Bob Rotella

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If you are a golfer that is struggling with the mental aspects of the game then I cannot recommend highly enough the multiple works of sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella.

Rotella has penned various books detailing the struggles golfers with all level shave had with golf.

Recounting short stories regarding both his professional and amateur students, Rotella has developed a myriad of techniques to help the golfer conquer fears and insecurities on the golf course.

I am not one to recommend much when it comes to material available online or in book-stores but the series by Dr Bob Rotella is an exception.

Being short stories, they are quite an easy read and this is one of the most pleasing aspects of the books he has written.

We can all relate to what he is saying, having suffered the same or similar emotions both on and off the golf course.

Couple this with easy to understand methods to deal with these issues, the books should be a fundamental in the collection of all golfers.

His first work, and in my opinion is the most poignant and certainly the one from which I took away most, not just for my own personal use on the golf course, but also for how I approach golf lessons and try to deal with student´s doubts and insecurities.

This book is called “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” and although this may seem contradictory to what every golfer is trying to achieve “perfection” the title is right to the point.

Perfection in golf does not and will never exist, because arguably the perfect round of golf is 18 holes in one, which without a huge slice of luck on your side I never going to be achieved.

Rotella´s way of describing anxieties faced by all golfers is very down to earth and immediately you feel as though you are working through a process rather than being judged for having a less than desirable mental approach or attitude to golf.

It is even more relatable because he uses tales about his professional clients, whom many amateurs believe to be at a higher level, both physically and mentally.

He draws us in, makes us feel comfortable and this allows us to bathe in the information and advice that he is soliciting through the text.

His series doesn´t stop with just this book, another great read is “putting out of your mind”. Again the structure of the book is very similar, with examples of how he has helped some of the world´s greatest golfers, and how these techniques can be applied to our own games to help us improve. If you are looking for an insight into how powerful the mind is then I suggest that you purchase at least one of these books.

Three Keys to Better Golf: Balance, Rhythm, and Posture

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There are 3 main fundamentals to building a repetitive golf swing and they have absolutely nothing to do with the mechanics of the actual swing.

Each have their own nuances, but each are intimately intertwined and just as important to each other as they are alone.

The 3 aspects to building a solid golf swing are:

1 – Posture
2 – Balance
3 – Rhythm

Posture is the first thing I check with all my clients, and invariably I have to make changes.

The posture must match your natural poise, it has to be conducive to swinging the golf club in the most efficient and natural way possible.

Almost every client that comes to me with an issue in their swing has a poor posture.

If we take a look at some of the issues bad posture can cause you may find yourself wanting to check yours.

Bad posture can be the root cause of:

Pushes and pulls
Slices and hooks
Lack of distance

By improving your posture you will improve your shot tendencies.

Balance is the single biggest flaw for golfers.

If you have no balance throughout your golf swing the chances of hitting a decent shot are slim.

I always refer to the professionals, how many times have you seen them take a few steps backwards after hitting their shots?

Rarely if ever I assume is your response.

This is the importance of balance, if you have none you stand little chance of returning the club back to the ball, let alone getting it back to square.

If you lose balance you can kiss goodbye to good golf shots and precious yards.

Finally rhythm, this is a misunderstood aspect of the golf swing.

Rhythm has nothing to do with the speed of your swing.

It is all about the fluidity.

Again if we look at say Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, the apparent rhythm of their swings is noticeable.

Yet the swing speeds generated are incredibly similar.

So how does rhythm affect your shots.

If you are in to much of a hurry to hit the ball your swing will become dis-jointed and result in poor golf shots.

Learning to swing at a fluid speed is key to hitting more consistent shots.

You will more than likely actually achieve greater distance if you can control your rhythm.

Put the three thing together and you will have a winning formula for success. 

This is regardless of you actual swing mechanics. Jim Furyk is a great example of how great balance, a solid posture and silky smooth rhythm can combine to create one of the most successful golf swings in world golf, even though many consider his swing to be strange and unorthodox.

