Even the pros have to brush up on their skills. If your game needs a little refreshment, study up on these areas before your next adventure on the links.
Imagine being at a golf outing with friends, family members or co-workers. It’s time to tee off and you’re ready to impress everyone by showing off your game.
You line up the ball, take a deep breath and swing. Moments later, you let out a defeated sigh as your ball sails into the trees.
What just happened? Was it jitters? Bad posture? Bad equipment? Maybe it was a combination of all three, you wonder.
Golf is a tough and sometimes frustrating sport, but it doesn’t have to be. Given the right kind of guidance and equipment, it’s possible to land that next tee shot right in the middle of the fairway. It’s never too late to study up. Even the best golfers are constantly refining their skills.
PGA: Posture, Grip and Alignment
Andrew Schlupp, head golf professional at PrairieView Golf Club, in Byron, is always reminding golfers about the PGA – that is: posture, grip and alignment.
“Those are three very important things that help beginners get in a good setup position,” he says.
Schlupp teaches good posture by positioning golfers in a stance where their knees are slightly flexed with a good bend at the waist.
When it comes to the grip, there are three types that golfers can use. There’s a baseball grip, where all 10 fingers are on the club. There’s an interlock grip, where right-handed golfers interlock their left index finger with their right pinky finger (this is one of the more popular options, and the concept also works for left-handers). The overlap grip is where a right-handed golfer’s right pinky finger overlaps in between their left index and middle finger.
“I explain these three grips and let the golfer dabble with all three of them,” Schlupp says. “Everyone is going to have different preferences, but it’s imperative that whichever grip you choose feels the most comfortable to you.”
As far as alignment, golfers should make sure their feet, hips and shoulders are all working together and are aimed parallel to their intended target. It’s not always where you think it is.
Schlupp says he often sees people aim well left or right of their target in an effort to play the slice (a shot too far to the right) or a hook (a shot too far to the left). The problem with this approach, though, is it creates bad habits in the golf swing.
“That’s certainly not the way to play golf,” Schlupp says.
Nor is it proper to take a baseball-type swing at the ball. Yet it’s something Ron Skubisz sees frequently as the head PGA professional at Pottawatomie Golf Course, in St. Charles.
“People try to hit the ball, but the ball isn’t thrown at you, so you don’t have to react to it,” he says. “You just have to create the action that causes you to strike the ball.”
A proper swing is a smooth, easy action, Skubisz says, and it happens when your arms and legs are working together.
“If you swing your arms back and forth and you feel your knee starting to join your arms on the way down, that’s the pace you want to swing at,” he says. “The key becomes learning to swing your arms back and forth at the same tempo and feeling like your legs are joining in.”
That helps to explain why smaller players can sometimes hit the ball upwards of 260 yards, Skubisz says. Rather than relying only on their arms, as taller golfers might, shorter golfers are more in sync between upper and lower body while swinging. Golfers of any size can take a cue.
“Your legs are where the power is,” Skubisz says. “If you just swing your arms as hard you can, you’ll probably find your legs are locked, and you’ll just end up trying to hit the ball harder next time by swinging your arms. The harder you swing on the way down, the worse your shots get.”
So, how do you get your legs involved? Focus on a more holistic approach to your swing.
“Your arms are always going to swing faster, and your legs are going to move slower, so if you swing your arms as fast as you can, there’s no chance your legs will be able catch up,” he says. “The key is to find a comfortable tempo or pace, and as you swing the club you’ll feel your legs are automatically joining your arms on the down swing.”
Skubisz compares a good golf swing to dancing. Someone who moves their arms and legs at the same pace may not be a good dancer, but they look like it because their body is moving in harmony.
You’ll know your golf swing is in true harmony when a certain sound rings out during a practice swing.
“If you take a club and swing it back and forth without the ball, and you hear the sound of the club brushing the grass, then you’ll know that your arms and legs are in harmony,” he says. “If you’re swinging harder, you’ll miss the grass, which means your legs are locked and you’re hitting down on the ball.”
Lynn Blevins, head golfing professional at Ingersoll Golf Course, in Rockford, compares this harmony to another fun activity.
“The most similar move to a good golf swing is skipping a rock,” she says. “So, if you’re a good rock skipper, you’re on the way to a successful golf swing.”
Why’s that? Because both activities require successful rotation, balance and repetition. Strong abdominal muscles make all the difference. Your entire body needs to work together in one fluid motion.
“If you will think more rotation and lower body strength, you’ll get better,” Blevins says. “Think of standing in a barrel and if you hit the side, you’ll get shocked. Turn; don’t lift and chop.”
Before you step to the first tee of the day, make sure to spend a few minutes warming up. Stretch and loosen your muscles so they’re ready to move.
“This does several things for your game,” Blevins says. “It’ll help keep you from injury and also allow your body to rotate better to make a correct golf swing.”
Once loose, Jordan Zellman, manager of golf instruction and programs with the Rockford Park District, says it’s important to have a plan of action before playing each hole. Close your eyes and envision where you want the ball to go. Consider your strategy for getting the ball to the green and what obstacles you’ll have to face.
