The BasicsJune 19, 2014

Good Shot. Repeat.

How to play your best golf more often

It doesn't take long for golfers to develop a love for good shots. Their own good shots, anyway. And when they follow one with another, man, that's really living. Should I quit my job and play every day? Fortunately, most golfers never get there. The game tends to humble us, strip away feelings of entitlement. I'm just so happy I didn't dump it in the pond on No. 12. Maybe the trick is doing what Jack Nicklaus used to do: Remember only the good ones. Try it. What do you mean what happened on 16? I rolled that putt for triple right in the heart. Read below to learn how to hit your best shots over and over.

FAIRWAY FINDER

Want to be a consistent driver? Then you have to be ready to hit the fairway on every hole. On the tough ones, you can't sit in the cart and hope for a rain delay. You need a safety shot; think of it like a second serve in tennis.

"Under pressure, avoid the urge to get hyper-technical with your swing," says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher TRILLIUM SELLERS. "You want to go the other way—think less, reduce stress. Start with a good old-fashioned deep breath. And imagine the last great drive you hit. Try to keep it all positive."

Also, don't hesitate to check your ego at the bag. "Sometimes changing out your driver for another club is a good idea if for no other reason than to keep your confidence up," Sellers says. "A well-hit fairway wood might even go farther than a less-than-perfect driver."

Matthew Rudy

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Photo Illustration: Lou Beach

TICK, TOCK, INNER CLOCK

What can you learn from those rare days when your rhythm is dance-floor smooth, your timing exquisite, your power effortless?

DR. GIO VALIANTE, a top golf psychologist and author of the new book Golf Flow, describes one quality of that zone-like state as "bullet time."

"In the movie 'The Matrix,' the fastest action sequences—martial-arts moves and speeding bullets, for example—were shown in super-slow motion," Valiante says. "Good golf is analogous to bullet time. Your inner clock seems to slow, and the true speed and ferocity of the golf swing aren't apparent at all. It seems so easy."

How can you achieve bullet time? "Focus on the target, try to forget score and swing positions, and play fearlessly. That's when magical things happen." —Guy Yocom

KEYS TO DRIVER IMPACT / BY TODD ANDERSON

Photos: J.D. Cuban

If you looked at these players at any position other than impact, you'd see a ton of style differences. But here they're remarkably similar. Check out these four moves in each frame above:

(1) The club has lined up with the left arm. (2) Each player's head is well behind the ball. (3) The left side of the body is fairly straight, the right side slightly bowed. (4) The triangle formed by the arms and shoulders points to the inside of the left leg. Copy these positions. It's more than a coincidence that they all get into them.

Illustration: John Ueland

THE AIM GAME

Consistency isn't so pretty when it takes the form of a big slice every time you hit driver. But JIM MCLEAN says slicers have reason to be optimistic. "If every shot you hit curves excessively left to right, you've pretty much eliminated all the trouble on the left," McLean says. "If you can just tweak that slice into a fade, you'll stay out of the trees right and left."

Same for the hooker: You can aim right, and know it'll only curve left. Whichever way you go, the trick is controlling the amount of curve. McLean says mastering one ball flight isn't easy.

"It takes practice to perfect a fade, for instance, and discipline. When a dogleg-left hole whispers for a hook, you have to plug your ears."

GY

Illustration: Jim Luft

SCREW IT!

Having a tough time getting that crisp contact on shots off the turf? Here's a great image from Nashville-based teacher VIRGIL HERRING:

Picture you're holding a giant screwdriver, and you're trying to loosen a screw from the wall in front of you. How would you do it? You'd brace against your left side, hold your upper arms tight to your body and turn your forearms to the left. Do it correctly, and your left wrist will start to bow toward the target, and your right wrist will bend back (see photo). That gives you maximum leverage to loosen the screw. It's also the ideal position to squeeze the ball off a tight lie. —PM

Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

'OK, YOU CAN LET GO NOW'

Shaking someone's hand isn't so hard, is it? Assuming you're not Tiger having to congratulate Phil. ROY NIX, a teacher and clubfitter who wrote Cracker Jack Clubfitter, says consistency is no harder to achieve than a handshake. "If a guy can walk and not fall down, he's repeating a step," he writes. "If he can shake hands and not need three or four attempts, he's got pretty good hand-eye coordination." If you can do these things but "can't play golf well enough to enjoy it," Nix says go for a clubfitting.