Awkward Lies

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Playing from an uneven lie can be tricky for golfers, I mean we are spoiled rotten with practice grounds being flat and perfectly prepared.

But life on the golf course is very different and we are faced with very few perfectly flat lies.

Now unless you have a practice facility that is undulating actually getting the chance to practice is tough. But there are some very simple things to remember when faced with a shot from an uneven lie.

You must try to mirror your posture with the lie.

The reason for this is to give yourself the best opportunity of making your normal swing.

When we are faced with an awkward lie, we immediately try to modify our stance and swing to adapt to the situation.

I believe that this just creates more problems.

Instead we should simply look to match our posture to the lie, allowing us to make a normal swing, resulting in a more comfortable way of playing.

Now please don´t take this literally for all lies, there are times when the lie means we have to contort our bodies into some strange and alien position just to be able to make contact with the ball. I am talking here about when the ball is a few inches above or below our feet, or when you are faced with an uphill or downhill shot.

The key is about creating a solid, balanced base from which to swing.

So, for the following situation you will need to make the following adjustments.

If you find your ball a few inches below your feet your thought process must be focussed on altering your spine angle to match the angle of the slope. This will result in you leaning further forward to achieve the same spine angle in relation to the ground.

Your normal spine tilt is say 40º (on the flat) if you have a position where the ball is on an 8º degree slope below your feet you will need to achieve a spine tilt of 48º.

The beauty of this method is that the ball will continue to follow your natural shot shape, rather than slide to the right (for ball below feet).

It may seem a rather simple technique or way of dealing with some of the toughest shots in golf, but the method truly works.

Fitting perfectly into my philosophy that golf should be as approached as simply as possible to avoid too many issues.

Remember if you are playing from an awkward lie, match your spine tilt to the slope and you will hit more consistent shots.

For uphill lies add a club or two to compensate for the additional loft on the club and the opposite for downhill lies.

Accuracy vs Distance

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Many people in the game of golf would consider Tiger Woods to have been one of the most influential players in the history of the game.

Woods has drawn many new golfers to the game, made huge contributions to golf as a whole and created a legacy that will never be forgotten.

Couple this with the insane achievement of winning the 2019 Masters and there is little to dislike about the guy.

There is one aspect of Woods meteoric rise to fame that I personally feel has led to a deterioration in the game.

When Woods came to the forefront of the sport, it was his big-hitting that stole the headlines. The enormous distances he achieved with all clubs, his incredible stinger 2-iron and his strength to turn most par 5´s into par 4´s.

For the spectator this was awe-inspiring, for me as a golf coach this was a disaster.

I have long believed that the emergence of the new-era power game has destroyed one of the greatest aspects of golf; shot making.

It has also had an effect on the area of the game more amateurs should focus on; accuracy

Accuracy seems to play second fiddle to distance in modern day golf, and the driving statistics and green in regulation stats would second that notion.

As a golf coach this demand for distance has turned amateur golfers into distance thirsty monsters.

They arrive to lessons with one thing on their mind, hit it further.

Now I am not going to dismiss the fact that if you can hit the ball further you are likely to see lower scores, but that will only happen to an extent.

Your desire to hit longer shots will result in more missed fairways, more irons played from the rough and a better recovery game.

Instead I insist that my students work on their accuracy.

My philosophy to golf is that if you keep the ball out of trouble you will shoot lower scores.

You may be the talk of the clubhouse for the incredible distance you hit the ball, but if the talk in the clubhouse is similar to the following:

“You should have seen how far Bob hit his drive down 15, he was only a 9-iron from the green, but he was in the rough, which made his second a lot tougher”

Personally I would prefer the following statement:

“You should have seen how far Bob hit his drive down 15, he was smack in the middle of the fairway, he only needed an 8-iron to get to the green. He knocked it stiff and made birdie. I wish I could hit it that far”

If you think about it, improvement is a progression, one you have developed a swing that hits the ball where you want it to go, you can strive to increase your distance but not at the expense of accuracy. Learn to control the ball, move it to best adapt to the hole, and then learn to hit it further, it is the right way to play the game.

