Slow Play-Your Approach

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Slow play has long been a real bug bear for me personally and many of the golfers that I have spoken to whilst marshalling golf courses, also complain of slow play, especially those that have been around the game a long time. Slow play is a disease that infects golf, at all levels and it was no more apparent than last weekend when I joined a tournament with my local club/society. As I was not taking part in the internal competition, I placed myself in the final group, along with the captain. We were paired with a couple of very nice gentlemen, both of whom were seasonal golfers.

Handicaps did not come into the equation; it was the experience of the individuals and the approach to the game that was evident. When we began, it was slow, painfully slow. Waiting for one or the other to “find” their ball, choose their club and play their shot. A general lack of preparation was apparent, and even though two of the group were not using laser or GPS systems, they were slow. Why? For me it was a lack of experience of playing.

A seasoned golfer, understands the need to begin to plan their shot as they are walking towards their ball, they will gauge wind strength, direction, they will look at the dangers of the upcoming shot. When they arrive at their ball, they have already got a good idea of what they want to try and do, they will check the distance, select their club and play the shot. A seasonal golfer will approach their ball thinking of their previous shot, chuntering to themselves or be engrossed in a conversation with their playing partners about the latest football result. They plan their shot when they arrive at the ball, and in doing so end up having to rush to maintain a reasonable pace of play. Of course there are other factors that contribute to slow play, but I have already talked about those, but upon reflection I believe that club professionals and club committees should be taking these seasonal golfers out onto the golf course, for perhaps 4 holes, and training them on the need to be ready.

The new rules want players to play ready golf in an attempt to speed up the game, but I think as good as this is, if a seasonal player doesn´t understand the process of playing the game, it will make little or no difference. I have had the experience of teaching junior golfers and although they were higher handicappers, we had success in reducing 9 hole playing time from 2 hours and 45 minutes to just under 2 hours, for the same juniors, with little or no handicap reduction. We taught them to manage their games better on the course to reduce playing time.

I believe that players should be guided in the right direction from the beginning, this will ultimately help with slow play.

Putting With The Flag

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With many countries coming out of their lockdowns, golf courses have begun to reopen and I had the pleasure of playing in a tournament for the first time in over two years, due to injury and the Corona Virus. As we all know, golf courses are having to adapt as well and one of the protocols in place here is the flag must always stay in the hole and must not be touched by the players. Although putting with the flag in the hole has been around for some time now, the obligation to putt from a few feet, without removing the flag, was for me anyway, something that really created a feeling of unease.

Having always removed the flag, from anywhere on the green, the idea of putting from such close range with the flag in, made it difficult for me to follow my usual routine, and this had repercussions on the golf course and to my score. I didn´t putt well, especially the 3 to 6-foot range which for me is the “important” scoring range. Chatting with the other members of the foursome, who had all played with the new rules, the consensus of putting with or without the flag was divided. The two higher handicappers, said that to them it made little or no difference, but the lower handicapper felt a similar unease as I did. This led me to the conclusion that higher handicappers actually feel more confident when putting with the flag in, which may suggest that they have a less than consistent pre-shot routine which helps them to get into the zone.

When the courses allow the flags to be removed at the choice of the player, it will be interesting to see how many players remove the flag for the scoring zone putts. I know that I will certainly be removing the flag when I am putting, and for no other reason than the hole appears larger and allows me to focus on a single tiny point at the back of the hole, something that I cannot do when the flag is in the hole. It should be noted that I regularly remove the flag when I am chipping as well, and for the same reason of increasing the space in which my ball can fall in.

Finally, the method of stopping the ball from falling into the cup has also had an affect on how I approach my putting. I have played a number of courses since the re-opening and I have seen various methods being used. I have to say that my least favourite is the plastic liner that sits on the cup, again creating the illusion that the hole is actually smaller than it is. My preferred method is a foam pipe insulation which wraps around the base of the flagstick and stops the ball from falling to the bottom of the hole. This gave me the sensation that the hole remained larger, therefore increasing my confidence.

