Instruction

Drop 5 Strokes in 10 Weeks

For the majority of America's golfers, winter represents a time of great loss. Courses begin to close as the weather turns cold, and even the most impervious players are obliged to take hiatus from the game. If you aren't lucky enough to live in or travel to a warm and playable winter climate, the months between November and April may seem bleak indeed. There is hope, however! GOLF MAGAZINE has created a 10-week Practice Plan that will help you reach top form by spring, and all you need is a range, two afternoons a week, some patience, and a passion for improvement.

In order to get the best results from our Improvement Plan, you must commit to at least two days of practice per week, for 90 minutes per session. You will notice that our 10-Week Practice Plan features seven weeks devoted to your 100-yard-in game. This may seem unbalanced, but if there is one thing that talking with the GOLF MAGAZINE Top 100 Teachers has taught us, it's that focusing on the perfection of your short game will produce the most noticeable results for long-term improvement. Putting and chipping well are the keys to saving par and avoiding bogey or worse, and with our plan, you'll likely be putting for birdie instead. Let's get started!

Note: Begin each practice session with an effective stretching session, and 10 smooth swings with your pitching wedge. Follow that by repeating 5 shots using the club from the previous session.

Week 1: Putting
The first step in our Improvement Plan is short putting practice. This is the foundation of your golf game. If you can gain confidence with your short putting, you'll be able to be more aggressive on longer putts, and therein, create more birdie opportunities.

Day 1 - What To Do
Start from three-feet. Don't pick a putt with break-make sure to choose a flat surface, even if you don't have a real green to work with. The goal of this drill is to develop a rapport with your putter and acquire a feel for short putting. Use 3 balls, and make 21 putts in a row from three feet. Then, make 9 from 6 feet, 6 from 10 feet, 6 from 15 feet, and 3 from 20 feet. These putts do not have to be made consecutively. Repeat this drill 3 times. You'll be amazed at how much more easily the longer putts go in after beginning with the shorter ones. This is also a great putter warm-up before a round.

Use This Tip
Always place an identifying mark on your ball (it's in the Rules). Use this mark to align your ball along the intended line of putt by positioning the mark parallel to your line. Now you have a reference point to get your putterface pointed in the right direction. Then, sole your putterhead on the ground and align the face so that the top edge makes a perpendicular with the mark on you ball. This ensures that your putter will start your ball on the correct line after contact.

Day 2 - What To Do
Repeat the drill from Day 1. After you sink your three 20-footers, try to two-putt 6 times in a row from 25, 30, 40, and 60 feet.

Use This Tip
Make sure that you're consistently getting the ball to the hole. Use your feet as an acceleration guideline. No matter how far back you take the putter, always follow through past your left toe. This will ensure that you are consistently accelerating through the ball.

Week 2: Chipping (Flops & bump-and-runs)
Now that you'll never three-putt again, it's time to work on your chipping so you can put the ball close enough to make it. Chipping is crucial to a good round of golf, and making those up-and-downs will boost your confidence.

Day 1 - What To Do
Choose your favorite chipping club (LW, SW, PW) and choose a spot to chip from no less than 15 feet from the hole. Each chip that comes within 3 feet of the hole is worth one point and each that doesn't is minus one. Try to reach 10 points and then change your location and distance from the cup.

Use This Tip
Keep your left wrist from breaking down. Left-wrist breakdown increases the likelihood of a skull and tons of short game misery. On all chips, swing your hands and arms together with your club as a single unit. You can add some wrist hinge in the backswing to create more of a descending blow and add spin, but come impact, never ever let the club outpace the hands.

Day 2 - What To Do
Try the same game/drill, but choose a less-lofted club (7-, 8-, 9-iron) and use the bump-and-run technique. The bump-and-run should be played with a less lofted club and the ball position should be closer to the back of your stance.

Use This Tip
When attempting bump-and-run shots, many golfers make the mistake of locking up their arms, tensing their hands and making jabs instead of a smooth move through the ball. Don't be wooden! Add some hinge to your backswing and lower body motion on the throughswing. You'll find it creates a more fluid stroke.

Week 3: Bunker Shots
The bunker doesn't always have to mean bogey! Conversely, many players prefer bunkers to conventional chip shots because they offer and opportunity to put more spin on the ball and get it closer to the pin. Use this week to make bunker play a day at the beach.

