Hard to believe, but summer is almost gone, and Labor Day weekend marks one of the busiest golf weekends of the year for amateurs. Whether you’re playing in a tournament, have a couple rounds lined up or an ambitious three-day holiday buddies trip, you need some solid advice to set you up to play your best.
With the help of four Golf Digest 50 Best Teachers, we’ve got you covered. Michael Breed, Randy Smith, Jason Guss and Brandon Stooksbury have chipped in their favorite last-minute tips to get you thinking about the right stuff this weekend—and through to the start of next season.
Improve Your Mental Game:
Michael Breed (Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher, Trump Links at Ferry Point, New York City)
This weekend, I want you to keep track of two things: First, it’s the number of birdies. Those are the scores that make you feel good, obviously. The other score I want you to keep is the number of times you hit a shot with a negative thought in your mind. After every round you play, total up that number and make sure the next round you play, the number gets smaller.
There’s a direct correlation between score and the number of negative thoughts. I bet you'll find that in your game. What’s awesome about that is thinking well—something you have totally under your own control—is an easy way to play better and have more fun. Just decide that if you have a negative thought when you’re setting up over it, you aren’t going to swing.
For me, I'd take this weekend and establish one thing in my golf swing that I know I should do, I know I neglect, I know I always mess up on. Spend one session just working on that little deal on the practice tee. That's how you get to the point of eliminating those weaknesses from your game.
Keep it Simple:
Randy Smith (Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher, Royal Oaks Country Club, Dallas)
When you play this weekend, make a deal with yourself that there’s only going to be one mechanical thing you're going to think about. It's the one small feel. I'm going to get the club going back a little in front of me to free up my arm swing, or I'm going to make sure I line up more left, whatever it might be for you. Stick with that one thing. Take the last day before the event and establish one thing in your golf swing that you know you do but you always neglect. Spend one session just working on eliminating that weakness.
Then when you play, don't be thinking of a hundred things, or changing things drastically when you start to hit bad shots. That leads to frustration. Instead of enjoying the end of your summer, you're going to end up wanting to go home. At this point of the season, you're not looking for something magical. You're trying to get as close as you can to your regular game. Where you're doing the good and bad things you normally do, predictably.
I’ve seen some common threads among the club players that thrive in competition—whatever their handicap is. It's mental. Not physical. It’s the attitude of, I'm doing this . . . . If I screw it up, I'm going to screw it up with vigor. The players who try to be careful and avoid mistakes—that timid stuff doesn't work. You have to not be afraid to see a big number by your name.
The One Full Swing Tip You Need:
Jason Guss (Golf Digest Best in State, Hawk Hollow Golf Club, Bath, Mich.)
If I had to give one piece of advice that works for almost everybody, it’d be extend your arms. It has huge importance on both the backswing and through-swing. Extension of the arms in the backswing helps promote more turn and creates a wider arc, which is so important for rhythm and tempo. If you can get your rhythm and tempo solid, you’re on the fast track to playing well.
When you’re swinging through the ball, extension of the arms dramatically improves the consistency of your ball-striking. It generates power, and it helps pull your weight toward the target, which moves the low point of the swing forward. When your low point is more forward, you’re going to avoid the thin shots that can be so damaging to your score.
Go warm up for your next round and say to yourself “Extend the arms” right before you take the club back. Make it your one, simple swing thought and I promise you’ll play better. And wear sunscreen!
The One Short-Game Tip You Need:
Brandon Stooksbury (Golf Digest Best in State, Idle Hour Golf & Country Club, Macon, Ga.)
A lot of players have a general understanding that they need to be shifted “forward” for a short-game shot, but they get the details wrong. You need to make your head and chest bump toward the target as you make a chip or pitch swing, NOT your hips.
This is often the opposite of what most people consider or feel in the full swing, where they let the lead hip bump forward to make a weight shift. In the short game, you have to keep your chest over or in front of the ball at all times during the swing. If you get tilted away from the target with your upper body in the short game—especially with finesse shots—you’re doomed! It prevents you from controlling the bottom of the arc and shaft lean—the effective loft on the face—through the shot. But that backward upper-body tilt is exactly what happens if you make that hip bump toward the target a part of your short game. Remember, keep your chest over the ball the whole time, or make it and your head the things that move toward the target—not your hips.