"You can still be productive," says Haney, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional. "Start by engaging your golf muscles and stretching. Hold a couple of irons together and swing, letting the extra weight help you turn. Then hit a few balls with a wedge, a few with your 7-iron and finish with your driver. You're looking for smooth swings and solid contact, not mechanical fixes.
"Your last stop should be the practice green. Take two balls and roll some 15- to 20-footers, focusing mainly on speed. When you get to the tee, remember to slow yourself down. A quick tempo on the first tee can produce a wild drive--and set a bad tone for the day."
Hank, of course, teaches Mark O'Meara and was Tiger Woods' coach for seven years. He runs the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy, in Hilton Head.
Hank came up with the brilliant idea of breaking the game down into three distinct parts: The Golf Swing, the Golf Shot and the Golf Score. If you keep these separate when you work on your game, I promise you'll practice better, play better and score better.
Hank based his ideas on tested motor-learning and educational research. He found that when you're working on your swing, it's best to do it by not hitting golf balls. You'll make much faster progress and the changes will stick if you work on your mechanics and positions away from the range (certainly away from the course) and even without a golf club. Swing a broom or other similar object in front of a mirror, and repeat the correct positions you want to get into. If you try to hit balls and work on your mechanics at the same time, everything often suffers and you often regress and lose confidence.
When you get on the range and start hitting balls, forget about the mechanics you rehearsed without balls. On the range you should be concentrating on hitting golf shots. Pick out specific targets and hit shots to them. Visualize the ball flight and trajectory. If you start thinking of your mechanics, get away from your pile of balls, work out your mechanical thoughts with practice swings, then return to hitting shots thinking non-mechanically.
When you're on the course, all you're doing is putting the shots you practiced on the range into play. Here you should only be concerned with the conditions, your strategy, club selection, and where you want the ball to go. You're simply trying to make a golf score. If you need to think of something in your swing, make sure it's a non-mechanical thought, like visualizing the target, swinging in a smooth tempo or holding your finish.
This approach might be difficult to do at first, and it definitely takes time to start trusting it and staying with it. But if you do, you'll start to play some of the best golf of your life. And you'll also notice that you're not so mentally tired at the end of your rounds. Because you're finally playing golf--really playing golf. Not stressing over your mechanics shot after shot.
Good luck with your game this week, and look for Fitness Friday in two days.
Kevin Hinton: Stricker's up-and-down on the par-5 ninth for his second consecutive birdie was a pivotal moment of the final round. Steve pitched his third shot to gimme range, and regained his three shot lead over Jonathan Byrd. He then cruised to a final-round 69 and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions victory. Let's take a closer look at Steve's pitching action and see what you can learn. Watch video.
Stricker is an expert at the fundamentals of consistent pitching. The less-than-full wedge shot is one of the most difficult in the game because you are not making a complete swing. Solid contact is not easy for the average golfer. Let's see how Stricker does it:
At address, he has narrowed his stance, played the ball slightly back of middle, and set more weight on his front foot . . . approximately 60 percent or so. In the backswing, he keeps his lower body relatively quiet as he swings his arms back and allows his wrists to hinge. This is a very important note. While the most significant difference between pitching and chipping is that in pitching we allow our wrists to hinge, I think the key to Steve's pitching--his consistently good contact and distance control--is that he doesn't overdo it.
But tour pros are not just beating balls or blindly rolling putts. They make their practice productive by using props--shafts, yardsticks and other devices--to check their alignment, their ball position, their swing plane, their putting path. Sometimes it's with their teacher, most often with their caddie, so they have another set of eyes to check them. This is work. It's what they do for a living. And if done correctly, it pays dividends.
Want to practice like a pro? Here's what you do:
Make yourself a practice station on the range. Always put shafts or other clubs on the ground to check that your stance line is square to your target line. Jim Flick, who coaches Tom Lehman and Jack Nicklaus, likes to have players put the alignment shaft along their heels, not their toes, because if you like to flare out one foot, it will not alter your alignment. Then place another shaft perpendicular to your target line to indicate your ball position. Finally, put a shaft in the ground to the side of your body on the same angle as your clubshaft at address. This will help you determine if your swing is on plane. Note the photograph of Vijay Singh (above), who always practices with such a "plane check."
Now if you really want to practice like a pro, always place the ball you're about to hit directly behind the divot you just made (note the Singh photo again). Try to eliminate the smallest amount of turf from the range so the superintendent has the least amount of area to reseed. Also notice that tour pros take shallow divots. Only