Category Archives: Sandy Wagner Wisdom

Golf Goals – Get Focused, Keep Motivated

Doesn’t everyone want to get better at golf? Of course! And “get better at golf” means something different to each and every player. Maybe it’s a lower handicap, or a higher level of comfort and confidence. Maybe it’s all about having more fun with the game. Think about what “get better at golf” means to you. That’s the starting point for setting some measurable short-term goals for the new season. Goals keep us focused and motivated so let’s get to it…

A Goal is…

  • Not necessarily score-based, but measurable
  • Challenging and realistic – think Goldilocks, not too big, not too small, just right
  • Not in concrete – you can change them over the season
  • Documented. Write them in your golf journal. Don’t have a journal? Start one – there’s a measurable goal right there!

3 TYPES OF GOLF GOALS

1.  Performance Goals
Consider strengths and weaknesses in your game. Think about last year. Talk to your instructor. Pinpoint areas of weakness and make a plan to improve.

Example: Lower my putting average by 3 strokes by October

  • Take a putting lesson in May
  • Do a putter fitting to find out best type of putter for my swing
  • Find a set up routine that works and use it every time I putt
  • Practice putting 1/2 hour 3 times a week
  • Keep track of putting stats throughout the season

2.  Mental Goals
On the course we can go from confident to confused in a matter of minutes. Identify the mental skills you want to sharpen.  Facing down tension? Maintaining commitment? Staying focused on your game instead of what your partner is doing?

Example: Increase my comfort level playing golf

  • Join a league or be a sub for a league
  • Play that course you always avoid
  • Play a round alone – you’ll feel what relaxation can do for your game!
  • Play in one event this summer
  • Play on a Saturday or Sunday morning when the course is busy and everyone’s watching

3.  All-About-Fun Goals
Never forget why we play golf! It’s all about having a good time, and whether your personal definition of  “good time” is a championship trophy or a grandkid’s smile, there are lots of ways to get there. Here are some All-About-Fun Goals for the upcoming season. Be sure to make several!

  • Play in a charity event
  • Sign up for a competition and prepare to succeed
  • Take a lesson or clinic with a friend or two or three
  • Make a FIRM date with person you always mean to play with, and never have
  • Play with a kid – Huron Hills has Wee Tees!
  • Get 3 friends together for a golf get-away
  • Ask a new golfer to play with you
  • Go see some competitive golf in person

Write them down; make them yours. Golf goals are all about “getting better” one way or another!

Practice Like You Play on the Golf Course

Time to start the transition from practice to play!
Many of us have used the winter to improve and groove our golf mechanics. Love those heated tees! Now it’s time to start thinking about the golf course again. Let’s start to make our practices more like real play. And attention, you folks who put clubs in mothballs for the cold months, and you lucky souls who go south and play all year – making the range more like the course is a good move for everyone!

  • Visit your favorite course – in your head!
    On the range paint a picture of a specific hole. Bring the trees, bunkers, slope, etc. into focus – and don’t forget to add a dab of sunshine! Now plan your first shot. Determine the club, visualize the ball path, take your swing. Did you slice it right? Then go from there, visualizing the next shot from that position. You can have lots of fun with this drill. Picture your not-so-favorite hole and see what you can do with it!
  • Introduce some course-like stress into your practice.
    For example, select a target and try to hit it 3 times in a row. Keep at it until you do.
  • Use your pre-shot routine
    On the course a consistent routine is a player’s friend. It’s a comfort and confidence builder in times of pressure. So incorporate it into your practice! Step off the mat. Visualize your shot. Pre-season is the ideal time to develop the routine that works for you.
  • Master the mats and your alignment
    It’s easy to get on auto-pilot at the range, using the alignment of the mats to dictate our set up. Forget the mats! Put special emphasis on lining up on targets that are left and right. Alternate it.
  • Change it up
    Select different targets frequently. Move from club to club often. That’s more like course play. Hit some hybrids into a “fairway”. Try your using your wedge for 3 different distances. Hit long, hit short. Pull out your driver and give it a go. Get your brain – and your swing – working in a more course-like mode.

