Joe Passov, Josh Sens, Sean Zak, Ryan Galvin and Graylyn Loomis contributed to this story. [Editor’s note: This originally ran in the October 2013 issue of GOLF Magazine.]
You top shots. You push putts. Your temper rages. Your back aches. Your partners bore you. Your caddie bugs you. You spend too much. You practice too little. Your scores go up. Your motivation goes down. Your blisters have blisters. Take heart, gentle golfer, because for every problem the game can—and ultimately will—throw at you, there’s a surefire, time-tested solution.
1. YOU WANT TO PLAY A TOP PRIVATE TRACK BUT DON’T KNOW ANY MEMBERS THERE
Gaining access to premier private courses is more feasible than ever. Here are four ways to get behind the gates.
No. 1: Take a lesson with the club’s pro; an on-course playing lesson or even a full 18 holes might be the result.
No. 2: Buy a spot in a Monday charity outing. Tough-to-access courses like Winged Foot and Medinah host plenty of them.
No. 3: Join a web-based “network” that allows access to private tracks.
No. 4: Call or e-mail a club’s general manager and simply ask to tee it up. Request to play during a quieter time to up your chances. If you’re traveling, some clubs respond favorably to requests from hotel concierges.
2. YOU’RE A TRIGGER-SHY HEAD CASE OVER THE BALL
Rediscover the kid in you. “When you were young you didn’t think about how to shoot a foul shot or throw a baseball — you looked at the target and pulled the trigger,” says Top 100 Teacher Keith Lyford. “Try my ‘Two-Second Rule,’ which requires you to swing within two seconds of your last look at the target. This prevents you from staring at the ball for too long and keeps the image of the target fresh in your mind.”
3. YOUR BACK HURTS
Squat down and hug your knees to your chest, or simply bend over and touch your toes, says PGA Tour physical therapist Jeff Hendra. Both exercises loosen your lower-back muscles and can also help relieve pain mid-round. If you’re a walker, Hendra recommends that you make sure your bag straps are correctly adjusted so you maintain even pressure on your shoulders.
4. YOU KNOW YOU CAN CARRY 14 CLUBS — BUT WHICH 14?
Proper set makeup is largely a distance-gapping question, so spend time at the range determining how far you hit each of your clubs. You may find you have a 15- or 20-yard hole that a hybrid, driving iron or fairway wood can fill. “More critical, though,” says Mark Timms, founder of custom clubmaker Cool Clubs, “is dialing in your scoring clubs, because those are the clubs that will most help you get the ball close to the hole. So don’t be afraid to replace a long club (adios, 3-iron!) with a 58- or 60-degree wedge, even if you already have three (or four) wedges in your bag.
5. YOU CATCH YOUR IRONS THIN
“This results either from swinging on a plane that’s too flat, or from lifting up through impact,” says Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs. “Either way, you need to deliver the club to the ball on a steeper descending path. Move your feet closer together at address and make sure your left shoulder is pointing down toward the ball in your down-swing. As you swing down, rather than using your arms and shoulders to power the club, let the club’s weight fall down into the ground. The club should feel heavy through impact and make a nice ‘thump’ as it passes through the ball.”
6. YOU HAVE THE SHANKS!
Shanks happen because your hands moved closer than normal to the ball at impact, says Top 100 Teacher Chris Como. “To fix them, imagine that you’re going to stick the butt of the club into your left thigh as you swing through impact,” he says. “This simple move ensures that your hands square the clubface and move slightly away from the ball, not at it.”
7. YOU MISS TOO MANY FAIRWAYS
Ditch the driver, suggests a fellow named Tom Watson, who won eight majors, including five Open Championships. “You’ll hit your 3-wood straighter and possibly just as far.” Playing from the fairway, not the forest, is an instant stroke-saver.
8. YOU WANT THE RIGHT BALL FOR YOUR GAME
Ball manufacturers shout about how far their balls fly, but you’d be wiser to concentrate on how different models perform on shots into and on the greens. Mike Gibson, Titleist’s golf ball fitting manager, recommends you start by using a ball maker’s online selection tool to pare your choices to two models. From there, take a sleeve [or box] of the two recommended balls for an on-course evaluation. Work from the green back to the tee — hit putts and short-game shots while focusing on distance control, feel and accuracy. Next, hit full-swing shots with irons, hybrids, fairway woods and, finally, your driver. It takes time [and a small investment] to find the ideal fit, but in the end, it’s worth the effort.
