Practice Makes Perfect: Learning to Enjoy the Allure of Golf

Even the pros have to brush up on their skills. If your game needs a little refreshment, study up on these areas before your next adventure on the links.

Imagine being at a golf outing with friends, family members or co-workers. It’s time to tee off and you’re ready to impress everyone by showing off your game.

You line up the ball, take a deep breath and swing. Moments later, you let out a defeated sigh as your ball sails into the trees.

What just happened? Was it jitters? Bad posture? Bad equipment? Maybe it was a combination of all three, you wonder.

Golf is a tough and sometimes frustrating sport, but it doesn’t have to be. Given the right kind of guidance and equipment it’s possible to land that next tee shot right in the middle of the fairway. It’s never too late to study up. Even the best golfers are constantly refining their skills.

“Take one shot at a time and if you have a bad hole, let it stay on that hole and move on,” says Jordan Zellman, manager of golf instruction and programs with the Rockford Park District. “You can’t dwell on the bad, especially while playing.”

PGA: Posture, Grip and Alignment

Andrew Schlupp, head golf professional at PrairieView Golf Club, in Byron, Ill., is always reminding golfers about the PGA – that is: posture, grip and alignment.

“Those are three very important things that help beginners get in a good setup position,” he says.
Schlupp teaches good posture by positioning golfers in a stance where their knees are slightly flexed with a good bend at the waist.

When it comes to the grip, there are three types that golfers can use. There’s a baseball grip, where all 10 fingers are on the club. There’s an interlock grip, where right-handed golfers interlock their left index finger with their right pinky finger (this is one of the more popular options, and the concept also works for left-handers). The overlap grip is where a right-handed golfer’s right pinky finger overlaps in between their left index and middle finger.

“I explain these three grips and let the golfer dabble with all three of them,” Schlupp says. “Everyone is going to have different preferences, but it’s imperative that whichever grip you choose feels the most comfortable to you.”

As far as alignment, golfers should make sure their feet, hips and shoulders are all working together and aimed parallel to their intended target.

Schlupp says he often sees people aim well left or right of their target in an effort to play the slice (a shot too far to the right) or a hook (a shot too far to the left). The problem with this approach, though, is it creates bad habits in the golf swing.

“That’s certainly not the way to play golf,” Schlupp says.

Jeff Hartman, golf pro and manager at Park Hills Golf Course, in Freeport, sees the same effects at his course. When teaching lessons, he starts by focusing on the right equipment.

“Even though there are 14 clubs in your bag, you only have one swing,” he says. “The driver is more difficult to hit, so we never start with the driver. Instead, we always start with a 9 iron and in the next lesson, we may go down to a 7 iron.”

Once golfers get comfortable with those clubs, which are suited for shorter distances, Hartman then explains how to use the driver and fairway wood, both of which will impact your long game.

“Golf takes some talent and some hand-eye coordination,” he says. “If you also have athletic ability, you can learn the fundamentals and basics to become a really good golfer.”

Lynn Blevins, head golfing professional at Ingersoll Golf Course, in Rockford, compares the proper golf swing to another fun outdoor activity.

“The most similar move to a good golf swing is skipping a rock,” she says. “So, if you’re a good rock skipper, you’re on the way to a successful golf swing.”

Why’s that? Because both activities require successful rotation, balance and repetition. Strong abdominal muscles make all the difference. Contrary to some popular beliefs, a proper golf swing is about much more than simply swinging one’s arms. Your entire body needs to work together in one fluid motion.

“If you will think more rotation and lower body strength, you’ll get better,” Blevins says. “Think of standing in a barrel and if you hit the side, you’ll get shocked. Turn; don’t lift and chop.”

Before You Tee Off

Before you step to the first tee of the day, make sure to spend a few minutes warming up. Stretch and loosen your muscles so they’re ready to move.

“This does several things for your game,” Blevins says. “It’ll help keep you from injury and also allow your body to rotate better to make a correct golf swing.”

Once loose, Zellman says it’s important to have a plan of action before playing each hole. Close your eyes and envision where you want the ball to go with your first shot. Consider your strategy for getting the ball to the green and what obstacles you’ll have to face.

“It’s crazy to me that with just a couple of seconds, you can either create a smart or poor shot,” he says. “A way to overcome this is just thinking through your shots and having a good pre-shot routine. It’s a lot easier to execute a great shot when you have a good routine, because all the guessing is gone before you swing.”

