1. On the tee, imagine a gallery
Whenever I absolutely have to get the ball in the fairway, I rely on this mental image: As I stand on the tee box and address the ball, I try to imagine a gallery on both sides of the fairway. It makes me think the fairway is narrow, so I concentrate on hitting a straighter shot. I don’t want to hit one into the gallery, so I take a smoother swing and focus on keeping it in play.
- I TRIED IT: This is a great way to narrow your focus and take dead aim. It makes you concentrate on the target and not worry about all the things you learned about the golf swing. It gets your mind on the task at hand.
It’s a common request from our readers: more golf tips for and from the average player. It makes sense. After all, you’re in the trenches every weekend, you know what it’s like to try to get through a round with a banana slice and a shaky putting stroke. So why not go to the source and pick up a few shortcuts from other everyday players who have found ways to lower their scores?
Well, that’s what we did.
Earlier this year, we asked for your best original ideas on how to improve your game, and the letters, e-mails and faxes have been pouring in ever since. From Manitoba to Puerto Rico to Singapore, we’ve received hundreds of tips from readers all over the globe. One ambitious reader from Kansas City, Mo., mailed us his own 57-page instruction manual on the golf swing. It was a bit much, but it just goes to show the dedication people have to this game, and it was a great reminder that you’re never too old or too good to learn something new.
Recently we added an element to our instruction articles called “I tried it.” The idea is to have our readers actually test the tips we offer as part of the presentation and comment on whether they work. Well, this time, we’ve switched the roles: Now it’s the student who is the teacher, and the instructor tries the tip.
2. Toe in to prevent sway
- I was having a problem swaying backward on my backswing and I wasn’t making solid contact. But I found that turning my rear foot slightly inward prevented me from swaying in the backswing and allowed me to pivot. The “toe-in” move produced a more consistent and dependable swing.
- I TRIED IT: This does restrict swaying, especially in short shots. But people with back or hip problems may have trouble turning.
3. Track putts back from cup
- Just before putting, I picture the ball tracking backward from the hole. Every time I’ve holed a long putt, I’ve first experienced this heightened visualization.
- I TRIED IT: I like this. Most amateurs don’t use their eyes enough when putting. The top putters spend more time looking at the target line than at the ball. This is a good tip for picturing putts.
4. Try the three-finger interlock
- Take a standard putting grip with your left hand, the thumb and index finger pointing down the shaft. Then interlock your last three fingers with the same three fingers from your right hand. Now put your right hand on the grip with the thumb and index finger also pointing down the shaft. Your thumbs rest on each other as shown.
- I TRIED IT: Whether left-handed (as shown here) or right, this grip eliminates hand action–no wrists.
5. Brace yourself for chips
- To practice the proper chipping stroke, pull up a chair . . . literally. Using a couch, chair, or anything solid, lean your left leg against it as shown here. With your weight forward but braced, you will strike the ball with the proper downward blow and hit it crisply. This also helps prevent the wrists from breaking down.
- I TRIED IT: Great drill to groove the setup in chipping. Your weight starts on your left side and stays there.
6. Use a cell phone to fix the downswing
- Who says a cell phone has no business near a golf course? In practice, I attach one to my belt just above the right pants pocket. On the downswing, I try to touch the phone with my right elbow. This little reminder helps me to drop the club inside on the way down and hit crisp, powerful shots.
- I TRIED IT: A nice variation on Harvey Penick’s tip of getting the right elbow to your hip as soon as you can on the downswing. It’s a good image (although I don’t care for cell phones on the golfcourse).
7. Lay up on long, tough par 3s
If you are facing a difficult tee shot on a long or tough par 3, consider pulling out your most comfortable club and laying up. If you leave yourself a reasonable chip, you can still get on the green in two and have a shot at a good par on a tough hole. You might even sink the chip. It’s better than being in the water or out of bounds. A bogey is always better than a 5 or 6 or worse!
8. Swing to the outside of the ball
If you have a problem coming over the top and hitting pulls or slices, try this: When you tee the ball up, pick a spot a foot in front of it and two to three inches outside of your ball-target line. A broken tee or leaf is fine. Then swing through the ball to that marker.
9. Bow the left elbow on pitches
- Years ago, my grandfather, Mack Brothers, was a scratch golfer thanks, in part, to a crooked left arm. On pitch shots, his left elbow would bow out toward the pin. He always hit a nice crisp shot with a simple pendulum motion that took the wrists out of the shot.
I noticed my fiancee was having trouble getting pitch shots in the air. She was collapsing her wrists well before impact. Well, the idea hit me to put a roller-blade wrist guard on her left wrist in practice. Presto! She was so excited that she could now get the ball in the air and hasn’t had a problem since.
- I TRIED IT: The left wrist must be flat at impact in all shots. The guard is a great image.
11. Look ahead for better putting
- Instead of decelerating or quitting on your stroke when you putt, try this: Focus on a spot in front of the ball, on the target line. The longer the putt, the farther you should look in front. This gets me to make a solid stroke through the ball. My ball rarely stops short of the hole.
- I TRIED IT: Most amateurs tend to decelerate on putts. Looking ahead may keep you swinging and also keep the putter square longer. Good tip.
12. Tough shot? Use a new ball
- Whenever water is in play off the tee, pull out a brand-new ball rather than that old, scuffed one. The reason? If you play the old ball, you won’t take the shot as seriously as you would with that shiny new one. If you don’t care whether you lose a golf ball, you won’t stay committed to the shot.
- I TRIED IT: For most amateurs, using a good ball would help them concentrate more on making a good shot. So this tip definitely helps. No more water balls!
13. Ghost caddie can save strokes
- A caddie is a valuable asset to the tour player’s game, but since most of us don’t have a caddie, try playing a round with an imaginary “ghost” caddie. You don’t want to get caught talking to yourself, but imagine what a good caddie would say about your club selection or strategy on every shot. Even if it’s only words of encouragement, it will help. With “Tony” on the bag (yes, I’ve gone so far as to name my ghost caddie), I recently won my first tournament.
- I TRIED IT: I like this. When you’re out there playing, you have to play the role of the caddie as well as the golfer to make sure you make the smart play.
14. Improve driver accuracy with setup
- I set the driver head three to five inches behind the ball to help keep the club on line during my swing. I imagine a line starting at the clubface, running through the ball and out toward the target. Then I just trace that path when I swing. It also helps me swing through the ball.
- I TRIED IT: Moe Norman has always set up with the club 13 inches behind the ball, and he may have been the best ball-striker who ever lived. I don’t see any pitfalls to this.