How To Get Through The Winter and Improve Your Game
For those living north of Florida, this has been a long and cold winter. This can obviously lead to cabin fever for many of us, especially those who have the golf bug. Today, I’m going to share with you some tips on how to get through the winter as a golfer and how to improve your game doing so.
- Put a club in your hand at least a few times a week. This is one of those things that sounds so much easier than it is. What I recommend is keeping a wedge in your house and swing it a few times a week. This is pretty easy during the weekend when golf is on tv. Watch golf for a bit, then take a few swings in your living room trying to copy the tempo of one of your favorite golfers you just saw on tv. Swinging a club a few times a week will keep your golf muscles loose and make it easier to transition to an actual round when spring rolls around.
- Play simulated golf rounds. Find a nearby place that offers simulated golf. This is a great way to break up the monotony of winter, have fun with friends and play a round of golf. In the Cincinnati area, I know you can play at Dave and Busters and The Practice Center at Clearcreek in Franklin. If you’ve never done this, give it a try. It’s fun.
- Go to a heated driving range when it’s above 30 degrees.
- Put an indoor golf net and mat in your basement. I was lucky when I grew up because my dad put up a net in our basement. I hit balls almost everyday in there. Fortunately, our ceilings were 9 feet so I could swing any club. If your ceiling is just 8 feet, you may only be able to swing a short iron. That’s still much better than nothing. This is a pretty inexpensive way to beat the winter and improve your game.
- Take a short golf trip somewhere warm. This winter, I went to Florida and played 6 rounds of golf. It was great. Even if you can’t get away for a week, you may have time to get away for a long weekend somewhere. 3 days of golf is much better than nothing. I’d recommend going to Orlando or south of Orlando for the best weather. One of my favorites is World Woods, north of Tampa and West of Orlando.
- Hibernate or move south of your current location.
The winter time is a great way to improve your game. You can work on your putting stroke, chipping, and all of your fundamentals. Here are some of the drills I’d recommend:
- Check all your fundamentals once a week in a mirror. Check your grip, posture, shoulder and foot alignment, balance, weight distribution, ball position, etc. The better you are at these, the more consistent you’ll be.
- Check swing positions in a mirror. Check your backswing halfway back to see if the clubface and path are good, check the top of swing face-on to see the length of your backswing, and check your finish position to see if you’re balanced.
- Swing in slow-motion in front of a mirror. This is a great way to feel your golf swing and check certain position.
- Chip off carpet. Buy some plastic practice balls and chip somewhere inside. The firmer the lie the better. If you can chip off a hard floor you can probably chip anywhere.
- Putt on smooth carpet into a cup or buy a putting mat to putt on. This a great way to groove your putting stroke.
- Draw a line on your ball and try to make it roll end-over-end. If it’s wobbling a lot, then practice making the ball better. If you do so, you’ll make more putts.
Conditioning Your Body
It’s easy to get lazy in the winter, but I believe it’s the best time to workout. First, what else are you going to do? Second, when you have free time in the summer, you’re usually golfing. Use the winter to get healthier and stronger for the upcoming season.
- Walk or jog on a treadmill using a lot of incline to get your body used to walking up and down hills. The longer you walk the better prepared you’ll be for the 4+ hour rounds. Shoot for 3+ miles each time.
- Swim. I swing throughout the year. It’s a great full body workout.
- Strengthen your hands and forearms. Squeeze stress balls at work. Lift light weights for your forearms. The stronger your hands and forearms are the more power you’ll have.
- Do a lot of ab work. This will not only stabilize your body, it will help prevent back injuries.
- Learn new golf stretches and exercises. One great website for this is Titleist’s Performance Institute, www.mytpi.com.
Winter is a great time to take care of your clubs.
- I recommend re-gripping them at least once a year. There’s plenty of time right now to do it and you won’t miss them like you would in the summer.
- Check the lofts and lies of all your irons. Believe it or not, the lofts and lies of your clubs can change. It’s important to check to see if your set is consistent.