Five Top Drills

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At the end of a lesson I always make sure to give my client at least one drill or practice exercise to take away with them.

Here are my top 5:

Compass putting

This is ideal for those that play a number of courses.

Take four balls and head to the center of the putting green.

Now putt a ball to each point of the compass and aim to rest the ball against the fringe collar.

You will quickly learn the speed of the greens for almost any putt you may fae on the course.

To make this more competitive do this with a friend, whoever loses buys the beers!!

Hit the line

If you struggle from bunkers this is the drill for you. It will revolutionize the way you play from bunkers.

Use the base of your sand wedge to draw a line in the sand, 5 yards should be long enough. Beginning at one end, aim to hit the line with each swing.

Repeating this exercise will teach you the correct entry point for all bunker shots.

Begin to do the drill without balls, when you are consistently hitting the line add balls. Make sure to place them a ball width in front of the line.

Hum your way through practice.

I love this drill, it is so simple and gives you immediate feedback which is a fundamental part of the improvement cycle.

Once you have set up to the ball I want you to begin humming, keep humming through the shot and notice any changes in the pitch or effort of the hum. Too much effort and you may even stop humming altogether which indicates alack of rhythm and too much intent within your swing.

Get them together

This is my favourite drill and the one that is so versatile everyone should be using it.

Take your normal posture, then place your feet and knees together. The ball should be opposite the “v” created by your toes.

Making smooth, half swings, try to maintain perfect balance and rhythm.

This drill is great for those lacking balance and those that swing too aggressively.

The towel

Place a towel on the chipping green, 2 meters onto the green between you and your target.

The towel is acting as a visual aid for your landing area, the most important aspectof becoming a great chipper.

Chip balls forward, aiming to land on the towel.

Once you can do this regularly with one club start to alternate clubs and see the difference in the way the ball reacts and rolls.

Want to Start Golf?

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There are many reasons why people may consider taking up the game of golf, and the sooner you decide to give it a go the better.

But there are a few words of advice that I think should be considered when making the decision and finally heading to the driving range or local course.

The first has to be only start to play if YOU want to, you should not be pressured into playing, this will only create a negative feeling and if you are being pressed to play by a loved one it could feel you are letting them down if you do not wish to continue or reach an acceptable level.

The second is whether you are going to take lessons straight away or not.

My advice is to sign yourself up to a beginners package and learn the basic fundamentals before trying to head out on your own, and this is not because I am a professional but because I too follow the same ideas when I start any new sport or hobby.

Thirdly, you need to prepared to spend a fair bit of money getting started, you will need to buy suitable clothing, a set of clubs and the basics (balls, tees, pitch fork).

As a professional I believe the first two things you should buy when starting golf are a good pair of golf shoes and a golf glove.

A husband (or wife) should never teach their wife (or husband), this is not to do with anything other than the fact that your partner is less likely to listen to the advice given, especially if they begin to struggle with a certain aspect or concept.

It is a recipe for disaster, even if the advice is good advice the way it could be delivered may not be conducive to creating a “love” for the game.

For those wanting their partners to start playing, I suggest giving them a group lesson present, but only if they have shown the initial interest in trying the game. If you are a husband looking to convince your wife to try, a ladies coffee morning is a great way to demonstrate the superb social side to golf.

Finally, the key thing to getting out onto the golf course is not to rush. As in life don’t run before you can walk.

When you do feel ready to go onto the course have a chat with the caddy master to ensure that the course will be relatively quiet and you can enjoy your first experience. Heading out surrounded by golfers that are pushing you to play quicker will only make your experience a non to enjoyable one.

The Head

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Heading to the driving range for me presents a few issues, none more so than the constant echo of “keep your head down”. (or similar paraphrasing)

It is without doubt one of the most destructive comments an amateur can make to themselves and those around them.

Now you may find this a strange comment from a golf coach, but the simple truth is that keeping your head down is detrimental to a good golf swing.

