Saturday, November 1, 2014

When is practice not practice

To develop a skill requires four steps.

1 knowing what to do
2 knowing how to do it
3 becoming able to do it
4 get to a high level of skill

The first three steps are learning steps,  the third is practice.

Let's say you want to learn how to hit a draw.

Going to the range and trying to hit a draw is NOT practice. It is a futile and frustrating exercise.

Do step one first.  Learn what must happen to create a draw.  What is the setup.  What is the club path. What is the face angle? What needs to happen to create a draw. Write it down on paper.  Draw it out if that works for you. Design the swing that creates a draw like an architect designs a building. Become an expert in describing the process of hitting a draw.

Now do step two. Take a moment to figure out how you can actually do what you have designed. Your body and your swing, dictates what you're capable of.  Learn how to do what must be done to hit a draw. Discover how to turn the description of hitting a draw into the actual motion of hitting a draw. Do it in slow motion.

Step 3 is knowing the skill you must aspire to and develop at least a modicum of ability to actually (at least occasionally) hit a draw. This is where you test the theory and design of your draw swing. Verify that it can actually work.

Congrats, you know what to do, you know how to do it and you have demonstrated that you can do it.  Now get good at...get skilled...become consistent.  That is practice.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shooting your lowest score ever, and having the most fun ever.

Going Low

Golf can be a very humbling, even humiliating, endeavor. Golfers must travel vast expanses of inhospitable land just to knock a tiny ball into a tiny hole that is hundreds of yards away. I have played thousands of rounds of golf with hundreds of different golfers of varying skill and each golfer has played with the same flawed sense of purpose.
They all have played as if the idea of the sport was to hit the best shot possible every time to get them as close to that little hole as humanly possible. The results are often that the best shot possible was highly improbable and the actual shot did not accomplish the goal of getting as close to the hole as wished.
I have played with great golfers, and, great people that were lousy golfers. They all played the same way. Let's change things up for the next few rounds you play. Let us see if we can discover a way that allows you to have more fun and lower your score. Lower your score a lot!
You have never, or only rarely, broken 100. How about changing things up enough that you can actually score in the 80's quite easily! Let's change things up enough so that the 70's are a possibility every time you play.
I am not talking about getting lessons or spending hours at the range or getting "custom fitted" to a new set of irons. You can score better with the equipment and skill that you already have.

Four Strategies to Lower Scores.

1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT TEES. How far do you hit your 5 iron? 100 yards? 160 yards? 200 yards? The question is not "how far can you hit your 5 iron?". Be honest. Remember that we are going to change things up so being honest with yourself is a good place to start.
Let's say you hit your 5 iron 150 yards pretty much on average. Multiply 150 time 36 to get the total yardage  you should be playing. 5400 yards! Does that seem short? Well its actually a lot longer than the big hitters on the PGA tour play! The typical tour pro can hit his 5 iron maybe 220. That means they should play at 7920 yards. So the typical PGA tournament is played at several hundred yards shorter than the average player's potential.
Now be confident enough in to play the tees that are the closest to your proper yardage.

2. REDESIGN THE GOLF COURSE. If none of the tees allow you to play the ideal length, change it up. Play some holes from the middle tees, some from all the way forward, maybe even some from the back if you are so inclined. If you want to create a new tee box up near the 200 yard marker or even further forward go ahead. After all tee locations are rather arbitrary, so "play it forward". As forward as you need. If on your best day you still wouldn't clear the water on your tee shot, tee off from somewhere else.

3. FEWER CLUBS. The rules say your can have no more then 14 clubs but nothing is said about carrying fewer clubs. Unless you can count on striking the ball cleanly most of the time with any given club, don't carry it! Most amateurs would play better without a driver and many would play better without most of their woods. Use only the clubs that you know you hit well, regardless of how far you feel you need to hit it.

Now for the most important strategy of all!

