If you’ve had time away from your golf game due to weather, work, an illness or injury, you are likely excited to get back to golf. Many players who return for the first time will comment they are “knocking the rust off” their swing or their game. So how do you get your touch back and quickly get into your golf groove?
Work on getting comfortable with the feel of the golf club. If you are inside, practice your grip and waggle the club from side-to-side until you “feel” the weight of the club head in your hands. This is a great drill to get the feel back in your hands. Also work on grip pressure – be careful to not grip the club too tightly. You want the same grip pressure or tension as you have on the steering wheel of your car…holding the club too tightly causes tension in your forearms and prohibits a good golf swing.
Next step is to practice some putts (may be done inside to a small target) or on the practice green. Your focus is on distance control more than accuracy. Again, get a feel for the stroke and rolling the golf ball. If you are practicing outside, start with short three foot putts and gradually move back (one putter length or three feet each time) until you are 20’ to 30’ away. Continue to focus on distance rather than trying to make the ball in the hole. Move to chipping, pitching and bunker shots to help get a feel for those short game shots. Your target area should be a three foot area near the hole – so people will lay a towel down on the green and use that as a target as well.
Finally, don’t forget to get your body ready for golf as well. Stretch and condition your body for the upcoming golf season including your legs and feet. Perform some exercises so your body is ready for that first round on the course. If you prefer to walk when playing golf, get out and walk prior to playing the first time. Make sure you have comfortable golf shoes when walking the course as well. As always, consult your physician before beginning any stretching program and know your limitations. By getting your touch back, you’ll be ready when you step up to the first tee.
Most golfers would rather play golf than practice, however, when you look at the time element of playing vs. practicing, you can accomplish much more in an hour of practice, than you can in two to four hours of playing. That said, most golfers don’t really know how to practice effectively and simply go to the practice facility and hit golf ball after golf ball until the bucket is empty. Let’s take a look at how to practice effectively that will best help your game.
Golfers who dedicate time for practice quickly learn their strengths and weaknesses. By practicing effectively you will soon see the benefits from your good practice habits on the golf course.
If your golf season has been hampered by winter weather, no doubt you are excited to get back out on the golf course. Start by looking at and reviewing your fundamentals before you head to the practice facility or for that first round of the season. Reviewing and practicing your fundamentals is the best way to improve.
Posture – how you stand to address the golf ball is important in your golf swing. It determines the path of the club so it’s important to work on your posture (even without a golf club.) You can work on your posture inside, outside, at the gym, the office or wherever you are comfortable. Stand with a slight bend in your knees (so you can see the laces in your shoes – with a slight knee flex.) With your arms hanging at your side, place your hands just above your knees. This creates a perfect position for your golf posture – now let your arms hang again – move them in front of you like you are gripping a club. Practice this a few times a day and when you head out to play, you will feel comfortable and have great posture.
Grip – how you hold the club in your hand. As Ben Hogan once said, “Good golf begins with a good grip.” The grip choice (interlock, overlap or baseball) is personal preference but reviewing the basic fundamentals will help. Take your normal grip and check to see if your right hand covers your left thumb (for a right-handed player). A favorite drill of mine is to take two golf tees and put one in each hand, right between your thumb and index finger. Then take your grip and see if the golf tees line up or are pointed in opposite directions. Ideally you want the golf tees lined up, so work on adjusting your hands on the club until they line up with the shaft of the club.
Aim – lining your body and club to the desired target. Get in the habit of standing behind your ball and looking at your target. Then pick a spot (grass, divot, broken tee, discolored grass or weed, etc.) that is about a foot in front of the ball. As you take your stance, aim the clubface at the spot, then align your body with the clubface. This is a great pre-shot routine that can be used with every swing and will help you line up toward your target and not setting up to the right or left. Most amateur golfers tend to line up to the right of their intended target but think they are fading or slicing the ball to the right, when in fact are hitting it straight, but just lining up incorrectly. Practicing with an alignment rod (or a golf club) at your feet helps with aim.
Ball Position – where the ball is in your stance. There are two locations for ball position – moving the ball forward and back in your stance and how close or far the ball is from your body. Most Professionals will teach ball position for the driver and woods as being just inside the heel of your forward foot. As you move to irons, it’s usually accepted to play irons from the middle of your stance or where the golf club is at the lowest point of the swing. As far as how close to stand to the golf ball, a simple check-point is to take your grip with the club and hold your golf club straight in front of your body (parallel to the ground.) Now move back to your set-up position and where the club makes contact with the ground is where the ball should be in your stance. As the club length increases, you will stand a bit farther from the ball.
Practice your golf fundamentals so they become comfortable and you’ll be on your way to hitting better shots and lowering your scores.
In addition to having clubs you like in your bag, there are additional accessories to keep in your bag to make your round comfortable. You may not need all the items during every round, but it’s good to have these items in your bag, should you need them. Take an inventory of what’s in your bag and add the missing items below, before you head out to the golf course.
