9 Tips “Fore” Better Golf
It’s been said that there’s more than one way to skin a cat (though we’re not sure why even one way is needed), and the same goes for improving your golf game. There are 578 golf professionals who belong to the Minnesota Section PGA, with countless game improvement ideas at your disposal.
We asked nine pros from some of the top courses in Minnesota to give us their game improvement tips. Many of these tips can be put to use immediately, before your favorite course is open for play.
You can begin in your own basement with an off-season workout, go to a pro shop to get fitted for some new equipment, try a different mental approach to the game, or practice a new putting drill.
Start preparing for a better season of golf, so when the grass begins to green, you can hit the course running, and take a few early-season “skins” off your playing partners.
For more than tips, seek out teaching professionals at nearby courses and ask them how to make improvements specific to your game. Log on to the Minnesota Section PGA website for a complete directory: minnesotapga.com
Putting your Way to Lower Scores
Proper fundamentals are the key to good putting. While you practice, keep in mind that putting is all about line and pace.
- When you hold the putter, make sure your palms are facing each other and both thumbs are down the middle of the grip. This will ensure both hands work together throughout the stroke and help promote a good stroke and line.
- Place the ball slightly forward of center in your stance. This position will give you the sense of striking the ball on the upstroke, which will create overspin and keep the ball hugging the surface of the green.
- If the putter is properly aligned with the target, you’re ready for the actual stroke. Think of the putting stroke as synchronizing the rocking of your shoulders with the swinging of your arms—no wrist or hand action. The only movements are the shoulders and arms rocking back and forth in a pendulum-like fashion. This motion provides the pace.
- Use tools such as video, chalk lines, laser aim devices, and metronomes to help create a consistent reliable pace, line, and stroke.
Impact: The Moment of Truth
The “moment of truth” in a golf swing is the moment of impact (MOI), making it the most important 1/1,000th of a second for each shot.
To find that MOI, start out with a pitching wedge or chipping iron and hit short shots, increasing the distance by five-yard increments as you get a feel for the optimal MOI.
Starting with very short chips (20 feet or less) allows you to focus more on the impact position. It helps your body feel the angle that your club needs to achieve and where your hands need to be as they approach the ball and make contact.
With the shorter shots, you should find a rhythm and feel for your correct MOI, getting the ball to move forward toward your target and elevated properly. Now you can continue this same motion as you hit longer shots, all the way up to a full swing.
- Your hands should be physically ahead of the ball at the MOI and continuing to move forward toward the target. (Let the loft of the club—not your hands—lift the ball into the air. Don’t scoop the ball.)
- There are so many ways to swing a golf club, but good golfers tend to have very similar impact positions.
Trust the Motion, Trust the Swing
If you can swing a hammer, you can swing a golf club. The golf swing is a relatively simple and uncomplicated natural motion, but it is one whole motion, not a series of parts or movements stitched together. When you draw a circle, do you do it in one motion or do you connect many little arcs?
Good golf is easy golf. Golf is much simpler when the focus is on rhythm, balance, and timing because it is so easy to feel when these natural elements are absent. Discard any thoughts of partial arcs and technical instruction (and whatever Tiger and Rory are working on) and just close your eyes and feel a balanced, rhythmic swing.
Or don’t feel it—a blind, unforced swing should have the same confident, relaxed feel you have when you are walking.
Putting Drill for Distance and Direction
There are two elements to consider when making a putting stroke: distance and direction, with distance control being the most critical. Despite perfect read and aim, the ball won’t go in the hole without correct speed. The optimal speed for any given putt would be a pace where the ball stops approximately five inches past the hole.
Considering that just over five feet is the distance where tour players miss as many putts as they make, the following drill can help with distance and direction.
Pick out a relatively straight, flat putt. Place a barrier, such as an alignment rod, about 12 inches past the hole. You will need 14 balls. Place two balls at five feet, three at 10 feet, four at 15 feet, and five at 20 feet.
The first level of the drill is to make one putt from each distance. The second level is to score par or better for the 14 balls. Scoring:
- Made putt: -1
- Missed putt finishing between the hole and the barrier: par
- Missed putt short of the hole or long of the barrier: +1
Do this exercise two to three times a week, and you will find yourself making more putts.
