On tournament days, I'm already warmed up when I arrive at the course. No matter how early my tee time, I'll get to the gym and break a sweat first. That way, I'm ready to go so those first swings at the range aren't lazy ones to get loose.
Right from the start, I'm trying to hit each ball solid and hear that flush sound with my irons. If I'm not hearing it, I don't panic. I can usually figure out what's happening with my swing by going through these checkpoints.
1) Are my feet, knees, hips and shoulders square?
Sometimes I ask my caddie, Skovy [Joe Skovron], but you can get a good idea by looking down. You should perceive a bunch of parallel lines pointing just left of your target.
2) How's my posture?
Now and again I get too bent over, with my head low. The fix is to stand taller and look up a bit. I like how my neck looks long in this photo. My torso has plenty of room to rotate under it.
3) Am I overswinging?
Nothing ruins your timing like bringing the club back too far and too fast. To keep my backswing nice and compact, I try to feel width—that my hands are far away from my body. Wide swings also tend to be shorter and smoother.
4) Am I making ball-first contact?
I know I am on this shot because my feet are rolling forward. Getting to your front side helps you hit the ball first.
I know what you're thinking: Just four things, Rick? Way more than that can go wrong in my swing. That might be so, but alignment, posture, swing length and contact will take care of a lot. If you can get your body primed and then cover those checkpoints, you'll flush it more often.
And if you hit your first couple shots great, don't bother with the checkpoints. In golf, the fewer thoughts, the better.
Don't you hate when this happens: You rip a drive down the middle and end up in a divot? Better players need to know how to hit this shot on the green. If the divot is bare earth, the key is to swing down more steeply to ensure ball-first contact. Play the ball back, lean to your front side, and go down and get it. If the divot has been filled with sand, you can afford to be more shallow through impact, like a normal swing. In either case, you don't have to club down. Make an aggressive swing, and the ball will fly its usual distance with any iron.