The Long and The Short Game

Golf is a very technical sport made up of many aspects.  The key to becoming a good golfer is to master each of these aspects and combine them during as round of golf.  Some players will always be stronger at some elements of golf compared to others but at the top of the sport, the professionals are very proficient at the them all.

Golf can be split into four different aspects and these are:

The Drive:  The first shot of a hole hit off the tee using one of the longest clubs in the bag, such as the driver.

The Fairway Shot:  Often the second shot on a hole, this is played from on the fairway using a selection of clubs ranging from hybrids to 6 iron.

The Approach Shot:  A shot hit towards the green or towards the hole usually using a short iron.

The Putt:  A shot played on the green using the putter to try and roll the ball into the hole.

These are simple definitions of what each of the four elements of golf contain.  To master them is not easy and will take a lot of practice.  However, if you can combine each of the elements together you have the makings of a very successful round of golf.

Who knows, you could come out on top in the Steve Mitchell Golf Classic.  Let’s take a look at each of the four aspects in detail and see what you can do to make improvements and take your golf game to the next level.

The Drive

Every shot on the golf course is very important but you want to get off to a good start and that makes the driver vital.  The key to a good drive is to get the ball in the prime position on the fairway for your next shot.

That doesn’t mean trying to the hit the ball as far as you can with the driver.  You must think about where you want the ball to land to make your next shot as easy as possible.  It may be that you do not want to hit it the full distance of your driver and you may choose to use a different, shorter club off the tee to get you in prime position.

Pay attention to any hazards on the course which could see you in trouble.  Fairway bunkers and water are the two most common but the rough can also cause problems.  Accuracy is more important than distance, especially in the early stages of your golfing career.  Get the ball in play on the fairway.

The clubs you will need to use for the drive include the driver, 3 wood, 5 wood, hybrid and the longer irons, such as a 3 iron for example.  Which you decide to use will depend on how far you need to hit the ball and how accurate you need to be.

Which clubs you buy for the drive is a personal choice.  You may want a driver with a lot of forgiveness if you struggle to control the ball off the tee or you may want a driver which provides maximum distance if you are a confident player.  The loft of the driver will also have an impact on your drive.  If you have trouble getting the ball into the air, you may want to get a driver with more loft and vice-versa.

When it comes to a drill to help with driving the ball, many people assume you must be at the driving range.  This is not true and there is one drill in-particular which you can use at home, assuming you have got a back garden.  Find a patch of grass in your garden which is roughly the same length as your tee.  If your grass is too short, place a tee in the ground and allow a patch to grow to the same height.  Make swings with the driver but instead of hitting a ball, have the head of the driver skim across the top of the grass.

The bottom of the driver should touch the tips of the grass on the way through.  You should be sweeping across the grass and in doing so learning to hit the ball on the up rather than hitting down on the ball.  If you do not have a garden you can always buy a small rug which has pile the same length as your tee and practice in an open space in the house.

Try it and see what difference it makes to your drive the next time you are at the practice range.  Think about the sweeping motion and skimming the top of the grass.

While distance off the tee is not crucial to begin with, the better you become the further you are going to want to hit the ball.  Some par-4 holes could become driveable for example and that would give you a big advantage.  The oblique muscles help to turn the torso and rotation is very important when trying to drive the ball a long way.  To become a good driver of the golf ball you need strong obliques.  The rotational power strong obliques will give you will help to drive the ball further.

One great and simple exercise you can complete is lifting a suitcase.  You can fill the suitcase with whatever you like to give it some weight but do not try and lift anything which is difficult and uncomfortable.  Pick up the suitcase using one arm and walk to the other side of the room before turning back to your starting position.  Do this using both arms and complete 10 short walks inside the room.

The Fairway Shot

When playing a par-5 hole and even on some long par-4 holes, you are going to be left with a shot on the fairway which is not always going to reach the green.  You may be able to reach the green using a longer club but you will not have the same control as you would on an approach shot, which we will come to shortly.

A fairway shot is a shot from on the fairway but the ball still needs to travel a long way to reach the green or to set you up for an approach shot.  Much like the drive, you must consider where you want to leave the ball to give yourself the best distance and angle of attack to the green.  It is all very well hitting the ball to within 50 yards of the green but if you play your best approach shots from 100 yards, it would be better to try and leave the ball 100 yards away from the green.

Always think about your next shot and where you want to leave the ball to make it as easy as possible for yourself. 

You will be using a range of clubs for the fairway shot.  It could be anything from a hybrid to a 5 or 6 iron.  You will need to decide exactly what you want from your irons before you buy them.  If you are fairly new to playing golf, you will want a set of golf irons which offer plenty of forgiveness.  This will help you keep the ball straight and on the fairway.  If you are a competent player, you have more options and you could choose something which gives you more distance but less in the way of forgiveness.  The easiest irons to hit for a beginner have a cavity back and although these tend to only start at 5 iron, you can use a nice, forgiving hybrid to make up for the longer irons you are missing.  You could also choose to hit a fairway wood and we will find a drill below which will help you when playing a fairway shot using a wood.

Forged irons on the other hand are aimed at players who are looking for more distance.  The sweet spot is reduced but the feel and distance which can be imparted on the ball is excellent and that’s exactly what good players are looking for in their irons.

However, for those players using a fairway wood or a hybrid, there is one drill which will help you hit the ball nicely.  Push a tee into the ground so the head of the tee is sitting just above ground level.  Much like the driver drill above, you do not need a ball to practice this drill which makes it one you can practice anywhere you have short grass.  Address the tee as if you would a golf ball and swing at the tee.  You should be hitting the tee first and then the ground in-front of the tee, which is your divot.  The tee should break and if the ground is firm you should see the tee fly out of the ground and go backwards.