I know for certain that when we are back to the “normal” way of playing golf I will be removing the flag when putting and I strongly recommend that you consider doing the same. Afterall if I asked you to putt into a hole half the size, you would probably feel more pressure.

Putting-Forget Mechanics

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Putting is a game within a game and much has been written on the subject, but I think that we can get too technical when it comes to putting and this increases the pressure that we feel when we are faced with a defining putt. Some of the greatest putters in the tour´s history have been “feel” putters, with what many coaches would consider to be poor mechanics, but their stroke worked, it performed when it had to and it didn´t buckle under pressure.

The number of putters available on the market today is vast and they come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, weights and shaft positions, but there is one thing that is definite, you must find a putter that you are comfortable with and for many this means a shorter putter than you may think. I would estimate that 90% of my clients were using a putter that was the wrong length for them, and in doing so they were affecting their ability to putt consistently. Most players will benefit from a putter that is 34 inches at most, with most actually performing better with a putter that is between 33 and 34 inches.

As a golf coach the mechanics of putting take a back seat when I am giving a lesson, trying to help golfers improve on the green. I have been asked a number of times why I avoid the mechanics and the simple answer is that the mechanics are overthought and create more problems. What most amateur golfers need to improve their putting is a solid set-up and an understanding of how to control the distance, the mechanics of how the putter moves back and through is irrelevant, as this could be perfect but if they cannot set-up and control the distance the swing may as well be awful.

So, if you are looking to improve your putting, first check that the length of the putter allows you to have relaxed arms that hang under your shoulders, whilst your neck is more or less parallel to the putting surface, this will automatically place your body in a position where you can rock your shoulders, rather than rotate them like in the full swing. Now check that the ball is positioned underneath your target eye, this is the ideal place to ensure that you send the ball forward with a little bit of top-spin. Finally, most golfers will benefit from putting with a reverse grip, so that your target hand is below. (Left below right for right-handed golfers) gripping the putter like this creates more of a combined unit with the hands, and helps to reduce unnecessary wrist movement. Forget the mechanics and concentrate on the set-up and I am sure your putting will improve.

Percentage Golf

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One of the hardest aspects of golf is not the physical challenge, but the mental challenge and within this mental challenge is the need to be able to manage oneself on the golf course, both with shot choice and character. A well-used phrase in course management is “play the percentages”, but what does this mean? Well it can mean exactly what it says, play the percentages, take the shot that offers the safest option, but for a high handicapper or an inconsistent ball-striker this may seem like a bad ploy, but it is not. What is bad is taking the phrase on face-value, percentage golf should be adopted for the vast majority of shots and in doing so you should see scores reducing.

But we need to look at what a percentage shot is; I will use an example of a golfer that receives two shots on a par 3; The par three measures 150 metres, in range for the golfer in question. To the right, there are 3 pot bunkers. To the left a steep slope which leads to a hollow in the fairway. To the rear water. Anything short will leave a simple chip onto the green. On this particular day, the golfer has 142 metres to the flag, which is located to the right and in the middle of the green, there is a gentle left to right breeze. The golfer has a natural left to right shape and decides that with their 6-iron can reach the green, offering up a chance of a par.

In this case, what is the percentage play?

You may think that if the golfer aims at the left edge of the large green and hits their stock shot that this is the percentage play, but I would have to disagree because the worst of the trouble is to the right of the green, especially as the golfer in question hates bunkers and the wind will accentuate any side spin applied to the golf ball. So, for this particular example the percentage play would be to hit a 9-iron short of the green and the bunkers to the right, leaving a straightforward putt or chip onto the green, leaving a very good chance of finishing the hole with a score of 4. Even if the golfer hits a poor 9-iron they will not be in any trouble, leaving the same shot as they would have had they hit a good 9-iron.