9. YOU HAVE ONLY FIVE MINUTES TO GET LOOSE
If there’s only time for a few quick swings on the range, hit your 8-iron, says golf-analytics expert Mark Broadie, the mind behind the PGA Tour’s Strokes-Gained Putting stat. “The 8-iron best bridges the gap between short irons and your longer clubs, even your driver.”
10. YOU NEED A BREAK FROM YOUR REGULAR FOURSOME
“Exiting that kind of relationship can get pretty messy,” says Jason Zacher, a political strategist and co-author of Political Golf, a book devoted to the nuances of on-course relationships. He suggests a more diplomatic approach. “Instead of breaking up, recruit more members. Turn your foursome of potential partners into an eightsome. You bring fresh blood into the mix without causing bad feelings.”
11. YOUR TEMPO MAKES CHARLES BARKLEY LOOK LIKE ERNIE ELS
“For better tempo, soften your grip pressure,” says Top 100 Teacher and Golf Channel guy Michael Breed. “Imagine you’re in your car holding a lidless cup of coffee. To accelerate to 60 mph without spilling the coffee, you’d hold the cup gently and accelerate gradually. This is the combination you want in your swing.”
12. YOU’RE NOT MAXING OUT YOUR DISTANCE
Exhale through impact. “Most amateurs unknowingly hold their breath during the downswing,” says Top 100 E.A. Tischler. “Think of a weight lifter exhaling when bench-pressing, or a tennis player grunting. Exhaling relaxes your muscles, freeing you to hit it with everything you’ve got.”
13. DOUBLE BOGEYS STIR YOUR INNER-HULK
Get mad. Then get over it, says Dr. Joe Parent, author of Zen Golf. “It’s okay to get upset,” Parent says. “But Tiger says he only lets himself stay mad for 10 paces from the spot of the last shot.” So let your fury build as you count your footfalls. By 10, you should quite literally have moved on.
14. YOU LOVE PLAYING GOLF BUT NOT PAYING FOR GOLF
For short-term or last-minute savings, visit third-party discount tee-time providers such as golfnow.com, ezlinks.com and golfhub.com. GroupOn also offers tee-time deals. Check out individual course websites for daily specials. Call resorts for packages, which often bundle golf, lodging and other amenities — dining, spa services and instruction. And consider off-season dates. You can save up to 75 percent by playing Sun Belt destinations like Florida and Arizona in July versus March.
15. YOU’RE PLAYING WITH A RAGING HANGOVER
Hair of the dog will only make matters worse as the day progresses, says Dr. John Brick, author of The Doctor’s Hangover Handbook. You’re dehydrated, so guzzle water and maybe an electrolyte-rich sports drink. Ibuprofen can help too.
16. YOUR HANDS BLISTER EASILY
If you can’t grip it, it’s tough to rip it. “During play, apply a dab of Vaseline to blisters and cover them with athletic tape,” says Matt Doles, a trainer for the golf team at Texas A&M. Post-round, wash them with soap and warm water. “But don’t remove skin-flaps — they’re natural Band-Aids. Apply antibiotic cream and cover them with Band-Aids during the day, but let the blisters air out at night.” To avoid blisters in the first place? Weakening your grip pressure can help. And worn-down grips are often the cause.
17. ALLERGIES RUIN YOUR ROUNDS
“To calm the symptoms, splash some cold water on your face and hair,” says Dr. Beth Corn, an allergy specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If you have an extra shirt handy, change into it, because shirts can carry pollen.”
18. YOU FORGOT TO USE SUNSCREEN, AND NOW YOU’RE HURTING
To reduce peeling from sunburn, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends starting with a cool shower or bath, then slathering on a moisturizing cream, ideally one with vitamin C and vitamin E. As for the sting, aspirin or ibuprofen can help, but frequent applications of aloe vera are still the best way to treat sunburn, according to Cory Couture, an athletic trainer at LSU. Hydrocortisone cream will also help with the inflammation.
