Game Sense: Tee to Green

If you want to be a better golfer, then you need to learn more than the average golfer.  It’s amazing to me, how few people ever take a short game or putting lesson.  It seems like all any golfer wants to do is hit it farther.

I’ve been putting into practice the things I’ve learned from Eben, during the development of “Game Sense: Tee to Green“, and it is really helping me.

When I interviewed Eben about course management, he ended up sharing so much information.  He really has a wealth of knowledge.  He helped Nick Faldo, after Faldo had lost the feel on his putting.  He’s helped other tour players and even long drive champions Sean “the beast” Fister and Art Sellinger.

The things he shared with me during the recording of the “Game Sense” program, have had a major impact on my game.  Here’s what’s happened with me:

  • I feel much more at ease on the course knowing the tricks the architects use to confuse golfers, and knowing how not to fall for them
  • Knowing the proper places to hit the ball, and to miss it to, also make things much easier, and really takes the pressure of your long game.  This information gives you a much larger margin for error.
  • I feel like a shot maker and a real player, rather than someone who is hitting and hoping.

Today I went out to play a round using all the techniques I’ve learned in this program.  It was one of the most fun rounds I’ve had recently.  I had a putt for par on every hole, and several birdie putts.  And the round just felt easy.  I missed a few short putts, but I always felt like I had opportunities to make pars.

This confidence of knowing the strategy that I wanted to use, took enough pressure off that I think it really helped my ball striking.  I had one of the best ball striking rounds I had recently, partly because I knew that if I didn’t it perfectly, I would be in a good position to save par, and that’s just what I proceeded to do.  I also had no scores higher than bogey.  That is fun.  When you know that you’re not going to make a double or worse, it just makes the game feel so much easier and fun.

I feel like now I know things that most players don’t.  And it definitely makes me more confident.  If you want to play with this kind of confidence, you should get “Game Sense:Tee to Green“.

The risks of forcing shots

What can we learn from the professional golfers we love to watch?  We can learn a lot.

On this weeks episode of “Being John Daly” we saw Daly’s meltdown in the last round of the tournament in Mayakoba, Mexico.  By his own admission, he was going for too much.  He made some bad decisions and he compounded the errors by trying to hit it farther, or draw it more, or going after too many pins.  He was forcing it and he paid the price.

He knew that he didn’t need to hit driver, that it was a perfect 3 wood golf course for him.  But when things started to go south, the driver came out to play.

Instead of taking his medicine and getting back to the strategies that got him there, he took unnecessary risks, and he felt he had to do that because the tournament was getting away from him.  But that is precisely the time that he needed to play within himself.

I’m certainly guilty of doing this.  I know that sometimes when a round isn’t going well I’ll try to make up for lost shots with some hero shots and end up getting in more trouble.

Golf is a game of patience, and part of being patient is being in control of your emotions.  I think Daly let his emotions get out of hand on Sunday because he really wanted to be in the top 10 to get that exemption into the Waste Management Open with a top ten finish at Mayakoba.  When he saw that slipping away, he fought harder, but in fighting harder he brought more mistakes into play.  If he had hit 3 wood and off the tees instead of driver, he might have kept himself in the tournament.  But it’s hard to come back from 5 bogeys, multiple double bogeys and a triple.  Daly paid the price for trying to get too much out of each shot.  And it’s a lesson well worth learning from.

See also “Bad Decisions are Worse than Bad Swings“.

Bad decisions are worse than bad swings

I've had my share of Barkley's.According to the National Golf Foundation more than half of all golfers shoot 100 or more, and only 1 in 4 can break 90 consistently.

Only 5% of golfers can shoot lower than 80.

With all of the advances in technology and the the improvements in the quality of the golf courses as well as the availability of access to golf professional and teachers you would expect this number to have improved over the last 20 years but it really has not.  So what is going on?  Why are golfers not getting better?  And how can you use this information to become a golfer who does improve?

I think the number one reason golfers don’t score is they make bad decisions that costs them more shots than they should take.

Bad decisions are very costly.  They compound mistakes and they add many unneeded strokes.

So what makes a decision bad:

1) You are unlikely to pull the shot off.

2) If you don’t pull the shot off it brings a high number into play.

3) There are higher percentage plays that you can make but instead you take the low percentage play.

4) You don’t factor in all the information needed to make a sound decision.

5) You over estimate your abilities.

6) You don’t practice this shot so you really don’t know how to play it.

Not all of these are involved in every bad decision, but if you look at your bad decisions you will see that many of them are.

Now I want to differentiate a bad decision from a bad shot.  Since we are all human, and therefore imperfect, we will make bad swings.   That’s just the way it goes.  You may have made the right decision, but put a bad swing on it.  That happens.  Most scoring problems however, really happen when bad decisions and bad swings come together.