Alter slightly the wind direction, now coming from the right and the percentage play would indeed be a 6-iron played to the left edge of the green. A solid shot will result in the ball landing on the left half of the green, a slightly less than solid shot will find the front right portion of the green, leaving a good chance of a two-putt par. Percentage golf is misunderstood and is rarely the obvious shot.

Know The Shot Types

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As a golf coach I am often surprised when a golfer arrives for a golf lesson and tells me that they have a slice or an uncontrollable hook. I ask them to describe the shot that they hit, and the shot that they are describing rarely matches with the shot they apparently suffer with. It is a recurring theme, and one that creates many more problems than it fixes, golfer will often head for their computers in an attempt to solve their woes. But, if you don´t even know what you are really doing how can you find a cure? It would be like treating a cold, when actually you have an allergy to the dog.

So, before you start searching for how to cure a slice, you need to understand what your shot-shape actually means. In reality, there are 9 shots shapes; straight, draw, fade, hook, slice, push-slice, pull-hook, pull and push. And each of these shot types has a root cause, which NEVER changes. Knowing which of the shot types you have will allow you to correct and improve your game.

Shots will generally be left or right of target, but how they get there is key, in the table below you can see how the combination of the clubface alignment and the swing path affect the shot shape.


So, a client comes to me telling me that they are slicing the ball, which means an out to in swing path and an open clubface. Meaning that the ball should start left of target and move right of the target line to some degree. In fact when we begin to hit some shots, I notice that the client actually starts the ball to the right of the target line, and the ball continues to move further to the right, which indicate a push-slice, which is caused not by an out to in swing path, but an in to in swing path, which is completely different.

It is obvious that the client hasn´t understood what is actually happening during their swing, and because of misunderstanding the cause and effect they have diligently been trying to correct a flaw that they do not actually have. Knowing the basic fundamentals of the golf swing makes a huge difference as to how you go about making changes to a swing. Looking at the above table, the area to work on would be clubface alignment at impact, which is totally different to clubface alignment at address, solving the issue of clubface alignment at impact will allow the golfer to hit straight shots.

You have to know what is causing your bad shot, before you try to correct it.

Hybrid Set Up

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Why you should consider a “hybrid” set of clubs for your next purchase. There are so many different club options available that manufacturers are trying to find new ways of getting one over their competitors and one of these methods is becoming popular with golfers that have low double digit or single figure handicaps, but I think it is something that more golfers should be looking at doing.

A hybrid set of clubs refers to the set up of the irons you carry in your bag, and this is why I think most golfers could benefit from a mixed set of irons. A hybrid set will include the following: deep cavity backed long irons, cavity backed mid-irons and a more bladed style short irons and wedges. But what is the benefit of having a set-up like this? To be honest ease of use and added control on the shots where you need it.

For golfers that use a set of clubs that included the sand-wedge it is usually cavity backed and “clumpy”, making it harder to control from the sand and play delicate little chip shots from around the green. This is an immediate disadvantage and swapping out your sand wedge for a bladed wedge will immediately change your fortunes from the sand at least, as the club will be able to cut through the sand more easily. A bladed pitching wedge and 9 iron will also boost your control and shot making abilities without sacrificing anything at all. As you move down the set, the 8 and 7 irons can move to a small cavity back, which will help with off-centre hits providing more stability and playability. The 6, 5 and 4 iron should be a larger cavity back to help get the ball airborne, whilst being much more forgiving on the poor contact.

As I said at the start this set up is particularly popular with low double digit handicappers who have a consistent swing and whose abilities are pushing the single figure handicap, but who still have the odd bad swing that would be punished by blades or players clubs. So why would I recommend the set up to all golfers, simply because the margin of error and the severity of a bad shot with a bladed pitching wedge in comparison to a cavity backed pitching wedge is minimal, but the added control is far more important and can be game changing for all level of golfer. From the irons, you look towards having a 3-hybrid, a 5-wood, a 3 wood, driver and the putter. This will leave room for one additional club, which should be a gap wedge which sits equally between your pitching wedge and sand wedge. Simply by altering your club set-up you could shave a few shots of your scores.