- Clean your grips at least once a month. Think how often you play when your hands are sweaty. Now, think how dirty your grips are. Yuck. Simply scrub them with soap and water. This will make them tacky again and it will prolong the life of the grips.
- Get on a launch monitor with a local PGA Professional to see if your current set of clubs is good for you. They may be perfect, they may need some tweaking, or you might need a complete overhaul. If you love the game and you want to play your best, you owe it to yourself to know that your equipment fits your game.
I hope these thoughts and tips help you get through the winter faster and improve your golf game. If all else fails, pray that the groundhog was right in predicting an early spring. Thanks for reading!
When It’s Breezy, Swing Easy – How to Play in the Wind
“When its breezy, swing easy.” Have you ever that quote? When it comes to playing in the wind, that statement bodes well. Playing in the wind can certainly be challenging, but it’s something every golfer will have to deal with from time to time, especially in the spring. The best thought you can have when playing in the wind is don’t fight the wind. Here are some tips to play better into the wind.
Grip if softer and swing easier
The simplest way to play into the wind is grab an extra club or two, grip it a little softer and swing easier. The harder you grip the club and swing at the ball, the more spin the ball will have. More spin in the wind equals a higher ball flight. Your shots will come up short or veer off-line easier. Swinging easier will take some spin of the ball which lowers the ball flight.
- Practice drill: Practice using a 6 iron when you think it’s a 7 iron and you’ll quickly see how your ball will stay below the wind much easier.
If you want to hit it low, think low and finish low. The lower you can keep the club post-impact the lower the ball will fly. This isn’t easy to do at first, but with some practice you can get pretty good with it quickly. In order to this correctly, you do have to turn your body with the club. This will keep it low. It’s nearly impossible to finish low if your body stops turning.
- Practice drill: A nice thought is to imagine a low-hanging branch that’s a couple of feet off the ground 5-10′ ahead of your ball. Practice trying to drive the ball under the limb. You can actually use a driveway marker for this too. Stick a marker in the ground on a 45-degree angle 5-10′ ahead of your practice area and try hitting balls under the marker with a middle iron.
Play The Ball Further Back In Your Stance
Moving the ball back in your stance an inch or two will effectively de-loft the club a few degrees. This will lower your ball flight as well. I don’t recommend over-doing this because it can lead to poor shots. If you play the ball too far back, you’ll tilt backwards at impact causing your body to stop turning for a split-second.
Playing in cross winds can certainly be challenging. For most players, I recommend using the wind as your friend. If the wind is blowing left to right, aim more left and hit your normal shot allowing the ball to ride the wind.
Some players like to try to hold the ball against the wind in these situations. This can be difficult. It’s not that difficult if you normally play a draw and the wind is left to right, but it is very difficult if you’re trying to play a draw and you typically play a fade. I recommend using the wind as your friend most of the time by riding it and only holding it against the wind only if it’s your normal shot. Also, an important note, when trying to hold the ball into the wind, you may have to take an extra club because the wind will tend to knock your ball down.
Downwind shots are the easiest out of all these shots, but they do bring some challenges as well. Your ball will tend to fly much straighter downwind, but choosing the right club can be tricky. The ball will fly farther downwind, but it’s not exactly opposite of the into the wind shots. For example, let’s say you normally hit an 8-iron 130. Into a 20 mph wind, you may have to drop down 2 clubs and hit a 6 iron from 130, but downwind at 20 mph you may only go up one club with a 9 iron. This takes some practice and a feel for the conditions that day to choose the right club.
Once again, choosing the right club in the wind is very tricky, even for professionals. It requires practice and controlled swings. Just remember, if you’re ever in doubt, grab a club that will allow you to make an easy controlled swing.
Thanks for reading and good luck!
The PGA Tour Finish
When you watch PGA and LPGA Tour players on television they make golf look relatively easy. Their swings seem to be powerful, effortless, and in total control. One of the reasons they look like they’re in control is they have great rhythm and balance. Improving your rhythm and balance will certainly help your golf game. One way to do that is to fine-tune your finish position. Having the goal to have a great finish will help your entire swing.
