Fundamentals are called fundamentals because if you get them wrong you’ll have a hard time hitting good shots.
The grip might be the most basic fundamental–it’s the only link between you and the club–but it’s the one thing many players get totally wrong.
There are plenty of elaborate descriptions about how to put your hands on the club, but top New York teacher Michael Jacobs uses a simple comparison familiar to almost everybody to get his students doing it right.
“Stick out your left hand and hold the club like you would a heavy suitcase,” says Jacobs, whose new book, Elements of the Swing, was released last week. “If you picked up a suitcase, you wouldn’t take the handle diagonally across your palm. You’d let it rest in the creases of your fingers where they attach to your palm.”
Next, add your right hand to the grip slightly palm up, running the handle along the top crease in your palm and curling your fingers around the underside. You can rest the little finger of your right hand either on the left forefinger or in the channel between the forefinger and middle finger, or interlock the little finger and forefinger together, Jacobs says. Using a ten-finger grip, with all ten fingers on the handle, isn’t as common, but that works just fine as well.
“Not every ‘classic’ golf tip you hear is necessarily still relevant now, but this one is still true–there’s no reason not to have a great grip,” says Jacobs, who is based at Rock Hill Country Club in Long Island. “If you start with a bad one, you’re going to have to make compensations in your swing from the beginning. You want to be able to transmit the force you create with your body as efficiently as possible to the clubhead, and a good grip is an important part of that.”
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I could talk for weeks about my 50-year infatuation with all things putting. But I figured I’d just give you the CliffsNotes instead.
1. Putting is important.
Regardless of skill level, putting accounts for approximately 43 percent of your total strokes, taking into account your good putting days and the ones where you’re ready to snap your flatstick over your knee. Lower this percentage and your scores will go down. Allocate at least one-third of your practice time to becoming the best putter you can be.
2. Aim is critical.
You can’t dominate with your putter if you don’t know how to aim it correctly, or how much break to play. Nail these fundamentals first.
3. Keep your stroke “on-line” through the impact zone.
If you hook or cut-spin your putts, your chance of success goes down. If your putts roll off the face in the same direction your putter is heading immediately after impact, that’s good. If your putter moves one way and the ball another, you’ve got problems.
Dave Pelz wants to share his putting truths.
4. Face angle is even more important than stroke path.
And not insignificantly — it’s six times more important. Even if your path is good, unduly opening or closing the face at impact spells doom.
5. You’re only as skilled as your impact pattern.
Catching putts across the face produces varying ball speeds. Find one impact point. My recommendation: the sweet spot.
6. Putts left short never go in.
When you miss, your putts should end up 17 inches past the hole. If you roll them faster, you’ll suffer more lip-outs. Roll them slower and the ball will be knocked off line by imperfections (footprints, pitch marks, etc.) in the green.
7. Proper putt speed comes from proper rhythm.
At our schools, we incorporate rhythm into pre-putt rituals, then carry that same rhythm through the stroke. Rhythm is the harbinger of consistency. You’ve got to find your own, and groove it.
8. Putting is a learned skill.
Having the “touch” in your mind’s eye to know how firmly to stroke a putt (so its speed matches the break), and then also having the “feel” in your body to execute that touch is gained only through experience and solid practice. See No. 1.
9. Be patient.
Sometimes poorly-struck putts go in and well-struck putts miss. Sometimes badly-read greens compensate for poorly struck putts. Results can confuse golfers when they don’t understand the true fundamentals of putting. Having the patience to learn to be a good putter is an incredible virtue for a golfer.
10. Putting is like life.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you can’t do any of the important things badly. My advice? Believe in yourself. Becoming a great putter isn’t easy, but it’s possible (Phil Mickelson, at age 48, is enjoying the finest putting season in his career). Maintain a good, hardworking attitude as you work through items 1 through 9. I’ve seen success stories happen thousands of times. Everyone is capable of improving.
Good golf is about playing as many par 3s as you can. What does that mean? In addition to the actual par 3s on the course, your goal should be to have a reasonable “par 3” to the green after your tee shot on par 4s (or second shot on par 5s). If you drive it in the water or out-of-bounds, you don’t get to play a par 3. But from 150 in the fairway, you should be thinking, I can make 3 from here. — With Peter Morrice
Driving is the first step in the process, but given at least a decent drive—assuming you’re playing the right set of tees—it’s really more about what you do next. Think about it: What’s the most important shot on a par 3? It’s the shot to the green—the approach shot—because that’s what determines if you’ll be scoring or scrambling.