Jeremiah Pike, vice president and club manager at Pine Hills Golf Club, in Ottawa, Ill., agrees. He says beginning golfers should ask themselves what’s the safest route to the green. This will help to dictate every other shot on the hole.

“When you the approach the ball, take a deep breath, relax all the muscles in your body, visualize your shot, keep your eye on the ball and swing,” he says.

Just Relax

Sam Stoddard, general manager of Woodbine Bend Golf Course, in Stockton, Ill., says the biggest tip he can give golfers is to swing calm and easy.

“There have been billions, if not trillions, of dollars invested into the technology of a golf club and ball, so let them do their job,” he says. “The golfer’s job is to slow down and make sure that the club and ball make contact correctly.”

Tensions and nerves might be high when it comes time to play golf, especially in the beginning holes. Pike says it’s important to relax and take the game as it comes.

“Success in golf is largely through a mental game,” he says. “Too often, players overthink certain situations.”
An example of this, Pike says, is spending too much time watching the scorecard. Many golfers mentally add their strokes even before a round is completed.

“People look at the scorecard and think if they par these last two holes, they’ll beat their all-time best and then they end up double-bogeying the next hole,” he says. “Staying focused on all of your shots is the hardest part of golf.”

Remember that even the best golfers get a little jittery on the course, Pike adds. The best way to overcome those jitters is to trust your instincts.

“If you’re in a tournament, use your favorite club you can hit the farthest,” he says. “Who cares if you’re 100 yards behind the others in your group? It’s all about getting in that comfort zone and not trying to impress anyone. Taking a deep breath and relaxing your body is good for those caught up in the moment.”

Finding the Right Equipment

Golfing equipment has come a long way over the years. What you’ll find on the market today has been carefully engineered to make your game better – but only if you know how to use it.

“Golf clubs started as a tool that shepherds would use to hit rocks at predators and to keep sheep in line,” Stoddard says. “They’ve gone from only metal irons to wooden woods and back to metal woods.”

Finding the right type of club is all about comfort, adds Zellman. In his mind, comfort overrules all of the other important considerations, like club length, grip size and shaft flex.

“No matter the cost or brand, if it doesn’t fit you, then it won’t give you the best outcome,” he says. “You wouldn’t wear the wrong size shoes, so why should you play with clubs that don’t fit you?”

For someone just starting out, Schlupp recommends clubs made by Tour Edge Golf. It’s a good middle-of-the-road brand that approaches the quality of Titleist or Callaway without the hefty pricetag.

U.S. Kids Golf is well-suited for youngsters who are learning the game. This brand is designed for people shorter than 5 feet.

“We use U.S. Kids Golf clubs in our rental program in the summertime, and most of the kids are beginners,” says Schlupp.

For the average and beginning golfers, Hartman says golf balls made by Pinnacle work great.

“That’s more of a distance ball, because the average golfer wants more distance,” he says. “That ball doesn’t spin a lot, so if you have a slice, you won’t have as big a slice because it’s not spinning as much as a Titleist ProV1. It all depends on the caliber of player.”

Put it All Together

All of these tips won’t matter if golfers don’t practice their craft. To become a better golfer, it’s important to put time and energy into practicing. That means working out the kinks at the driving range, the park or even in your backyard. Remember, golf’s greatest legends are always honing their skills.

Duncan Geddes, head golf professional and general manager at Aldeen Golf Club, in Rockford, says all players can benefit from the help that a professional provides.

“Find a good instructor that you’re comfortable with and set goals for where you would like to see your game go,” he says. “Make sure you play and you practice. Time on the course and time on the range will make you a more well-rounded player.”

If you’re in a time crunch but still want to practice, Schlupp suggests working on putting first.

“You can take a lot of strokes off your game by just practicing your putting once or twice a week,” he says.

Hartman stresses the importance of putting because the math is so apparent. If a golfer shoots par, they should have right around 36 shots and 36 putts. That means the short game – chipping and putting – makes up about half of your strokes.

“It’s very important to spend at least one golf lesson on chipping, putting and learning the short game,” he says.
Golf can be a great outdoor activity to enjoy with friends, family and co-workers. The game can be even more fun with the right combination of equipment, skills and confidence.

“Golf is such a fun sport but can also be very daunting because of how long it takes and the mental capacity you have to use,” Zellman says.

“My advice for both beginner and intermediate golfers is to set goals within your practicing. The more you define your goals, the more improvement you’ll see and the happier and more successful you’ll be on the course.”