I recently wrote on the importance of holding your finish position (archived in the ‘Scoring Lower’ and ‘Golf Tips’ categories). Now, I’m going to explain how to get that PGA Tour finish. First, I’d like for you to imagine you’re getting your picture taken after a golf shot. How would you want that picture to look? You’d want it to look good, right? After every shot, hold that solid finish. Another way to think about it is this: imagine someone is watching you swing from a distance. Would want them to think your swing is good and that you hit a good shot? Absolutely. Remember, it’s not how you hit it, it’s how good you look!
The main keys to a good finish position are you’ve shifted your weight to your target-side leg, you’ve rotated your body to face the target, and you’re in good balance. I’ve listed some more keys below along with a drill to practice. This is a simple drill, but it’s one I do often just to reinforce where I want to be when I complete my golf swing.
KEYS TO A GOOD FINISH POSITION:
- Weight 100% on left leg
- Left leg straight (not locked) supporting upper body
- Center facing the target – shirt buttons, belt buckle, right knee, and right shoe laces point to target
- Shaft of the club bisects your ears which is perpendicular to your spine
- Done correctly, you should be comfortable and able to hold this position until the ball lands
- If you can lift your rear leg off the ground and maintain your balance then you have properly transferred your weight
- Setup like you’re going to hit a shot, but without the golf ball
- From there, push to your finish – NO backswing
- Notice how your left leg is balanced and supporting your weight without extra movement
- Practice this drill and then slowly incorporate your backswing
- Try to match your finish with both the drill and your swing
Practice this drill inside this winter and you’ll start the season looking and feeling better about your game. Good luck and thanks for reading!
CHECK YOUR FUNDAMENTALS IN A MIRROR
It’s hard to get excited about playing golf when the weather is poor outside; however, this is a great time to work on your fundamentals. Find a place in your home where you can look at yourself in a mirror. Grab an iron, your putter, and a golf ball. Make sure you have enough room to take your setup in front of the mirror.
First, take your setup with the iron facing the mirror. Then look in the mirror to check your grip, your stance, weight distribution, and ball position. After checking those positions, turn 90 degrees (counter-clockwise for right-handed). From this position, you can check your posture and the alignment of your shoulders, hips, and feet. After finishing with your iron, repeat these steps with your putter.
If you’ve never seen yourself on video or in a mirror with a golf club, it can be eye-opening. You may notice you favor your left side at address, your hips tend to aim right, your grip is off, or one of many other things. Take the time to check these fundamentals a few times a week before the season starts. The better your fundamentals are the more consistent golfer you will be. If you see something in the mirror you’re not sure how to fix, ask me a question about it or check with your local PGA Professional. Thanks for reading and practice smart!
CHART YOUR MISSES ON THE GREEN
Have you ever charted where you miss your putts? If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to do so this season. If you answered yes, I may offer an idea or two to take it a step further.
There are a few ways to chart your putts on the green. The most simplistic way is to chart whether you miss your putts short or long. I’m hoping long because 98% of the putts left short don’t have a chance of going in. I’m not much of a gambler, but those are not good odds. The second way to chart your putts, and probably the most common, is to chart whether you miss your putts on the high side (pro) or low side (am) of the hole. The last way to chart your putts is to see if you have a tendency to miss them left or right of the hole. Many tend to overlook charting their putts this last way, however, it can be pretty telling if you’re missing the majority of your putts on one side of the hole.
Here’s what you’re looking for when charting your putts. Ideally, you would want to miss about half of your putts on the pro side of the hole and half on the am side. And the same can be said for missing it left and right. Most likely, you’ll start seeing a tendency for your misses after a few rounds.
Here’s what the tendencies mean. For example, if you’re missing 70% of your putts on the am side of the hole, you’re under-reading the break on the green. If this is the case, practice playing more break for your putts. If you’re missing 70% of your putts to the right, then you could be pushing or slicing your putts. For this, practice by placing a 3-iron next to your ball parallel to your target line. Hit putts along the shaft without allowing your ball to strike the shaft. Obviously, I could go on and on about your misses, but it’s imperative to chart them so you can fix your flaws. The more putts you chart the better. Chart your putts for at least 5 rounds and up to 10 rounds. If you do this, I guarantee you’ll find a tendency in your putting that can be improved. And most likely, this improvement can come quickly. Good luck and make more putts!
