First Round of the season, AimPoint Express worked for me

Even with 40 mph gusts today I was able to begin putting AimPoint Express to the test. Good thing I did too, as it was the only thing that really worked in my game today and saved my round from being embarrassing.

Even with 40 mph gusts today I was able to begin putting AimPoint Express to the test.  Good thing I did too, as it was the only thing that really worked in my game today and saved my round from being embarrassing.

I started by going to the practice green and getting my calibrations, really feeling the different levels of slope so I could refer to how those felt during the round.

Last year I knew I needed to work on my putting. I felt it was an area that was really holding me back. Good rounds putting would usually lead to good rounds, but putting, well it never helped.

I’ve always found the greens at my home course to be challenging to read. I was always either over-reading the break or under-reading the break. Once I had “my read”, I never really felt certain about it. It was more of a hit it and hope kind-of-thing.

I was amazed at what it was like to go through the process of reading the greens with AimPoint Express. The reads were quick, and after I few putts I gained more and more confidence.  Amazingly every putt looked like it had a chance to go in. Every putt was on line. I sank a good number of longer putts in the from 8 to 15 feet, and these putts had some break to them.

I set a personal best today with 9 one-putts. Even better it also worked from the fringe and chipping. I read those as well and I almost holed a few of them, and if not I left myself some nice tap-ins. Looking back on the round and the incredibly windy conditions we played in today, it was tough out there. My drives were all over the place. My approach shots were completely rusty. But my putting was spot-on. It feels pretty good to step up to a putt, feeling confident about the line. Knowing that I have a really good sense of how it’s going to break. I will continue to use AimPoint Express and I’m interested in seeing how I can adjust as to faster or slower greens.

My new favorite practice putting game – Split Nines

If you want to add some pressure to your putting practice to make it feel a bit more like what you’ll feel on the golf course then try this game.

If you want to add some pressure to your putting practice to make it feel a bit more like what you’ll feel on the golf course then try this game.

The game is split into two halves, your front nine and your back nine.  On your front 9, each putt is like you’ve hit the in regulation.  Every putt made is a birdie, every putt missed leaves a par putt (you must putt in, 3 putting does count as a bogey).

On your back nine, these are your greens missed in regulation.  Every putt is for par.  Miss and your next putt is for bogey.

So, on the front nine, you want to get as quickly and as far under par as you can.  Be sure to mix in 3 shorter putts (4-6 ft), 3 medium putts (6 – 12ft) and 3 longer putts (more than 12 feet) in each nine.

You’ll find after you finish the front nine and start the back, the pressure really starts to mount as you try to remain under par.  Give it a shot, and tell me what you think.  I’ve found it to be an awesome way to practice.

How to make swing changes stick

Recent experience has taught me that you need two things to make swing changes stick.  Practice and time.  Now while these may seem self evident there is more going on behind the scenes in the subconscious mind than meets the eye.

We’ve all heard the phrases “Practice makes perfect” and “Perfect practice makes perfect”.  We all know that tour players have practiced all their lives to get the level they are at.  The thing is that they are not always practicing the same things in the same way.  They have built up enough skill level, that as they dial one thing in, they can work and address another part of the game.

What am I getting at?

As amateur golfers we don’t have the luxury to practice to practice like a tour player.  In fact, for most of us, we rarely get to practice.  I’ve tried to combat this by investing in some things that bring the practice home, and while that does address much of the problem, there is another part of practicing that has to be thought through as well.

That is, practicing the right things in the right way.

If you’ve had a lesson with a golf pro, they probably got you to do so some things that felt a little strange.  And if you’re like most golfers, you probably forgot about that feeling very shortly after and didn’t really practice it.  The end result is a wasted lesson, and no step forward in your progress.

I think part of the reason we forget to practice those things is because they feel so strange.  And when that happens, we are less likely to use it.  Combine that with very few practice sessions and it is virtually inevitable that you will forget what you learned.