It is a myth that has either been misunderstood by the golfing world or a “technique” developed by a professional which caught on and became “the secret” for golfers worldwide.

I say it is a myth because quite frankly, it is.

If you take the phrase “I lifted my head” and break that down into the average golfers’ interpretation you get an actual belief of a physical head lift, which is impossible to do.

Try this at home in front of a mirror. Place a piece of tape on the mirror two inches above your head. Stand in front and by only “lifting” your head, reach the tape. I place a club just above my clients’ head. You can´t I know.

The phrase has been miss-interpreted which is the fault of the professional teaching. Instead lifting the head is a consequence of another move that creates the illusion of the head moving up.

It is important that the head stays relatively still, especially until impact, but the anatomy of the body makes this very difficult for golfers that struggle with flexibility. The head will naturally rotate to accommodate a rotation of the hips and shoulders.

Trying to keep the head down will only create more problems within the golf swing, restricting movement further and leading to a curtailed follow through and lack of power within the golf swing.

For some it could lead to lower back problems, which obviously is something we are keen to avoid.

The most common shot to occur when you are desperately trying to keep you head down is a weak shot that moves out to the right, lacking distance. (Right handed golfers). Which I am sure is familiar to many of your reading this article.

For clients that are struggling with the concept I encourage them to actually look for the ball immediately after impact, forcing them to move their head towards the target.

In reality it will never happen, as the reaction time wouldn´t allow it, but the freedom they feel after the first few shots results in better distance and improved balance.

Pitch Marks

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I would consider myself to have been rather privileged to have been able to enjoy some of the best golf courses that mainland Britain and Europe have to offer.

Enjoying courses that have hosted the Ryder Cup, British Open and Solhiem Cups and as good as these courses are there is always a little thing that can ruin the enjoyment of such venues.

A tiny blemish that can alter the fortunes of golfers should have no place on a golf course, but they are there, just as the golfers playing the course.

You may be trying to figure out what I mean, but truthfully I think you already know.

The dirty little pitch mark.

Possibly the ugliest thing you will see on a golf course, the pitch mark can reduce the finest golf courses to a mere shadow in the mind of a golfer.

They are common on every single course, there is yet to be a course where I have not seen at least a dozen on a green.

But the problem is not the inability of the green staff to ensure pristine putting surfaces, they do a grand job of providing golfers with near perfect putting surfaces it is the laziness of golfers themselves.

Having worked within an environment directed more to the travelling golfer rather than members I have seen firsthand how so many gofers disregard their obligation to repair a pitch mark.

And it is this disregard for their fellow golfer and more so the incredibly hard working green staff that battle daily to present the course in the best possible condition.

Now there are golfers that repair at least their own pitch mark, if not a number of pitch marks, but they can also be to blame for the ugly scars left on the green. Why? Because they repair them badly, causing as much or more damage to the grass root than the initial pitch mark they made did.

It is this that is the biggest cause of blemishes on the greens.

So how do you repair a pitch mark correctly?

You must first find it, which is not as simple as you may initially think, a pitch mark can be caused by any ball that has come down through the air and landed on the green, even a short chip can do some damage.

Once found you must be educated correctly on how to repair the pitch mark.

Take your pitch fork (pitch mark repairer) and push the back of the pitch mark (the highest part of the displaced grass) back towards the center. Now work your way around the outside of the pitch mark pushing the turf back into the middle. NEVER LIFT THE PITCH MARK UP as this damages the roots nad causes those horrid brown or even black scars.

When you have completed the process gently tap down the grass to smooth it out, using your putter.

This pitch mark if repaired within a few hours of being made will recover in a matter of days.

It is your obligation as a golfer to repair pitch marks, make sure you do it for the enjoyment of everyone that plays the game.

Long Bunker Shot

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Possibly the hardest shot there is in golf, a simpler way to play it.

Amateur face a multitude of shots that can drive fear into their bones, but few shots create similar feelings for the most seasoned golfers and even the professionals. From a professionals’ viewpoint it is a shot that is rarely faced, but for the amateur it is a regular occurrence.  Written about numerous times, it is still considered to be one of the toughest shots to master.

