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Stickney: How to avoid blowup holes

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Par, par, par, birdie, quad, par, bogey, triple, par. Nice round of 44—with four pars and a birdie! Sound familiar? Do you ever wish you could play without having a blowup hole per nine or how about only one per eighteen holes? Wouldn’t that be nice! Obviously, we are all trying to be more consistent and as we get better the blowup holes subside or reduce themselves in number, but is there anything you can do to avoid or stop them from occurring quicker?

In my almost 30 years as a full-time teacher and watching tens of thousands of players’ swing the club, I have come up with a few of keys that I think will help you eliminate the blowup holes and reduce your handicap once and for all regardless of your current level of play!

So, here are a few of my thoughts that I think will help you…

The Driver

  • As we all know the big miss is a killer, the biggest reason why this happens is usually a severe out-to-in swing path. If you can find a way to keep your swing path closer to your target line, you will see the BIG miss fade away.
  • Snap hooks occur when the face is severely left of the club’s path, and as the loft of the club is reduced, this miss becomes larger and more severe. Audit your grip and your clubface’s position at the top, most of the time I see stronger grip players, flattening their wrists at the top of the backswing placing the club in an overly shut condition that is hard to overcome on the way down.
  • Weak slices are the problem of the new golfer and intermediate player and these occur when the path is left of the intended target and the clubface points right of the target during impact. When the face-to-path relationship is in this condition, the loft of the club tends to increase (when you flip at it) and weak slices are the result. Fix the face-to-path relationship, and you’ll have a chance.

Fairway Woods

  • Don’t automatically reach for your 3-wood every time you are in the fairway on a par 5…unless the lie is perfect, you’re better off using a higher-lofted wood for added height and control.
  • Most golfers try to hit their fairway woods too hard and lose control of their balance making it hard to hit the ball in the center of the clubface. When the ball is impacted low on the face, the effective loft of the club is reduced and fairway woods will launch way too low.

Irons

  • If I had a dollar for every iron set that is misfit as it pertains to shaft flex and lie, I’d be retired by now…if you are trying to score and playing golf with clubs that don’t fit, you have no chance unless you play a flat golf course and have wonderful hand-eye coordination. But beware the radical miss will always be looming.
  • Trying to do too much in the rough—you are not as strong as Brooks, nor do you have the speed of Tiger, so stop trying to use a lower lofted club when you are in the cabbage. Take your licks and chop it out into better position.
  • When you hit it into the trees, find the most direct way out into the easiest and most open position to the green first, then try to reduce the yardage you have into the green second. All too often I see players try to always hit it to the 150 marker when they are in trouble—sometimes 160 is a super easy shot out of the trees while the 150 yardage shot is much harder. Hit the simple shot first!
  • From 100 yards and in, it would help if you focused on hitting the green first and worrying about the pin second. Trying to hit it from 100 into the wind to a tucked pin on a shelf is asking for a short-sided miss and a big number

Wedges

  • Wedges at 100 percent of your full speed are about as accurate as your driver at 100 percent when it pertains to your shot clustering around the pin. Far better to hit shots at 70 percent so you can control the launch, spin, trajectory, and distance rather than try to slamdance your lob-wedge from 120.
  • Wedge lofts are important, and it’s far better to have ones that you know the yardage of rather than a “matched” set. The pro set standard is somewhere around 48, 52, 56, 60 for the wedge lofts…if you can’t hit the numbers you need out of the clubs you have, change the lofts. The lofts don’t matter, it’s all about the numbers you want to hit them! So what if you play 45, 51, 54, 62 if you know exactly how far they go.

Around the Green

  • There are other clubs that can be used around the green besides your lob wedge or your other favorite club.
  • Understand what moving the ball around in your stance does to the ball’s trajectory and landing angle because this controls what the ball will do when it lands on the green. Far too often I see players trying to hit the ball high from a “low shot” set-up and vice versa.
  • Become your own best friend out of the sand or at least be able to get out within 20 feet in one shot!
  • Understand how radically fat, thin, chili-dips, and shanks occur fundamentally so you can get them out of your game before they creep in for too long and become mental.
  • For every single ball you hit on the range, hit five balls around the green in all types of situations to learn what you can and cannot do with each club.

Putting

  • Speed work. Speed work. Speed work. Speed work…there is no excuse for poor speed when you have a putting green at your disposal before the round. Fine-tune your speed with big breaking putts and severe up/downhill putts before you play.
  • The putterface’s direction at impact controls the ball’s starting direction so if you cannot control your lead hand you cannot control your short putts regardless of how easy the putt seems.

As you can see, these thoughts are pretty simple and straightforward, but I promise you the next time you (or I!) make an 8 on a par 4, we have violated about three of the rules I’ve mentioned above. Damn, it’s aggravating, but I promise if you read and reread this list and put it into practice you will reduce your number of funky holes.

NOTE: If you think it’s your course management that is to blame on your poor scores then I would suggest checking out DECADE Golf created by Scott Fawcett. It is the best course management system out on the market today. You will be amazed at how understanding your miss patterns from certain distances coupled with his aiming techniques could make the game so simple!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: [email protected]

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jack

    Oct 7, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Loads of coulda woulda shoulda in this. I appreciate the attempt. But what do you tell a plus handicap who still averages 1 or more doubles a round ? ( as in 1.4 currently ). It’s all about focus. And it’s hard to keep it for 70 shots a round.

  2. Dennis Clark

    Oct 6, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Great advice pro!

    • Tom F. Stickney II

      Oct 7, 2019 at 12:13 am

      Thanks buddy! Can’t add but other than that it’s a good one. Ha.

  3. Ardbegger

    Oct 6, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Blowup holes for me are usually because of a missed “hero shot”. The Keep-It-Simple, Stupid (KISS) principle helps me out when I feel the urge to go for the coffee room bragging rights shot.

  4. Scratchscorer

    Oct 6, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    7 over par is usually a 43 on most nines, rarely a 44.

  5. Kim Chee

    Oct 6, 2019 at 9:17 am

    The best way to avoid blowup holes is to not play golf in the first place.

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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