HIGH HANDICAPPER: Get a Grip on Your Takeaway
Many golfers abruptly snatch the club away at the start of the takeaway, cupping their left wrist. This lifting action creates a number of different problems, most notably a narrowing of your swing's arc and an open clubface. To maximize your power, you need to swing the club back on a slower, wider arc, so that your left wrist remains firm and doesn't break down.
To prevent this early wrist break, focus on moving the butt end of the grip away from the target for the first foot or so of your backswing. Don't worry about anything else but the grip. This move will slow your backswing tempo down and also prevent your left wrist from cupping, thus keeping the clubhead on plane and the clubface square.
2 of 10Illustrations by Carlos Alcantarilla
LOW HANDICAPPER: How to Master Slipper Putts
There are few putts scarier than a slick, big-breaking downhill putt. Just ask any pro who gets above the hole at Augusta National. With these slippery putts, about all it takes to get the ball moving is a gentle breeze. Hit it too hard, and you might find yourself with a similar-length putt on the other side of the hole. Use these keys to take the fear out of these fast-charging putts.
KEY 1: PUTT TO THE APEX: Determine how hard you want to hit the ball, keeping in mind that it could be a fraction of the putt's total length. Next, look for the high point of the putt's break—i.e., where gravity takes over and the ball starts to fall gently toward the hole. Forget about the actual hole itself and aim at the apex, as if it were the hole, and start the putt in that direction.
KEY 2: FIND THE SWEET SPOT: Align the ball in the center of the clubface and strike your putt there—this will generate more topspin and allow it to hold its line better. With today's heel-toe-weighted putters, any ball struck on the toe will cause the putterhead to twist open. So while it may soften the blow, it will also produce unwanted sidespin.
KEY 3: CALM ACCELERATION: Take several practice strokes, getting a feel for how the putterhead slows as it swings past the ball. Think "longer back, shorter through," which will produce a soft enough blow to get the ball to the apex. Let the collision between the ball and the face kill the putterhead's momentum; do not decelerate the head prior to impact.
3 of 10Illustrations by Carlos Alcantarilla
SENIOR PLAYER: Par-5 Strategy: Get Down in Three
Even with today's juiced balls and clubheads, there are few par 5s you can realistically reach in two shots. Your best chance of walking away with a par—maybe even a birdie—is to put your ego aside and play these long holes cautiously. Here are some things to consider so that you can turn par 5s into high fives.
THREE'S A CHARM: Since you're not reaching the green in two, there's no sense hitting driver off the tee and getting yourself into trouble. Instead, choose your 3-wood, which has more loft and is shorter and easier to control. Hit the fairway, and a long par 5 becomes a short, manageable par 4.
LAY UP TO A FULL WEDGE: Unless you can get your second shot within easy chipping or pitching range (i.e., inside 25 yards), resist the urge to go for it and just lay up to your favorite wedge distance. Make sure to leave yourself with the best angle into the green. If there's a water hazard or other signs of trouble at your favorite wedge distance, lay up short of it.
BE AGGRESSIVE: Assuming you played the first two shots well, you should have less than 100 yards to the flagstick and three shots in your pocket to make par. Those are good percentages, so don't be afraid to fire at the flag if the pin is accessible and the shot is in your comfort zone. Who knows, you may just walk away with a birdie.
4 of 10Illustrations by Carlos Alcantarilla
POWER HITTER: Over-the-Hill Pitch
After narrowly missing the green in two, you find yourself with an awkward uphill pitch shot and no view of the flag. You don't want to leave this shot short, but without seeing the flagstick it's hard to gauge the distance accurately. Here's how to leave this short shot close enough to give yourself a reasonable chance at par or birdie.
TILT WITH THE SLOPE: First, walk up to the green to see how much distance and slope there is between you and the flagstick. Will you need to carry the ball to the hole, or will it release some? Next, set up to the ball with your sand wedge and tilt your spine until it's perpendicular to the slope. Then shift most of your weight to your downhill leg. This will encourage you to swing the clubhead up the slope, not down into it. Take a wider stance than normal to help with balance.
DOUBLE YOUR EFFORTS: Swing back twice as far as you would for the same shot from a flat lie—hence, if you have 15 yards to the flag, make your 30-yard swing. This is to account for the steep incline which, when combined with the 56 degrees of loft on your sand wedge, will shoot the ball almost straight up into the air. If the lie is really steep, consider using your pitching wedge.
REACH FOR THE SKY: Maintain your spine tilt as you calmly accelerate the clubhead through impact, swinging with the slope. Your follow-through should be a mirror length of your backswing, which prevents the face from closing and digging into the ground. Maximize loft by keeping the face pointing skyward well into the follow-through.
5 of 10Illustrations by Carlos Alcantarilla
STRAIGHT HITTER: Tuck Your Shirt In
Most amateurs think that to hit the ball far, they have to swing the clubhead as far back as possible. Thus, long after their body has stopped turning on the backswing, they're still moving their arms. Now they have to find a way to sync their arms up with their body on the downswing, which is virtually impossible to do in the quarter of a second it takes to hit the ball.