Here are some more red flags:

• You make impact marks on several areas of the clubface.

• In a 10-shot test, you miss iron shots as much as 20 yards left or right.

• In a 10-shot test, you hit shots with the same iron more than 20 yards apart in distance.

Mike Stachura

DON'T JUST STAND THERE

Illustrations: Kagan McLeod |||

Tour player or not, there's no reason not to look like one in your setup position. KEVIN SMELTZ, who teaches at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, says building a sound address position in front of a mirror can pay immediate dividends.

"Using a middle iron, set your stance so that the outside of your heels are shoulder-width apart (1), with each foot turned out slightly," Smeltz says. Now build in the right amount of knee flex and spine tilt. "Stand up straight, arms out, and look down at your shoes, then flex your knees until you lose sight of your shoelaces," he says. "Keep your back straight, and let your arms fall until they rest against your sides. Now bend forward and sole the club (2). Center your weight in the arches of your feet, and you're in a balanced, ready position."

—MR

YOU HEARD IT HERE

Illustration: Mark Matcho

MAYOR OF CLUBFACE CITY: How a confident, low-handicap player on top of his game might refer to himself. There is no term limit, but stays in office tend to be short-lived.

PARRED TO DEATH: A slow, painful and uneventful loss to a calculating opponent who scores nothing but pars or net pars.

BEIGE: When a golfer has played so many rounds with the same ball that he uses the cover's color as its identifying mark, it might be said that he has an unreasonable attitude toward money.

DIME SPOT: A dark, circular wear mark in the center of an iron face. Also see: official emblem, Mayor of Clubface City.

THE BRINY LINE: Any exemplar of unwavering mediocrity. Modeled after The Mendoza Line, named for baseball's Mario Mendoza and his sub-.200 batting averages, this moniker is a nod to Briny Baird, who ranks 100th on the PGA Tour's all-time money list with $12.6 million and zero wins.

'SHOT: A truncated, barely audible compliment from an opponent tired of saying "Nice shot."

Max Adler

Photo: Dom Furore

PUT THE SQUASH ON IT

Check out how the ball flattens on the clubface at impact (below). Our swinger in this shot is two-time Re/Max World Long Drive champ Jamie Sadlowski, so maybe you don't get as much squash as he does, but you should get some. GREGOR JAMIESON, who teaches Retief Goosen, says the key to making consistent contact is shifting toward the target on the downswing. "On iron shots, you want your left shoulder joint to be over your left heel at impact. People tend to hang back, and that makes the club bottom out behind the ball. You can catch it fat or thin." Jamieson says getting to your left side also produces a more consistent ball flight. "If you hang back, the clubface rotates a lot more through impact; it's less predictable." So get left, and you won't hit those wild curves.

Jeff Patterson

Photo Illustration: Jim Luft

PUTTING SECRET

AN EMPTY HEAD

When you putt, your brain should pretty much go blank," says putting virtuoso BRAD FAXON, who believes fewer deliberations let us tap into our creative sides and roll more in. "I don't try to aim the putterface at all; I just set it down. And I don't try to stay still. I do like to keep my arms very soft, so I can feel the putterhead swing, but that's as complicated as I get."

So what made Faxon, who won eight times on tour, so crazy good with the putter? "When players make putts, they say, 'I knew I was going to make it. I saw it, and I just reacted to what I saw.' It might sound funny, but I practice seeing how the ball breaks. I see a curving line with the ball going in the hole," Faxon says. "I see that every day and never change."