Golf For Dummiesby Gary McCord
The fun and easy way to get a grip on golf
Golf For Dummies, 4th Edition, gives you all the latest information on the game, including updated expert advice on everything from improving fundamentals to mastering the game's mental aspects. With advice from professional Gary McCord, this expert guide gives you easy to follow instructions for hitting/i>/b>… See more details below
The fun and easy way to get a grip on golf
Golf For Dummies, 4th Edition, gives you all the latest information on the game, including updated expert advice on everything from improving fundamentals to mastering the game's mental aspects. With advice from professional Gary McCord, this expert guide gives you easy to follow instructions for hitting the ball farther and straighter, and hints on how to shave strokes off your game.
- Updated instructions on grips, stances, and swings
- The most current stars and best courses
- New tips from top players on how to improve your game
- Details on the latest golf equipment and technology
Playing golf is fun-playing better is even more fun. With a little help from Golf For Dummies, 4th Edition, you'll have the time of your life whenever you hit the links.
Read an Excerpt
Common Faults and How to Fix Them
In This Chapter
- Skying your tee shots
- Aiming to the right of your target
- Giving your hook the hook!
- Skimming the top of the ball
- Bottoming out behind the ball
- Missing the ground on your chip shot
If you are like everyone else who has ever played the game, playing golf is a constant battle against annoying faults in your full swing or putting stroke. Even the best golfers have some little hitch in their methods that they have to watch for, especially under pressure. A few years ago, Greg Norman displayed a tendency to hit the ball well to the right of the target on the closing holes of big tournaments. That tendency was Greg's particular nemesis, but pressure manifests itself in many ways. Watch your playing companions when they get a little nervous. You can see all sorts of things happen. Putts are left short. Even simple shots take longer to play. Conversation all but stops. And best of all, from your point of view, any fault in their swings is cruelly exposed.
You're going to develop faults in your swing and game. Faults are a given, no matter how far you progress. The trick is catching your faults before they spoil your outlook on your game. Faults left unattended turn into major problems and ruin your game.
The root cause of most faults is your head position. Your cranium's position relative to the ball as you strike it dictates where the bottom of your swing is. The bottom of your swing is always a spot on the ground relative to where your head is positioned. Test that assertion. Shift your weight and your head toward the target onto your left side. Leave the ball in its regular position. Then make your normal swing with, say, a 6-iron. The hole made by the club will be more in front of the ball. The bottom of your swing moved targetward with your head.
The opposite is also true. Shift your weight and head to the right, and the bottom of your swing moves in the same direction.
The bottom line? If your head moves too much during the swing, you have little chance to correct things before impact, and the result is usually some form of poor shot.
Don't get the idea that excessive head movement is responsible for absolutely every bad shot. Other poor plays can stem from improper use of your hands, arms, or body. But try to keep the head as steady as possible.
Anyway, that's the big picture. I'll get more specific now. What follows is a discussion of the most common faults you are likely to develop, with cures for each. After you know what your tendencies are, you can refer to this section regularly to work on fixing them.
Skying Your Tee Shots (Fountain Ball)
One of the most common sights I see on the first tee of a Pro-Am or member guest tournament is the skyed tee shot, which is when a ball goes higher than it goes forward. It is usually hit on the top part of the driver, causing an ugly mark to appear, which is one reason why a tour player never lets an amateur use his wooden club. If the amateur hits a fountain ball (as my wife likes to call it, because she says a skyed tee shot has the same trajectory as one of those fountains in Italy) with a wooden club, an acne-like mark is left on the wood, and then the club needs to be refinished. Take a look at your friends' drivers. They probably have disgusting marks all over the tops of their wooden clubs.
At the municipal course where I nurtured my game, we had few rules, but one of them was that if you could catch your drive off the tee, you could play it over again with no penalty. We had so many guys wearing tennis shoes for speed that it looked like a track meet.
If you are hitting the ball on the top side of your driver, you are swinging the club on too much of a downward arc at impact. What's that mean, you say? That means that your head is too far in front of the ball (toward the target side of the ball) and your left shoulder is too low at impact -- bad news for the complexion of your driver.