How I’ve been practicing differently

I’ve been focusing on the things I have learned, and how strange they feel.  The thing I’ve realized is that I don’t necessarily need to be doing full swing. Initially what I start out doing is conditioning my body to get used to how that feels.  That position, swing thought etc, that feels strange, is often a big key to getting to the next level.  However, it’s hard to practice because it feels so strange.

Every day, I focus on something like that, that feels a bit strange.  It could be the forward press in putting, it could be the feeling of holding on to your angles and your lag, it could be a feeling that you don’t sway when you turn, or not laying off the club too much etc.

These things feel weird because they are not a part of your swing.  You need to get used to them, you need to get comfortable with them.

Making amazing progress

It’s amazing the things that happen once you start to integrate these things into your swing.  Not only do they become a part of your swing, but as you really integrate them, they take on their own strength.  They become a part of your swing that you can count on, that you can trust.  And when that happens, your swing changes and your results change.

So when your instructor gives you a piece that feels a bit strange, hold on to it, work with it, make it a part of you and you will be rewarded with a more solid game.

Practice Games

Now that it’s getting colder in the North East, I find that when I go to the practice area at my golf course that there is no one there.  The place is deserted.  Still, I want to keep getting better so I’m spending a lot of time.  I’m using a couple of practice games that make practice really interesting and add some significant challenge.

I call the first game:

Pin Seeker

The objective is to get the ball as close to the hole without going more than gimme range past.  Here are the rules.

For every shot that lands on the green, but stays on and short of the pin you get 1 point.  Every shot that gets within 3 feet you get 3 points.  Every shot that hits the pin or goes into the hole, you get 5 points.  However, for every shot that is past the pin and more than 3 feet away, you lose 2 points.

Play this game, it will really sharpen up your pitching, chipping.

Another great game to play is:

Leap Frog

Pick a pin on the green to hit to.  The first shot must land short of the pin, but on the green.  The objective is to see how many balls you can get between the first ball and the pin with each ball having gone past the previous shot.  Start with a PW and move to your more lofted wedges.  It’s trickier than it sounds and it’s a good way to learn distance control.  If you really want to challenge yourself, play this game out of the bunker.

This should give you some really good practice, add some pressure, and begin to recreate situations on the golf course.  You’ll see your skills sharpen, your distance control sharpen and your feel improve.  Give these games a shot and let me know what you think.

Develop great rhythm and tempo in your golf swing by practicing bunker shots

Practicing bunker shots can improve your rhythm and tempo
Practicing bunker shots can improve your rhythm and tempo

Bunker play.  What comes to mind for you?  Does it fill you with fear?  Do you think, “how many shots will it take to get out”?

This is one of the areas that amateur golfers practice the least.  And it’s one area where the average golfer can really save a ton of strokes.  So practicing bunker shots can save you shots and has a number of extra benefits.

  1. Bunker shots become much easier.
  2. Lose the fear of being in a green-side bunker.
  3. Help with rhythm and tempo.
  4. Smooth out your swing.

The first two benefits are pretty obvious.  Practice from the bunker and not only will it get easier, but yes, you will lose the fear of being in a bunker.

The last two benefits are not obvious.  How could practicing bunker shots help with rhythm and tempo, and smooth out your swing?

The other day I decided to practice for one full hour hitting shots from the greenside bunker in the short game practice area at my local course.  It was an area I had neglected recently as I, for some reason, almost never end up in a greenside bunker.  I don’t know why that is, but it’s true.  Regardless, I wanted to become more comfortable with bunker shots.

As I practiced I realized something.  I have a fairly quick transition in my swing, when it gets too quick, I start losing accuracy and my ball striking degrades.  In the bunker,  too quick of transition led to bunker shots that were too fat or too thin where I caught too much ball.  I also felt on my good bunker shots, that the transition was just right, and I felt the forgiveness of the bunker really help smooth things out.