4. RETHINK THE GAME.  While the goal remains, "shoot the lowest score possible", the game changes.  We are going to play 2 different games: Island Hopping and Capture the Flag. 
Island Hopping is a fun and easy game with just enough risk and reward to make it exciting. Remember as a kid trying to cross a little stream without getting soaked? You knew where all the rocks were that you could step on to get across the the stream. It didn't matter if you could jump 6 feet if the rocks were only 4 feet apart.  We better just jump four feet or we're getting soaked. 
This is how were are going to play golf. We stand on one side of the stream, the tee box, with the hope of getting to the other side, the green, without getting soaked. Now because we have picked the right tees we know that a 5 iron should be enough to get the ball across all 18 streams in 36 jumps. Maybe some holes will take only one jump and others might need 3, 4 or 5 jumps but we can cross them all in 36 jumps.But just to be realistic let's give ourselves a few more jumps.... 24 for each 9 holes for an extra 12 jumps.
Now the first jump is always the easiest. Our feet are dry and on stable dry land and we only have to get to that first rock. No pressure!  Once we are in the middle of the stream the pressure can build, but all we have to remember is; the goal is to get to the next rock.The last jump can be tricky because the bank might be slippery and we could slide right back down into the creek. Sploosh!
But where are the rocks on the golf course? Wherever you decide they are. Lay out a path that allows for 1 or more easy jumps to get from tee to green. On a 350 yard par 4 the first rock might be 165 yards away so we hit a solid 4 iron or 7 wood and we are safely on the rock. Wow! We are still a long 185 yards from the island, but we are only 100 yards to the next easy 9 iron! Cool! Only 85 left and a wedge to the middle of the island and we are safe and dry. On the green in three! And we never had to hit a hard shot. This is fun! Let's do it again.... 17 more times.
The most important shot was not the tee shot. It was the shortest shot that got us onto the island. If you have time to practice it is best to practice what's important. All those 85 yard and shorter jumps.
Capture the Flag is the game we played where we tried to capture the opponents flag without getting caught. To capture the flag on the island we just landed on all we have to do is knock the ball into the hole. This is easy because no one is there to defend the flag. Just roll the ball up near the hole and tap it in. Now we change things up a bit, again. Rethink the club you are going to use to roll that ball up close to the hole.Putter? No! Maybe the 5 wood or 3 iron or maybe this is the best place to finally use that massive headed driver. Driver to putt with? Why not? It's got a huge head and very little loft, its very light and should be able to easily roll the ball the required 20, 30, 50 feet or more with little effort. If you're more than 10 feet from the hole decide that the target is really 4 feet wide and you just want to get it inside that. Tap the resulting 2 footer in and go to the next tee box.
Your goal is to capture the flag in as few shots as possible, 2 or fewer would be the best.
The most important putt was not the 25 footer but the 2 foot tap in! If you practice what's important, short putts, you will get better.

At the end of the round we discover that it really took only 45 shots tee to green, not the 48 we anticipated, and because we putted pretty well it only took 34 putts for an easy 79!

Try changing things up for a few rounds and let me know how it worked for you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Swing Thought

There are a few things that I am asked about quite frequently;

  • Where should my feet be?  In your shoes and on the ground.
  • Where should I look? Before, during or after your swing?
  • What should I think about?  Hard to come up with a smart-alec answer to that one.
Swing thoughts have been baffling and befuddling golfers since golf began. Head down, knees flexed, relax, turn, beverage cart, hit it hard, swing soft, why is he jingling his change, don't put it in the water. All reasonable thoughts and not a swing thought among them.

I think a quality swing thought is all about confidence, belief, tempo, timing, movement and energy. Most swing thoughts are all about mechanics, fear, uncertainty and doubt.  The more clearly you can visualize your golf swing, the more completely you understand your golf swing the simpler the swing thought.

Sit back for a moment, close your eyes and think "Mona Lisa". Depending on how well you know the painting, the painter, the history of the piece, and even the model the more complete and complex your thought is. Two words can evoke visual images, emotion, admiration and a myriad of other senses.

I like my golfers to pick two words that can create that same kind of image, but in this case it is the complete and complex image of the golf swing. Your ideal golf swing. 

I use "turn turn" as my swing thought producing 2 word mantra. Two identical words with two distinct meanings in the context of my swing. I say the words softly and in the rhythm of my ideal swing. I say the words three times, with the third time being during my swing. I say the words out loud.

I have golfers that use "tic toc" or "right left" even "Ernie Els". Some have used three words "top, drop, turn" or "swing, set, thru". 

Find a simple little diddy that will work for you and think your way to a great round.

Consistent thoughts produce consistent actions.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Arnold Palmer once said that the most significant advancement in technology for the golfer was the modern greens mower. Watching some of the classic golf matches, like Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, makes a believer out of me. Those green were simply awful! I have played local golf courses that had tee-boxes better than those greens.

Technology has made a significant impact on the amateur golfer, and for me.

Video. When I first started teaching I purchased the best video diagnostic tool I could find for the golf swing. Multi-window, slowmo, golfer overlay, lines, angles, stop action, tempo, nearly everything could be analyzed. It cost me a princely sum. Now (FOR FREE) you can have all that tech and then some on your smartphone or tablet, Mac or PC. Yes free! Look on your app market or browse for v1golf, several thousand dollars worth of tech for FREE!

GPS. Remember yardage books? I actually took the time to create one for my home course, Sunnybreeze. Very detailed, good artistic overview of the hole, it was great until Hurricane Charley blew all the trees away. As far as I know the only surviving copy is in the hands of my Canadian friend Sparky Kelterborne. Now, you can get all that detail at your fingertips. And its FREE! FreeCaddie, and GolfLogix are 2 great examples of how you can have all the numbers the pros have, right on your smart phone! The only thing missing from the GPS yardage books is the Pro's description of how you should play the hole.

Take advantage of these 21st century aids to the ancient game of golf.