Attitude is key
"Golf is a good walk spoiled." -- Mark Twain
Golf is played in a hostile environment with inferior equipment for the task at hand. You have to use every facet of your being to conquer the forces that are working against you. Success and failure walk hand in hand down the fairways, and your attitude toward the game has a direct effect on how you handle both. Golf teases you with brilliant moments of shotmaking, and then, in the next moment, it wilts your knees with swift failure. Hopefully, you can reflect on the brilliant moments and use the swift failure for experience.
I've had few moments of brilliance while playing the PGA Tour, but in those moments, I have been locked into trances that allow me to play my best. I don't know what brings on that mystical state where mind and body meld to a very efficient unison called the zone. If I knew, I would have a lot more real estate by now. A quote by Janwillem Van De Weterin says, "Not only has one to do one's best, one must, while doing one's best, remain detached from whatever one is trying to achieve." That's the zone. Sounds easy, but it's hard to do!
Play the game for whatever reason you play the game, and nobody else's reason. Golf is a journey without a destination and a song with no ending. Enjoy the companionship and the solitude, experience the brilliance and failure, and do your best to enjoy all the seasons.
Here's what you do. Go find an upslope. Your left foot (if you're right-handed) will be higher than your right. Tee the ball up and hit drivers or 3-woods until you get the feeling of staying back and under the shot. The uphill lie promotes this feeling. I'll tell you a secret about this teaching trick. People who hit down on their drivers want to kill the stupid ball in front of their buddies. These golfers have a tremendous shift of their weight to the left side on the downswing. If you hit balls from an upslope, you cannot get your weight to the left side as fast. Consequently, you keep your head behind the ball, and your left shoulder goes up at impact. Practice on an upslope until you get a feel and then proceed to level ground. The next time I see you in the sky, it will be on Delta.
Slicing and Hooking
Most golfers slice, which means that the ball starts to the left of the target and finishes well to the right. I think slicing stems from the fact that most players tend to aim to the right of their target. When they do so, their swings have to compensate so that the resulting shots can finish close to the target.
In most cases, that compensation starts when your brain realizes that if you swing along your aim, the ball flies way to the right. The resulting flurry of arms and legs isn't pretty -- and invariably, neither is the shot. Soon this weak, left-to-right ball flight makes your life a slicing hell. Slices don't go very far. They are horrible, weak shots that affect your DNA for generations to come.
In general, slicers use too much body action and not enough hand action in their swings. Golfers who hook have the opposite tendency -- too much hand action, not enough body.
Fear not, hapless hackers: Two variations of the same drill offer solutions.
If you are a slicer, you need to get your hands working in the swing. Address a ball as you normally do. Turn your whole body until your butt is to the target, and your feet are perpendicular to the target line. Twist your upper body to the left so that you can again place the clubhead behind the ball. Don't move your feet, however. From this position, you have, in effect, made it impossible for your body to turn to your left on the through swing (see Figure 11-1). Try it. Should I call a chiropractor yet? The only way you can swing the club through the ball is by using your hands and arms. Hit a few balls. Focus on letting the toe of the clubhead pass your heel through impact. Quite a change in your ball flight, eh? Because your hands and arms are doing so much of the rotating work in your new swing, the clubhead is doing the same. The clubhead is now closing as it swings through the impact area. The spin imparted on the ball now causes a slight right-to-left flight -- something I bet you never thought that you'd see.
After you have hit about 20 shots using this drill, switch to your normal stance and try to reproduce the feel you had standing in that strange but correct way. You'll soon be hitting hard, raking draws (slight hooks) far up the fairway.
Those golfers prone to hooks (shots that start right and finish left) have the opposite problem as slicers -- too much hand action and not enough body. After adopting your regular stance, turn your whole body until you are looking directly at the target. Now twist your upper body to the right -- don't move your feet -- until you can set the clubhead behind the ball. Hit some shots. You'll find solid contact easiest to achieve when you turn your body hard to the left, which prevents your hands from becoming overactive. Your ball flight will soon be a gentle fade. (See Figure 11-2.)
After about 20 shots, hit some balls from your normal stance practicing the technique I just described. Reproduce the feel of the drill, and you're on your way.