$ BILL DRILL – GREENSIDE SAND SHOTS
Getting the ball out of a sand trap and on the green is a challenge for many players. One of the ways to improve your bunker play is to understand the shot better. When you hit a proper sand shot, your sand wedge actually does not make contact with the golf ball. It enters the sand behind the golf ball, about 2-3 inches, and the sand actually carries the ball to the green.
A great visual and practice drill to help you with this is to practice hitting sand shots using a dollar bill. Here’s how: First, bring lots of money! Just kidding. Start by setting the dollar bill in the sand pointing to the target. Next, place the ball right in the middle of the dollar bill. Then, take your setup with the dollar bill forward in your stance. Finally, try to blast the dollar bill all the way to the green. Imagine the dollar bill is carrying the ball to the green like it’s on a small pillow. Believe it or not, a dollar bill is very similar to the size of the divots you’ll be taking out of the sand when you hit a sand shot.
After doing this drill, you’ll have a better understanding of the dynamics of a sand shot and how much effort is needed to get the ball out of the trap all the way to the green. By the way, I have yet to see a dollar bill tear from this drill. Good luck!
I just wrote how warming up with pitch shots is important to improving your game. While that is very important, I also know that we live in the real world and much of the time we don’t have time to hit balls before we play, myself included. If you fall into the group of rushing to the tee with only a few minutes before it’s your turn to bat, here’s what to do.
First, take two of your wedges (usually the heaviest clubs in our bags), grip them together, and make 10 full swings. Start slow and then gradually increase the speed. By the last swing, you’ll be loosened up allowing yourself to swing without holding back. Second, stretch your hamstrings and quads to get some blood flow to your legs. Then, swing your driver anywhere from 5-10 times to get used to the weight compared to swinging the two clubs together. Now, you’re ready to play.
Before a tournament, I hit balls almost every time before I play; however, when I play casually I rarely hit balls before I play mainly because I don’t have the time. If I have time to play, which is usually an hour or so, I want to get in as many holes as I can. This warm-up routine has worked very well for me.
If you’re lucky enough to have more than 5 minutes before your tee-time, I would spend some time on the putting green as well. Hit a dozen or so putts at various distances to get used to the speed of the green. Then, knock in some 2-footers for confidence. Next, hit a handful of chip/pitch shots to loosen up your muscles. After that, go to the tee and do the warm-up with the 2 clubs I just wrote about.
This time-challenged version of a warm-up session isn’t perfect, but it help starting your round smoothly while decreasing your chance of getting injured.
The next time you go to a driving range either for practice or prior to a round, I highly recommend you start your session by hitting plenty of pitch shots. And, if you’ve ever had a lesson with me, you know I like to start our lessons by having you hit some short wedge shots. There are a few reasons why I recommend this:
1) Injury Prevention – The last time I checked, none of us are getting younger. Warming up with short swings is a great way to prevent an injury when hitting golf balls. You should never start with full, aggressive golf swings.
2) Rhythm and Balance – Warming up slowly with pitch shots is a great way to groove a nice rhythm for the day. Plus, it allows you to work on your balance. If you can’t maintain your balance when pitching, then you’re probably going to struggle with your full-swing balance. Practice holding your finish on pitch shots. It will lead to better balance for every shot you hit.
3) Improving Your Form – The pitch shot is simply a mini-golf swing. The better your technique is on pitch shots, the better full-swing technique you’ll have. Focus on syncing up your arms and body on pitch shots, it’ll help you stay connected with your full swing.
4) Scoring - The pitch shot is a very important shot in golf. You’ll hit some version of a pitch shot on many, if not most, of the holes you play. Warming up with pitch shots will help your score. I would recommend warming up with all your wedges hitting them at different heights and distances.