Be true to yourself

Golf is a game that requires you to learn certain physical skills, but your mental and emotional skills also are important tools in scoring better and in competing.

Some golfers want to know their exact position in a field of players. Others do better if they just play the game, add the numbers up at the end and see what the final results are.

If you know which you are and stick with it, it will help you learn to deal with the mental side of the game and the emotions involved.

PGA Tour pro Phil Mickelson showed us that he needed and wanted to know exactly where he stood and how many shots he needed to catch up to Ernie Els in winning the Masters one year.

He displayed emotional control by not panicking when he failed to birdie the par-5 15th, which is almost a mandatory birdie hole if you are going to win the tournament.

He came back to birdie the next hole, then made a good mental and emotional choice. He chose a fairway metal wood for the tee shot on No.18 instead of the driver, which could have created a shorter shot to the green but also increased the risk factor on the drive.

Perhaps in previous years, he might have gone with the driver. This year, he made the correct choice, made birdie and won the event.

Danna is a student of mine. She plays best if she does not add up the score until she’s done. She tries to play her own game, not worrying about where she stands in the competition.

She recently won her club championship by being true to herself, not allowing herself to think about how she stood in the final round. Certainly she knew the competition was close, but she did not focus on this.

She was playing against a seasoned veteran who had won the club championship several times. Knowing if she started adding up the scores and checking her standing against the other competitors, she would place extra pressure upon herself, Danna chose not to do so. The result? She won the event for the first time.

Many golfers in Danna’s situation put pressure on themselves that they cannot handle by becoming focused on the results, rather than staying in the present. Instead of playing shot by shot, they start to worry about their position, and their play spirals downward.

Phil Mickelson and my student Danna respond differently to the mental and emotional challenges of the game. Both were rewarded by honoring their own personalities and doing it their way.

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# 18 Take a lesson when you need it

 One year I was participating in a charity event with the ladies club at a local Country Club.  Every year they use their Christmas tournament to raise funds which benefit a shelter for battered women and children.  This is a great way to have fun and help others at the same time.


My role was to stand on the fourth hole, which is hated by all of the ladies, and help them enjoy the day by hitting drives for them in exchange for a donation.  This gave me an opportunity to visit with some members I usually do not have the chance to spend time with.


It really surprised me when one of the ladies told me she now was “good enough” to take a lesson.  She told me that she had been so bad until now that she would have been embarrassed to take a lesson.  She said she would have felt uncomfortable having someone watch her closely as happens during a lesson.  This sentiment was supported by another player in her group.


I explained to them that as an instructor I am only looking at ways to help a player improve their game, I am not judging how “bad” they are.  I assured them I teach many beginning golfers, and they are all “bad” to start with.


Waiting until they are “good” enough to take a lesson often means they will have developed habits which might have to be changed when they are “ready” to take a lesson in order to improve further.


This conversation made me realize there are probably many golfers who feel just as these two women did.   As an instructor I encourage you to start with lessons immediately.  I want to assure all of those who feel this way that my job is to teach you good habits as you learn to play golf, not to judge you.  I know that it is much easier to learn good habits rather than having to change them at a later date.


In fact, I think I will now start to promote lessons aimed at all of you who feel this way and call it “lessons for really bad golfers who are embarrassed to take a lesson”.  I want to do this because I know you need the lessons if you are too embarrassed to take them.


If you are still reluctant then I suggest you take lessons with a friend or two who are about the same level as yourself so that you will not feel as if you are the only one the instructor is focusing on.


If you know a golfer like this, do them a favor and give them a gift certificate for lessons this Christmas.

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#17 Be sure to understand golf “tips”


In writing articles for this column over the past few months, I have covered various educational topics such as cause and effect of ball flight, misconceptions about the golf swing and topics that affect performance, such as training and nutrition.

I have stayed away from specific tips about parts of the golf swing. I have always believed that it would be hard to make sure the reader interpreted the tip correctly without my being able to personally observe and make sure the action was what I intended.

Through the years I have seen far too many golfers who have hurt their golf swings and performance by misinterpreting tips or golf advice they have read or seen on TV.