Hole Everything!

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I remember reading a exert from Harvey Pennick, books that to be honest every golfer should read at least once, which recounted a story about a junior golfer and their parents. The parents entered the pro shop proudly announcing that their child had made their first birdie. Pennick responded by asking “how long was the putt”, the parents conceded the putt, the distance I don´t recall, Pennick was apologetic but told the parents that their child still hadn´t made a birdie.

The moral of the story is simple: Hole everything, because if you don´t you haven`t actually made a score. I am a firm believer that if you are preparing to play after a break away from the game, or if you haven´t played competitive golf for a while you should be holing everything, yes even when you are sat on the edge of the hole. Every single putt counts the same, so you should give the same amount of attention to each of them.

There is however a more important reason, and that is; if you hole out everything you will have a true reflection of your game and the level that you are currently at. Many golfers will complain that they can´t take their range game onto the course, or that they have been unlucky with a few putts sliding past the edge of the hole, to then miss the return putt. But in reality, one of the main reasons players can´t take their “range game” or “friendly knock with mates game” into competitive rounds of golf is that they rarely play competitive golf and the pressure that comes with competitions is rarely, if ever replicated in day to day golf.

Ask yourself the following question, and please answer it honestly: Do you get nervous when faced with a two-foot putt for par, when playing a competition? If you answer yes, then a big reason for this would be the gimmies that you take during your friendly games. You have no experience of holing out from this distance, except when you are playing in a tournament, so it is no wonder that you feel nervous, doubt your ability to hole it and ultimately miss more than you should. It creates a vicious circle; you lose confidence in your putting stroke and you start to fear these putts and you do not perform the same way as you do when playing with friends, you choke and people keep reminding you, making the problem worse.

Should You Draw Or Fade The Ball?

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Golfers that are battling a slice, often ask to change their shape from a slice or fade to a draw, and I always wonder why. Ok so the pros on the TV hit high draws that look so great, but don´t forget they can play a delicate fade into a back right pin location with almost as much ease. Remember also that some of the worlds greatest players had a natural shot that was a fade, so if was good enough for them, why are so many amateurs trying to learn how to go against their natural shot shape?

First, we will take a look at the two main shot types; fade and draw and then you can decide which one you would most like to have. A draw, starts to the right of the target line and gently drifts back to the target line, a draw will generally play slightly longer than a fade, but will also have less backspin and therefore less control, both during the flight of the ball and upon landing, especially into a green. A fade starts left of the intended target line and gently moves back to the right, a fade is a softer landing shot and although will fly slightly distance the shot is more controllable.

My advice is the following and hasn´t changed in the 20 years that I have been coaching;

If your natural shape is a draw then do not try to change it to a fade, instead you need to learn to control the shot that you have to the best of your ability and build your game plan for every course around that shot shape. It may be worthwhile learning how to work the ball from left to right, if you need to be able to play this shot, but do not let it become your stock shot, this goes against the body’s natural inclinations. For those that draw the ball, a fade is easier to learn than a draw for those the fade the ball, so you have a slight advantage. For those that fade, your shot shape is easier to manage and control, and although you may lose a little distance to those that draw the ball, your consistency with distance and the added control that a fade brings is highly beneficial when playing tight golf courses and hard greens.

Stick with your natural shot shape, and learn to play the other shots if needed. If you do want to alter your shot shape, then I suggest that you look to hit the ball straight, rather than a draw or a fade, as this is less of a change from your natural comfort swing. Players throughout history have won major tournaments playing both shot shapes, but they learnt early on not to change from their natural preference.

Climate And Performamance

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The climate plays a major role in the outcome of our golf game, from wind and rain to the dry summers and hardening golf courses, but there is a part of the game which is climate driven that we overlook and that is nutrition. Professionals and elite players have known this for years and adjust their intake of fluids and food accordingly, but amateur golfers generally throw a bottle of water in the bag and head to the course, perhaps with a banana or a sandwich to eat halfway through, but being properly prepared will have its benefits.

