Most players are trying to find the one perfect way to chip or pitch the ball close to the hole and that can get real boring real fast. If this is true, then it’s no wonder that most players don’t spend very much time working on the small game around the green. Here’s the solution:
Stop “practicing” around the green and start experimenting instead.
Before you start experimenting, be aware of the following general concepts:
- If you don’t REALLY KNOW the difference between a true chip shot and a true pitch shot you’re already stuck. Learn the difference.
- There are hundreds of technique variations with JUST ONE CLUB.
- Every small adjustment will profoundly impact what the ball does after you hit it.
Here are some of the most simple variations that you could experiment with TODAY:
- Choke down on grip
- Open the face
- Close the face
- Ball back/forward
- Heel up/down
- Strike ball towards the toe
- Strike ball towards the heel
I’m no mathematician but it looks to me like there are 343 general combinations of the short list above. As you continue adding and subtracting variations, the shot possibilities shots become mind-numbing! Now consider that masters of the short game can CREATE THE BEST COMBINATIONS for whatever shot they are faced with.
Over the years, I have seen countless students embrace and successfully implement the ideas presented here. I have also seen students who dismiss (for a variety of reasons) variance and creativity in favor of a more methodical/mechanical approach. Of course, it’s always the players’ right and responsibility to choose what – analytically and physically – works best for them.
For me, I prefer the fun and joy of making up stuff to see what happens and adding the best stuff to my arsenal of shots. Then, during play on the course, it’s very rewarding to be looking over a shot and have that “ahhh, I know exactly what to do here” moment.
The reality? Look, we all know that in golf there is no technique, knowledge, or thought that makes us impervious to the whims of the golf gods. Even masters mess up sometimes. But, isn’t it better to know exactly what to do and fail than to be standing over the ball without a clue?
Lots of players complain that they’re fine on the driving range but can’t take their groovy swings and deft touch around the greens to the course. The problem is a root misunderstanding of the differences between practice and play – both of which require thinking and analyzing. The trick is to know how, when, and where to do so. Even though there are thousands of books that address this topic in mind-numbing detail, most of them address the general ideas and concepts.
I’m going to boil the topic down to its most basic ideas. Be aware that though basic, many players find these ideas difficult to incorporate. Here we go:
IDEA ONE: PRACTICING AND PLAYING ARE NOT THE SAME THING
What you’re training yourself to do on the practice area is not usually going to transfer to the course. There are a million reasons for this but here’s my top five differences:
- You are using a different ball
- You don’t have the same lie all the time
- You are always looking at a different shot
- You are not using the same club over and over again
- You don’t know real carry distance
IDEA TWO: EXPERIENCE LEVELS DICTATE WHAT TO PRACTICE
MOST PLAYERS should be using the practice areas to either learn something new, or reinforce personally relevant physical actions and/or mechanical technique. It’s my view that learning or monitoring the basics will provide the best foundation for on-going analysis. Grip, set-up, and alignment are always key. Without a clear understanding of how these basics apply to you, hitting real golf shots on the course will be almost impossible. There are far too many average players “practicing” like advanced players!
FYI – Advanced players generally use practice areas to burnish existing skills and/or experiment with an extensive array of ball-striking variations. Most of the variations will center around face/path/attack control. The resulting ball flights are observed and archived until recalled and executed during the course of play. Advanced players are far more experienced at intentionally manipulating their bodies. For example, when working on full-swing technique they are able to accurately sense positive physical pressures such as large muscle loading and resistance.
IDEA THREE: ANALYTICAL TO PHYSICAL TRANSITION
Regardless of skill level, there must be a transition from thinking and analyzing to physical action. If a transition doesn’t occur, playing golf will rarely be rewarding and fun. There are techniques that can help you make this critical transition. Here are just a few:
- Understand that hitting a golf shot is a physical event, not a mental exercise
- Be deeply engaged with your ultimate target instead of the ball
- Hand-eye coordination is your best friend, especially around the greens
- Correctly analyze your lie
- Correctly locate specific landing zones
Well, that’s it in the proverbial nutshell. If you learn and implement just one of the ideas, an amazing door of opportunity will open for you. In the end, playing golf has very little to do with that crazy list of things you think you’re supposed to do. That’s just playing “golf swing” and “how do I do this?”, neither of which I think we can watch on television.
Lots of teachers have addressed a few of the common swing myths, including me. The things that players perceive as absolutes is astounding! Dennis Clark has done as good a job in describing the Big Three as anyone. Getting past these myths can be very difficult for players and even some teachers. OK readers, go ahead and click the link below and let the controversy begin! Thank you Dennis for your article.