The difference between golfers who score well and golfers who don’t, is that golfers who don’t score well, consistently throw away shots.  Golfers who score well, make decisions that makes it difficult to throw away shots.

I’ve been taught to play defensive aggressive .  Play to a defensive part of the course (in other words away from trouble and away from your weaknesses) but put an aggressive swing on the ball.  In other words you play the high percentage shot that will leave you with a bogey at worst and takes double bogey or worse out of the equation.  It sounds like you’re hoping for bogey but that’s not what this does at all.  Playing this way actually enables you to make many more pars and even birdies while limiting the effect of mistakes.  Try it and let me know how your scores change. See also: Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf.

How to warm up properly to play your best golf

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Do you ever show up to golf course only minutes before your tee time, dash to give yourself a quick stretch, take 2 swings, and then hit your first tee shot deep into the woods, OB or in the rough?  Does this happen all the time?

How can we give ourselves the best opportunity to play well?  How can you expect to play well without giving yourself an adequate warm up?

I want to offer a different way to warm up for your round of golf.  It’s going to be designed to help you quickly get into the groove so that you can play your best.

First, let’s talk about what the purpose of the warm up is.

Certainly part of the warm-up should be designed to get your body moving.  Golf after all is an athletic activity.  It requires coordination, flexibility and strength (to varying degrees).  Any tightness in your muscles will affect how you play.

The other part of the warm up is to prepare you for the round you are about to play.  You want to see what your swing is doing that day, and you want to give your self the best opportunities to play well without having to think about mechanics on the golf course.  Any sports psychologist or mental game coach will tell you that thinking about mechanics while you’re doing the activity will lead to decreased performance.  So how do we give ourselves the best opportunity to play well.

I’m going to share a routine that works well for me.  But I want you to understand what I’m trying to accomplish with it.  I want to eliminate 2 variables from the warm up so that we can get off to a great start.  I also want to make sure that we engage the imagination and feel parts of our brain.  This will help us on the golf course.

Eliminate the variables

The first variable I want to eliminate in the warm-up is club length.

Why would I want to do that?

The average golfer does not practice nearly enough to have a consistent swing.  This is a big reason their handicaps have not improved in the last 20 years.  If you are constantly changing the length of the club, than you are going to need to constantly adjust.  When you don’t practice enough, it becomes difficult to make those adjustments quickly.  By warming up with the same club, a 6 or 7 iron only for the first part of it, you have a consistent ball position, a consistent bottom of the arc, and a consistent length of the club.  By not having to adjust to changing those variables you can more easily get a true sense for what your swing is doing that day.  You can also groove consistency.

The next variable I want to eliminate is loft.

Again by warming up with the same club you can groove consistency.  You can get some rhythm.  And you can prepare to play great golf.

Engaging Feel and Imagination

So I’ve taken away two variables.  But what I do want to do is really get your feel and imagination warmed up and ready for play on the golf course.  When you watch the best players in the world, you will find that each shot is unique.  They are normally not playing the same stock shot every shot.  Each shot has a unique trajectory, curve and target.

I’m not going to expect the average golfer to practice unique trajectory, curve and target but I do want to engage feel and imagination.  So here is what to do.

With your 6 or 7 iron you are going to hit to different distances, straight out in front of you.

Take a few balls and hit between 3 and 5 to each distance below.

15 yds

30 yds

50 yds

80 yds

100 yds

120 yds

150 yds

By starting with short chips and moving to longer shots you began to engage feel and imagination.  You need to try and feel the length of the shot. Your imagination becomes engaged in the process.  Starting with shorter shots also builds your consistency.  As you strike short shots accurately your confidence goes up.  If after moving to the next distance you see shorts start to go off line, take a few balls and hit some short ones again, get that feeling solid and return to hitting the longer shots but with that solid feel in mind.

After doing this first part of the warm up, you should be ready to hit some longer clubs including driver.  Maintain the feeling you had when you were hitting crisp shots with your 6 or 7 iron and you should see improved ball striking on the course. For more on practicing see managing your expectations on the golf course or using your natural auto pilot to play your best golf.

Managing Expectations on the Golf Course

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Have you ever been so excited to go to the golf course because your practice sessions have been going great?  You tee it up, and wham, OB. Uh oh, this could be a long day.

Expectations can lead to frustration on the course.  Managing them properly is the best way to play your best golf.

Golf is played one shot at a time.  Anything that takes you out of that is asking for trouble.  Coming to the course with expectations that you are going to play great because you were striping it at the range can lead to disappointment.  If you don’t manage your emotions properly, that disappointment can quickly escalate and throw your entire round off.