19. YOU DON’T KNOW WHICH WEDGE LOFTS YOU NEED
Build your wedge set around the loft of your pitching wedge. Most amateurs play with clubs that include a 45-degree pitching wedge, which is similar to what 9-irons used to be. As a result, you should strongly consider buying the gap-wedge that goes with your irons-set — it’s usually around 50-degrees — and then adding two more lofted wedges, a 55- and 60-degree combo. If you struggle with the severely lofted clubs, consider a 54- and 58-degree tandem instead.
20. YOU TOP LOTS OF TEE SHOTS
“You’re probably putting too much weight on your back foot,” says Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs. “This moves the bottom of your swing arc behind the ball, making it tough to make solid contact, except with the top of the ball. Make a more rotational backswing — don’t sway off the ball — and then focus on making a nice balanced finish with your weight over your front foot.”
21. YOU SHAKE LIKE A KITTEN OVER BIG PUTTS
Feeling nervous on the greens? Instructor Marius Filmalter suggests first gripping your putter very tightly, and then releasing your hands completely before regripping with a softer, proper touch. The contrast reminds your brain what a good grip feels like and helps you calibrate the just-right pressure.
22. YOUR HEAD IS OVERFLOWING WITH SWING THOUGHTS
Give yourself a good talking-to, says E.A. Tischler, who splits his teaching time at San Juan Oaks (Hollister, Calif.) and Olympia Fields (Illinois). “On the practice tee, utter a phrase while swinging that captures what you want to do. The phrase should be no more than four or five words and personalized for you. One tall student with a flat swing said, ‘Tall Tom Watson!’ which fixed his plane. Another student said, ‘Turn, draw, finish!’ to go from hitting cuts to draws.” This works because words have meaning, sending a clear message to your motor skills.
23. AFTER A FEW GOOD HOLES, YOUR WHEELS COME OFF
To sustain focus, play mini-rounds within your full round. “I have my students play six three-hole rounds,” says Top 100 Teacher Michael Breed. “For each mini-round, set specific goals like fairways or greens hit, or pick a target score for each one. This helps you reset your focus multiple times over 18 holes.”
24. YOU NEED A PUTTING LESSON
Want immediate feedback on your putting stroke? Bypass that $500-an-hour teaching pro and pick up a Putter Wheel. Essentially a ball with two sides lopped off, the device wobbles like a drunken sailor when you hit it with anything less than a pure stroke. Catch it just right, though — in the center of your putterface and with a slightly ascending blow — and it rolls like a dream. Three-packs are $39.95; putterwheel.com
25. YOUR PLAYING PARTNER MOVES LIKE A SNAIL
Instead of pointing fingers, frame the issue as a group problem. “Say something like, ‘Fellas, let’s pick it up — the guys behind us are waiting,’ ” says Tim Scott, a founder of Speed Golf International. “That gets the message across without putting it on one guy.” Set an example, too. If you’re already marking your ball while Dawdling Doug is back in the fairway, he’ll feel the pressure to step on the gas.
26. YOU’RE NOT SURE HOW OFTEN YOU NEED TO REGRIP YOUR CLUBS
If you play once a week, regrip your sticks once a year, says clubfitter Mitch Voges. If you play twice a week or more, regrip ’em and rip ’em every six months.
27. WARNING! SLOW PLAYERS AHEAD
So you’re stuck behind a seemingly slow group. Don’t let yourself get agitated. Assume that the ranger is doing all he can to keep things moving, says Doug Hodge, the head pro at TPC Scottsdale. “It might not be the group directly in front of you that’s the problem,” Hodge says. “It may just be one of those slow days.” Keep your rhythm by stretching, and sharpen your short game with closest-to-the-tee-marker chipping contests.
28. BLOW-UP HOLES RUIN YOUR ROUNDS
Often, big numbers happen when you try to hit a green that’s too far away, says Top 100 Teacher Keith Lyford. Are you sure you can rip that 3-wood 235 yards to a green ringed by pot bunkers? Instead, divide and conquer. Divide the distance by two and hit two safe shots instead of one overly ambitious one that will probably end up in the sand, rough, or water.