Next time I'll chat a bit about the technology in golf clubs, shirts, shoes, tees, balls, grips, or food.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Training Aids

The other day I spent a large portion of my afternoon watching the Golf Channel. I started paying special attention to the commercials and full length programs touting products, swing types, videos, books, schools programs and websites that all claimed to take strokes off your game. It was truly amazing. Apparently all I needed to do was buy a few books, a half a dozen training aids, take some pills watch an Englishman and a rather loud golf instructor, go to a couple of websites, and watch some DVDs get fitted for new clubs and new balls and suddenly I will be setting scores below that of the best touring pros.

I actually added up all the claims to lower my score by 3 strokes, 2 strokes, or even more! The total I could shave was a remarkable 34 strokes. For an investment of just under $5000 I could be shooting in the 50s for 18 holes. Fame and fortune would certainly be mine!

I doubt it.

In reality lowering your average score or handicap index by even one stroke is quite an accomplishment. Any one should be capable, through commitment, of taking several stroke off their handicap over the period of a year or so.  I restate emphatically. "through commitment!" 

A wise man once said to me, that if he knew where I spent my time, effort and money he could tell me what I was committed to.

So maybe all those training aids and programs are really best at keeping us committed. Will swinging  the latest triple jointed speed enhanced whippy wonder stick make you have a better swing? Yes! So will swinging the trusty old 5 iron you have your golf bag right now.

We get better with repetition, spaced-repetition. Do it over and over again over a long period of time and even the worst swing will produce better results. There are no shortcuts. All the aids, lesson, books and TV shows will help you stay committed but YOU have to swing the stick.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Swing Thoughts

What are swing thoughts, how many should you have? Good questions. 

To fully understand "swing thoughts", let's figure what they are actually for, because in reality they are not necessarily thoughts you have while you swing! I believe you should break down the swing thoughts into three segments.
  1. preparation
  2. execution
  3. focus
1. PREPARATION These are the thoughts that take place while you are deciding what you want to do. What club do I choose? What is my target? What distance do I have to carry it? What ball flight am I expecting? Wind, terrain, stance, pin location, lie, and a myriad of other factors come into play while you are in the preparation phase of your swing thought. Before you move on to execution thoughts, you must be totally committed and totally confident that the choices you made during preparation are complete and are the right choices. You must believe that the the choices you made will result in a swing that you know you can do, and do it well.

2. EXECUTION This is the golfer's version of the pilot's pre-flight checklist. Take an overall census of your swing fundamentals; grip, stance, alignment and relax!!  This is happening just before you take your stance over the ball. Finally remind your self to do those 2 or 3 things that you have been working on with your coach or on the practice tee and take one or two rehearsal swings to create the short term memory you need for confidence. Now you are ready to focus.

3. FOCUS This is where you create the confident state that generates the great swing. From a few feet behind the ball you begin your focus process. Focus on the target! Stare from the ball to the target, see the ball's intended line of flight, visualize the club's swing path and breath smooth and easily. Take your grip, lead hand first. Focus on the grip and get it exactly how you want it, based on the decisions you made earlier. Now add the trail hand precisely like you have practiced it. Calmly walk to the ball and place the club head behind the ball with the face of the club exactly on the target line, step into your stance with the trail foot first then the lead foot. Get into your well practiced and confident stance and mood. Focus on the ball! Pick the smallest spot on the ball that you can see and commit to strike the ball on that precise spot. Focus on the swing! Each golfer must find that one key thought that enables them to freely swing the club with confidence. It may be a tempo or rhythm thought. It might be all about swing path. Or perhaps you need to focus on the shoulder turn or the finish, the important thing is to hold that one thought vividly in your mind until the swing is completed.

The brain can only hold one thought at a time, and it will always have a thought. Either the thought you put there or something random and not helpful that just creeps in. Like "get over the water", "don't chunk it", or "where's the beverage cart?".

Practice those three steps, make them automatic. Until they are automatic create a cheat sheet, to remind you of the things you should be thinking about before every shot.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Finally a good round

Played a leisurely round with Flip and shot a pretty easy 74. I was even par on the front with 2 bogies, both caused by mental errors, then on the back I repeated those same mental mistakes but without any birdies to offset.

It seems the mistakes are caused by trying to get more out of a shot than I really need. Hit it further, stop it fayster, cut it or hook it more than I really can. We see Bubba, and we all want to work it.

By trying to do more than I was capable of I took a below par round and wrecked it.  Like Clint says, "A man has to know his limits." So I spent some time reflecting back on past lives, as a baseball catcher, as a coach, as an employer, and I remembered that my success came from getting the best out of my teamates, my self and my employees. To get that very best performance I had to make sure I never set them or myself up for failure. Never ask them to do something that they might not able to do; unless I was sure that failure was not going to be catastrophic.

In golf we just need to make decisions that will not create a catastrophic failure if we can't pull the shot off. That means spending enough time on the range to know exactly what your safe limits are, and just how far you can push it if you need to.