Just starting out? That’s all right; we’ve got you covered. We won’t discuss equipment here, but we will get you from the first tee through the eighteenth green in one piece.
The Importance Of Lessons
The value of a series of golfing lessons is the principal encouragement that BuffGolf can offer to all beginning golfers. Imagine for a moment a new member of your firm, staff, or team. Would you encourage that person to go it alone, or to seek advice from experienced members, attend professional seminars, and practice potential presentations in front of qualified experts? Not a tough decision. Western New York counts among its ranks female and male teaching professionals of the highest quality, from the domes and ranges, to the shops and clubs (both private and public). Many of them offer a package deal, with five or ten lessons coming at a discounted price. If you are taking up the sport with a friend, a double or group lesson often further reduces the cost. Ask your successful golfing friends to recommend an area pro, and do not, under any circumstance, take “you don’t need lessons” or any variant, as an acceptable answer. You will improve faster, in a more pleasing fashion, under the tutelage of a professional golfer. Click here for a listing of area teaching professionals.
Do not be fooled by friends and family into believing that the ball must be put into play on par 4s and 5s by the driver. Although it is known as the “Play Club” in Scotland, the driver misleads many beginning golfers into the woods or worse. Take your new clubs to the practice range. After you work your way through your irons, take special note of the shots you hit with your fairway metals and driver. Imagine the following scenario: you hit five shots each with a 7, 5, 3 and 1 (driver) metalwoods. The 7 results in 5 dead-straight shots of 170 yards, the 5 gives 4 straight, 1 crooked at 195 yards, the 3 offers 3 straight, 2 crooked at 215 yards, and the 1 provides 2 straight, 3 crooked at 230 yards. While there is a 60 yard difference between the 7 and the 1 woods, a decision must be made. Do you sacrifice distance for accuracy, or accuracy for distance? On a tight, 300 yard hole, 170 yards down the middle may be better than 230 yards behind a tree. In contrast, on a 500 yard par five, 230 in the light rough is still 60 yards ahead of 170.
A terrific piece of strategy is to analyze a course ahead of time, whether you have played it or not. Take a look at the scorecard, make note of the hazards, and get a general sense of which metalwood should be your play club on each particular hole. By varying your club selection, you will keep your senses sharp and reach the fairway with greater consistency. Speaking from experience, it is much easier to hit the ball straighter, with crisp contact, from the short grass.
Don’t misunderstand that the driver/1-wood is to be avoided. As the most demanding club in the bag, it can be as much a foe as a friend. However, once it is understood, practiced, and adapted, it becomes a powerful ally. There is no feeling in golf as the one that comes with a flushed drive from a demanding tee, to a tight fairway, in a pressure situation. When practicing the driver at a range, establish a target zone between two points (such as yardage markers or flags.)
INTERMEDIATE TIP: To begin, grip about two inches down from the end of the club shaft, and turn your wood into a 1.5 wood. Learn the 3/4 swing and the full swing, and combine them all to create different swing situations.
Fairway Metal Wood
One thing that the driver, fairway metals, and long irons have in common, is a sweeping action, not unlike that of a broom. The ball is contacted only slightly on the downswing, resulting in little divot (none at all with the driver). Much of what is done with the driver, can be applied to shots with the fairway metals.
The absence of the tee requires the ball to be swept off the fairway, which can be done with a slight target adjustment. Rather than stare at the ball, pick out a spot of grass 1/2 inch behind the ball, and swing for it. The natural bounce of the club will allow it to catch the ball perfectly. This is one of many cases in golf where you must let your trust in the fundamentals overcome other interpretations or concerns.
The fairway metals are a tremendous aid to the beginning golfer, as they bridge a distance gap from the farthest that a club can be hit, down to the mid-irons. In essence, the 5 wood replaces the 2 iron, the 6 wood, the 3 iron, the 7 wood, the 4 iron, so a new player can begin the game with only the irons number 5 through wedges. BuffGolf does not hesitate to endorse this approach, as fairway metals are easier to swing, and easier to employ to make contact with the ball, than the 2-4 irons.
Long irons play a marvelous role in the past and present of the game. They have given us some of the most memorable shots in the long history of the game. You may have hit one or two of them yourself, or may one day do so. However, conventional wisdom insists that their use must be approached with caution and patience. Given their long shafts, shallow lofts, and apparently small sweet spots, they present a formidable challenge to the beginning golfer, much more so than the aforementioned Fairway Metal Woods.
Do not avoid the long irons; instead, utilize them on the practice range, employing the same sweeping and sighting principals mentioned in the Fairway Metal Woods section of this primer: like a broom, eyeing a spot 1/2 inch behind the ball.
The middle irons, present the ironic opportunity/dilemma of joining the longer, distance clubs with the shorter, accuracy (scoring) irons. That is, the five through seven irons are clubs that can be hit distances from 145 to 185 yards, depending on strength and skill levels, yet still contain shafts long enough to present accuracy problems. The middle irons approach the ball at a steeper angle (less of a sweep) than do the long irons, yet not so steep as that of the short irons. Many golfers often subconsciously select a middle iron as a favorite club, as it offers a blend of distance and accuracy, and can often be used on par three holes effectively.