Club Fitting for Better Performance
Southview Country Club, West St. Paul
Modern technology has made an incredible difference in the golf equipment we use. But the one element of technology that not everyone has experienced is club fitting and the benefits of using a launch monitor. Getting fitted with a launch monitor can help all aspects of your game, but the biggest difference is in drivers. Having a properly fitted driver will lead to more distance and accuracy by influencing:
- Ball speed: The initial velocity of the ball as it leaves the club face. Nothing is more important to distance. Ideally, the ball speed should be one and a half times swing speed.
- Launch angle: The angle of the trajectory of the ball after impact in relation to the ground. Launch angle is not the loft on a driver, although launch angle can be affected by driver loft. Your launch angle should be a minimum of 10 degrees or higher.
- Backspin: The rotation of the ball after impact. Ideally, it’s 2,000 to 3,000 revolutions per minute; slightly higher spin is OK for slower swing speeds. This will determine how much roll you get on your golf shots.
Less than a third of golfers today have been fitted on a launch monitor. Everyone who wants to have more fun playing golf should get fitted for all of your clubs.
Growing up at Gross Golf Course in Minneapolis, I practiced a lot in their greenside practice bunker and eventually, bunker play became one of my strengths. Good bunker play is more about having the proper technique than it is having a lot of ability. Most anyone can become an adequate bunker player regardless of handicap.
First, you have to practice it. It’s not easy and you won’t improve without a little work. Here are a couple tips:
- The club never actually hits the ball in a greenside explosion shot. It’s the sand that carries the ball out of the bunker, so remember to splash into the sand firmly. As you swing, think about getting the sand out of the bunker. After all, if the sand doesn’t fly out of the bunker, how would you expect the ball to?
- The club needs to enter the sand a couple inches behind the ball. When practicing, make a mark in the sand a couple inches behind the ball to reinforce that image in your mind.
Shape up your Game by Getting in Shape
If you had trouble with stamina and energy on the course this past season, use these workouts to achieve a new level of fitness.
Working against a new load or in a different mode will create new adaptations for your workout. Research shows that cardio routines don’t have to take 45 boring minutes anymore. You can achieve incredible benefits from shorter durations that better match the action of a golf swing.
- Jumping Rope: It’s convenient, portable, and inexpensive cardio exercise. Start by jumping without a rope. Then swing the rope on each side of you to time the jump. Then jump in with 30-second jump/rest intervals. Build up your duration, speed, and jump count as you go.
- Speed Play: Rotate between a treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike in two-, four-, and six-minute cycles at hard, moderate, and light intensity. This will give you a variety of workouts to keep your interest. When on the treadmill, move laterally in both directions to simulate the “plant-shift” of a golf swing.
As always, check with your physician or trainer before starting a regimen and be sure to listen to your body.
Warming up the Right Way
You don’t always have an hour on the range before a round, but you should still get in a pre-round warm up. Here are a few simple ways to make sure your warm up time is efficient and leads to better golf starting at the first tee.
- BEGIN WITH PUTTING: About 40 percent of the shots you will hit during your round will be putts. Spend at least 10 minutes on the green, getting used to the speed of the greens. Hit putts from varying lengths, focusing on the speed, and always finish with short putts (inside three feet) to gain confidence watching the ball roll into the hole.
- FIND YOUR TEMPO: The purpose of a warm up is to loosen your body and find your tempo before the round. It’s not the time to fix that slice you’ve been battling. Pay attention to the ball flight during your warm up, but don’t focus solely on it. Focus on making smooth swings with solid contact.
- Visualize your round: Hit a few shots with each of the clubs in your bag, always aiming for a specific target or trying to hit the ball a specific distance, and always starting with your wedges. Finish by playing out the first hole on the driving range with the clubs you plan on using.
Driving to Go, Not for Show
Driving in golf involves skill and strategy. Hitting a long club with very little loft can be a challenge for anybody. But the fact that it may be the first club we hit on 14 of the 18 holes we play makes it a key to low scores and enjoyment. Focusing on driving accuracy can be crucial to success in the game.
Serving in tennis requires the ball to land over the net in the service square. Similarly, golfers need to put the ball in the fairway by any means possible. Only tour players have the strength and skill to score from the rough and behind trees.
On the tee, first ask yourself, “What’s my target?” The second question is “What club should I use?” It’s not always necessary to use the driver, especially if you struggle with hitting it straight. A 3-wood, 5-wood, or even a hybrid can put your ball in play without sacrificing major distance.
Joseph Oberle is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine.