Fairway Bunkers

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Considered by many amateur golfers as the lesser of two evils, escaping a fairway bunker is the more inviting option than trying to escape a green side bunker.

But the fairway bunker can be a much more difficult shot than it should be if you get too greedy, and this can soon lead to a loss of confidence when you find your ball in a fairway sand trap.

It is a very simple thing to try and avoid, and to be truthful can be applied to many areas of the great game of golf, but we are talking about the fairway bunkers and how what you could consider as confidence quickly becoming an enemy.

And this is how we arrive at one of the most difficult shots in golf, the 50 – 80-yard bunker shot.

It is not a greenside bunker shot, but then many wouldn’t consider it long enough to be a fairway bunker shot so what is it?

In my mind it is without doubt a fairway bunker, after all it is located in the fairway, away from the green.

Now comes the question: How do I play the shot?

This is where your past decisions of being greedy have hurt you. They haunt you.

A 60-yard bunker shot, if played with the right thought process and the correct decision making is no more difficult than the same shot played from the grass.

The technique can be simple, utilizing the greenside technique I have mentioned in previous posts.

Using the technique from a greenside bunker in a fairway bunker for the awkward distance is to eliminate possibilities. All you need to do is change the club to a 9-iron or possibly an 8-iron, which will send the ball further out of the bunker with the same technique you have already practiced.

For the better player, who will be looking to get more control from such a lie, the technique is much more like a pitch shot. You want to clip the ball from the surface pinching down on the golf ball to ensure that you take the ball first.

A few slight adjustments to your pitching technique will ensure that you can successfully escape the bunker and leave a good chance of saving par.

Adjustment 1 – Play the ball half a ball further back in your stance.

Adjustment 2 – Grip the club slightly further down the shaft.

Adjustment 3 – Place a little more weight on your target leg, this will steepen your attack angle slightly.

With the above adjustments you will consistently escape bunkers and have one of the hardest shots in golf under your belt.

Master the Over-The-Bunker Shot

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Hazards, such as bunkers are on the golf course to cause us problems.  Whether the bunkers are on the fairway or near the green, they must always be avoided to achieve a low score.  However, for amateur players, it’s the bunkers closest to the green which cause the most problems.

You do not need to be in a greenside bunker for it to become troublesome.  In fact, sometimes it can be more difficult to find your ball just the other side of the bunker, leaving you with a shot over the sand to reach the green.

The tendency here is to become afraid of hitting the ball into the bunker and putting too much power into the shot, sending it across the green and over the other side.  However, today we have some great tips which will help you when pitching over a bunker and we recommend using a lob wedge for each shot.

When playing a pitch over a bunker to the green, you must firstly asses the lie of your ball.  The lie of the ball has a huge impact on the shot you can play.  If there is no space under the ball this is a bad lie, as there is no room for the club to slide underneath.

In this situation, it is very difficult to play a high shot and if you attempt to, you will probably see your ball travel over the other side of the green.  Instead, try and play this shot more like a chip shot and attempt to land the ball just the other side of the bunker, on the front edge of the green.

You must play this shot with more weight on the front foot and this will help to take the bounce off the club.  Therefore, you will not need to hit as far under the ball and the flight will be lower, meaning the ball will run on further having landed the other side of the bunker.

So, you must land the ball closer to the bunker and allow it to roll on to the green and as close to the flag as reasonably possible.  Assess how hard you need to swing and keep a solid rhythm throughout the shot.

If you reach your ball to find you have a nice lie and there is enough room to slide the club under it, you have a wider choice of shots to play.

If the flag is close to the edge of the bunker, you will need to play a higher shot to stop the ball quickly when it lands on the green.  To play the high shot, your body and especially shoulders, must to be more open to the target, aiming left, with the club face open towards the sky.

The allows the club to slide under the ball and produce the loft required to completely take the bunker out of play.  You must use a longer backswing and the wrists, with the legs bent slightly to get fully under the ball.  Do not be afraid to complete a longer follow through on this shot.

The second option with a good lie is to play a lower shot, which is useful when the flag is further away from the bunker.  This shot is easier to play than the high shot.

For this shot, your shoulders are squarer to the target, with weight slightly on the front foot.  Both the wrist swing and the follow through is shorter than the higher shot and this will promote a lower ball flight, which will pitch and roll further on the ground.

Practice these shots and familiarise yourself with the different elements of each, so you are ready for when the situation arises on the golf course.

Play Great in the Rain

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Let’s face it, the winter in many European and North American countries can be tough and having the perfect weather to play golf becomes a luxury.  However, just because the weather maybe cold and wet, it should not stop you from getting on the golf course.

As many of those who play golf in the UK will testify, there is a good chance of rain at any time of year, so you must be prepared to deal with it when it comes.  Here we have some top tips for playing golf in the rain.

Firstly, you must take to the course prepared for wet weather.  Check the local weather forecast and if there is a chance of rain, you need to pack your bag accordingly.

This means taking waterproof gear, such as lightweight, breathable waterproof jacket and zippered trousers, which you can take on and off easily.  You do not want to take off your spikes every time you need to take your waterproof trousers on or off, so a zippered pair come in very handy for slipping on over your footwear.

You will also want a good, solid umbrella, which can stand up to windy conditions.  With rain often comes wind and it’s no good having a weak umbrella which will fold as soon as the wind picks up speed.

To keep your clubs dry in the rain, invest in a waterproof bag.  If you already own a bag which is not waterproof, get a cover which will protect your clubs when it is raining.  The last thing you want is for all your grips to be wet when playing shots.

Try hanging a towel on the frame of your umbrella.  You can use this to dry your hands and the grip of your clubs both before and after shots.  Placing it on the frame of your umbrella will keep the towel dry but it’s wise to carry a couple of spare, dry towels in your bag just in case one gets wet.

Finally, in terms of your preparation, always keep a spare scorecard in your bag.  If you are playing a competition and your card becomes unrecognisable because it is so wet, you will be unable to register your score.

When playing golf in the wet conditions, there are a few things to be aware of which will have an impact on your round.

The ball will not run as far along the ground in wet conditions.  This means you can take more club than you usually would and the ball is likely to stop dead on approach shots.  Putts will be slower, so you must hit them more firmly than you usually would for any given distance.

If you find yourself in the rough, you will have to hit your escape shot more firmly because the wet grass will grab the club more than normal and slow it down.

The last thing to be aware of when playing golf in the rain, is your score will not be as good as usual.  This is something you must accept when playing in wet conditions and as an amateur, you will not have a caddie to help you in the rain, so a lower score is inevitable.  Accept this before you start and do not get disappointed if you drop shots.

Get the Ball Out and Onto the Green

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One hazard you are guaranteed to see on any full 18-hole golf course, is a bunker.  Whether it be from a pot bunker or waste bunker, with dense or fine sand, you will always need to hit a solid bunker shot.

To have any chance of recording a low score, you must be able to get up and down from greenside bunkers.  Many amateur players dread seeing their ball in a greenside bunker because they are unsure about how to approach the shot.

However, now is the time to stop worrying about how you are going to get the ball up and down from a greenside bunker and turn this into a positive thought of how you will always successfully complete the shot.

The first step to playing a successful greenside bunker shot is to know what club you need.  Choosing the right club will have a huge impact on the resulting shot.  If you have very little green to work with between the bunker and the hole, you should use a high lofted wedge.  If you have some green to work with, go for a lower lofted club, such as a sand wedge.

Next, you must sort out your stance in the bunker.  Twist your feet slightly into the sand, to give you a good solid base for the shot.  As a rule, you want to play the shot with the ball off your front foot.  The further back the ball is in your stance, the lower the trajectory of the shot.  From this position, the shot will have backspin.

Open your stance and the face of the club, to promote a high and soft ball flight and keep your weight on your front foot.

Now onto the swing and you want an outside-in swing path for a successful bunker shot.  You also need to play the shot with slight wrist hinge near the top but how far back you swing the club, depends on the distance of the shot.

You will need to practice the swing regularly, until it becomes natural and you can judge distances.  The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to produce the swing during a round of golf and the better you will become at controlling the distance of the shot.