What most amateur golfers don’t realize is that a bunker shot has the most margin for error of basically any shot in golf.  You can hit the sand from 1 to 6 inches behind the ball and still have a reasonable result.  I noticed that when my transition was smooth, I hit beautiful shots out of the bunker that went high, landed soft, and spun to a quick stop.  Over the course of that hour, my bunker shots got better and better where I could land 6 to 8 out of 10 within a couple of feet of my intended target.  But the most powerful effect was the smoothness that I felt in the shots.  My swings out of the bunker felt so right.  The timing was good, the rhythm was great, and they just flowed.

After 1 hour of hitting bunker shots, I proceeded to practice chips, pitches and lob shots.  The tempo from the bunker stayed with me, and I hit some really great short game shots.

I think the main reason that bunker shots encourage such great rhythm is that you’re not actually trying to hit the ball.  You have an area of sand behind the ball that you want your sand wedge to enter, and like I said, you’re not actually trying to hit the ball.  So you are practicing 3/4 to half swings that are real shots but where you’re not hitting the golf ball, you’re hitting the sand, and this changes the focus.

I have found this to be a really great part of the game to practice because in the process of becoming a better bunker player, you’ll improve your rhythm and timing, which will help your overall game.

Stuck in a slump? It may be the best thing for you.

Golf is a game full of up and downs, and I’m not just talking about saving par.

What I mean is that everyone’s “career” with golf, whether playing professionally or playing on the weekend with buddies goes though periods of highs and lows.  Whether it’s missing 5 or 10 cuts in row, or shooting 10 strokes above normal for your last 5 or 10 rounds, we all go through tough times trying to get that little white ball into the cup.  We all get into occasional slumps.

I’ve been on a bit of a slump myself.  After shooting some of my best rounds of the year several weeks ago, I have fallen into a deep fog, where it seems like I had lost all control of my golf ball.  We’ll at least until today, although the seeds of the discovery were sown a while back, but I’ll get to that shortly.

The slump seems to have come out of nowhere.  My last round before the slump was a 77.  I’m not yet a scratch golfer so 77 on a tough par 72 course from the back tees is just fine with me.  However when the slump started it began a downward slide in scores.  Before I knew it I had several 88s, a 90, and the dagger in my heart was 97 in the member member tournament yesterday.

Although I wasn’t sure how I would fix it, I firmly believe that I will.  I also know that I’m not the only golfer to have gone through slumps either.  Jack Nicklaus, Steve Stricker, David Duval, Davis Love III, Ian Baker-Finch and many more have gone through their share of slumps.  Steve Stricker came back from “no man’s land” to world #3.

How they fixed their individual slumps is another story, but knowing that even the worlds best players go through times like these, gives me hope that I can get my game together, and take it to even higher levels.

I also believe that whatever happens can be a blessing in disguise.  In my case, the slump made really dig deep and address some swing flaws.  I knew that I didn’t want this inconsistency any more and I became determined to find a way to fix it.

Last night, hours after coming home from the the worst score of the season at that tournament, I had a thought that turned into a deep examination of a flaw, what caused it, and how to make it go away.  I remember something that my coach Eben Dennis said to me in a discussion we had about Jamie Sadlowski.  The more I thought about that conversation, the more I realized he was right, although I still wasn’t sure what to do with that information.

It was a moment where I challenged a deeply held subconscious belief about the golf swing.  And as I worked with that thought, things began to click.

My major flaw had come into being a long time ago as I had decided that I was going to learn how to create big time lag.  Sure enough I learned how to create lag, but the way I did it, made it extremely timing dependent when it came to releasing it through the ball.  As Eben put it, I was “dragging the club head” through the finish.  This drag made it really difficult to square the club face at impact.  I also realized that this dragging result, was not the cause of my mis hits.  It was actually an effect of a different flaw.

I realized that if I wanted to play well and consistently, I need to address the root cause and not just band aid the effects.  I set out to discover the cause, and I believe that I have found it, at least as it pertains to my swing.

Something else interesting happened along the way.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’ve analyzed Rickie Fowler’s swing.  Well, I now believe that my previous analysis of his swing, was incorrect.  I was simply looking from the outside in, at what he was doing.  Well, the reason I bring this up, is that without trying to copy him, my swing seems to now have some of the same characteristics of his swing.  What’s more is that now I have a better sense of where his consistency comes from.