Upon reaching the eight and nine irons, the golfer has truly entered the realm where accuracy is tantamount. These two irons will travel no farther than 140 yards, and will be used for tee shots on short par three holes, as well as approach shots on short par four, and many par five, holes. The angle of approach into the ball is greater/steeper than that of the middle irons, and the divot is a given with all short iron shots. It is with these clubs that the golfer may “take dead aim,” as the late Texas professional Harvey Penick was wont to say, at the flagstick. These clubs are fun to hit and fun to practice, and it is worth the space to remind that beginning golfer that it is the clubs that are less easy (hence, fun) to hit, that should be practiced most. Improve your weaknesses, and you will develop more strengths.
Have you ever skipped a stone or tossed a ball with an underhand motion? That’s kind of the idea with pitching, which is why you can practice it with one hand. The idea is to toss the ball up in the air, land it softly on the green, and have it gently roll a few feet to the hole. There are low pitches, medium pitches, high pitches, and super-high-scrape-the-sky pitches. If you find an open field, practice all of them. They are shot savers. My only tip is one that a top area pro gave me a few years back: let the bounce of the club do its job. Aim for a spot about a quarter to a half inch behind the ball. Don’t worry, just do it. You will make solid contact without hitting it thin/skulling it across the green. Remember: practice makes perfect.
Chipping is putting with air time. You are a few inches to a few feet off the green, and have anything from dirt to a sprinkler head in your line. You can’t putt it, so chip it. Play the ball opposite your rear foot with a nine iron (although any club from sand wedge to five iron will do, depending on the distance you have to cover), push your hands a bit forward, and stroke the shot like a putt, without breaking your wrists. Practice this over and over, on uphill, downhill, sidehill, short and long shots and lies, and you will become a champ. Remember, there is nothing more frustrating to get near a long hole in two, and walk away with five. Learn to get it up and down, and you will win your share of bets and medals.
Undoubtedly the most unique lie in golf, there are two shots that one must learn to play from the sand: the pick and the blast. In the former, the ball is contacted before the clubface hits the sand, ensuring solid contact; in the latter, the clubface enters the sand .5 to 1 inch behind the ball, never actually touching the ball. The force of the displaced sand “blasts” the ball out of the bunker and onto the green.
Before you enter the sand, understand that sand is considered a hazard. Therefore, you may not improve your lie in any way, such as smoothing lumps of sand, or picking leaves and twigs up. Nor can you ground your club prior to the shot.
The Pick shot is achieved in the following way: enter the bunker, choose your alignment, and address the ball. Next, shift your feet two-three inches forward, so that the ball is now between the middle of your stance and your back/rear foot. Your hands will now naturally settle in a bit ahead of the ball. This is well, as it promotes a descending path into and through the ball. You will know that you have played the shot correctly when you feel the clubface contact the ball BEFORE it contacts the sand.
The Blast is a different matter. It is typically played from a greenside bunker, although it can be used from extreme fairway bunkers, where the walls of the bunker preclude a Pick shot. Take a stance so that you aim at your target. Next, pull your front foot back six inches, opening your stance (feet, hips and shoulders). Your aim should drift left for right-handers, and right for left-handers. This is good. Open (lay back) your clubface a bit, to increase loft and allow for the swing that you will make. Pick out a spot about one half to one whole inch behind the ball; THIS SPOT, not the ball, is your target. Your club will enter the sand behind the ball, never touching the white sphere. Remember that the force of the swing will blast the ball out of the sand. Finally, take an outside-to-inside swing, cutting across the target line, behind the golf ball. Make sure that your follow through strongly.
The Blast and the Pick must be practiced. You cannot hit them well once, and expect that success to carry over onto the course. The best way to practice is to take a bag or bucket of balls into the sand pit, drop them and hit them out. Worry most about form and proper execution, not the result of the swing. Proper execution leads invariably to proper result, while improper execution leads nowhere.
Sand Play is an anomaly in the sense that situations and requirements arise that are not found elsewhere in the game. It has been written about great golfers that each has a unique ability to humbly yet confidently assess her/his game for weaknesses and strengths. It is your charge to do the same; when it comes to improvement, you must assess your game and CHOOSE to improve. Sand Play requires a conscious choice to understand its elements and to improve.
The most individualistic aspect of the game, putting is the second game of golf. So many players can fly the ball 550 yards in two gigantic strokes, yet wilt amid a puddle of nerves on the green. Like chipping, you can win a lot of matches with your flat stick. Very few golfers miss putts by more than three feet to either side. Therefore, learn to hit your putts the proper distance, and you will rarely have more than a three-feet second putt. There are so many putting grips and strokes to choose from, it is imperative that you find the one like best.
The best way to practice trouble shots is to put yourself in trouble. Tiger Woods used to go to the high school football field with his teammates, to see how close they could get to the goal post and still flop a “field goal” through. Now that’s how you practice the flop shot. I used to hit balls over my house, and thankfully, never broke a window. Go into the trees next to your favorite fairway at 7:30 at night and practice hitting low shots back to the fairway. Sure, you’ll hit the bark every now and then, but better to practice than to face a shot for the first time during an important round.