I JUST COMPLETED MY 16TH full season on the PGA Tour. During those 16 years, my scoring average each year has rarely deviated from my career average of 69.90. I pride myself on my consistency, and for the unique way I take care of faults when they pop up in my game. For example, I never look at my swing in photos or on videotape, and my father, Mike, is the only teacher who's ever lent me any real advice or instruction. I know what my swing looks like from my own perspective when I'm standing over the ball. In my opinion, this is the only position from which you can fix faults. And when I do, I always fall back on four key lessons I learned at an early age. I've been performing these fixes tune-ups, really for the better part of three decades. I'm confident they'll help you, too.
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THE FINAL ADJUSTMENT
Once you have your yardage computed, you'll find that most times you're stuck right between two clubs. Using the example at left, that 157 yardage is smack between my 8-iron (150 yards) and my 7-iron (165 yards). Amateurs like to use the least amount of club that they think will get them there, or they'll swing the club suggested by a caddie they just met. The best thing you can do is take the longer club and choke down on the grip to automatically subtract yards from your swing. Never never! change the speed of your swing to add or subtract yards. Notice in the photos at left that I've made identical swings with my 8-iron, but that I've used a choke grip for the swing on the right. The choke will automatically produce a shorter shot without me having to worry about altering my motion.
Build a Pro Yardage Book
If you haven't judged the different elevations or the firmness/softness of the greens of your home course in a yardage book, then you're making a big mistake. This is critical information if you want to score your best, and all it takes is an afternoon, a pad and a pencil. Nail all the variables with your favorite foursome. The more data you can gather, the better.
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FAULT #4: Bad Club Selection
MY FIX: Play the "real" yardage
I know that with a perfect lie in the fairway, at sea level, with no wind and a temperature of 75 degrees I'll hit my 7-iron 165 yards with a good full swing. But that situation comes up only a few times a season. Sure, I'll be near my 7-iron yardage a lot, but most times I have to deal with wind, some elevation change and lies that aren't always picture perfect. While it's critical that you discover how far you hit each of your irons, be aware that you'll hit most approach shots from distances that are between two clubs. Knowing how to handle these variables is the difference between getting on and getting close.
How to Nail Your Approach Shots
I smile whenever I hear an amateur say "it's a two-club wind." Pros never deal in terms of clubs. We deal in terms of yardage the only thing that matters in an approach shot. Let's go back to my 7-iron. Say I'm 165 yards to the center of the green in the fairway. That's easy information for my caddie, Fluff Cowan, to give me. Now, here's where you need to put your math hat on.
1. Check the pin. Say it's back 5 yards from center. Now the shot is 170 yards.
2. Assess the greens. Are they playing soft or hard? Today, they're hard, so I want to land the ball seven yards short of the pin and allow for the roll. My yardage is now 163 yards.
3. Are you hitting uphill or downhill? In this example, I'm hitting to an elevated green, and Fluff and I have already determined that it's 4 yards uphill during my practice round (good caddies take note of everything). The true yardage for this shot is now 167 yards.
4. Gauge the wind. Let's judge it to be at my back. I judge it to be a 10-yard wind. I subtract this from the yardage, leaving me with a real yardage of 157 yards.
After making these computations and I have to do them within 50 seconds per Tour rules that 165 distance comes out to be 157 yards. If I had used just the yardage marker I would have flown the center of the green by 24 feet! The
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Why I Swing the Way I Do
Easy answer: it's how I've always done it, and I'm thankful I had a teacher who didn't try to fit me into any norm. The technical answer? I stand very close to the ball. This creates a naturally steep backswing path, which explains why it looks like I lift the club straight up to the top.
Build a Barrier
In college I'd often make the bad mistake of hitting balls out onto the range without a target. When you do this you tend to start hitting the ball farther and harder. It does you absolutely zero good to hit your irons farther than your average. You want to nail that average every time. Every iron needs to have a barrier. My father stressed hitting to a target and then never hitting past it. If I wanted to hit past it he would hand me a longer club.
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TRY THIS! Hit your irons with the ball positioned for a driver
The next time you go to hit practice balls, purposely position the ball too far forward in your stance. For example, hit your 8-iron with the ball played in your driver ball position. This is a great practice drill that Jeff Sluman taught me. With the ball played far forward, you're forced at the very least reminded to get your weight moving forward on your downswing and turn through the shot.
Hit shots with the ball played forward of normal to practice getting your weight all the way left.
Playing the ball too far back encourages you to hang back on your downswing.
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Long Irons and Woods (Left)
The farthest back you should play the ball with your long clubs is off your left ear.
The farthest back you should play the ball with your driver is off your left armpit.
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FAULT #3: Poor Contact (Thins, Fats & Shanks)
MY FIX: Play the Ball Forward
Here's a no-brainer way to improve your contact: stop playing the ball so far back in your stance. You might think that doing so allows you to hit the ball first and the ground second, producing a nice, healthy divot, but think about it if you try to hit a ball that's behind the middle of your stance while correctly shifting your weight forward on your downswing, how can you expect to make contact? You can't, so you adjust by eliminating your weight shift and hanging back on your right side the dreaded reverse pivot and a serious case of the thins and rights.