Include your name and phone number on your clubs, umbrella and ball retriever. Without a doubt, you will leave a club (or two) on the course during your golf career. Stickers for your clubs can be purchased at most golf shops, golf stores and online or you may also use address labels or make your own. Having your contact information on it helps you reunite with the lost items not deposited in the golf shop “Lost and Found” box. Add these items to your golf bag to make your round more enjoyable.
We are big fans of golfers getting properly fit for their equipment (see last week's article on 'The Importance of Club Fitting'). Once you go through the club fitting process, your Professional or club fitter will help you determine your set composition (the number of woods, irons, hybrids and wedges) or make-up of clubs in your bag. This means thinking about which clubs you plan to put in your bag to get to your 14 club limit. I like to call it, “What to use…and what to lose.”
Years ago when you bought a set of clubs, you automatically purchased eight irons – a 3 iron through pitching wedge. There wasn’t much difference from the manufacturer other than sometimes a set of eight irons included 4 iron through pitching wedge plus a sand wedge. Since most irons were sold in sets of eight irons, a typical set “composition” was eight irons, plus a driver, 3-wood and 5-wood, pitching wedge, sand wedge and putter.
As golf technology evolved and hybrid clubs were introduced, it was a great opportunity, especially for women to ditch the harder-to-hit 3 and 4 iron, while adding a few easier to hit hybrid clubs in their place. The hybrid clubhead usually looks similar to a fairway wood but has an iron-like face, lie angle, length and weight making it launch like an iron and generally easier to hit.
The benefit of going through a club fitting is you can purchase five, six or however many irons you like – there is no pre-determined number of irons you have to purchase. Your local PGA/LPGA Professional or club fitter can help you determine your set composition as you go through a club fitting. Perhaps your set begins with a six iron through pitching wedge (5 irons), sand wedge and lob wedge, two or three hybrids, a driver and two fairway woods and a putter. You have the unique ability to determine your set composition based on the clubs you like and use. Also, don’t limit yourself to just one wedge – have a minimum of two or three wedges with different lofts and bounce to help you hit different yardages and shots.
For women, it's important to have the right clubs in your bag that you like to hit and will help make the game a bit easier and more fun.
If you are a seasoned golfer or even a new golfer, chances are you’ve heard about club fitting – but wonder if you should consider custom fit clubs. Many golfers think club fitting is for the tour professionals and not amateur players. I like to ask people, if you have a size 8 foot, would you wear size 10 shoes? Most likely not, yet golfers appear content playing with equipment that is not custom fit for them and their golf game.
Research shows that 92 percent of golfers don’t play with the right clubs for their swing – so this means once you get custom fit, you will see an immediate improvement in your game. Women more than men, tend to “accumulate” handed-down clubs – which many times are too long and too heavy – not to mention have larger and usually worn grips. Treat yourself to the experience of club fitting to make sure your clubs are right for you. Your session may cost between $50 and $100 (depending on full fitting or just a few clubs) but most Professionals and fitters will credit the fitting fee toward a purchase if you buy new clubs.
How do you get started? Visit your local PGA/LPGA Professional or club fitter and ask to have your current clubs fit for your body type, height and swing. You can schedule a club fitting to check your current clubs and the club fitter can make adjustments to your set based on the results of the club fitting. If you are in the market for new clubs, you will definitely want to be fit for the new clubs so they are made for your body type, height and swing speed to help you achieve the best results.
Many variables and characteristics will be evaluated during your fitting, including the shaft type (steel or graphite) shaft flex (women’s light, regular, stiff, etc.) loft and lie angle, hand size (to determine proper grip size), grip and swing speed. You can imagine a five-foot female would not want the same clubs as a six-foot male – and vise-versa. Perhaps you feel like your 7-iron and 8-iron go the same distance – this could be due to the fact that both clubs have the same loft – and your Professional or club fitter can check this for you.
Ask your Professional or club fitter to help you determine the distances you are hitting the clubs. Ideally you should have a difference of 10 yards between each club (if your 6-iron goes 130 yards, the 7-iron should go 120 yards, the 8-iron 110 yards, etc.)
If you decide it’s time for new clubs, now what do you do with the old clubs? Before you find a spot for them in the garage, basement or attic, ask your Professional or club fitter if he or she accepts trade-ins. Similar to trading in a vehicle, golf club trade-ins are hassle-free and allow you to earn credit toward purchasing new clubs. The value depends on the condition and age of the clubs, but the industry standard PGA.com Value Guide can give you an idea what the fair market value for your equipment will be if traded-in.
You will enjoy the game more with properly fit equipment and will soon save a few strokes each round.
The annual PGA Merchandise Show just wrapped up a little over a week ago with more than 1,100 vendors showcasing their equipment, apparel, accessories, etc. to the more than 40,000 people in attendance. This is the chance for golf manufacturers to show their “latest and greatest” to golf Professionals and buyers, who will in turn offer the equipment and products for consumers. Every year Golf Digest magazine hosts a “Hot List Summit” at The Wigwam in Litchfield Park, Arizona where clubs are tested and evaluated for the Golf Digest Hot List. A full detailed list of clubs and their ratings will be in the March 2017 issue of Golf Digest or can be found online at GolfDigest.com.
Here’s a sneak peak of what to expect for 2017 for each club category (those earning GOLD ratings):