Topping isn't much fun. Plus, it's a lot of effort for very little return. Topping is when you make a full- blooded, nostrils-flaring swipe at the ball, only to tick the top and send the ball a few feeble yards.
Topping occurs because your head is moving up and down during your swing. A rising head during your downswing pulls your shoulders, arms, hands, and the clubhead up with it. Whoops! Airball!
In order not to top the ball, you have to stop your head from lifting. And the best way to stop your head from lifting is by establishing a reference for your eyes before you start the club back. Stick the shaft of a golf club in the ground just outside the top of the golf ball. Focus your eyes on the top of the grip throughout your swing, as shown in Figure 11-3. As long as your eyes are focused on the grip, your head and upper torso cannot lift, which ends topped shots.
Duffing and Thinning Chip Shots
Duffing and thinning chip shots are diametric opposites, yet, like the slice and the hook, duffing and thinning chip shots have their roots in the same fault (see Figure 11-4).
When you duff a chip (also called a chili-dip or, as I like to say, Hormel), your swing is bottoming out behind the ball. You are hitting too much ground and not enough ball, which means the shot falls painfully short of the target and your playing partners laugh outrageously. Duffing a chip is the one shot in golf that can get you so mad that you can't spell your mother's name.
One shot, which is rare to actually witness, is the double chip, where you hit the chip fat (behind back), causing the clubhead to hit the ball twice, once while it's in the air. You could never do this if you tried, but sometime, somewhere, you'll see it performed and will stand in amazement.
I was playing a tournament in Palm Springs, California, when one of the amateurs, standing near the condos surrounding the course, hit a chip shot. He had to loft the ball gently over a bunker and then have it land like a Nerf ball on a mattress on the green. He hit the shot a little fat, the ball went up in the air slowly, and his club accelerated and hit the ball again about eye level. The ball went over his head, out of bounds, and into the swimming pool. The rule says you may only have four penalty strokes per swing maximum, but I think he beat that by a bunch with that double hit chip shot. When I saw him last, he was still trying to retrieve that ball with the guy's pool net.
Thinned chips (skull as they call it on tour, or Vin Scully's as I call them after the famous Dodgers baseball announcer) are the opposite of the Hormels (duff). You aren't hitting enough ground. In fact, you don't hit the ground at all. The club strikes the ball right above the equator, sending the shot speeding on its merry way, past the hole into all sorts of evil places. You need to hit the ground slightly so the ball will hit the clubface and not the front end of the club.
Again, stick your golf club shaft in the ground outside the top of ball.
If you continually hit these Hormels (duff), get your nose to the left of the shaft, which moves the bottom of your swing forward. Doing so allows you to hit down on the ball from the right position. Make sure that your head stays forward in this shot. Most people I play with who hit an occasional Hormel move their heads backwards as they start their downswings, which means they hit behind the ball.
If you're prone to hit an occasional Vin Scully (thin), set up with your nose behind or to the right of the shaft, which moves the bottom of your swing back. When you find the right spot, you hit the ball and the ground at the same time, which is good. I have found that most people who hit their shots thin have a tendency to raise their entire bodies up immediately before impact. Concentrate on keeping your upper torso bent in the same position throughout the swing. Hopefully, the next time you hear the name Vin Scully, it will be on a televised Dodgers game.
Can't Make a Putt?
Some people argue that putting is more mental than physical. But before you resort to a series of seances with your local fortune teller, check your alignment. You often can trace missed putts to poor aim.
I like to use a device you can make easily at home. Get two metal rods, each about a foot in length. Then get some string to tie to each end of the rods. The rods should be about 1/8 of an inch in diameter, and the string should be about 10 feet long.
Go to the putting green and find a putt that is six feet long, fairly straight, and level. Stick the first rod about six to eight inches behind the center of the hole. Then stick the other rod on the line of the straight putt until there is tension in the string. The string is tied on the top of the rod so that it's about 10 inches off the ground.
