Sunday, March 21, 2010

Make Putting "Routine"

Have you ever wondered how the best players in the world routinely make 15, 20, even 30 foot putts from week-to-week? Most players are not consistent enough to make putts from hole-to-hole. Well, what's the difference? The best putters in the world have a routine that they utilize to be more consistent in terms of putting. Here's what they do, followed by how you can do it too:

1) Mark the ball. As soon as you reach your ball, mark it. This allows you the opportunity to clean your ball and collect your thoughts.

2) Read the putt from behind the hole. This is the most critical perspective for determining the line, but not the only criteria.

3) Walk around to the other side of the hole. While walking to the other side, take in the terrain. Is it uphill, downhill, sidehill? Do you notice a difference in grain, any impediments in the way, which way is the cup sitting (i.e. slanted), etc.? This also allows you to feel the distance of the putt.

3) Read the putt from behind the hole. This allows you to analyze the break from a different angle. Compare it to the read that you got from behind the ball.

4) Walk back to your ball on the side opposite that you walked to hole. This allows you to get a 360 degree view/feel of your putt.

5) Place your ball, lining up the words on the line you have chosen. Self-explanitory.

6) Take several practice strokes focusing on the speed only. Imagine, if you are right-handed and you play golf right-handed, that you are rolling the ball to the hole with your right hand. This is similar to the firmness of your putting stroke.

7) Once you determine the correct speed at which to hit the ball, step up to the ball, line the putter up to the pre-determined line, and focus on speed.

This, or a variation of it, is the routine most great players use. It allows them to compartmentalize putting into analyzing the overall putt, determining the line, determining the speed, and executing without doing it all at one time. Also, it can be done quickly. It sounds like a long process, but once you get the hang of it, you can perform the steps very quickly. And don't let your playing partners deter you from going to the extra effort of walking around the hole. Before long, they'll be doing it too (after they see your results).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Practical Practice

The next time you are at the range, make it a point to practice with a purpose. This can be accomplished in a very practical and easy manner. If you hit 60 balls, the average amount of balls in a medium bucket, hit 10 beginning with a pitching wedge (to develop proper tempo), 5 balls with a 6 iron, and 5 teed balls with a 3-wood. This process will develop good tempo and provide you an opportunity to warm up. With the next 40 balls, play golf. More specifically, if this practice is taking place before the round, 'play' the course you are about to actually play. For example:

Think of the hole on which you will begin your round. If it is a straight away par 4, 400 yards with no danger, then pull the appropriate club for the tee shot. Maybe it's a 3-wood or a driver. On the range, hit the shot that you would hit on the course. Then, depending on the result of the shot, decide what shot is appropriate for the next shot. Then, still on the range, hit that shot with the appropriate club. If you miss the green by a good distance, hit the pitch shot to the green. Once you're on the green (or within chipping distance), move on to the next hole and repeat the process. With 40 balls, you should be able to play about 10 holes, maybe more. You must use your pre-shot routine before every shot and have your fairway/green clearly mapped out on the range.

If you are practicing on a day that you will not be playing, only dedicate about 20 range balls to 'playing the course'. This will allow about 20 balls afterwards to work on any issues you may be fighting in your swing. This should never be done before a round because you do not want to be working on swing issues on the course, unless you are playing a round with the sole purpose of practicing.

This approach will help you practice with a practical purpose. You will see a direct positive impact on your game using this technique.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"The One Thing I've Learned From The Past...."

This topic was chosen by a reader:

"How do you recover following a poor shot or a bad round?"

What is the difference between a great golfer and a good golfer? Or an average golfer and a good golfer? What is the difference between a PGA Tour winner and a journeyman who has never won? This topic is debatable and there are many factors to consider when comparing players. But the best answer to these questions is this: The best players analyze past results with the intention to improve future results.

Warren Buffet, the great investor, once said, "The one thing I've learned from the past is that we don't learn from the past". He was speaking in terms of financial investing, but the saying could easily be used in terms of golf. So often we see players who hit balls on the range with no regard for improving. They may hit 200 7-irons, but it's aimless. These players often wonder why they are not seeing the positive results that their efforts should be yielding. But their time is spent in vain because there is no focus. Below, I will describe some ways to improve your thought process in an attempt to dampen the effects of both bad and GOOD shots and rounds.