The hardest thing in golf is to maintain the one shot at time philosophy.  It’s so simple in concept, and yet so difficult in practice.  Why is that?

I think the heart of it is that we are emotional beings.  We aren’t robots who can turn off the emotion.  But we don’t need to be robots to be successful either.  We can use our emotions to help us.  After all playing from feel is essentially playing from emotion.  When you play from you feel, you are feeling the shot, and going with what feels good, right, etc.  It’s a positive emotion that you have chosen the right shot.  So it’s actually based on emotion, but it’s not reactive.  This is using emotion proactively to play well.

The opposite side of the spectrum is reacting to bad shots, reacting to pressure poorly, reacting to your range session.  Reacting emotionally takes away from being in the moment, seeing the shot, and feeling it.

The more technical we are, the more reactive we can be.  Bad shots, tend to drive us to analyze, what went wrong, what happened, I was hitting it so well before, where did my swing go.  These thoughts happen, and the response, well my stance, my grip, did come over the top, did I tuck in my elbow right, did I get the right wrist hinge, did I turn my back fully….etc.

I think a better response is to say “Did I see my target clearly before taking the shot?”, “Did I feel the shot before I hit it?”, “Did I factor wind, slope, lie and temperature into my calculations?”.

So how does this relate to managing expecations?  Simply, your expectations, good or bad, take you out of the moment if not managed.  Whether you were striping it on the practice tee or not, you need to treat each shot as a single event.  Step outside the boundaries of the expectation and say, what do I want to create here?  Visualize, feel, and swing.

I’ve heard stories of tour players playing a brand new course, sight unseen, who ended up with a great round.  When they talk about it, they say things like “Well, I didn’t really have any expectations.  I haven’t played the course before, and I didn’t know where the trouble was.  So I just went at it, one shot at a time.”

Preview: Sky Caddie SGX

SkyGolf will be releasing their new flagship GPS the SkyCadie SGX to the public on March 15th.  It will have some new features that can truly help make better decisions on the golf course and improve confidence.  These developments should help golfers to improve their games.  See the press release here.

One of the basic ways that GPS units help golfers is by providing them with accurate distance information.  However, golfers need more than distance information in order to make good decisions, especially when approaching the green.  The SGX’s new or improved green features should give golfers the information they need to approach greens with more confidence.

IntelliGreen Pro provides distances to green contours, false fronts, and any other point on the green.  Although it is not available on all SkyCaddie courses (including the course I play), for those courses that it is available it should be very helpful.

I’m most excited about seeing the “Smart Club” technology in person.  If the SGX can deliver on its promise to track club data (club used, distance hit) etc, that could really help the average golfer.  It would provide and easy way for people to really know how far they hit each club.

Currently, tracking that information by hand is certainly doable, but tedious.  I imagine that few people actually do it, and when they do, they may fall into the trap of only writing down their best shots.  The SGX could provide players with more accurate data as it could capture every shot.  One could potentially track it over time and see trends, etc.  This could take some of the “ego” out of the game so that players can make decisions based on realistic data.

Overall the SGX unit looks promising.  It appears SkyGolf is serious about helping golfers to actually improve their golf games.  They also seem to be responding to their competition by pre-loading the unit with 30,000 courses.  All of this competition between GPS manufacturers should end up enhancing this game we love.

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What you can learn from the groove change

As we know the USGA has adopted a new groove rule that went into effect this month for the PGA Tour.  These new “v” grooves are not as sharp and have 40% less volume than box grooves.  While this change does not affect the vast majority of amateur golfers we can all learn by how PGA Tour players are adapting to the change.

Amateur players should watch how the pros approach shots from the rough especially close to the green.  Because these new grooves don’t have the same kind of bite, tour players have adapted by playing the shots differently.

How this helps amateurs

Amateur golfer typically do not have the swing speed or technique to generate the kind of spin the pros do.  The example the pros have set the past few years typically does not translate well to amateurs.  Although those shots (high spinning, stop on a dime shots) are beautiful to look at, most amateurs just aren’t going to pull them off very often.  But now we have an opportunity to watch shot making return to the game.

The new grooves are forcing the professionals to hit higher softer shots and rely less on spin.  What I saw at the Sony Open in Hawaii was a lot of shots landing short of the green and rolling on the green.  You also saw pros punished a bit more when they short sided themselves.  So what you are also seeing is that the pros are being encouraged to have their misses leave plenty of green to work with.  This is something amateur players should really pay attention to.

How the pros are adjusting:

  1. Hitting higher softer shots to stop the ball.
  2. Playing for fliers and the lower spin out of the rough by bouncing balls onto the green.
  3. Making sure their misses leave plenty of green to work with

Do these things and you should see your scores drop as you eliminate big numbers.