When I look at video of both swings together, side by side there are some pretty clear similarities, but there are also some major differences.  Now let me repeat this, I did not set out to copy or imitate Rickie Fowler’s swing.  It’s unconventional, and I think most golf teachers would steer clear of that, but there are some elements about it that work very, very well.

The main element about Rickie’s swing that I understand now, is that from start to finish, it never gets to a point where he has to “save it with his hands”.  He doesn’t really get stuck to where he needs to flip it or where’s going to block it (the way Tiger Woods often does).  In fact his whole swing is designed to bring the club head back to square at impact in an extremely efficient way.

I bring up the Rickie Fowler reference because as I watched video of my swing, it reminded me of Rickie’s but in my own way.  And like I said, I’m not trying to copy him.  I was just trying to find the most efficient way for me to bring the club head back to square at impact, and it’s probably just a coincidence that there’s any resemblance to his swing.

So how did this swing perform?

At home, I use the driving range on my dancin’ dogg simulator basically to look at two statistics: club face angle, and swing path.  From the day that I got the simulator, I always had a difficult time getting my face angle to square.   I would occassionally be able to do it.  The reason for that, is that the dragging effect I talked about above, made it very hard to square the face.  Recently it’s gotten somewhat better, where I could keep the face in the +2 to plus 5 degrees open.  With a path enough from the inside these allow for little draws, or baby fades.

With the changes that I made last night, and this morning, I was able to keep the face 0.0 to 0.7 degrees open, consistently.  This is essentially a square face.  That is a dramatic improvement.  You can imagine how shocked I was when I was able to do this 20 times in a row.  But I didn’t just want to take the simulator’s “word” for it.  So I went to the driving range to see if the results held up there too.

They did.  I don’t remember ever hitting the ball as straight as I did this morning.  And it just kept happening, ball after ball.  I believe that I will be out of my slump soon, and in a weird way, I have the slump to thank for this.  It got me to the point where I knew that what I was doing before, just was not going to work in the long run.  I knew I had to get to the root of the major flaw and fix it.  So, thank you Slump, you’re a great teacher in disguise.

A must read: “Straight down the middle” by Josh Karp

straightdownthemiddleLike many golfers I have my library of golf books. I’ve split my library into instructional books, mental game, and other.  Although this book falls into the category of other, I relate to its message because Josh’s journey through golf, in many ways, chronicles my journey.

It is amazing how golf connects to and reminds of every day life.  I know people who will play golf with potential business partners to see how they handle themselves on the course, as it is often a reflection of how they deal with adversity in life.

But the journey of improving your golf game can also have an impact on improving your life in general.  My life has changed as a result of playing golf.  I’m reminded of a quote “Whoever said golf and life are similar was wrong.  Golf is harder.”

Josh’s journey in which he learns to stop worrying and love his swing is a journey filled with ups and downs, meeting fascinating people, and making connections to things that on the surface seem unrelated to golf. But Zen and other disciplines have many similarities.  For me I always understood Zen to be about letting go.  It was about letting your body do what it does, instead of trying to control it with your conscious mind.  After all, a warrior who has to control his muscles consciously won’t last very long.  He will quickly be defeated by a foe with flow.

I love this quote from the inside cover of the book.

“Throughout the ages, the ancient arts of Zen and meditation have helped warriors prepare for battle,  brought philosophers to enlightenment, and opened the path to inner peace for countless practitioners.  Perhaps most importantly, however, these practices have allowed golfers to transcend their game and shave precious strokes off their handicap.”

I find that golf does indeed mirror many things in life.  Hard work pays off.  Tough rounds are interspersed with moments of glory, when we are in the moment and in the zone.  These highlights keep us wanting to come back to the course, to subject ourselves for what we know can be either bliss or frustration, and that’s half the fun.  You don’t know what you’re game is going to be like on any particular day.  You don’t know what your swing and your chipping or putting are doing that day until you get on the golf course and start hitting shots.