Let’s look at five common situations you face after your tee shot. I’ll give you some playing tips and the swing keys for each one. Use my par-3 strategy, and you’ll play every hole better.
1) IN THE FAIRWAY FOCUS ON TEMPO AND SOLID CONTACT
If you don’t hit a lot of fairways, you probably feel oddly anxious when you do find one. First, don’t rush up to your ball and then have to wait. Stroll the last 50 yards or so. Hogan used to prepare for his rounds by driving to the course at half speed. Point is, let your mind and body slow down. Next, a good word to focus on is “complete.” Think about completing the backswing and getting to a full finish. That means turning your body back and through (top), letting the swing take some time. Nerves usually speed things up, with the hands and arms taking over. Smooth tempo and a full motion will help you hit the ball flush—and follow up that piped drive.
2) FROM THE ROUGH PREDICT THE QUALITY OF THE STRIKE
Shots in the rough test judgement as much as skill. Some lies allow any shot; others require caution. Here’s a system I use to read them: Imagine there’s a sock stretched over your club-head, and the thickness of the sock determines how crisply you strike the ball. A buried lie, where you get a lot of grass interference, is like hitting with a thick sock—a dead thud. Maybe you have to just pitch that one out. A medium lie is like a thin sock, so you might be able to play to the green. For most rough lies, you need a steeper angle of attack. Play the ball back and hinge your wrists sooner in the backswing (right). Also, open the clubface a little to help it slide through the grass. Don’t lift the ball out. Elevate the clubhead on the backswing, not on the through-swing.
“TO ESCAPE ROUGH, HINGE THE CLUB UP FOR A STEEPER ATTACK.”
3) FAIRWAY BUNKER SWING MORE WITH YOUR ARMS
The No. 1 key to playing out of fairway bunkers is hitting the ball first. Let’s assume you can easily clear the lip in front of you. Some of the swing keys from the rough work here, too, because you want to make a little steeper downswing. Positioning the ball slightly back from normal, opening the clubface, and hinging your wrists early are good points, but the shifty sand underfoot requires a couple more. Add flex in your lead knee—that will keep your weight forward and promote ball-first contact. Also, grip down on the club for control. Overall, think of the swing as more hands and arms and less body turn (left). Because you’re taking power out of the swing, it’s a good idea to use one more club, as long as the lip isn’t an issue.
SAFETY FIRST: NEVER RUN A RED LIGHT
One way to look at approach shots is to use a traffic-light analogy: red, yellow and green. Green means take dead aim. You like the lie, the distance, the shot. Red is a no-go situation usually requiring a punch-out or lay-up. Yellow is a judgment call, and these can turn to green when you’re feeling good or need to play aggressively—like when you’re down late in a match. But reds should never turn green, and this is where a lot of amateurs get into trouble. So hope for green lights, be cautious on yellows, and hit the brakes on the reds.
4) DOWNHILL LIE TILT YOUR BODY WITH THE SLOPE
Of all the uneven lies you get, downhillers are the toughest. The reason is, you feel like you really have to help the ball into the air—and that’s a killer. The first step is to widen your stance and flare your lead foot for balance. Then, grip down on the club to counteract the lowering action of getting into a wide stance. The big key is tilting your hips and shoulders more with the slope (left). You’ll never get them to match the angle of the hill, but that’s the feeling. A little more flex in your lead knee will help level your hips to the slope. What you shouldn’t do is play the ball back in your stance, like a lot of people think. That only makes you hit the ball lower—on a shot that’s already going to fly low. Instead, position the ball up in your stance and open the clubface to boost trajectory.
“GOING DOWNHILL, PLAY THE BALL FORWARD TO HIT IT HIGHER.”
5) FROM TROUBLE PLAN FOR THE NEXT SHOT
OK, this last one isn’t an approach shot, but I bring it up because many golfers try to turn it into one. When you hit a drive off the grid, have the discipline to just get back in play. Grab a wedge, and make a simple up-and-down swing. Three factors to consider: (1) You want a level lie in the fairway for your next shot. (2) Give yourself room for error on the recovery—don’t hit it into trouble on the other side. (3) If possible, play to a yardage you like. You probably want a full swing with one of your wedges, not something in between. As with all these shots, be smart and keep the technique simple.
MICHAEL BREED runs his golf academy at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, New York City.