I had another example last week.

Harry came for a lesson complaining that he does not have much distance and could not hit a driver very far, and it sliced a lot.

His golf swing was very stiff and far too upright, causing him to swing very outside-in to the golf ball, imparting a lot of slice spin on the ball.

Harry had no wrist hinge, and his right elbow was very straight and too far from his body.

In discussing the problem, he revealed he had been doing this intentionally because he had read you want as much extension as possible on the back swing, and he was trying to extend his right arm as far out as possible.

The reality is that extension is created by the target-side arm, or in Harry’s case, his left arm. The trailing, or right arm for Harry should stay close to the body in what is called “connection.” Connection is one of the many principles that control the golf club.

Harry violated the Principle of Connection with his misinterpretation of the advice he had read. The result was a very powerless, slice-prone golf swing.

We worked on getting his elbow to stay closer to his body and letting his wrists bend a little to get the golf club closer to his body and into a flatter position.

He has agreed to discuss with me any future tips he plans to use before changing. Together we will check to see whether it is a correct piece of advice for him and if he is interpreting it correctly.

You might want to do the same with a teaching professional, to prevent the same kind of mistakes Harry made.

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#16 Finish your swing

I was giving a lesson last week to a student who was not following through and finishing her swing.

I demonstrated what a good finish should look like with the hips fully rotated so that the torso faced the target with the weight transferred to the forward leg.  I also pointed out that the arm swing was completed as well, with the club over my forward shoulder and then asked her to imitate me.

After taking a few practice swings doing this, I then had her hit a ball and she immediately went back to her old habit of not following through.

The next step was to ask her to repeat the practice swings and hold her finish position for a count to 2 (we call this the TV finish because tour professionals frequently finish their swings and watch the progress of their shot while still in this position).  Then I asked her to hit a ball and do the same thing, follow all the way through and hold her finish position for 2 seconds.

She did this a few times and then questioned me on why did the follow through matter as she had already hit the ball.

The answer is simple.  By not committing to finishing the swing, she was actually de-accelerating at impact, and her left arm was collapsing prior to impact (remember last week’s article on the most important moment in the golf swing, impact, and the need to have the left arm fully extended with the club in line with it).

Her weight was not fully transferring and her hips did not rotate around to face the target.  She could not achieve a solid hit on the center of the clubface because of this.  She was also losing a lot of club-head speed and therefore distance.

I believe this is a common misconception, that the follow through does not matter because you have already hit the ball, not only in the full swing but on all of the short game shots as well.  I certainly see many instances where on chips and putts, there is all back-swing and no follow-through.

A comparison would be in football, when the quarterback does not have a chance to step into his delivery and follow-through because of defensive pressure.  The result is usually not good, with an incompletion or even an interception the result. 

Improve your game by committing to following through.

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How well do you know your game?

I want you to ask yourself some questions about your golf game.

Do you know how many fairways you hit in regulation?   Do you know which holes fit your shot shape and which ones do not?  Do you know when to be aggressive or when to be defensive?

 Do you know how far you carry each of your iron shots?  Do you know how much each club will roll after it lands on the green?

What is your best lay-up yardage?  Do you plan on where you might want to leave your shot if it is not exactly where you want to hit your next shot?

Do you know when to lag a putt defensively and when to be aggressive?

Do you know what your “go to” shot is, when under pressure?  In other words, do you know what your tendency is to hit a certain shot under pressure is?  Can you adjust during a round of golf and play according to the way you are striking the ball that day?

I guarantee you the players who score better than you do, even if it seems they do not swing as well as you do, nor hit the ball as well as you do, can answer these questions.  They plan accordingly, and get the most out of their golf game.

I played a round of golf the other day with a player who chose to hit a fairway club out of the rough from a severe downhill lie, over a creek to a green which was elevated.  Prior to hitting the shot, he announced that he was probably going to donate a ball to the creek.

He hit the shot into the creek, which was to be expected because of his ability level.  After he made the shot, he said this was the only place the shot could go.  When I suggested that a lay-up shot should have been a logical alternative, he just shook his head no.