Searching for it; working on it; dialing it in; figuring it out. I do it, you do it. It’s never-ending isn’t it? Looking for a way to make the magic continue is our quest. “I want to be more consistent” is what I’ve heard most from students when I ask them what they want to accomplish – except for maybe, “If I could hit my driver farther I know I’d have a lower score” (my tongue is in my cheek on that one.)
There are players who believe that mastering a certain thing – or group of things – will lead them to perfection. What a load of hooey! In its most severe scenarios, perfectionism and golf will create a downward spiral so vicious that a player becomes totally lost in the black abyss and can’t find their way back – ever. Some players even quit the game because they just can’t accept realistic success percentages. Depending on your outlook, playing golf is a nightmare waiting to happen or an immersive experience that brings together an exciting series of emotional and physical delights.
Only golfers who truly understand how the game works can be called players of the game. True players of the game enjoy everything about it – the ebb and flow of the game and the ups and downs of physical/mechanical performance. True players of the game exist at every skill level. I know some 15 handicaps who are players and I know some professional golfers who are not. The real difference is being able to accept how the game works and enjoy EVERYTHING the game offers – including going back to basics in order to sort out problems.
No player in history has understood this better than Jack Nicklaus. Here is an excerpt from the introduction of his book, “Play Better Golf” Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden, Pocket Books, New York, N.Y. 1983. Highlighted text is mine and for your consideration.
“One of the most frustrating – and fascinating – things about golf is its impermanence. One day you “have it” and the next you don’t. This is true of every element of the game from driving the ball to holing it out. The number one reason why no golfer can stay at his or her peak indefinitely is that human beings aren’t machines. Our ability to exactly repeat a certain set of actions is limited, and thus our abilities as shot-makers are bound to fluctuate, This is compounded by the tendency, present in all of us, to eventually overdo or exaggerate whatever we have found to be successful. In terms of the golf swing this tendency often creeps up on us subconsciously, but it is none the less destructive for that. And, when it has done its dirty work, reality has to be faced: if we want once more to play up to our maximum potential, the rebuilding or returning process must begin all over again.“
Jack Nicklaus was clearly a true player. He knew what was possible and fully accepted the terms and conditions of the game. He was humble in his approach and understanding. He truly enjoyed EVERYTHING the game had to offer.
Searching for it; working on it; dialing it in; figuring it out. We all do it and it’s OK to work on stuff. But, along the way we have to know that perfection is unattainable. We have to know when we’ve over-cooked something and lost our way. And we have to know how to get back home.
If putting is driving you crazy maybe all you need to do is see better. When you are behind the ball looking for the line and assessing speed your brain is doing that “hand-eye” coordination thing. Then you set up to the ball and everything changes. You go from looking at your line with binocular vision (both eyes) to monocular vision (one eye). Isn’t looking with both eyes better than using just one eye? Isn’t the idea of putting about rolling the ball on your intended line? If these two points are indeed true, why is everybody standing parallel to the intended line? Wouldn’t it be better to stand open to the line so you can see with both eyes? Makes sense to me.
All of this begs the question: If being open to the line – even as much as 90 degrees, makes sense, how come nobody in professional golf uses that style? Well, K.J. Choi does, or at least he was in 2010.
Actually, the seven-time Tour winner from South Korea is well aware his croquet-like, face-the-ball, left-hand-high, right-hand-low putting style is not quite new. He is fully versed on the history. “First time since Sam Snead in 1968,” he said “After that, nobody did it on the PGA or the world.”
Why more players don’t putt this way is as common a rabbit-hole dialogue as anything else in golf. I think it mostly has to do with conformity. Committed non-conformity requires a massive amount of confidence. You can’t care what people think or be worried about what will be said about you. For professional golfers it is not possible to avoid the spotlight when they do something “different.” It is the rare player indeed who can pull off something they know is effective but considered radical.
I’m not suggesting that everyone use this technique but I am suggesting that you open yourself to the line so you can see better and use your right arm and palm more effectively. How much open that is will be a matter of preference. You can usually figure it simply by opening until see better and go from there. It has always made sense to me that using your right arm and palm to push the ball onto your intended line is the best way to putt. If you are a right handed player, it is illogical to circumvent your natural handedness by focusing on your left wrist and making it the guiding principle that produces control.
Rule 16-1e is there for a reason. It’s just to easy to roll the ball on the intended line if you straddle the line!