Day 1 - What To Do
Use last week's chipping drill but from a greenside bunker. This week, you're allowed 5 feet of leeway instead of 3.

Use This Tip
To hit short, high bunker shots with minimal roll, widen and open up your stance. Press forward slightly and grip the club lightly. Take a half-swing, with a follow-through that's equal to your back swing. You should hit about an inch behind the ball, and keep the clubface open through impact and deep into your finish.

Day 2 - What To Do
Find a 20-yard bunker shot and repeat the drill from Day One. Try to get three in a row within 10 feet.

Use This Tip
It's a classic tip, but it still holds weight: Visualize your ball sitting on a dollar bill. Your club should enter the sand on one side of the dollar bill and come through the ball on the other.

Week 4: Pitching (30-40 yards)
Pitching is a very important and often under-practiced technique. Good pitching can make the difference between a birdie opportunity on a par-5 and a chance to save par on a par-4 if your approach is short. A big part of pitching well is knowing your swing lengths and their approximate distances. Use this week's practice days to become familiar with the distance of your choked half-swing lob wedge, and your 3/4 swing pitching wedge because that knowledge will certainly come in handy on the course.

Day 1 - What To Do
Hit shots from 30 and 40 yards, and try to put five in a row within 8 feet of the hole from each distance.

Use This Tip
Pitch swings are short little motions designed for accuracy, not power. All it takes to pitch the ball close to your target is bring the club you've chosen down into the back of the golf ball with a squared face and on a path that follows your target line. So keep your lower body movement to a minumum. Excessive lower body action makes pitching a more challenging task than it has to be.

Day 2 - What To Do
Repeat drill from Day 1, but use a slightly less lofted club.

Use This Tip
Set your weight forward, but make sure your weight is evenly distributed-heel to toe-on your front foot. This tip works because your swing path changes as your heel-to-toe balance changes, and if your weight gets forward on your toes, your path will move to the outside. There's no time for plane switches on short shots such as these. Week 5: 50-yard Shots
The next three weeks focus on three different distances: 50, 75, and 100 yards. These distances represent some of the most important shots in golf. If you can get comfortable and consistent with these shots, you'll rarely have to chip! Spend these weeks focusing on accuracy and distance control. Get that ball close! The proper execution of these shots is a large part of what separates the best players from everyone else.

By the end of this week, you should have a good idea of your 50-yard club played uphill, downhill, upwind, and downwind. This shot should be a piece of cake.

Use This Tip
Commit to a full swing. The normal lob wedge distance is in the 75-yard range, so open the face a few degrees. Rotate your stance to the left until the leading edge of the clubface points at your target. The preferred ball position is just slightly back of center.

Since the shot needs loft, weaken your grip by rotating your hands to the left. A weaker grip will keep you from aggressively rotating the face and potentially closing it down at impact, a move that subtract lofts and produces a lower trajectory.

Week 6: 75-yard Shots
For most golfers, 75 yards is a tough distance. It catches many players in between clubs, but is long enough to be considered as a full approach. Perfecting the 75-yard approach will create many birdie opportunities in the future.

Use This Tip
You can avoid hitting the ball fat (a very common error from in-between distances) by perfecting ball position. Play your short-range shots with the ball centered between your ankles (not your toes) and accelerate through impact to a longer follow-through than your backswing length. These two fundamentals will keep you from struggling with this important part of your game.
Week 7: 100-yard Shots
This week, your challenge is to discover what kind of swing enables you to hit your ball 100 yards on the nose. Whether your powering a lob wedge or crisping a 9-iron, the 100-yard shot comes into play everywhere. Make it the most comfortable shot in your golf repertoire.

Use This Tip
The 100-yard distance gives you lots of shot options, and there's none more useful than the knockdown: a low-flying finesse play that evades the wind and stops quickly on the green.

The key to a successful knockdown shot is a short arm swing combined with a full hinge of the wrists. Retain that hinge into the downswing so the hands lead the clubhead into impact-a must to keep the ball low. Make a one-piece turn through the ball, with your hands, arms, shoulders and hips rotating together at the same pace. Doing so keeps your club on plane. Complete the knockdown with a limited follow-through but a full release of the body.