Interesting, he knew that in all likelihood, he could not carry this club over the creek from that lie, but choose to try to do so anyhow.  I can only say that scoring low was not high on his priority list.

If scoring the lowest you can is important to you, please make sure that you know your capabilities and play to them.  Self knowledge, along with realistic ambitions can really help you lower your scores.


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Important for Juniors

Juniors and golf


The story getting most of the attention this week in the sport’s world is not about the success of a player or a team, but of violence and lack of self control.


I am referring to the situation in professional basketball where players were suspended because of their actions involving fighting with fans. 


Many sports seem to breed the idea that you have to be mean and violent and play dirty.  I remember in the basketball playoffs last year, one player was interviewed and claimed he was proud of wanting to be known as the “baddest” of the bad.  He also wanted his junior age son to be known for this.  Wow, are those the life skills you want your junior to learn?


If you want your children to learn important life skills such as self control, patience and that it is your own hard work and preparation for the future which will help you achieve success, I suggest you introduce them to the game of golf.


There are many lessons to be learned from the game of golf.  This game requires you to continually learn so it promotes the desire for life long learning.  Each round of golf is an ongoing learning experience.  The day may start out calm and wind free, but later in the day the wind usually starts blowing.  This means you will have to adjust your club selections based on the varying wind gusts.


The greens may start out freshly mowed and putting very smooth, but as the day wears on, the wind starts to dry the greens out and firm them up.  The approach shots do not hold as well.  The amount of speed you stroke your putts with will need to be adjusted, as will the amount of break allowed for.


Every round of golf has good breaks and bad breaks.  The approach shot that feels and looks great, but misses carrying the greenside bunker by a couple of inches and winds up buried under the lip.  The drive that was headed out of bounds but it struck a tree and caromed back into the middle of the fairway.  Your playing partner is holing what seems like miles of putts and all of yours seem to hit the hole and lip out.


We have all heard the old saying “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

There are important life lessons to be learned as you learn to manage your golf game.  Learning to deal with the bitter and the sweet, how we learn to deal with the failures within a round of golf help us learn to deal with emotional ups and downs in our life. 


The game of golf is also a game of life skills.  It can teach you to have purpose, pride, patience, persistence, perspective and appreciation.  If you haven’t exposed your children to the game of golf, now is the time.

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The value of video


Many of the golfers I teach have never seen their golf swings on video.  They are often surprised at what they see.  “I didn’t know I was doing that” is a common response.

There are three kinds of learners and all can benefit from the use of video.  There are visual learners, who need to see things demonstrated.  There are kinesthetic learners who play by how positions and movement feels to them.   There are also auditory learners who relate to words and the feel of rhythm and balance in the swing…  All of them can benefit from the use of video during golf instruction.

The visual golfer will be able to see their golf swing and picture the changes they need to make happen.  The kinesthetic golfer can match up what they feel in their golf swing to what is really happening.  The auditory learner can now match up the words you are using to describe their swing motion with what they are seeing.  They can also relate to the rhythm and balance they see.

I have found the use of video to be of great assistance to all of these golfers because what they think is happening is usually far from the reality. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is really true.   Seeing their swing convinces them of the truth and the changes necessary for improvement.  It is a great stimulus for change.

Most teachers who make their livelihood from teaching the game of golf recognize this and use video in their instruction.  The use of computer software programs which allow drawing graphics to illustrate and help you understand what they are saying has become very popular among teachers as well.  These programs also allow you to see yourself next to a player who demonstrates the attributes the instructor is encouraging you to incorporate in perhaps your posture, some area of your set-up, or in the swing itself.

Video also allows you to get immediate feedback to see if the change you are working on is happening or not.  This is invaluable since most golfers practice without any feedback and often do not know whether or not they are really doing what was recommended.  A well known instructor, Charles Sorrell, says it this way “What you feel is not real”.  Video allows you to see what is real versus what you feel.

Video takes the guesswork out of what is causing the errant ball flight.  When the camera slows the swing down to frame by frame, it becomes very obvious where the error happens.