With some creativity we can make our practices more like real golf play. It’s time to make that transition – spring will be here before we know it.

Practice Away the Bunker Blues

How often does this happen? You’ve hit your ball into a bunker and now you stand over it, uncertain of what exactly to do. You take a swing.  The ball goes a few feet and lodges close to the lip of the trap. Now the lie is worse, your confidence is gone, and your mental game has unraveled. It’s the bunker blues.

If you hit a bunker ball without commitment and/or wrong technique, things can get worse fast. Here’s a practice routine and tips to conquer bunkers. Practice builds consistency, and consistency builds confidence and commitment. No one practices sand play enough!

THE DRILL
In a typical bunker shot we’re just moving sand. We’re not even making contact with the ball. So let’s practice that, and practice it a lot.

  1. Forget about the ball. Really. This drill begins with NO ball. Just you and your sand wedge.
  2. Make a line in the sand, maybe 6’ long and straddle it, positioning it slightly forward in your stance. Practice hitting the line. Work your way down the line, splashing sand out of the bunker.
  3. Now focus on your divots. Smooth out the sand and make a new line. Try to make dollar bill sized divots that start on the line and extend forward. Keep splashing sand out of the bunker.
  4. A bad divot is one that starts too far behind the line. The club takes too much sand, the shot loses energy, and the ball stays in the bunker.
  5. Now introduce a ball. Make a new line. Place several balls just on the front of it and practice making that same divot you’ve been practicing. You never actually make contact with the ball. Just splash the sand and the ball will follow!

SETUP AND SWING TIPS

  1. Open up club face (the face will be more UP)
  2. Think of  3 lefts
    1. Lean left with 60% of weight on left foot
    2. Aim left of target
    3. Position ball left of center
  3. Use pitch-chip or full pitch swing (see Sandy’s Cheat Sheet for specifics)

MAKE A NOTE
In your golf journal, keep track of what works and what challenges you in the bunker.

BE CONNECTED TO COMMITMENT
Treat every bunker the same. The sand may be different, conditions may be different –  simply commit to your shot.  You’ve practiced the fundamentals of the bunker shot, now go with it.  Splash it out and leave the bunker behind!


Putting for Distance – Getting It Close

Sandy’s Suggestions for Lag Putting

There are two things to concentrate on when putting – distance and direction.  While most players can putt in the direction of the hole, they often end up 10 feet short or 10 feet past it.  A 2-putt becomes a 3-putt and the score grows.  Controlling distance – lag putting – is essential for success on the green.

  • The key to lag putting is the size of your stroke.  Think about making your backswing the same size as your follow-through swing.  If you swing the putter back 10″, try to follow through the same distance.  Think of a pendulum.
  • Putt with a consistent pace, one that you are comfortable with.  With a constant pace, a steady tempo in back swing and follow-through, you simply control the distance by the length of your swing.
  • Don’t try to control distance by the force of your putting stroke, ie. “how hard or softly you hit the ball.”  Many players mistakenly try to hit a putt really slowly on short putts and really hard if they have a 30 footer.
  • Take the little muscles out of the equation.  Don’t use your wrists.  It’s an arm-shoulder-trunk muscle movement you’re after.
  • A consistent method of putting with solid contact makes it easier to adjust to variables such as moisture, grass conditions and, yes, wind.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  Putts are a good 1/3 of your game.  They deserve 20 minutes of your one-hour practice!

A good lag putt positions the golfer for a simple and easily makeable follow-up putt.  Kiss those 3-putts goodbye.

Chip It!

The next time you have a shot inside 30 yards of the green, ask yourself if you need loft or not. The rule of thumb is “when you don’t need loft, don’t use loft”. The chip shot, also called the bump and run, goes low and rolls a lot – it’s an easy and essential way to lower your score. Let’s take a look at the thinking and the mechanics of the chip shot.