How to Nail Your Ball Position Every Time
I used to represent a training-aid company that made a T-square to help you locate the proper ball position for each club, but now I make a T with two irons. A word of caution before I talk about correct ball position: I like to play a fade, so I tend to position the ball forward of where most of the guys play it for each club. On these pages, I'll tell you where I think is the absolute farthest back you should play the ball for each club, and you can adjust from there. It's better to err on the side of playing the ball too far forward than too far back.
Wedges And Short Irons
The farthest back you should play the ball in your stance with your scoring clubs is off your left cheek.
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One Last Thing:
When you go to set the first club on the ground, stand behind it and pick out a target 4 feet in front of the clubhead that's on your target line, and point the club along a line parallel to that spot. You've likely heard the benefits of using an intermediate target, but most golfers pick one that's too close to the ball. Four feet gives you the right vector to nail this part of the drill. Use the four-foot mark when you're on the course, too.
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Remove club 1 and set a ball in its place. Then step into the shot, setting your toes against club 3 and using club 2 as a guide to point your shoulders and hips. Now your body is correctly set parallel to your target line.
Every Swing Counts
When you hit practice balls, don't "reach and rake," or drag balls in without moving out of your address position. Go to the bucket, grab a ball, place it on the ground, walk behind it and check that everything is square. Then step in and hit. My father did me a great service by teaching me to hit balls this way. The more you emulate how you'll go about things on the golf course when you practice, the more likely you are to repeat the right things.
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Place a third club [nearest to feet] in front of where your toes will be when you take your stance. Most players only use clubs 1 and 3, but I think you need the middle club to make sure all of the guides are pointing in the same direction.
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FAULT #2: Too Many Missed Fairways and Greens
MY FIX: Get Straight at Address
Bad swings result from bad setups. I'd estimate that 90 percent of my mistakes shots that miss my target on the green or drives that stray into the left or right rough are caused by poor aim at address. Yes, it seems like a simple task: aim where you want to hit the ball. But even for a player of my experience, it's something you always have to work on. One week your aim is perfect. The next week, you start aiming a few yards left, and since you don't correct the problem, you end up aiming 10 yards to the left of your targets the next week. Now you've got problems.
How to Aim Where You Want to Hit It
I always always! hit practice balls with clubs on the ground. I'll also use rulers and other aiming devices my bag looks like a tool kit sometimes. This is the only way to find out if your aim is off. You can't do it on your own. There are too many tricks your eyes can play on you when you're aiming at a target hundreds of yards away. Even with clubs on the ground, my father will still stand behind me to make sure I'm aimed correctly. He'll say, "Do you want me to tell you when your aim is good?" Sometimes, it takes me a while to get him to say so.
TRY THIS! To practice perfect alignment so you can nail it when you're on the course, use my setup drill
Lay a club on the ground and point it directly at your target [left]. Lay a second club [right] a foot to the inside of club 1, making sure it's parallel to the first.
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I like a grip where your right palm points more toward the target.
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TRY THIS! Use my quick grip check to make sure your hold isn't too strong
Take your normal grip, then open your palms. Where do they point? If your right palm points toward the sky and your left palm points toward the ground, then your grip is too strong.
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How I Do It
I have one of the oddest grips on Tour, a double overlap. I use this hold because it weakens the influence of my right hand (my worst shot is a hook). I'm not showing you this grip because I think it's the one you should use, but because of the importance of tweaking your hold to develop the one that best fits your innate abilities and your swing.
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With driver, I like the Vs formed by my thumbs and forefingers on both hands to point just right of the buttons on my shirt.
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FAULT #1: You Slice
MY FIX: Weaken Your Grip
I know you've been told to strengthen your grip to help tone down your slice, but a more neutral hold actually makes it easier to square the face and release the club through impact, and that's something you're probably not doing on a consistent basis if you slice. There's just something about a weaker grip that makes your wrists and forearms more relaxed and freer to rotate through the hitting area. Plus, if you use a strong grip and actually release the club, you'll hit a vicious hook.
How to Take A Slice-Free Grip
As you set your left hand on the handle, position your thumb slightly right of the center marking on the grip. That gives you enough left-hand control without limiting your ability to square the face. If your grips don't have easily visible markings down the middle, get new grips. I rely on these to set my left hand properly on the club on every swing.
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Why The Choke Works
Here's a bombshell for most amateurs: I swing my driver just as fast as my wedge. And it takes me just as long to finish my wedge swing as it does my driver swing. My hands move at the same pace for every club, but since my driver shaft is much longer than my wedge shaft, my driver clubhead travels faster since it has to cover a longer arc in the same time.
Choking up works on the same principle. Placing your hands lower on the handle automatically shortens the shaft of whatever club you're swinging, so that it will have less distance to travel in the same period of time. You get less speed and, as a result, fewer yards.
There's probably some advanced calculus to explain how much speed and distance you take off by choking up different distances and altering swing-arc length, but golf's hard enough without worrying about calculations like that. Just go to the range and find out how many yards you take off by choking down one inch, two inches or three inches. Most golfers report a 7-yard reduction for each inch of choke with a mid-iron, but yours might be different. I choke down on the majority of my approach shots to get the distance right, so don't take this part of your game lightly.
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