“It’s crazy to me that with just a couple of seconds, you can either create a smart or poor shot,” he says. “A way to overcome this is just thinking through your shots and having a good pre-shot routine. It’s a lot easier to execute a great shot when you have a good routine, because all of the guessing is gone before you swing.”
Sam Stoddard, general manager of Woodbine Bend Golf Course, in Stockton, says the biggest tip he shares with golfers is to swing calmly and easily.
“There have been billions, if not trillions, of dollars invested into the technology of a golf club and ball, so let them do their job,” he says. “The golfer’s job is to slow down and make sure that the club and ball make contact correctly.”
Tensions and nerves might be high when it comes time to play golf, especially in the beginning holes. Jeremiah Pike, vice president and club manager at Pine Hills Golf Club, in Ottawa, says it’s important to relax and take the game as it comes.
“Success in golf is largely through a mental game,” he says. “Too often, players overthink certain situations.”
One of the most common examples, Pike says, is when a golfer spends too much time watching the scorecard. They’re mentally adding their strokes before a round is completed.
“People look at the scorecard and think if they par these last two holes, they’ll beat their all-time best and then they end up double-bogeying the next hole,” he says. “Staying focused on all of your shots is the hardest part of golf.”
Remember that even the best golfers get a little jittery on the course, Pike adds. The best way to overcome those jitters is to trust your instincts.
“If you’re in a tournament, use your favorite club you can hit the farthest,” he says. “Who cares if you’re 100 yards behind the others in your group? It’s all about getting in that comfort zone and not trying to impress anyone. Taking a deep breath and relaxing your body is good for those caught up in the moment.”
Finding the Right Equipment
Golfing equipment has come a long way over the years. What you’ll find on the market today has been engineered to make your game better – but only if you know how to use it.
“Golf clubs started as a tool that shepherds would use to hit rocks at predators and to keep sheep in line,” Stoddard says. “They’ve gone from only metal irons to wooden woods and back to metal woods.”
For someone just starting out, Schlupp, of PrairieView, recommends clubs made by Tour Edge Golf. It’s a good middle-of-the-road brand that approaches the quality of Titleist or Callaway without the hefty pricetag. U.S. Kids Golf is well-suited for youngsters who are learning the game. This brand is designed for golfers shorter than 5 feet.
“We use U.S. Kids Golf clubs in our rental program in the summertime, and most of the kids are beginners,” says Schlupp.
The hybrid golf club, which is a mixture of an iron and a wood, has grown in popularity in recent years.
“The hybrid is a little bit easier to use if you want to get ball up in the air,” Skubisz says. “So, instead of having a 4-iron, a 5-iron or a 6-iron that you’re more height challenged with, you can go with a hybrid and you’ll swing it easier and hit the ball higher. That’ll give you more confidence to play the game.”
Of course, many golfers start with a set of clubs that have been passed down. It’s a cheap and easy way to start playing.
Ann Bloomfield, head golf professional at Rockford’s Sandy Hollow and Sinnissippi Golf Courses, says this line of thinking is a common mistake.
“I see a lot of ladies coming to me with hand-me-down sets of clubs, oftentimes from their husbands,” she says. “A proper set of good-fitting clubs makes all the difference in the world. It not only allows you to be a better golfer, but in some cases, it can prevent injury.”
What’s more, a club that’s not well-fitted to the golfer won’t perform at its maximum potential, says Duncan Geddes, head golf professional and general manager at Rockford’s Aldeen Golf Club.
“There are lots of quality products on the market, but until people have been fitted for the right clubs or have sought out the advice of a professional, they may not be playing with the right clubs. Having the right kind of club shaft, length and lie angle can make the game much more enjoyable.”
Whatever it is you’re playing with, it’s important to know how to use it and how far you can hit it, says Skubisz.
“Take a look at where the ball hits the ground after you swing and not where it stops rolling,” he says. “What’s the carry of your irons and what’s the carry of your fairway wood? What’s the carry of your driver?”
Put it All Together
It’s important to put time and energy into practicing at the driving range, the park or even in your backyard. Remember, golf’s greatest legends are always honing their skills.
While you’re practicing, be mindful of where you’re investing your time. As important as the long game might appear, it’s the short game that provides the greatest impact.
“For an average golfer, shots of less than 100 yards and putting are probably 70% of their game, but I’d imagine that people practice as if it were 30% of the game,” Skubisz says. “So, you should be devoting 70% of your practice time to putting and chipping. If you look at golfers on the PGA Tour, they work on their short game probably 70% to 80% of the time – and they’re the best players in the world.”
To really hone those skills, Geddes says all players can benefit from the help a professional provides.
“Find a good instructor that you’re comfortable with and set goals for where you would like to see your game go,” he says. “Make sure you play and you practice. Time on the course and time on the range will make you a more well-rounded player.”
If you’re in a time crunch but still want to practice, Schlupp suggests working on putting first.
“You can take a lot of strokes off your game by just practicing your putting once or twice a week,” he says.
Golf can be a great outdoor activity and it can be a stressful and frustrating game, but it doesn’t have to be. Golf is supposed to be fun and it can be with the right combination of equipment, skills and confidence.
“Take one shot at a time and if you have a bad hole, let it stay on that hole and move on,” Zellman says. “You can’t dwell on the bad, especially while playing.”