Place a golf ball directly under the string so that it appears to cut the ball in half when you look down. Put your putter behind the ball and take a stroke; if the putter goes straight back and straight through with the stroke, the string should be in the middle of the putter blade as it goes back and forth. If it is not, you will notice the putter blade's position will vary relative to the line of the string. Practice until the putter stays in the same line as the string during your stroke. Because you can see a line to the hole, you can easily solve alignment problems with this handy and easy-to-use homemade device.
Another important lesson to be learned with this device is the line that you see to the hole. The string will easily allow you to envision the path of the putt. Keep this mental image when you proceed to the golf course. Putting takes a lot of imagination, and if you can see the line, it is much easier to stroke the ball along the intended path to the hole. After you use this device enough, you start to "see" the line on the golf course as you lurk over those six-foot putts. This is one cheap yet effective way to learn how to putt!
It must have started centuries ago. Alone with his sheep in a quiet moment of reflection, he swung his carved shepherd's crook at a rather round multicolored rock, toward a faraway half-dead, low-growing vine. The rock peeled off the old crook, and instead of lurching forward toward the vine, it careened off at an angle 90 degrees to the right of the target. "What was that?!" cried the surprised shepherd. "That was a shank, you idiot!" cried one of the sheep. "Now release the toe of that stick or this game will never get off the ground."
This story has been fabricated to help with the tension of this despicable disease. The shanks are a virus that attack the very soul of the golfer. They can come unannounced and invade the decorum of a well-played round. They leave with equal haste and lurk in the mind of the golfer, dwelling until the brain reaches critical mass. Then you have meltdown. This sounds like one of those diseases that they are making movies about. And to the golfer, no other word strikes terror and dread like the word shank.
I remember as a kid getting the shanks once in a while, but because of my innocence they were not a part of my daily life. As a junior golfer, I was visiting the Tournament of Champions in 1970 when a bunch of the guys were watching the tournament winners hit balls on the driving range. I was completely mesmerized by Frank Beard as he hit shank after shank on the practice tee. These were the years when the rough was so high at LaCosta that you could lose your golf cart in it if you were not careful. My buddies wanted to go watch Nicklaus, but being somewhat of a masochist, I told them I would follow "Frank the Shank" around and meet them afterward. I witnessed one of the greatest rounds I have ever seen. He shot a 64 and never missed a shot. How could a man that was so severely stricken by this disease on the practice tee rally and unleash a round of golf like he played? That is the mystery of this affliction. Can it be controlled? Yes!
Shanking occurs when the ball is hit with the hosel of the club and goes 90 degrees to right of your intended target. (The hosel is the part of the club that attaches to the clubhead.) A shank is sometimes called a pitch out, a Chinese hook, El Hosel, a scud, or a snake killer -- you get the idea. Shanking is caused when the heel of the club (the heel is the closest part of the clubhead to you and the toe is the farthest) continues toward the target and then ends up right of the target. This forces the hosel upon the ball, and a shank occurs. The idea is to have the toe of the club go toward the target and then end up left of the target.
Here's an easy exercise that helps get rid of the shanks. Get a 2-x-4 board and align it along your target line, put the ball 2 inches away from the inside of the board, and try to hit the ball. If you have the shanks, your club will want to hit the board. If you are doing it properly, the club will come from the inside and hit the ball. Then the toe of the club will go left of the target, the ball will go straight, and your woes will be over.
In a world full of new emerging viruses, we have the technology to lash back at this golfing disease and eliminate it altogether from our DNA. Stay calm and get a 2-x-4 board, practice the drill, and never have the shanks again.
The push is a shot that starts right of the target and continues to go in that direction. This shot is not like a slice, which starts left and then curves to the right; it just goes right. This shot is caused when the body does not rotate through to the left on the downswing, and the arms hopelessly swing to the right, which produces the "push."
Hitting a push is like standing at home plate, aiming at the pitcher, and then swinging your arms at the first baseman. If this sounds like you, listen up. I'll show you how to fix this problem.
Place a wooden 2-x-4 parallel to the target line and about two inches above the golf ball. You push the ball because your body stops rotating left on the downswing, and your arms go off to the right. If your arms go off to the right with that old 2-x-4 sitting there, splinters are going to fly. So naturally, you don't want to hit the board, so you will -- hopefully -- swing your hips left on the downswing, which will pull your arms left and avoid the push.