Opt For The Chip Whenever You Can
Rolling a ball is easier and the consequences of a less-than-perfect roll are less dire than a high wedge shot gone wrong.

A Chip is a Cousin to the Putt
They both roll, but the in the chip shot the club has a little bit of loft on the face of the club. The putter has essentially no loft. That really is the only difference.

Select Your Club
You can use any club in your bag and yes that includes your hybrid! Try it – it could be your favorite short game shot. To select a club, look at your lie, the distance to the pin, and any obstacles between you and the green. You want a low trajectory that gets the ball to the predictable surface of green as quickly as possible.

Practice Makes Perfect  – Or Nearly So
You will want to practice with your clubs to see what each of them will do for you from the different distances but it will be time well spent. Having confidence in your chip will shave points from your score.

Chip Shot Mechanics
From my Instructional Cheat Sheet For Golfers

chip

  1. Position the ball near your right foot if you have a less lofted club and want more roll or in the middle of your stance if you have a more lofted club and want less roll.
  2. Your body weight is more on your left leg and leaning towards the target to create a slightly lower ball flight and more roll.
  3. Your left arm and shaft of club will form a straight line on our backswing and follow thru.
  4. AT IMPACT (the moment of truth) – your left arm and shaft of club HAS TO FORM A STRAIGHT LINE!!!
  5. You have to hit the bottom of the ball to make it go in the air. You can’t hit the middle or top of the ball and have it go in the air!
  6. The swing length is the same on both sides of your swing and no more than waist high on both sides.  Hold your finish on follow thru to see if your left arm and shaft are straight. Be your own instructor and learn to evaluate your finish.

Short & Sweet – The Pitch Shot

Take a good look at your last round of golf. Maybe you struggled a bit with the driver or approaches. Tally up the strokes though, and it’s obvious – it’s the short game that matters most. The biggest part of the game is played inside 100 yards.

If you are looking to lower your score – and who isn’t? — practice your pitch, chip and putt. You’ll build confidence and consistency, and melt strokes off your score this summer. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at the three short game shots.

THE PITCH SHOT
Let’s start with high-flyer, the pitch shot.

When to Pitch
The pitch has high trajectory and little roll. It takes you over obstacles like bunkers and creeks and is usually in the 45 – 65 yard range. A pitch lands softly on the green and stays there – a thing of beauty.

The Clubs – Wedges
Most players carry 2-3 wedges, a PW (pitching wedge) and a SW (sand wedge). The third club is a GW, the gap wedge. If PW has 48 degrees of loft on its face and SW has 56, the GW has 52. It fills the distance gap between the PW and SW. At a full swing, PW might go 80 yards, GW 70 yards, and SW 60 yards. In a pitch shot, the distance might be: PW: 40-50, GW: 30-40, SW 20-30. If you carry 3 wedges, you’ll have your distances covered inside 100 yards.

A Word about the Sand Wedge
Just because it says “Sand Wedge” doesn’t mean it’s only for sand! Not at all. The SW is your highest lofted club – so use it! When you don’t have much green to work with, a high, soft shot with SW will save the day.

Pitching Motto
The key to hitting a pitch is to hinge your wrist on the backswing. “Hinge for Height” is my motto!

Pitch Mechanics

  1. Position ball in middle of stance.  This produces a higher ball flight.
  2. Use your higher lofted clubs – PW, GW, SW
  3. Hinge your wrists (HINGE FOR HEIGHT) on backswing to form an “L” between club and your left arm.
  4. AT IMPACT (the moment of truth) – your left arm and shaft of club SHOULD FORM A STRAIGHT LINE!!!!!
  5. You must hit the bottom of the ball to make it go in the air.  Hitting the middle or top won’t work!
  6. To generate more distance, rotate the clubface as the club gets near the ball.  This gives the club head more energy/speed and makes the ball go farther.
  7. On Follow Through – your right arm and shaft will form an “L” and our right arm will be roughly parallel to the ground.
  8. Make sure your right palm faces the ground on your follow through to ensure that you rotated the club face as stated above.
  9. Use your legs to help hit the shot!  This is the strongest muscle group you have!  Your belt buckle will face target on follow through – meaning as you start your downswing, your weight will shift towards the target.
  10. Hold your finish on follow through! Be your own instructor and learn to evaluate your finish!

