Tom Dorsel

Golf analyst Peter Kostis often mentioned a distinction between playing “golf” and playing “golf swing.”  At first I struggled with the distinction, but now I realize that “golf” is everything other than the mechanics of the full “golf swing.”

The golf swing is like the engine of a car.  It is absolutely important and essential, but once it is built, it pretty much does its job with minimal regular attention.  Of course, with a car you check your oil and go in for tune-ups, but you don’t do that for hours everyday.  Similarly, you don’t practice your full golf swing and check every little mechanical aspect of it for hours everyday.

What does need constant attention, however, is how to drive the car — that is, be a skilled operator in handling the details and unexpected things that happen while driving.  The engine isn’t worth much if you can’t drive it.

Similarly, that beautiful full golf swing isn’t worth much if you can’t take it to the course and navigate it down the fairway with all that goes on between the tee and that pesky 4.25 inch hole.

Short Game

To say it more directly, quit hitting your driver for two hours on the range, and get over to the short game area and spend all day there.  Think about it: In some tournaments the pros might hit only 5 or so drivers.  But they always hit, say, 30 putts.  At 30 putts, that would be 6 times as many putts as 5 drivers in a round of golf.  But do we practice putting 6 times as much as driving?  Heck, No!  Putting is boring compared to those exciting, towering, 300-yard drives.

Furthermore, in a round of even par, if a pro has 30 putts, that means he or she must have had 6 critical pitches, chips or sand shots that contributed to his or her 6 one-putts to shoot even par.  So one way or another you are likely to have 36 of your 72 shots, fully half of your game, around the green complexes, chipping or putting.  And yet juniors keep pounding the long ball on the range, hoping to get a few more yards that won’t likely mean a thing for their overall score.

So, the main point here is that you have to start spending a lot more time on the short game.  Go ahead and visit the range for a half hour and check out your swing keys and such. But then move quickly to the short game area and stay there a long time.  Make up games, keep records, put some pressure on yourself by meeting various criteria before you quit.  Take your friends with you and match shots.  Have fun with it, and you will more likely want to do it.

Course Management

The second big thing that juniors are missing is getting out on the course and practicing course management.  When the pros aren’t hitting their drivers during a tournament round, they are taking clubs that put them in the safest and most strategic parts of the fairways.  They are thinking ahead to the best angles and openings into the greens, their favorite clubs and shot selections, aiming for friendly putts, and exercising appropriate aggressiveness when they have a “green light special” (a la Johnny Miller).  They are also taking hazards out of play and doing damage control when that becomes necessary, implementing wise lay-ups to safe spots resulting in friendly recovery shots.  In effect, they are placing the ball around the course like a game of chess.

That is what you practice out on the course.  See how many strokes you can save yourself, rather than how many you can try to gain with gargantuan drives, tee shots that can also get you in a lot of trouble.  You don’t necessarily have to keep score when doing “course management” practice.  Just work on placing the ball around the course, taking shots over till you get them right.

Another benefit of practicing on the course is that you get the “real thing” when it comes to demands on your short game, such as lies and shot angles you couldn’t even dream up in the practice area.  Note these unusually challenging situations that you encounter for future practice, since it might be just such a shot that someday will stand between you and winning a tournament.  How many tournaments are won by one special shot that the winner could do, while the runners-up could not.

I implore juniors who are watching the Masters to take special note of the short game skills and course management displayed by the pros during this challenging tournament — the clubs they hit, where they place their ball around the course, the amazing, scrambling, short-game shots they hit.  You can learn a lot from just watching how the experts play during a televised tournament.

Dr. Tom Dorsel is Professor Emeritus at FMU, currently splitting his time between Hilton Head and Pinehurst, working with promising golfers at both places.  His best-selling book is “GOLF: The Mental Game.”  Reach him at Dorsel.com.