The pull is a shot that starts left and stays left, unlike a hook, which starts right of the target and curves left. The pull is caused when the club comes from outside the target line on the downswing and you pull across your body, causing the ball to start and stay left.
Hitting a pull is like standing at home plate and aiming at the pitcher, but swinging the club toward the third baseman, which is where the ball would go. This swing malady is a little more complicated, and it's more difficult to pick out one exercise to cure it, so bear with me.
Pulls are caused when your shoulders "open" too fast in the downswing. For the proper sequence, your shoulders should remain as close to parallel to the target line as possible at impact. Here are some hints to help you cure your pull:
- Alignment. Check your alignment. If you are aimed too far to the right, your body will slow down on the downswing and allow your shoulders to open at impact to bring the club back to the target.
- Weight shift. If you do not have a weight shift to your left side on the downswing, you will spin your hips out of the way too fast, causing your shoulders to open up too quickly, and hit a putrid pull. So shift those hips toward the target on the downswing until your weight is all on your left side after impact.
- Grip pressure. Feel your grip pressure. Too tight a grip on the club will cause you to tense up on the downswing and come over the top for a pull.
Not Enough Distance
Everyone in the world would like more distance. John Daly and Laura Davies would like more distance. I would like more distance, and I'm sure you would also. Here are some simple thoughts on helping you get some needed yardage.
- Turn your shoulders on the backswing. The more you turn your shoulders on the backswing, the better chance you have to hit the ball longer. So stretch that torso on the backswing, and try to put your left shoulder over your right foot at the top of your swing.
- Get the tension out of your grip. Grip the club loosely; remember, you should grip it with the pressure of holding a spotted owl's egg. If there is too much tension in your hands, your forearms and chest will "tighten up" and you will lose that valuable flexibility that helps with the speed of your arms and hands.
If you are having difficulty moving your shoulders enough on the backswing, try turning your left knee clockwise until it's pointing behind the ball during your backswing. This will free up your hips to turn and subsequently your shoulders. A big turn starts from the ground up.
Turning your hips to the left on the downswing and extending your right arm on the through-swing are trademarks of the longer hitters. Here is a drill you can use to accomplish this feat of daring.
Tee up your driver in the normal position. Place the ball off your left heel and/or opposite your left armpit. Now reach down, not moving your stance, and move the ball toward the target the length of the grip. Tee the ball up right there; it should be about 1 foot closer to the hole. Address the ball where the normal position was and swing at the ball that is now teed up. To hit that ball, you will have to move your hips to the left so your arms can "reach the ball," thereby causing you to extend your right arm. Practice this drill 20 times and then put the ball back in the normal position. You should feel faster with the hips and a tremendous extension with the right arm.
Does your ball fly too low when you hit it? Does it look like a duck trying to take off with a bad wing? Do your friends call you "stealth''? If you are having this problem with your driver, make sure that your head is behind the ball at address and at impact. Moving your head laterally back and forth with your driver can cause too low a shot.
If you are having a problem with low iron shots, you are probably trying to lift those golf balls into the air instead of hitting down. Remember, with irons, you have to hit down to get the ball up.
If your golf ball takes off in more directions than the compass has to offer, check your alignment and ball position for the problem. Choose the direction you're going and then put your feet, knees, and shoulders on a parallel line to the target line. Be very specific with your alignment.
Ball position can play a major role in poor direction. If the ball is too far forward, it's very easy to push the ball to the right. If the ball is too far back in your stance, it's very easy to hit pushes and pulls. The driver is played opposite your left armpit. (As the club gets shorter, the ball should move back toward the middle of your stance.)
If there is nobody around and you want to check your ball position, here is what you can do. Get into your stance -- with the driver, for example -- and then undo your laces. Step out of your shoes, leaving them right where they were at address. Now take a look: Is the ball where it is supposed to be in your stance? Two suggestions: If it's wet out, don't do this. And if your socks have holes in them, make sure that nobody is watching.