Try doing this drill using a hybrid club until you can consistently make the tee fly backwards or at least break it each time.  It is advisable use old tees for this drill or to buy a bag of cheap tees.

Good stability is the foundation to a good fairway shot, whether you are using a fairway wood, hybrid or long iron.  A good exercise to work on your stability is to hold a club out horizontally in-front of you using your normal stance, much like a weightlifter would when using barbells.  The core muscles in your body should be working at this point and ready for action.  Now turn to the top of your swing, flexing your back knee as you normally would for the shot and you can feel where the power and stability is coming from.

You can do this exercise at home or at the golf course and it will help your stability when playing fairway shots.

The Approach Shot

The approach shot is the shot which takes the ball from the fairway to the green.  You may face a shot from the rough or a fairway hazard but for this article we are assuming you are playing your approach shot from the fairway.

We are also going to take the approach shot as being within comfortable distance for most golfers.  In other words, you are not needing to use a hybrid or long iron to reach the green, you can do so comfortably with the shorter irons.

There are different types of approach shot which you will need in your arsenal depending on how far away from the green you are when playing the shot.  The pitch is a high approach shot which sees the ball go high into the air and land on the green without any additional bounce or roll.  These are usually played using a wedge.

A flop shot is another approach shot which sees the ball go high into the air and it stops shortly after landing on the green.  This is a useful shot when there is something blocking the path between the ball and the green, such as a bunker or water for example.  These are played using a sand wedge or lob wedge as they generate the most height on the ball.

A chip shot is a lower approach shot and the balls rolls more when contacting the ground than the previous two approach shots.  These are played with a wedge or a short iron, such as 9 or 8 iron.

You should ensure you have at least an 8 iron, 9 iron, pitching wedge and sand wedge in your golf bag at all times, especially then playing the Steve Mitchell Golf Classic.  You will also need to play a shot out of a bunker at some stage and that’s where the sand wedge comes into play. 

Which of the approach shots you decide to play will be determined by how far away from the green you are and the lie of the ball.  If you are in the bunker, your choice is made for you but if you are om the fairway you will need to analyse what is in-front of you and make your decision.

Sometimes, if you are close to the edge of the green and the path to the hole is clear, you may opt to use the putter.

What short irons and wedges you decide to buy will depend on your level of play.  Much like the fairway shot above, you can purchase irons and wedges which offer plenty of forgiveness but not as much control and vice-versa.  If you are confident in your shot-making ability, you will want short irons which allow you full control and creativity over the shot.

There is one thing in-particular you need to do which will help on your approach to the green.  You must know the average distance you can hit the ball with each of your shot irons.  The approach shot needs to be precise and you do not want to be making a key approach shot to the green only to be guessing which club is best to use.

Go to the practice range and hit 50 balls with each of your short irons and wedges.  Remove the longest five shots and the shortest five shots and work out the average for each club with the 40 shots that remain.  This will give you an accurate distance, on average, you can expect the ball to travel when using that club.  Knowing this will give you great belief when it comes to playing an approach shot.

In addition, take time to practice each of the different approach shots highlighted above.  Know which club you play each shot with best and you can rest assured that whatever style of approach is required, you know the club to use to make it a good shot.

Putting

The putt is the final shot you will play on the hole unless you happen to hit a hole in one or your approach shot drops.  The putt is a short distance shot using a club called the putter.  It involves rolling the ball across the green and into the hole.  It may sound easy compared to the other three shots above but for some people, putting is the most difficult shot to play.

Putting can be a very complicated business.  There are many tips available for how to hold the putter for example but the best way to get started is to hold it how it feels most comfortable for you.  There is no right or wrong way to hold the putter and you will find professional players have various styles of grip.

If you are unsure of where to start, the reverse overlap is probably the most common.  For right handed players, place your left hand on the grip and just below that add your right hand to the grip.  You can link the hands by lifting the index finger of your left hand and wrapping it over the fingers of your right hand.

With this grip in position, you can make small adjustments to make it feel comfortable for you.

Purchasing the right putter is not easy and if you go into the golf store, you will find a huge choice of styles and sizes.  The length of the putter and the style of the head are the two biggest considerations and all you can do is try them.  Play some putts with them and see which feels best.  Everyone is different when it comes to putting so do not be afraid to try a range of putters before making a purchase.

Playing a putt requires attention to detail.  You must consider the speed of the green and how much power you need to generate for the ball to reach the hole.  However, you must also look for any breaks in the putt.  Is there a slope on the green which will take your ball away from the hole if you hit it straight at the hole?  If the answer is yes, you need to think about what direction you need to hit the ball to account for the break.  This will often be away from the hole and can seem quite strange at first but you will soon get used to it.

You also need to check if the ball is travelling uphill or downhill to the hole.  You will need to hit the ball more firmly if going uphill but with less power if the ball is travelling down to the hole.  In an ideal situation, when playing the approach shot above, you will try and leave your ball below the hole so you have a putt uphill rather than down.

If you are left with a very long putt, sometimes it is best to try and get the ball close to the hole, without actually aiming directly to get it in the hole.  The reason for this is because if the green is very undulating, by taking an aggressive putt to try and get the ball in the hole, you could end up being far away again if you miss.  By playing what is known as a ‘lag putt’ you can get the ball close to the close and tap the ball in on your second putt.

The key to a good putt is keeping the head of the putter straight through impact.  To help with that during practice, take two tees and place them 4 feet away from the hole so they are just wide enough apart for the head of your putter to fit through.  Try hitting 10 putts using your bottom hand only and then 5 using both hands.  Set yourself a goal of how many putts you need to make before finishing your practice.

Using the information above and working on both the long and short game, you should be in good shape for the Steve Mitchell Golf Classic.

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