To generate maximum clubhead speed, your arms and club must arrive at the top at the same time, which gives them a good chance to remain in sync on the downswing. That's how you keep the club swinging on plane, which is the fastest way to deliver the clubhead to the ball. To help keep them working together, stuff your shirt into your armpits so that your upper arms are tight to your chest. Then hit some half-wedge shots, keeping your shirt tucked in through the finish. Advance to some full swing shots, again trying to keep your arms snug to your body as you swing to the top.
6 of 10Illustration by Carlos Alcantarilla
STRAIGHT HITTER: Get Narrow to Go Long
To get your clubhead on the correct wide-to-narrow path, try the following: Set up several feet from a wall (or bush) so that the clubhead nearly brushes it on the way back. Take several practice swings, just missing the wall as you swing halfway back and then clearing it by 1 or 2 feet coming down. To create the extra lag, you need to start down with your lower body and then let the hands and arms whip through last.
7 of 10Illustration by Carlos Alcantarilla
POWER HITTER: How to Make Your Swing Repeat
FAULT -- INSIDE TAKEAWAY: Many golfers take the club back with their hands, which pulls the club to the inside and throws it off-plane. To keep the shaft swinging on the correct path, allow the natural rotation of your chest and shoulders to take the club back. As the clubhead approaches hip height, push down on the grip with your left hand while pulling up with your right.
FAULT -- OVERTURNING: Too many amateurs come out of their posture. At the top of your backswing, your left arm should form a right angle with your spine -- from here, the clubhead has a direct inside path to the ball.
FAULT -- COMING OVER THE TOP: The average slicer starts down with the shoulders, moving the clubhead out toward the target line. This sets up a steep, out-to-in path. In a good downswing, the arms start down before the shoulders. As a drill, hold a ball in your right hand and simulate a backswing, then accelerate your right arm down toward the ground (marked by a tee in the photo above), firing the ball at the tee.
8 of 10Illustration by Carlos Alcantarilla
LOW HANDICAPPER: Pressure-Proof Your Putting
1. LOSE THE NEGATIVITY: Free your mind of negative thoughts—e.g., "Don't leave it short" and "Don't push it"—and visualize the ball going into the hole. Squat down behind the ball to get a better view of the green's terrain, and see the ball rolling back and forth, to and from the hole. This will give you a better image of how much break there is to the putt, something you can't do if your mind is cluttered with negative images.
2. CONNECT THE DOTS: Pick out an intermediate target (a single blade of grass, a brown spot, etc.) at the outermost point—or apex—of the putt's break, and then a second target at the back of the hole. The latter tells you just how hard you need to hit the putt to reach the back of the hole. Aim the putterface at your intermediate target, commit to it, and then focus on the speed.
3. TIME YOUR ROLL: Determine the number of seconds you think it will take for the ball to reach the hole and then match your stroke to it. Keep in mind that if the putt is uphill, the ball will travel faster because you have to hit the ball harder; conversely, if it's downhill it'll go slower. Rehearse a stroke that will take the same amount of time it takes the ball to reach the hole, and then go.
9 of 10Illustration by Carlos Alcantarilla
SENIOR PLAYER: Three Ways to Cash In Chips
Most golfers choose to hit delicate chip shots around the green with just one club—usually their sand wedge—but there are a number of different options that will get the job done, depending on the lie and the situation. Here are three different ways to chip it close from short range, with all but one method employing your trusty sand wedge.
1. HYBRID CHIP: When you're several feet deep into the fringe, or in a mowed area with some slope to navigate, consider chipping with a hybrid or fairway wood. Center the ball between your feet, choke down 1 or 2 inches on the handle, and hit down on the ball like you're attempting a bump-and-run shot. It's that easy.
2. TOED-IN PUTTER: Sometimes chipping from the rough can be tricky, especially if you're on a downhill lie and the shot needs to be delicate. In this instance, try your putter. Address the ball with the toe of the putter instead of the face, set your weight left and lean the shaft forward, and then make your normal putting stroke. The putterhead should slide through the grass easily, popping the ball out softly.
3. BELLIED WEDGE: If the ball comes to rest against a collar of tall grass, you could choose to chip with a hybrid. Another option is to play the bellied wedge: Line up the leading edge of your sand wedge with the equator of the ball, lean the shaft left and make a level, easy putting stroke. The ball should hop a few times and then begin to roll like a putt once it reaches the green.
10 of 10Illustration by Carlos Alcantarilla
HIGH HANDICAPPER: Think "Fat" to Avoid "Thin"
If you skull a lot of bunker shots, it's probably because you've hit your fair share of fat ones from the sand, too. Afraid to take too much sand, you slide your upper body aggressively ahead of the ball, which moves the bottom of your swing arc forward and leads to ball-first contact.
To remedy this mistake, place two tees in the sand about two inches apart. Place a ball on the tee nearest the hole so that it's just above the level of the sand, and then make several practice swings, clipping the back tee as the clubhead enters the sand. This will shallow out your angle of approach so that you hit the sand before the ball. Remember: You want the ball to ride out on a pillow of sand. On the course, take a slightly closed stance and place more weight on your back foot, which will shallow out your swing and also encourage you to take more sand.
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