When playing from the bunker you must follow through on the shot.  Do not decelerate on impact with the ball as this will result in a poor shot.  You are splashing the ball out onto the green and to do that you must have a steep swing and high follow through.

Furthermore, you cannot be afraid of the shot.  If it helps, take a slightly bigger swing than you think you will need because you will be catching the sand anyway and the ball will not travel as far.

Once you get these basics into place and can approach a bunker shot knowing you will get the ball out and onto the green, you can work on the more technical aspects of the shot.

Secret Putting Tips Beginners Need to Know

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Putting is often the one aspect of an amateur’s golf game which is overlooked the most.  It’s much easier to drive to the nearest driving range and start practicing with your irons and driver, as highlighted in our previous article.

A good driving range session can be great for your general game, however, if you stop and think about which club you use the most during a round of golf, it’s usually the putter.

Roughly 40% of the shots you make during an 18-hole round of golf will be with the putter.  So, you need to practice as much as you can with your putter, if you want to have any chance of improving your score on the golf course.

Putting grip, stance and alignment are all aspects of putting which you may need to tweak as you progress and we will deal with each in separate posts as they need more explanation.  However, for the purposes of this article, we are going to look at simple ways to improve your putting as a beginner.

Firstly, you need to understand the green.  It’s no good having all the technical aspects of your putting stroke in place, if you do not understand the putting surface.  You must examine the condition of the green before making a putt.  Is the grass a very light shade, in which case has it has been cut away from you and will make the putt faster?  Has there been a lot of rain recently which could make the green slower?  Take a few seconds upon arrival to the green, to think about these things and you could save yourself a shot.

Do not grip the putter grip too hard.  Many amateur players grip the club too hard and dictate the swing of the putt.  Your grip should be light, with both hands weighted equally and allow the putter to gain its own momentum as it swings along its path.

Top help with this, imagine your arms as a pendulum, with the movement beginning from your shoulders.  There should be no movement coming from your legs.  You can practice this by tucking an alignment stick under both arms and keeping it in position when making a putt.

Do not lean back, away from the golf ball and have your weight on your heels.  If you tend to rock back on your heels when playing a putt, you will lose control of the shot and may even hit the top of the golf ball, causing it to roll a very short distance.  A best-case scenario would see your ball travel in the direction of your weight distribution, rather than your initial alignment.

Instead, concentrate on putting your weight evenly on the balls of your feet.  This will keep your body in a nice position, over the golf ball and allow your putting to come through in a nice, flowing pendulum motion.  Do not put your weight on your toes, as this will have the same impact as having it on your heels.

These tips will help you make better putts but nothing beats practice.  The great thing about putting is you can practice on the floor at home and work, so there really is no excuse not to do it.

Make the Most of Your Range Time

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If you stood and watched people enter the driving range, you would lose count of how many simply pull out the driver and start hitting balls.  Yes, it is called a driving range and there is nothing wrong with using the driver.  However, there are better things you can be doing, to get the best out of your practice time.

Firstly, you should always begin your practice session by completing some short warm-up exercises.  The last thing you want do is step onto the driving range, attempt to hit your driver has hard as you can immediately and do yourself an injury.  Just spend a few minutes stretching and warming up your muscles before you take your first swing.

Start your practice session with some very easy shots.  Take out your pitching wedge and play a few short chips before moving on to your other shorter irons, then your longer irons and finally the driver.  Think of how players warm up before a tennis match.  They don’t step onto the court and start hitting 130mph serves immediately, instead they stand closer to the net and play gentle shots to each other before building up to the more powerful strokes.  This should be the same for you when using the diving range.

When starting your practice at the driving range, you will have a bucket of balls.  If you begin hitting them without any thought, the number of balls will soon diminish and before you know it, you will have none left.

You are better off splitting your basket of balls and using 50% of the bucket for your short game, 25% of the bucket for mid-to-long irons and 25% of the bucket for drives.  Your short game is the area which will help to lower your score fastest but this ratio still gives you time to strike balls with the driver.

If you play a golf course regularly, you can take that course with you to the driving range.  Take a scorecard with you the next time you play and always keep it in your bag.  When you arrive at the driving range, take it out and imagine you are on the first tee.  Choose the club you would use if you were there and play the shot in the same way.  Assess from how you played the shot, where the ball would be sitting for your second shot and do the same again.

