The drive is the most psychologically burdened of all shots: Like it or not, one’s ego is inextricably linked to how far the ball goes. No wonder even accomplished golfers sometimes whiff and foozle. The best defense against tee-box self-consciousness, according to Kathy Murphy, a top instructor for the LPGA, is overwhelming it with imagination. “Precise intentions are important,” she says. She recommends visually painting an X in the fairway exactly where the ball should land.
If added distance is the goal, golfers need to fight the tendency to tense up and swing Fast. Slow and loose is more to the point. Power comes from the chain effect of shoulders, legs and arms firing in perfect, whip-like succession; the key is a slow backswing and finishing in perfect balance, weight over forward leg, facing the target. Laura Davies, one of the longest hitters of the LPGA, has simpler advice: “Find someone whose swing you like, and imitate their rhythm.”
The Sand Shot
Bunker shots may be the easiest in golf. Good players won’t talk about this in public, for the same reason magicians won’t reveal their tricks; but the margin for error is greater in sand than anywhere else. That’s because the player is trying not to hit the ball itself but merely to swipe the head, and let the sand lift the ball onto the green.
For the clubhead to slide through the sand properly, rather than get buried, the blade must be open. Ty Waldron, senior instructor at the Dave Pelz Short Game School in Boca Raton, Florida, recommends that the scoring lines on the clubface point just outside the front foot. The swing is made parallel to the shoulder line.
A bunker shot requires roughly twice the force needed to make most shots of similar distance, so the swing must be aggressive. Push onto the lead leg, cock wrists up, finish strong. “It takes confidence,” Waldron says. “You need to trust that the ball will leave the sand and land on the green.”
Putting (which accounts for 43 percent of all shots) is the great equalizer. The good news: The mechanics are simple. Take a comfortable stance that allows the arms to move freely, make sure the eyes are directly above the ball, and always make contact with the sweet spot of the clubface.
But technique matters far less than attitude. Jane Frost, the 1994 LPGA Teacher of the Year and head pro at Holly Ridge in Sandwich, Massachusetts, advises golfers to develop a pre-shot routine. Size up the putt from as many angles as needed; then, standing behind the ball, visualize it rolling into the hole. With that vision in mind, step toward the ball across an imaginary “D-line,” or decision line.
“Crossing the D-line tells the brain, I’m ready,'” Frost says. “After that, there should be no more self-awareness and no doubt, only total connection with the target.”
The Chip Shot
Faced with short chips or pitches near the green, many golfers try to “lift” the ball into the air by falling back on their hind foot and flipping their wrists. The result is usually a skulled shot that zooms way past the green.
For Linda Mulherin, a PGA teaching pro from Syracuse, New York, the key to successful chipping is to understand how a descending blow–hitting the ball while still on the downward swing, with hands well ahead of the clubhead–makes the ball pop up. You shouldn’t force the ball; instead, let the natural loft of the club propel it upward. It’s about making clean contact–the ball first, turf second. To encourage this action, Mulherin tells students to lean slightly toward the target, sternum ahead of the ball, and to put most of their weight on the front foot.
Close to the green, use the simplest possible back-and-through motion with a seven or eight iron; switch to a wedge, and add a little more body action as the distance increases.
12 STEPS Getting Started
1. It’s not TV. Those who hate golf hate it because what they know of it comes from watching a bunch of boring guys covered in logos playing in front of tacky throngs who scream things like “You da man!” Actually golf at its best is a meditative, scenic, almost private game. Trust me.
2. Get a teacher. You may think your boyfriend can teach you. He can’t. Just because you can play golf doesn’t mean you can teach it. Chances are you’ll break up before you break 100.
3. Stay off the course. Go to a driving range. You won’t get frustrated because you’re not really playing golf; you’re hitting balls. And you won’t frustrate other golfers by slowing them down. Once you’ve got a fair idea of where the ball’s going you’re ready for the course.
4. Pick up the pace. The longer you contemplate your shot, the more likely you are to screw up. As the venerable philosopher Yogi Berra allegedly said, “How can you think and hit at the same time?”
5. Learn etiquette. It behooves every player to know the rules. Serious golfers will be happy to tell them to you, whether you want them to or not.
6. Take a chill pill. Bad golf is caused by frustration, tension and anger. Old timers say, “Golf is a game of ease, but it’s far from easy.” The easier you take it, the less likely you are to go from bad to worse.
7. Swing easy. Most bad shots in golf have a common cause: trying to muscle the ball. Machisma will get you nowhere here.
8. Stay focused. During the time you’re walking from one lie to the next, try thinking about your next shot. Consider the lay of the land, the wind, your personal tendencies. Strategy will take you every bit as far as athletic ability.
9. Practice putting. It’s half the game, so keep doing it. On the practice green. On the living-room carpet. Wherever you can. And always go to the practice green first.
10. Take a test swing. Some clubs are better for you than others. When you’re buying your first set, there’s no point in taking out a mortgage, but don’t skimp either. Visit a pro shop and get some sound advice. Then test out the equipment.
11. Gamble. Maybe ten cents a hole. Just enough to make it interesting. Match play–where you play to win each hole–is more fun than just going for a low score. Even if you’re playing badly, you can go away feeling good. And maybe 50 cents richer.
12. Enjoy! Golf makes a great obsession. It’s not carcinogenic or fattening. But getting too obsessed can ruin the fun. It’ll be a few years before you bring the course to its knees, so relax and enjoy yourself until then.