Going Golfing

By John Marino. Reprinted from the October – November – December 2012 issue of Circa Magazine.

To be a successful golfer, consistency is key. With the cooler temperatures of autumn here, it’s the ideal time to hit the links and start following these five tips to improve your con-sistency and overall enjoyment of the game.

1.  Checking Your Vs and Noticing Grip Pressure. Your basic grip should be neutral. Right-handed golfers, hold the club in your left hand in the base of your fingers and palm. The club shaft should run through the base of your fingers and when you close your hand, the pad of your left hand should be on top of the grip. The “V” created between your index finger and thumb should point to your right shoulder. Your right hand should be placed on the club covering your left thumb. The “V” created by your thumb and index finger of your right hand should also point to your right shoulder. Left-handed golfers should do the opposite of these instructions.

Grip pressure should be light. It is important to feel the weight of the club as you swing. You are gripping your club too tightly if you feel tense as you swing and cannot feel the club’s weight.

2.  Maintain good posture for good results. Posture is the foundation for swinging the club. Your feet should be shoulder width apart with your knees over your feet, your hips over your knees, and your shoulders over your hips. Good posture includes bending at the hip to address your golf ball, with your chest facing the ball and a very straight spine angle. You have good posture and are the correct distance from the ball if you let go of the club and your hands fall to the side of the grip. You are incorrectly positioned if your hand swings toward or away from you when you let the club go.

3.  Are you properly aligned with the ball? Proper alignment is critical in getting the ball on your intended target line, an imaginary line that runs through the ball to your target. Proper stance places the player on a parallel line left of that line. Hips, knees, feet, and shoulders must be kept aligned, with emphasis on the shoulder line since the shoulders will dictate where a player swings.

A great way to practice good alignment is to lay a club on the ground, parallel to your target line, with your feet up against the club. Let your knees, hips, and shoulders follow in the same alignment. This will train you to recognize proper position as you take practice swings. Your eye will learn to see good lines so you can be confident that you are aligned properly while playing.

4.  The two best drills for becoming a better putter. The secret to improving your score is eliminating three-putts from your game. Good putters putt with feel, which allows them to control their distances and leave their first putt closer to the hole. One of the best drills for feel is to lay a club 18 inches beyond the hole, then place your ball different distances in front of the hole. Aim to have your ball go in the hole or just past it, but not beyond your club. This will help you gauge the strength and speed necessary to eliminate unnecessary strokes.

An additional drill is one in which you lay three balls down at each distance of five, 10, 15, and 20 feet from the hole, 12 balls total. Putt all of the balls spending minimal time over each, focusing mainly on the hole rather than the ball. Look at the hole and follow your target line back to your ball. Briefly look at the ball, and then make your stroke while still using good control and technique. Spending less time over the ball increases your ability to react to what your mind’s eye sees and then putt better without tensing up.

5.  Chipping away. The average golfer plays many shots from just off the green. Even the best PGA Tour players hit only 70% of greens in regulation and get the ball up and in 64% of the time. This means that if you can chip well, you can lower your score. Additionally, this skill means you have an excellent chance of becoming a good ball striker, because the way you chip is precisely the way you want to impact the ball. If mastered, this impact position will carry over to your other shots.

Your stance for chipping puts your feet in a more narrow position than in other shots. Put your weight on your lead leg, with your eyes over the ball, and your hands in front of the ball, which makes the shaft lean forward. Chipping involves little or no hand action. Rather, movement comes from the trunk of your body.

As they hold the club, your arms should create a “V.” Remember that distance is controlled by the loft of your club and size of the swing. Hit down on the ball, keeping your hands in front of it, rotating around your lead leg and keeping your head very still.

A great drill is to set up different piles of balls around the green, then use a different club at each pile to see the differences those clubs make. Try to cover one-third of the distance in the air, and two-thirds on the ground. Be sure to pay attention to the lie, as it will dictate the club you use, and the strength and speed required. Remember to keep a stable, quiet body and maintain your position, without shifting your weight to your rear leg.

Achieving success in golf is all about having confidence in your game and your ability as a player. Take a proactive and offensive approach to this game, not a defensive one. Too many players try to simply stay out of trouble rather than making their ball do what they want it to. These tips will help you improve your game and become a consistent and proactive player.

John Marino is head golf professional of Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham.

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