The above 10 steps to pitching comes from my “Instructional Cheat Sheet for Golfers” that’s posted on the web.  Take a look!

Golf Goals

Breaking records is great, but most snow in February? Give me a warm March day anytime! For a golfer, possibilities and promise are in the air, and it’s the perfect time to set achievable goals for the season. A goal is just a dream with a date attached – and who doesn’t love to dream after a long winter?

Whether it’s whittling your handicap 2 or 3 strokes, building assurance in your short game or confidence in competition, or just plain having more fun with golf, setting goals is an effective way to approach your game. Here’s my golf goals game plan:

  1. Start with the end in sight. What’s your dream? What’s your definition of a great golf season? Solve a slice, become a better putter, move up a flight in your league, make more time for golf. Pick one goal… or pick ten.
  1. Do a reality check.. We’d all like to be scratch golfers. Is it within the realm of possibility this season? Achievable goals make for big rewards. Golf is hard enough without overlaying it with outsized expectations.
  1. Make it challenging. Commit some energy and discipline to the cause.
  1. Define the how-to’s, the concrete steps to attain a goal. Want to have more fun with golf? Make a list of ideal partners and courses for the season, promise to stop editorializing after every bad hit, and toss in a feel-good charity event. You’d like to kiss your slice good bye? Why not start the season with 2 lessons, a commitment to a weekly practice and an honest assessment of your 10-year-old clubs?
  1. Write it down. Make it yours. Check out my earlier post on keeping a golf journal.

  1. Pin a date on it. Let’s say, the end of the season, by Labor Day, or before the snow flies. Cancel that last one. We are so done with thinking about snow!!!

Golf Journal Is A Golf Gem

There’s a fabulous golf improvement device, sure to improve your game, and it only costs a couple of dollars.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest office supply store and pick up a notebook and pencil.  It’s one of the greatest golf aids around — your own golf journal.

Golf is an endless LEARNING experience, so take notes!  Capture a lesson, log a practice, note a particular success on the course.

LESSONS LEARNED – AND RETAINED
Ever take a lesson, return to practice the following week and realize you’ve forgotten a lot?  Take time at the end of every lesson to review important points with your instructor.  Write them down – and write down your “homework” too.  You’re paying good money for this info – so keep it!

To start with, make two sections in your notebook:

  • “Before I Hit the Ball” –  Use this area to collect notes on grip, stance, posture, aim, ball position.
  • “When I Hit the Ball” –  Collect info on the swing itself, things like club path, club face, weight transfer, etc.

With your instructor’s help, note your tendencies in both areas and specific drills to improve these tendencies.  Use drawings, squiggles, stick people.  Get creative.  With this basic framework you will have a working system to capture – and remember – golf information that is personal to you.  This will be very helpful when you go out to practice.

SPEAKING OF PRACTICE
Log your practice sessions: what you’re working on, what’s successful, what’s not, ball trajectory, questions that arise.  All this info will be very useful, giving continuity to your practices and info you can share with your instructor next time you meet.

MORE IDEAS FOR YOUR GOLF JOURNAL
Expand your notebook and make it yours.  Use it to keep all kinds of info, memories and reminders.  Some thought-starters:

  • Current Calendar of Practice Club sessions!
  • Specific topics, like  ”Chipping – What To Remember” or “Putting – Ideas that Work”
  • Equipment Wish List – clubs, balls, etc
  • People & Places – List of fun folks and great courses to play this summer!
  • Golf books to read, Golf blogs to look at
  • On-course journal – logging games played, where, with whom, highlights, etc.

