel to them that was just exquisite. The irons were 25 years old, but after I sawed down the hosels and added some lead tape here and there, they were like magic. I got on the hottest streak of my career. I won eight times on the PGA Tour in 1974, knocking down flags every week. The following year I signed an equipment contract and had to put the Tommy Armours in the garage. Big mistake. No matter what I did, I couldn’t make the new clubs perform like the old ones. If you’ve got a set of irons you really like, think twice before switching to a new set. There are a lot of great new irons out there, and you might fall in love with how well you hit them on demo day. But when you get on the course and face funny lies and try to hit shots, like a high draw or a low fade, you might find they’re completely different.

03 Listen to your shots.
In the winters when I was a kid, my dad had me practice in the basement of our house. I’d hit balls for hours into a canvas tarp tacked to the ceiling. Because I couldn’t see the ball flight, I relied on two kinds of feedback: how the shots felt and how they sounded. Thin shots, balls struck on the toe, and shots hit a shade fat have distinctive sounds. You’re always looking for that crisp thwack at impact. Even from the TV booth, I can usually tell immediately if an iron shot is mis-hit and if it will come up short or not have enough spin to hold. Sound can definitely give you clues as to how well you hit the shot.

04 Distance trumps direction.
If you’ve ever wondered what magic threshold you must cross to become a first-rate player, it’s simple: You must control distance with your irons. I’ve always been obsessed with distance control. When I felt my iron game was at its peak, I’d sometimes ask my caddie for the distance to half a yard. You control distance by hitting the ball solidly and varying the length and speed of your swing. If you do that well, you become more precise, which rubs off on your direction, too. The week I won the 1974 Tucson Open, I hit hole or the flagstick 10 times.

05 Get down on it at impact.
I’m a swing-sequence junkie. I love poring over sequence photos of the best players. The feature all great iron players have in common is that their heads are lower at impact than when they were standing tall at address. They really go down after the ball, not by bending at the hips or dropping their head but by increasing the flex in their knees. They sag their knees down and toward the target at the same time, moving on a downward diagonal line. Now, you’d think this would make you hit the ball fat. But if you lean the club forward, toward the target, so that the shaft is angled ahead of the left arm, you’ll absolutely pure it. Which leads to the next rule.

06 Keep the angle in your right wrist.
Through impact, the hands lead a trailing clubhead. That delofts the clubface and makes it possible to hit down on the ball and squash it against the face. If you’ve ever wondered how good iron players make their shots bore through the air, this is it. Every effective iron player maintains the semi-cocked position in the right wrist through impact, the right palm facing down. Every bad ball-striker has the palm up. As I said only half-jokingly on a telecast last summer, if you want to be a terrible iron player and avoid getting to single digits, just flip that right wrist so the clubhead scoops and passes your hands.

07 Don’t sweat every detail.
Because iron play is all about precision, there’s a tendency to focus on details that are irrelevant or uncontrollable. For instance, a slightly wet clubface won’t affect distance. And you can’t predict how a small glob of mud on your ball will influence ball flight, so don’t stress about it. A light breeze won’t affect distance much if you hit the ball solidly. Concentrate on things that matter: alignment, rhythm and solid contact. Perform those well, and the small things won’t really come into play.

08 “Photograph” impact.
During one of my nice streaks in the mid- 1970s, Jack Nicklaus stopped me on the range one day and asked what I was working on. I told him I was concentrating on impact, trying to “freeze frame” that fraction of a second. “You can actually see that?” asked Jack. When I told him I could after months of training my eyes to take a “photograph” of impact, Jack said, “You’re crazy; the club is moving too fast.” But, as I said to him, it’s not only possible, it’s one of my secrets for hitting great iron shots. When I took the picture, so to speak, I checked that the clubface was square and delofted slightly, and that I was making crisp contact. Satisfy those impact conditions, and you’ll start chasing flags.

09 Identify the sweet spot on your irons.
I’ll bet that if you asked the typical 15-handicapper to point to the sweet spot, he’d point to a spot too high on the face. Remember, all perimeter-weighted irons have the majority of their mass around the sole of the club, to help you get the ball in the air. That means the sweet spot is below the center of the face. This really comes into play on par 3s, where you’re allowed to tee up. Your objective should be to tee the ball so your “lie” is slightly better than a perfect fairway lie. And even with perimeter weighting, because of the design of the clubhead, the sweet spot is going to be slightly closer to the hosel than the toe.

10 Speed kills.
I can see wanting 10 more yards with the driver, but squeezing extra distance out of your irons is the kiss of death. In my prime, my standard distance for the 9-iron was 125 yards. I hit my 6-iron 160, and my 4-iron 185. I didn’t want to be long with my irons, only smooth. Reining in my swing speed was key to distance control and accuracy. If you can resist the tendency to swing more than 75 percent, you’ll have better balance and rhythm. Your mechanics will be better, and you’ll find the sweet spot more often. You don’t need a crazy swing speed to spin the ball, either: Pure backspin comes from good contact more than anything else.

Read More http://www.golfdigest.com/magazine/2009-01/millerrules#ixzz1fd6UL9UZ

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. rehcuagflog

    Dec 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I apologize for my english writing, I’m a french speaker so…. Simpicity, balance teaching, kind of ABC you should work all day long… like blopar, we need more this kind of inside, particulary Golfdigest need to reconsider the serious of some articles, like who is the hottest golfer…? who care…

  2. MK

    Dec 19, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Fantastic tips, gives me something to think about when I go out this week.

  3. blopar

    Dec 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    there is more great advice packed in these 10 tips than there is in a years’ worth of golf digest, golf, and golf tips combined

  4. Mizunate!

    Dec 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Invaluable tips from a true legend. Thanks!

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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