Week 8: Mid-irons
Mid-irons are a vital part of any golfer's game, as they constitute the backbone of your play from the fairway to the green. These irons set-up scoring opportunities so your short game doesn't have to. Accuracy is key, so this week, focus on hitting the ball straight at your target.

Day 1 - What To Do
Begin with your 9-iron and work down to your 6-iron. Focus on hitting to consistent distances. As your distance control improves and your feel becomes consistent, go for the pins on the range.

Use This Tip
As you approach impact catch your hands. In other words, return your hands to the position they held at address. Imagine a friend cupping your grip as set up to hit the ball. As you swing from the top, try placing your hands in the same hold. This seemingly innocent visual guarantees that your deliver the club into the hitting zone on the correct path.

Day 2 - What To Do
Set up to the ball normally, and then place a tee in front of the toe of your club and one behind the heel. Don't use a ball. Instead, practice swinging through the tees. Successfully completing this drill without hitting the tees will ensure that you are following the correct swing path. Then, repeat your 9- through 6-iron sequence from Day 1.

Use This Tip
Make sure your taking nice Tour-style divots. To do so, you must release your right side so that your weight transfers to your forward leg. This brings the entire hitting mechanism (club, hands, arms, shoulders and body) to the golf ball. If you focus only on plane and bringing the club "down and through," you'll either take a big divot behind the ball (not good) or come into the ball after the swing has bottomed out and hit the shot thin (worse).

You'll know you're releasing your right side correctly and swinging on the correct path when, at impact, the shaft leans toward the target. Without the right-side release, the shaft will be straight or even point away from the target at impact.

Week 9: Long irons/Fairway Woods
Long irons and fairway woods are made to get you on the green from far away and keep you in the fairway when laying up. Therefore, this week, pinpoint accuracy isn't necessary (but it's great)! Focus on consistency and an avoidance of errant shots.

Day 1 - What To Do
Try to hit three 5-irons in a row within 20 feet of each other. Once accomplished, move down to your 4-iron.

Use This Tip
Remember that the downswing starts with a transfer of weight from the trailing hip to the target-side hip. Note the word "transfer"-a switch in pressure. We didn't say "turn." That's the last thing you want as you move from backswing to downswing. When you turn before you transfer, you swing plane goes kaput.

At the top of your swing, focus on bumping your weight forward, then rotate your hips toward the target using your front hip as the hub of your turn. This is the correct downswing sequence and the only way to keep the club on plane without distance-robbing compensations.

Day 2 - What To Do
Dedicate this day to your 3- and 5-woods. Alternate between teed shots and off-the-turf shots. You need to become confident using your woods from either the fairway or tee box.

Use This Tip
From address, rotate your body behind the ball with your right side. Use the classic Greg Norman tip: "Get your right pants pocket behind you." As your turn with the right, feel how your left hip and knee are pulled away from the target. That's the sensation of coil-the stored energy that you release into the ball at impact.

Week 10: Driver
The most important aspect of the driver is accuracy! The driver is your starting block for the majority of a course's holes. A consistent drive will keep you happy and in the fairway all day, and avoiding the rough will save you a lot of problems.

What To Do
Line yourself up with the 100-yard marker and try to hit it with a full swing. You'll find that you need to throttle back on your swing speed to accomplish this. Once you hit 5 balls within 10 yards of the target, continue hitting to the 150, 200, and 250-yard markers.

Use This Tip
To achieve a smooth and rhythmic swing with your driver, try to hit different distances and targets with the same full swing. Chart which swings produce the most consistent results. If your most accurate swings end up at 220 yards, then continue swinging to that distance. Don't force extra distance at the expense of accuracy.

Day 2 - What To Do
Create a fairway for yourself on the range and keep the ball within those boundaries. If your driver is erratic, use a 3-wood.

Use This Tip
In order to control the direction of your shots, you must control the position of the clubface at impact. Unfortunately, knowing exactly where the clubface is pointing throughout the swing-"owning" the face, in other words-is a difficult challenge for most recreational players. The task becomes much easier when you shift focus to a more familiar item, in this case your watch.

The face of your watch points in the same direction as your clubface (unless your grip is overly strong or super weak). Therefore, get into the habit of pointing your watch at the target at impact. You'll find it much easier to "show the target what time it is" then to deliberately manipulate the clubface into the correct position.

A watch that points at the target signals a square clubface at impact, which invariably results in success.

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