I live in a climate that is generally warm year-round with temperatures reaching 40º in the summer months, and as a result I have to alter my fluid intake and habits to avoid getting heat or sunstroke. In the winter we are blessed with sun most days and although it can be windy, temperatures rarely drop below 7º and my fluid intake and nutrition must reflect this. I played at the weekend and the group that I was playing with was unprepared for the heat, and began to suffer on the 6th hole. They had packed water, but it was warm and they had no food with them. I will return to the beginning of the round, it was 33º already and not cloud in the sky, I had warmed up with a bucket of balls and 15 minutes of putting. Before starting I drank a small bottle of cold water, and munched my way through a homemade muesli bar. My playing partners asked if I had forgotten breakfast which I hadn´t, but I knew that the warm up had dehydrated me, and due to the heat, I would require nutritional sustenance before beginning my round. As I said, on the 6th two of the players were beginning to struggle, and complained of already feeling tired due to the heat, by this time I had drank another half-litre of cold water and a half-litre of an isotonic drink, compared to nothing. I mentioned that they should be drinking a little after every shot, they seemed surprised by this, but after chugging down almost a litre of water on the 6th tee, they began to feel better by the 9th. When we finished I jokingly asked if anyone wanted to play another 18, as the weather was fantastic and the course was empty, but I had no takers, all three players were exhausted mainly due to the heat, but looking back they drank a maximum of 5 litres of fluids between them and none had eaten anything. I on the other hand had drank 2 litres of water, which was still cool in my thermal cool bag, and a further 2 litres of isotonic drink, coupled with a sandwich and 4 muesli bars, suffice to say I was the player that played well and maintained my level throughout the round.

Golfers are concerned with playing the game to the best of their ability but without the proper nutrition and fluid intake this is impossible to achieve. If you drink water on the course, you must adjust the amount in accordance with the climate, you must be prepared for the conditions that you are going to face. Dehydration directly affects your ability and performance.


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One of the areas of the game that amateurs struggle with the most is aim. Aim is paramount to hitting consistent golf shots and poor aim leads to a whole host of problems, some of which are overlooked as poor swing mechanics. Aim is always the first thing that I check when a new client arrives for a lesson, and inevitably aim is something that we always need to work on. Aim is often the biggest reason as to why golfers are struggling with their game.

With all my clients, aim begins with selecting a target, this can be a flag, a bunker or a tree in the distance, what is important is that we have a target. Then we select the most important aspect of aim, or alignment, the intermediary target. This is the key to better alignment and ultimately better results on the golf course.

An intermediary target is an object, blade of grass, grain of sand or dead insect that lies on the target line between the ball and the end target. It must be no more than 2 feet ahead of the ball, we want it to remain in your peripheral vision at all times. Once we have found our intermediary target, we forget the original target and stay focussed purely on the intermediary target. We use this intermediary target to line up our clubface, it should be square to the intermediary target, and then we use the imaginary line to line our feet, shoulders and hips parallel to the line, creating a perfectly aligned set-up.

At this point we are ready to hit the shot, and here comes the hard part, the part where you have to have a huge amount of self-discipline; DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR TARGET. Remain focussed on your intermediary target.

It may seem odd not to look at the “final target” before making your stroke, but you will be surprised at how much more consistent your results are if you forget about it. Your shot dispersion will be tighter, your impact will be solid and beyond all of that you will be less inclined to try to “search” for the ball during your swing. It grounds you, you become more in tune with your body and the shot that you want to play, because you almost trick your mind into believing that the intermediary target IS the target, and for the brain a target just a few feet away is easy to hit.

Remember the intermediary target should always remain within your peripheral vision field, for some this may be a little closer, while others maybe able to choose a intermediary target a little further away, the important thing is we forget about the final target and focus attention on the target we can actually see.