I said that my journey mirrors in many ways Josh’s journey.  I have not seen the people that he’s met but outside of golf I have been exposed to transformational techniques, and in many ways I’ve bridged the gap between them.  You can see part of that in the domain name of this website.  But the connections go deeper.  People who know me well, know that I am a bit of a philosopher and thinker.  It is partly why I created this website.  I wanted to write about what it takes to become a better golfer from a different perspective then almost everything else I see on the subject.  What I write about improvement is based on ideas, conversations and insights that germinate, then grow and develop, sometimes from the most unusual sources.  But like life, all things are connected.

I’m willing to try unconventional things to improve my game, and in that way Josh and I are very similar.  Get this book.  If any of what I wrote above connects with you at all, then you are going to love it.  He writes with a great wit and refreshing style. For me, this book is as close to a must read, as you will find.

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“.

Control distance with trajectory are many excellent reasons to learn to control your distance with trajectory.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Not every shot is a full shot.  The more you can learn to master partial shots, the more control you’ll have approaching greens.
  2. Dealing with the wind.  Lower trajectory shots fly better in the wind and are less likely to be taken off line.  Have a short shot and it’s a windy day? Take more club and use a partial shot to take the wind out of play.
  3. Helps your short game.  Partial shots are all about feel, control and imagination, learn to do this and it will make your wedge game and short irons so much more effectively.  It will also open up more of the green enabling you to play safer shots to tucked pins and still get the ball close.
  4. Learn solid contact.  Partial shots require you to stay within yourself.  The more you practice these the more you’ll learn to feel how a solid shot feels.  Trust me, it transfers to your long game and full shots and makes you a better ball striker with every club.

Take the 30 day challenge: wedges and learn how to control your irons and wedges with more imagination and creativity.  You’ll learn valuable things that will help your entire game and make you a better player.

Does Ray really want to break 80?

Why isn’t Ray Romano really improving?

From what I’ve seen on “The Haney Project” this season, Ray seems to be getting more and more confused.  The focus has been entirely on Ray’s swing with only a little bit of work on short game.

If Ray really wants to break 80 he needs to learn how to get the most out of what he has.  That will improve his scores tremendously, then any improvements he makes to his golf swing will pay even more dividends.  The problem as I see it is that the focus isn’t really on breaking 80, it’s on fixing swing flaws and mechanics.

First place Ray could cut a lot of strokes: Putting.

On the show Ray’s putting has been very weak.  He missed a 40 foot putt 20 running it 20 past the cup.  That will introduce 3 and 4 putts all day long.  Hank needs to get Ray to two putt, and rarely 3 three put.  That will probably take 5 to 10 strokes of his game right away.

The next area where he has seemed very weak: Chipping and shots around the green.

It’s very difficult to save par when you leave your chip shots 15- 20 and 30 feet from the pin.  In order to break 80 he is going to have to get good at chipping.  He is not going to hit a lot of greens in regulation so he needs to make the most of his chipping and pitching opportunities.  He can probably save another 5 to 10 shots like this.

Now to the long game.

Clearly Ray can occasionally hit some good tee shots and certainly prefers the ball teed up even with his irons.  What he needs is enough to consistency to not get in too much trouble off the tee.  He needs a go to shot that he can get out there long enough, but that’s unlikely to wind up OB or way off the fairway in the trees.  Whether that means teeing off with a fairway wood or long iron, I don’t know, but he needs to find the fairway.  The extra yards he gets with the driver don’t offset the number of shots he loses from going OB, in the trees, or into a hazard, or topping it.

Along with a go to shot, he needs to understand the safest way to plot around the course so that he can get himself near the green in regulation.  Good chipping/pitching could give him plenty of par opportunities, and he’ll hit a few greens and get a few birdie opportunities.

The above points will get him much closer to breaking 80 than simply fixing his swing.  He needs to realize that his focus with the long game should be to improve the quality of his bad shots, so that they are less penalizing.