Video may not be appropriate for all lessons, especially beginning golfers but I have found that students change much faster when they see it with their own eyes.

If you have not taken a lesson from an instructor who uses video and software programs, you might just ask for this for your Father’s Day present.

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#12 Get the most out of your lessons


Are you giving yourself the best chance to improve when you take golf lessons?  Here are some suggestions to make the best use of those lessons.

  • Improvement is a process.  Look for progress, not perfection.
  • Make sure your instructor is someone you trust and can easily understand.
  • Your instructor does not posses a magic wand, but does have the knowledge to help you improve through change, but you must be willing to change.
  • The lessons alone will not make you improve.  You must be willing to take the time to practice between lessons.
  • The more we do something the better we do it and the easier it gets to do it.
  • I tell my students that a minimum of three times a week is needed to improve.  Once a week pretty much assures you will stay the same and not progress.
  • The longer you have had a habit that you are changing, the longer period of time it takes.  Be patient.
  • Get to your lessons early and warm up.  Don’t waste your lesson time warming up; be ready to start when the lesson starts.  Getting there early also allows you to get into the proper mind set.
  • Be sure that you are clear on what the lesson was about prior to leaving.  Ask for clarification on anything that seemed confusing or was vague.
  • Come away with a swing key that has meaning to you.  We all learn differently so find a though of feel that is appropriate to what the lesson is about.
  • Statistics tell us that we will forget 75% of what we heard within 24 hours.  Take detailed notes increases the likelihood of what you will remember.  Read the notes prior to your practice sessions to refresh your memory.
  • Practice after your lesson to internalize what you learned.
  • Rehearse in front of a mirror later in the day so that you can see what you are working on and increase the likelihood of remembering a little more of what you learned.
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The importance of hydration

Don’t wait until you are thirsty


Golf is an endurance event, especially when a tournament spans several days.  What you do before and during your rounds will make a huge difference in your performance.

Hydration is one area I stress to my competitive golfers.  If they take care of their bodies by being properly hydrated, they have the potential to perform at their top level.

De-hydration contributes to loss of energy, concentration, and mental focus.

De-hydration leads to low blood sugar, which impairs brain function, and poorer performance.

During a round of golf on a hot summer day when you are perspiring, you can easily drop 1 – 2 % of your body’s weight.  This is water loss and needs to be replenished.  This amount of fluid loss will drastically affect your performance.

Sports nutritionist suggests you drink 16 ounces of water prior to performing and 5 – 10 ounces every 15 minutes.  This means drinking a cup of water every hole.  If you wait until you feel thirst, it will be too late.

Electrolytes need to be replaced as well, in hot weather.  Sports drinks are great for this, but they do contain high amounts of sugar.  If you are sensitive to sugar, this could cause a drop in blood sugar later, or the back 9 blah’s. 

Alternatives you can use are to dilute the sport drinks, or consider a powder alternative, which replaces the lost electrolytes, but does not have the sugar content.

Alcohol also causes de-hydration.  If your golf performance is important to you, be careful of how many cocktails you consume the night before, and avoid drinking alcohol during the round.

Watch the professionals play on TV and you will see that they are constantly sipping water.

Rest is equally important in order to perform at your top level.  You need 6 to 7 hours of sleep for proper spinal regeneration.  The fluids in the spine must regenerate at night for the spine to function properly.

Alcohol again, interferes with this as it reduces the quality of sleep.

I recommend to my students to get a good night’s sleep and sip your way around the golf course.

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Demo Days and such

If you have not attended a demo day where several manufacturers show up with all of their club options you have really missed the boat.  Seeing ball flight and talking to a  representative from the company that makes the clubs is very different from hitting  into a net indoors with the salesman from the golf store advising you. 

Having the opportunity to hit one brand versus several others and comparing the feel and the performance is the only way to go!  I went to the Carlsbad Golf  Demo day last Friday to do just this and I found out that the brand I thought I wanted to buy did not compare to another brand that I did order their clubs.

There is no charge for this kind of event and it is fantastic.

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