Here I am going to provide a tried and tested solution, it is simple and appears to be too good to be true, but it works. It is the simplicity of the shot that makes it beautiful, it is a logical approach and with logic comes success.

The dreaded shot is the 40 – 60-yard bunker shot, get it wrong and you will look like and feel like an idiot, it can be a nightmare for some golfers. OK, so how can we turn such difficulty into a simple shot?

You need to change your approach to the shot, instead of viewing the shot as a “pitch” from a bunker think of it as a green side bunker shot. If you have never read my green side bunker shot technique, then do so now!

Using the very same technique we are going to revolutionize the way you play the shot. Feet wider apart, clubface square to the target, focus on the line. I hear you…. How can I possibly generate enough power to propel the ball 40 to 50-yards? Here is the logic, we apply it to almost every single shot in golf.

CHANGE THE CLUB

Follow the exact same set-up routine as you would for a short green side bunker shot, only instead of reaching for your sand wedge you will play the shot using a pitching wedge or a 9-iron depending on how far you hit the ball. This may seem strange, but trust me it works, by keeping the clubface square the pitching wedge (or 9-iron) can slice through the sand, much like the sand wedge does.

It is worth understanding how using a pitching wedge from the bunker will differ from using a sand wedge. First the trajectory will be lower, just as it would be from the fairway, this results in the ball running further (or spinning less) which in most cases is an added benefit. The second, obviously is that the ball will travel further, again just as it would if you went down a club from the fairway.

Finally, there are a few important points I feel I should make;

1 – Club selection is key, not only for determining distance but also to ensure you can get up and over the lip of the bunker. A consideration that you should be taking from any bunker.

2 – Commit to the shot, if you quit on the shot you will not succeed at achieving your goals. Don´t be afraid the ball will come out.

3 – Your main goal is to get the ball out of the bunker and onto the green, don´t get greedy and try to knock it stiff, this is added pressure that you can do without.

Junior Golfers

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This article is directed at parents that have a child interested in starting golf and club golfers, although there is a small section for the interested junior as well.

For the juniors:

There will be times when you feel left out, ostracized from or by the rest of the golf club, but this should not be something to worry about. Instead I want you to be proud of who you are and what you have already achieved through the lessons that you have taken and the first steps you have made to become a junior golfer.

Go and introduce yourself to the clubs´ committee and ask for a list of club and golf rules so that you can be sure to conduct yourself in the correct manner. Once you have gained enough experience playing the course, then introduce yourself to adult members, make yourself available for club competitions. You want to become part of the club, this will be a great environment in which to reach your goals and enjoy your journey in golf.

For the parents:

When you begin to start the search for a professional to take your child under their wing and guide them through what can be a daunting environment of golf consider the following:

The ultimate decision of professional should lie with the child, you are there to guide them rather than dictate to them who should be teaching them. The same goes for when the time comes to find a golf club to join.

If you are a golfer yourself, try to encourage good behavior and etiquette, instill the traditions and honesty of the sport within your child.

Remember that golf clubs can contain some senior golfers that are averse to seeing juniors walking the fairways, especially during the weekends when they feel the course should be “theirs” to enjoy.

For the club golfer:

I beg you to consider the junior golfer not as a hindrance on the course and in the clubhouse, but the future of both the game and your beloved golf clubs. If we do not encourage junior golfers, which I am sure some of you were at some point, then the game will die and golf course numbers will dwindle, resulting in the closure of many and the downfall in participants.

I urge all golf clubs to encourage juniors to join and make sure that they are made to feel a part of the club, rather than being shoved into the closet. Juniors are the life blood and when a club can realize this, the club will benefit and one day may even help to school the next major champion.

Golf is a great game that should be able to be enjoyed by anyone wishing to play the game. If you are a member of a club and the number of juniors is low, consider why and make a new club charter, be a supporter of junior golf. The benefits far outweigh any negatives.