Most players who struggle with inconsistency ask the wrong question following a poor shot or a bad round. The question they ask is "What?". "What happened?", "what was the result?", "what went wrong?", etc. The problem with asking themselves "what?" is that it is not a constructive question. Asking "what" will not help you improve on future results because it keeps you in the past. And the shot is already done or the round is already over.
From here on out, every shot you ever hit should be followed with one question: "Why?". "Why?" is constructive. "Why?" returns the player to a place where learning can take place and a foundation can be formed. And from this foundation, improvements can be made. When I say "every" shot should be followed by "why?", I mean it - both good and bad shots. Asking "why" after a good shot can help the player engrain the parts of the swing that worked. After a poor shot, "why" helps to identify problem areas in the swing or mental approach that can be improved upon. You should feel like a 5 year old following a shot, "why is that?, why is THAT?...". Hitting shots with a purpose in mind will allow the golfer to improve no matter at what level they are current playing.

This approach allow the player time to analyze the shot: why it went right, why it went wrong, lessons learned, etc. And it also allows the mind to reset prior to the next shot. In medicine, the first action of assessing a trauma patient is to "stop the bleeding". If a patient is bleeding heavily, it really doesn't matter if they are breathing or not because without blood, life is unsustainable (breathing can be done for the patient if need be). The same principle is true in golf: "stop the bleeding". Following a bad shot, ask "why?", analyze it, and move on. Tiger does this better than anyone. He may get angry after hitting a poor shot, but he never allows a poor shot to influence the next shot. When I played in college and professionally, I did not hit two poor shots in a row or bogey two holes in a row (that was the goal, at least). Do not allow yourself to hit two poor shots in row. If that means playing a shot that is not particularly called for on that hole but you know you will put a confident swing on it, do it. In the long run, this approach will yield results.

1) Learn from the past
2) Ask "why did that happen?" after EVERY shot and round
3) Analyze the result
4) Move on

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Golf Workouts

Some golfers believe that lifting wights will hinder their golf swing. If done incorrectly, lifting weights WILL hinder your golf swing. But if you use a golf-specific workout program, particularly if it is designed by the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI), your game will yield wonderful results. Look at Camilo Villegas...he is a wonderful example of how optimizing the function of the human body through exercise and fitness can pay dividends. This is literally true as he won last week's Honda Classic and pocketed $1.4 million. Look up a TPI provider in your area to explore options on how to increase your body's strength and function and improve your golf game at the same time. Local providers can be found through the Titleist website or directly at the following link.

Fitness is often the final step sought out by serious golfers. But this logic is faulty. It is analogous to building a large, beautiful house and then, once it's built, building a good foundation. That makes about as little sense as a player working hard on their game, swing, mental approach, and equipment only to neglect the most important instrument involved in the game - their body. Improve your fitness this year through a personalized regimen and you will be wondering why you neglected this key aspect so long.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rotation Is The Key, But.....

What is the key to hitting the golf ball with power AND accuracy? Rotation is the key, but it must come from the correct body regions. The key areas of rotation should come from the hips and the part of the spine known as the thoracic region (the middle portion of the spine). Here come the asterisks to the previous statement. It is widely known that the thoracic spine does not rotate very much, maybe 2-3 degrees at each spinal level. But it is not only the spinal rotation in this region that is important. Shoulder blades and the lower cervical spine (the neck portion of the spine) also play important roles. So what is the only portion of the spine not mentioned as a source of rotation? The lumbar spine (the low back region). Ironically, the lumbar spine is a source of rotation for most players who lack distance and consistency. And this is a problem.

The problem is two-fold; poor shot results and an increased risk of injury. Power is created in the golf swing by stored energy being transferred into kenetic energy. The more stored energy that is created, in the form of potential energy, by rotation, the more kinetic energy is possible to transfer into the golf ball. This is the "X-Factor" that is often mentioned when the power of the pros is discussed. The rubber band effect, if you will. And if you watch the pros, their lumbar spines do not rotate segmentally - they rotate as one whole unit, as a result of hip rotation.
Risk of injury is increased with segmental lumbar spine rotation. The lumbar spine is not designed to rotate under load, yet when players hit the ball without power, they are largely doing just this, due to segmental lumbar rotation. And often, the result of less power is a harder swing. This is a clear recipe for injury - a section of the spine not designed to perform a particular function being called to perform that function harder and harder.

So, the next time you travel to the range or course, concentrate on keeping your low back (lumbar spine) straight and use your hips and shoulders to rotate. You will build power, consistency, and most importantly, reduce the risk of injury.