Welcome to Play Smart, a game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help raise your golf IQ and play smarter, better golf.
It’s the first part of the first month of the new year, which means now is the time you try new things and see if they stick. Something I’ve been wanting to try for a while in these Play Smart columns is a mailbag of sorts. This may become a recurring thing, it may be an every now and again, or it may be a one-time only special. We’ll let the golf gods answer that question.
1. Toe drives
This is a really good question!
In a nutshell, shots hit off the toe will come off the face with less backspin. And because of the way the club is designed, the gear effect will also impart more hook spin on the ball.
Golfers who slice the ball tend to put too much backspin on the golf ball, with an open clubface that will put more left-to-ride movement into the shot. If this sounds like you, hitting your driver off the toe effectively neutralizes those two things, which, as Ray notes, can be a recipe for some of your best drives.
2. One or the other
I know your pain, Gary. My last two rounds of 2021 featured one where I couldn’t keep the ball on the planet but made every putt, followed by a round where I hit 15 greens and made none of the putts.
While I don’t have any hard proof to explain why this happens, my theory is that it’s a comfort zone issue.
Golfers have a range where 95 percent of their scores fall. When you get a better-than-average round going, it’s easy to get nervous and uncomfortable. You may be in the groove from tee-to-green but the nerves cause your putting to suffer. On the flip side, if you’re hitting the ball poorly, it’ll probably cause you to focus a little harder around the greens, which can make your short game better and bring your scores back into your comfort zone.
How to fix it? That’s tough. But it all goes back to the old cliche of taking it one shot at the time, and treating every shot the same. Start by looking at your pre-shot routine.
4. Ladies league
That’s great! My only advice (and this goes for every golfer out there) is to brush up on your etiquette. Nothing too fancy, but just the basics: Don’t walk in the line of people’s putt, be ready to hit when it’s your turn, mind your shadow, and don’t complain about how you’re playing (or lose your temper).
It doesn’t matter how good or bad a player you think you are. Sometimes the best golfers are some of the least fun to play with. Have good on-course etiquette, and everybody will love playing with you.
5. Head down?
Keeping your head down is now regarded by most teachers as pretty bad advice. Instead, think about keeping your chest down, they say but always turning. On the backswing, you should feel like you’re turning into your trail hip, then turn freely through. Think less about keeping your head down, and more about keeping your torso turning.
6. Losing balance
It could be a physical limitation. You could, like me and most other golfers who sit at a desk all day, have poor hip mobility. Specific exercises will help with that.
I’d also recommend taking a close look at the details of your setup (ideally under the watchful eyes of a coach). If you’re not balanced when you start your swing, you won’t be during it.
7. Too late
That sounds like a ‘you issue,’ Luke. But it does underline an important point to any junior golfers out there, or parents of junior golfers who may be reading this: Get the boring fundamentals — grip, stance, posture, alignment — correct early, and save your junior a lifetime of having to unlearn bad habits.
8. Adjusting clubs
If you make clear to your clubfitter that you don’t want to replace your entire set, most times they’ll be able to adjust your current set of clubs, depending on the material they’re made from.
You’ll need a professional to make the adjustment to the club itself, but start by getting an idea of what you think is off with your current set and keeping an eye on some of your basic numbers. If you can tell a clubfitter than you’re not looking for a set overhaul but you suspect your lie angles are too upright on your current irons, for instance, you’ll be moving in the right direction.
9. Zombie draw
Your club needs to be moving from in-to-out (out to right field for right handed golfers), and the clubface needs to be pointing left of that.
10. Numbers, numbers
I’ve walked away from two different driver fittings in my life where the best club for me was the one already in my bag. The key is finding a good, brand agnostic clubfitter (shoutout to our affiliate company True Spec Golf).
Any clubfitter worth their salt will be testing you with non-range balls, on a good launch monitor, and will provide you with a report of all the clubs you tested during the fitting (and if they don’t, make sure to ask for it). Their goal is simple: To get you as close as possible to your optimal launch conditions, which vary based on your swing speed. See how each club you tested compared with your current gamers. The numbers don’t lie.
11. No divots
Good observation here.
A faster swing may lead to you taking a larger divot, but it won’t mean you go from taking no divot on your practice swing to a meaty one on your full swing. If there’s a big difference like that between swings, the simplest explanation is the truest one: You’re not swinging the same way on your practice swing as you do when you hit the ball.
It’s not really an issue from tee-to-green, but it can become an issue around the greens. When you’re chipping or pitching, make as intentional a practice swing as possible. In these moments, the length and speed of swing, along with your divot, should look like the one you’re about to take. Matching your practice swing to your real swing in these moments can tell you how your club will interact with the grass, and give you a good feeling to work with.