The sky’s the limit with the information you put in your journal – and with the benefit you get out of it.  People who keep notebooks refer to them when they feel their swing getting off.  They can start to solve their own flaws – and be their own instructor!

Fall is Prime Practice Time – Some Ideas To Try

With a little cooperation from Mother Nature and some smart clothing choices, we can enjoy golf on and on through the fall season. It’s a splendid time to work on your game – the courses aren’t crowded and you can accomplish a lot. Here are two fun practice ideas that I use with the Women’s Golf Team at Eastern Michigan. Don’t forget your wooly hat!

Car Trunk Lock-Away
One of the things I like to do is play a round of golf with just a few clubs, bringing along my least-used ones. Put the rest in the car trunk or you might be tempted to pull them out. Try using as few as 2 or 3 clubs; the experience will be very educational. I had my EMU team use only their odd or even golf clubs. Besides the feedback that their bags were lighter :) , they all liked the experience because they had to be creative and hit clubs different distances with smaller or bigger swings. Their creative side was turned on.

Six Club Up-and-Down
Choose 6 different clubs, maybe a hybrid, 5 iron, 7 iron, 9 iron, pitching and sand wedges. It can be any combination of clubs. Pick one spot to chip from. From that spot chip one ball to the hole and putt it out. In order to get an up-and-down, your score would be 2 – one chip and one putt. Try to get up and down with each of the 6 clubs. Women on the EMU team get up and down with those 6 clubs and do it in a row! That will be the most challenging up and down game you will ever play. Hole it or not, you will learn what those 6 clubs do when you chip them, and you’ll learn to pick a different landing spot for each club.

Unleash your creativity this autumn!

Don’t Put Those Clubs Away!

Words of wisdom from Eastern Michigan University Women’s Golf Coach and Kendall Academy Instructor

Summer’s winding down, autumn is in sight, and my ardent advice is, “Don’t put the clubs away!” Late summer and fall golf in Michigan can be downright glorious. There are so many reasons to keep swinging.

On the Course
End of summer the courses start to slow down. Tee times are easier to get, or not needed at all. When you’re one of just a handful of players out there, you have more time to play a shot or maybe even take an extra one without feeling rushed. As an added benefit, some courses offer slow-season price deals.

Here’s To Our Health!
Do something that you love and get exercise too – is there any better reason to continue golf in the off season? And let’s not forget the social positives of connecting with friends. And how about the stress buster aspects of being active and out-of-doors? Golf’s a hobby with health benefits – let’s keep it up.

Getting Better All The Time
Fall and winter (ok, I said that cold word!) are great times to work on your swing. I always see a slowdown in my lesson business the first part of September, and though that is partly due to my commitment to the Women’s Golf  Team at Eastern Michigan, the end-of-the-season golf slowdown is also at work. I encourage you to think about golf improvement year-round.

I have a Women’s Practice Club that starts up the first part of November and runs through mid-March. Many participants will tell you that though they aren’t scoring a ball during those months, they are improving their techniques and using repetitive motion to fix flaws and improve consistency. Not worrying about scoring can be the best kind of practice.

Picture It!
Golf is a game of mental imagery. Visualize your shot, picture the ball flight, see it headed to the cup. Off-season golf offers plenty of opportunities to practice the power of the mind. Work on mental imagery. You’re on your favorite course - it’s 80 degrees with a light breeze. In Winter Practice Club it’s fun to work on imagery drills . Picture green grass and sun shine! The looks on new winter practice members always give me a chuckle when the snow is flying!

We’re not ready to kiss summer goodbye just yet. There are too many good rounds to be had. But think ahead. Consider a lesson this fall or winter, and see where it takes you. (Lesson rates are also cheaper in the off-season) If you are looking for a fun weekly activity this winter,  consider the Women’s Winter Practice Club at Miles of Golf. Details will be coming soon. It’s the perfect way to beat Old Man Winter!

If you’re having difficulty scheduling a lesson with me because of my limited availability, just email me:  swagner2@emich.edu .  I’ll do everything I can to help you!