Hitting from the Top
When you start cocking the wrist in your golf swing, the thumb of your right hand (if you're a right-handed golfer) points at your right shoulder on the backswing. That's good! When you start the downswing, you should try to point your thumb at your right shoulder for as long as you can, thus maintaining the angle. That's golfspeak for keeping the shaft of the club as close to the left arm on the downswing as possible. If your right thumb starts pointing away from your right shoulder on the downswing, not good! That is known as hitting from the top. In essence, you are uncocking the wrist on the downswing.
To stop hitting from the top, you must reduce the grip pressure on the club. Too much tension in your hands will make you throw the clubhead toward the ball, causing you to hit from the top. After you have relaxed your grip pressure, I want you to get an old 2-x-4 and place it on the side of the ball away from you, parallel to the target line. The ball should be about two inches away from the board. You will find that if you keep pointing your right thumb at your right shoulder on the downswing, you won't hit the board with your club. If you point your thumb away from your shoulder on the downswing, your chances of creating sparks are very good.
A reverse pivot is when you put all your weight on your left foot on the backswing and all your weight on your right foot during the downswing. That is the opposite of what you want to do! Picture a baseball pitcher. Pitchers have all their weight on the right foot at the top of the windup, the left foot is in the air (for a right hander), and on the through motion, all the weight goes to the left foot. (The right foot is in the air.) That's the weight transfer you need. Here's how you can accomplish it:
Start your backswing, and when you get to the top of your swing, lift your left foot off the ground. Now you can't put any weight on that foot! You will feel your whole body resist placing your weight over your right foot. Take your time and let your weight transfer there. Start the downswing by placing your left foot back where it was and then transfer all your weight over during the swing. When you have made contact with the ball (hopefully), put all your weight on your left foot and lift your right foot off the ground. Try to stand there for a short time to feel the balance. This rocking-chair transfer drill will let you feel the proper weight shift in the golf swing. Take it easy at first. Practice short shots until you get the feel and then work your way up to your driver.
Sway off the Ball
A sway is when your hips and shoulders don't turn on the backswing, but simply slide back in a straight line. Here is a good drill to help you prevent the sway.
Find a bare wall. Using a 5-iron, lay the club on the ground with the clubhead touching the wall and the shaft extending straight into the room. Place your right foot against the end of the shaft with the little toe of your right shoe hitting the end of the club so that you're standing exactly one club length from the wall. Put your left foot in the normal address position for the 5-iron and, without moving your feet, bend over and pick up the club. Take a backswing. If you sway with your hips one inch to the right on your backswing, you will notice you hit the wall immediately with the club. Practice this until you don't hit the wall. I put so many marks and holes in the motel room, I eventually could see the guy in the next room!
I suggest you practice this drill in your garage at first to save the walls at home. You might want to use an old club, too.
Sway into the Ball
A common fault is to slide too far toward the target with the hips at the start of the downswing. How far should they slide until they turn left? They must slide until your left hip and left knee are over your left foot. Then those hips turn left in a hurry!
Here's the best way to improve your hip position at the downswing. Get a broken club that just has a shaft and a grip on it. You can find broken clubs in a lost-and-found barrel or just ask somebody at the driving range. (Or your golf pro can help you find one.) Stick the broken club into the ground just outside your left foot; the top of the grip should be no higher than your hip. Now hit a few shots. When you swing, your left hip should not hit the club stuck in the ground. It should turn to the left of the shaft. The key here is to straighten the left leg in your follow-through.
Your Swing Is Too Long
If your swing is too long and sloppy, here are two positions to work on. The first is the right arm in the backswing (for a right-handed golfer); it must not bend any more than 90 degrees. It must stay at a right angle, as shown in Figure 11-5. Combined with the right elbow, it must not get more than a dollar bill's length (6 inches) away from your rib cage at the top of the backswing (see Figure 11-5). If you can maintain these two simple positions at the top of your swing, you won't over swing.
(This chapter has been abridged.)
Meet the Author
Gary McCord is a PGA Champions Tour player and celebrity golf instructor. He's best known for the knowledgeable perspective, refreshing humor, and irreverent wit he has shown as a golf commentator for CBS for nearly 25 years.
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