Clearly you cannot make a putt on the driving range but continue until you are on the green, including any short chip shots you may need to make and move onto the next hole.  Doing this will give you more purpose and motivation on the driving range plus improve the way you play next time you are on the course.  Not only that but it will have you using all the clubs in your bag, rather than just the driver.

You may not have the time to dedicate to playing a whole round of imaginary golf on the driving range, in which case its recommended you concentrate on your shot game.  Over 65% of total shots in a round of golf are from short distances, therefore, if you want to lower your score quickly, you should practice your short game more often than anything else.

Playing The Wind

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For many golfers the thought of playing an important game in the wind is the thing of nightmares.

The added difficulty of controlling the golf ball in the wind is tough, but there are certain things you can do to try and make playing in the wind both more manageable and enjoyable.

The first of the technical issues many amateur golfers have when playing in the wind is hitting the ball too hard. This causes the ball to have more spin exerted on it and that ultimately alters the way the ball flies and the control or lack of it that you have over your shots.

But there are ways that you can learn to play in the wind and increase your chances of controlling the golf ball to the best of your ability.

As I have already mentioned, hitting the ball too hard is the first and biggest mistake, so when you are playing in the wind, and even more when you are playing into a head wind. I strongly recommend that you try and play at 75% of your normal swing speed.

In swinging the club smoother, you will need to hit 1, 2 or maybe even 3 clubs more that you normally would, to compensate for both your slower swing speed and the strength of the wind.

Playing downwind is often believed to be a positive thing, far better than struggling playing into it.

From the tee this is very true, but you also need to be aware that you want to make the most of the helping wind.

Tee the ball up a touch higher than you normally would to try and get some additional height and make the most of the helping wind.

But you also need to be aware that playing downwind also presents a challenge, especially when approaching the green.

The almost complete lack of backspin will mean that you have to land the ball short of the green and allow for the ball to run out towards the hole.

A good idea here is to try and leave full shots into the green, so instead of leaving a half sand wedge to the green a full wedge approach would give you added control.

Lateral winds are perhaps the hardest to judge and adapt your game to, especially if you have a tendency to move the ball.

If you are playing in a lateral wind, and it is blowing the same way as your shot shape, do not try and fight the wind, instead try to judge what effect the wind may have on your shot, aim further to left or right and trust that the wind will bring the ball bac towards the green or the fairway.

Never, ever try to fight the wind, use it and where possible use it to your advantage.

Playing in the wind is just another of golf’s great challenges, but learn to embrace it and you will have a head start on your fellow competitors.

Warm Up The Right Way

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Something that I find incredible in the amateur game is the lack of amateurs that warm up before they play, especially when the case is a tournament round.

Instead they would prefer to arrive early to grab a coffee and a bacon sandwich, instead of preparing more professionally for the upcoming round.

Even more surprising is the lack of importance put on a pre-round warm up regime by the amateurs professional.

It almost seems as though the amateurs need to “get going” is a normal and acceptable thing, something that is more technical rather than poor preparation.

But I want to try and get you to put this into perspective, if you consistently start your rounds poorly and need a few holes to get into the groove of your swing then surely you should see this as a preparation issue.

It is an issue with being able to get into the zone more efficiently, begin the process before the results of what you are doing actually count for something.

A lot of you reading this will probably be thinking I don´t have the time to get to the club before your tee time.

For those of you on a tight schedule, I have another option.

Prepare yourself in your car on the journey to the golf club;

To achieve the correct state of mind you need to think about the following:

1 – Create in your mind’s eye a positive image of the last great round you had.

Imagine the best swing on your way to the first tee, embed that image and if you can and create a feeling to couple with it.

This technique will aid your mental preparation.

2 – Choose your music choice carefully, playing a style of music that relaxes, yet motivates you will help the process of visualizing how you are going to play, whilst creating a sense of confidence. A relaxed confidence that will breed positive thoughts.

3 – Forget the putting green, head to the chipping green and play a few chip shots.

Chipping immediately puts your muscles on alert, and it also teaches you about the condition of the greens; speed, firmness and reactivity.

