GOLFERS’ techniques seem to get better every year. With video technology, quality coaching programs and equipment these days being much more forgiving, it allows players to stand there and smash the ball incredible distances. Add up all this and there are some very talented young players around.
My growing concern is they’re becoming too one-dimensional. Hitting a nice full shot is no problem, but when a soft, high fade or a hard, low draw is needed, it’s not in their arsenal.
They’re too dependent on a yardage and relating that number to a particular club in the bag. That’s fine on a soft course in good weather but on a tight, firm layout or when conditions are tricky, they get found out – stuck trying to hit their usual ball flight when anything but that is required.
I learned how to shape and flight the ball early on. At nine years of age, my first set contained only seven clubs: a 2-wood, putter, 3, 5, 7, 9-iron and sand wedge. None of them matched, with different heads, grips and shafts on each one so I had to vary my swing depending on the club and create shots different to the norm. Without a laser or yardage book back then, I ‘eyeballed’ each shot, feeling my way around the golf course. As my game improved I graduated to a full set after joining Mt Lawley Golf Club in Perth. The winding layout, coupled with the afternoon sea breezes, meant my shot-making skills were always put to the test.
My favourite game for young pros and good amateurs to improve shot-making and creativity is to play using only half a set with no rangefinders or yardage books. I play this way quite often in social rounds to keep things interesting. Some days I’ll use odd-numbered irons, other days the evens along with a driver, putter and sand wedge. With no yardages to rely on, I look at the target, see the shot and feel the swing needed to execute it. I’ll hit low shots, high ones, draws, fades and combinations of all these depending on what’s required. Having no distances will really help your feel and you’ll be surprised how often you’re pin-high after playing this way for a while.
My coach, Neil Simpson, told me a story from when he played with the legendary Kel Nagle way back when in the Victorian Open. He said they both hit shots into a par 3 that finished pin-high. Kel’s ball flight seemed very low so Neil asked him what club he’d used. Kel said, “5 iron.” Having hit an 8-iron, Neil asked him why the 5-iron? “What does it matter?” Kel replied. “I’m pin-high.” In other words, he saw a vastly different shot to the one Neil saw, but it was the right shot for him.
To begin, most golfers tend to struggle having no distances to gauge things. They’re indecisive about what club to use and don’t fully commit to shots. But give it time and you’ll start ‘playing’ the game of golf again.
So if you really want to challenge yourself (and lighten your bag a little), tee it up with a half-set and get back to playing like a kid again. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it, and might even surprise yourself with the score you write down.
To get your copy of Nick O’Hern’s new book Tour Mentality: inside the mind of a tour pro order online at www.nickohern.com