29. YOUR CADDIE WON’T STOP YAKKING
Be frank but friendly, says Ken Brooke, a former director of caddie services at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. No need to create tension. Try, “Hey, bud, I’m not a big talker on the course. I like putting all my focus on shooting my best score, and I’ll need your help to do that.” Now you’re making him a partner — a silent partner.
30. YOUR MONEY GAME NEEDS SOME SPICING UP
Need a change of pace from the old skins game? Try “Lakewood golf,” a game that Lee Trevino cut his teeth on in Texas, according to golf-gambling historian Michael Bohn. Lakewood allows all manner of distractions: coughing, sneezing, name-calling, you name it. (The only no-no: touching a player or his ball while he’s hitting.) It’s not for the timid, and it will teach you to block out distractions, too.
31. YOU CAN’T ESCAPE GREENSIDE BUNKERS
Forget the laundry-list of bunker do’s and don’ts, says A.J. Bonar, of AJ Golf School in San Diego. “Keep it simple. Set up like any other wedge shot. Then imagine that your ball is resting on top of a tee that’s hidden beneath the surface. When you swing, just break the tee. It’s that easy.”
32. YOU CATCH YOUR IRONS FAT
“Fatties occur when you play the ball too far back in your stance and make a backswing that’s too vertical,” says Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs. “This terrible tandem creates a super steep path that buries the club in the ground. Try this: Move the ball closer to the instep of your left foot and rotate your hips clockwise in the backswing. This flattens your backswing and helps you approach the ball with a shallower attack.”
33. YOU MISS LOTS OF PUTTS BUT AREN’T SURE WHY
You may have a stroke-posture disconnect. The more upright you stand, the more the putterhead rotates, says putting expert Marius Filmalter. Players like Tiger who want the clubhead to “release” through impact get better results with a more upright posture, while the straight-back-and-straight-through boys, like Jack Nicklaus, do better from a more bent-over posture. Experiment to see if your stance and your stroke are a good match.
34. IT’S UP TO YOU TO PLAN THE NEXT BUDDY TRIP
There are three basic rules: fun courses, good eats, fair prices. “Make sure you know a course’s cancellation/no-show policy,” says Tedd Maitland, who works for Pinnacle Golf Vacations. Don’t overschedule. Build in plenty of cocktail-and-story-telling time. “Establish payment parameters in advance. And appoint a group leader — dissension and confusion are buddy-trip busters.”
35. YOU GET MID-ROUND FATIGUE
The keys to keeping up your energy are balanced snacks and good hydration, says Sally Bowman, a dietitian with Central Texas Nutrition Consultants. “Don’t wait until you get hungry or feel thirsty,” Bowman says. “By then, it’s too late. Instead, eat and drink in anticipation. Bring some extra snacks — energy bars, snack mix — to the course and have one at the sixth hole and the other at the 12th.” Proper spacing, she says, will keep you focused, hydrated and ready to finish with a flourish.
36. THE AIRLINE LOST YOUR STICKS
Don’t panic. “Most luggage is just delayed, not lost,” says Gordon Dalgleish, the founding director of PerryGolf, one of the industry’s leading custom travel service companies. “Submit your claim within 24 hours.” Follow the process described for tracking luggage. Most airlines update lost-luggage status online. Also, keep receipts for all expenses you incur — rental clubs, for example. If your sticks never resurface, the airline will reimburse you for their value (less any applicable depreciation). And don’t forget to claim other stuff that was in your golf bag — shoes, that box of pricey balls, that Rolex. . .uh, never mind.
37. YOU DON’T WANT TO GIVE UP YOUR ANCHORED PUTTING STROKE
Not every type of anchoring will be illegal in 2016. Try a grip that places the handle of the putter against your left forearm. This gives you a similar feel of stability without connecting the club to your sternum. Just hold the grip of the putter against the inside of your left forearm with your right palm, and you’re good to go.
38. YOUR HANDICAP JUST WON’T BUDGE
If your game’s in a rut, identify your biggest weakness and turn it into a strength, suggests PGA Tour winner Robert Garrigus. “Years ago, my coach, Jim Ahern, asked me what my weakness was, and I told him, ‘My wedge game,'” Garrigus says. “He said, ‘Why isn’t that your strength?’ We made it a strength, and it’s helped my game tremendously.”