If you get two minutes, hit 3 minutes’ worth of pitch shots from around 25 meters, this will get your eye in and blood flowing.

4 – Step onto the putting green with just 4 balls, head to the center of the green and putt to each point of the compass. Repeat as many times as possible. You will learn the speed of the greens and the effect of the grain.

Five Must Read Golf Books

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I am not a huge fan of reading, nor am I a huge fan of recommending books to my clients, as for the most part they will only lead to confusion and miss understanding of various aspects of the golf swing.

With the number of books dedicated to the game of golf reaching thousands it can be very difficult to purchase the books that are going to give you the best information.

In this article I am going to recommend my top 5 books, that all golfers should either read or own to be able to refer to at a later date.

5th place: Zen Golf by Dr Joseph Parent

As the title suggests, this is a golf book that wants you to connect with you spirituality, written from a completely different perspective it challenges you to connect yourself with your golf game.

4th Place: Five Lessons, the modern fundamentals by Ben Hogan.

Possibly the most famous golf book on the market and for good reason.

Considered by many to be the must-read, must have golf book, Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals is a great insight into the incredible mind of the great golfer. Regarded as one, if not the best ball striker in the history of the game Hogan describes his technique in detail. It is not the easiest book to understand if you don’t have a basic understanding of the technical aspects of golf, this book may be a step too far.

3rd Place: Golf My Way by Jack Nicklaus

Much like the book by Hogan, Golf My Way is an insight from one of the greatest golfers in history. A much more straightforward read than Hogan’s book, Golf My Way is a more modern approach to the golf swing and the more simplistic approach makes this a better read for the average golfer.

2nd Place: The Inner Game of Golf by Timothy Gallwey

An almost purely mental approach to improving your technique, Gallwey brings his vast experience from coaching tennis to golf. His tried and tested methods were successfully transferred to the golf swing and the book follows his findings and achievements in golf. It is a hard read, but if you are prepared to give it a chance then this book could change your outlook on golf and have remarkable results in your scores.

1st Place: My Little Red Book by Harvey Pennick

Without doubt, this is my favorite golf book, and I have read it over and over and over. Pennick, regarded as one of the finest teachers the game has ever seen, provides snippets of information regarding the golf swing and golf in general.

All the anecdotes are delivered not as instruction but stories, making this a very easy read, with a lifetime of Pennick’s experience and love for the game.

You Can Save Your Game

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Avoiding large scores is key in reducing your scores.

Let us take a look at what should be a familiar story;

“I had such a great score going until I got to the 12th, that is. A bad drive into the trees right.

When I got to the ball I noticed a gap between the trees, which was about a meter wide and all I had to do was keep the ball low enough to avoid the over-hanging branches.

Feeling confident, and with a good score to try and improve I decided to take the shot on, after all I am striking the ball great.

I stood over the ball, par in my head, played the shot and crack, it hit the tree right in front of me shot further right and deeper into the trees.

Now trying to ensure I didn’t get a round wrecking score I went for a larger gap, but still towards the hole to try and rescue things.

Crack again, then again and again.

Finally, I got out of the forest, back onto the fairway and then got it up and down for a 7, on a par three.

Lost my head and blew the rest of the game, if only I could learn to play safe”

Sound familiar?

If so, then you need to start slowly changing your approach to shots.

A great phrase that has a lot of merit in this situation and one that I would write down and attach to your golf bag is:

“Take your medicine”

I know that you want to try and maintain a score, but the best way to do that is to play a percentage game.

So the next time that you get yourself in trouble, you need to look at ALL the possible options.

Analyze and select the option that offers the best chance of success and falls within your “average” ability level.

Please don’t take that the wrong way, but a 24-handicapped golfer is less likely to be able to thread their ball through a gap of a few feet, than a 2-handicap golfer.

You have to remember that the way to play in the most efficient way is to play within your own ability.

Trying to hit a shot that you have never played or have never achieved on the course is asking for trouble, instead become imaginative on the practice ground and train your mind and your swing to increase your arsenal of shots, which in time will come in useful on the golf course.

Play the percentage shot, unless you have no better options.