Golf Swing Drill: Learn the Golf Swing Release by Throwing a Stick Underhand

Symptom: Poor golf swing release on full shots, leading to weak shots that slice or tail off.

You know you ought to “get through the ball” and release the golf club better but just can’t figure out what golf release really means or how to actually do it…

Overview: Learn the proper golf swing release by throwing a stick.  Here’s how:

  • Find a stick about a yard long.
  • Pick a target about 30 yards away.
  • Set up as if you hitting a golf shot at your target.
  • Hold the stick in your right hand, as if it were a golf club.
  • Make a turn and throw the stick underhand to your target.

Why it works:  It is remarkably simple to get the feel of a proper golf swing release using this drill.  But the particulars or the drill are quite important:

  • The stick needs to be about a yard long, because that is about the length of a golf club.  Any longer, and you won’t be able to throw it underhand without scraping the ground.
  • You must throw it underhand (with your right hand) because the golf swing is basically an underhand motion with your right arm (for a right-handed player).
  • Throw it at specific target because this makes you focus on your aim, and will cause you to step and release towards your target, not just on throwing a stick a certain distance.
  • Aim it at a target about 30 yards away, because you need to throw the stick hard to get the feel of a proper golf release.  Any closer, and you won’t develop the necessary lag to fling the stick to the target.  Without the lag, you won’t execute the release and follow through properly.
Freddie Couples golf swing release golf release release golf club
Fred Couples beautifully releases his driver down the target line.

Golf Swing Release Made Easy

All it takes is a few throws of your stick to get the idea.  You will naturally stay down and centered over the (pretend) ball, and you will naturally generate a lot of lag.  Without having to worry about hitting a ball, your body will naturally do what is necessary to get your stick to your target. After throwing a few sticks, take some practice swings.  You will be amazed at how much more powerful and smooth your swing has become.  This is how it feels to release the golf club properly!

To see what a world-class release looks like, let’s call on Fred Couples.  Freddie’s release has been one of the best in the game for decades.  Have a look at the way he fires down the target line:

Run the video to 0:30, so it looks like the picture at the right.  Can you imagine if Freddie let go of the club at this point?  It would fly straight down the target line!  That’s the feel of the golf release you are looking for with this drill.

What other golf drill have you read that can improve your game, clean up your yard, or entertain your dog all at the same time?

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Golf Chipping Drill: Chip to a Spot for Golf Chipping Success

Symptom: Inability to hit your chosen landing spot when chipping.

So you have too few up-and-downs, too many big numbers, and lose too much money on the golf course.

Description: Use about five balls for the Backyard Chipping Drill, and find a grassy, open area for your practice.  Pick a spot to land your first chip, only a few feet away (a short chip is actually one of the toughest to execute) and hit the chip.  Next, try and land ball two on top of your first ball, which, of course, has rolled a few feet further away than your initial aiming point.  Then try to land ball three on top of ball two. And so on.  If all goes well, you will end up with five balls in a nice straight line.

Why it works: Chipping is a two step process — picking a landing spot and executing the chip so that you land where you are aiming.  This drill teaches you how to hit the ball different, unpredictable distances and directions, much like you will need to do on the golf course.  This drill will help improve your feel for chipping.

Backyard Chipping Drill

Give yourself a good lie for each chip at first.  Once you are good at this drill, however, you should play every ball where it lies, even if (or especially if) it nestles down in the grass.  You will find that your lie has a huge influence over the type and strength of chip you need to hit in order to land on your chosen target.

With each successive chip, you will need to land the ball further and further away.  Fairly rapidly, you will begin to develop a “feel” for what sort of strike is necessary to carry the ball different distances.

Tiger Woods picks a spot to land his chip shot
Tiger Woods picks a spot to land his chip shot at the 16th hole on Augusta National.

Your scoring and confidence will improve dramatically with The Backyard Chipping Drill.  The ability to land the ball on your aiming point is a skill that will serve you well on every golf course, no matter how hard or easy, fast or slow. (Where to land the ball, by contrast, could vary greatly from course to course.  For example, a high-end course might have very fast greens, and so you would pick a different landing spot than you might at the local public course, for the same length of chip.)

Tiger Picks His Spot

Certainly, Tiger’s chip in at the 2005 Masters is an example of this.  He probably did not practice this particular shot, with the collar in back of his ball and the lightning-fast Augusta National greens to navigate.  But he picked out a landing point (noted by Vern Lundquist at 0:57 in the video) that made sense, and executed his chip by trying to land on his chosen spot.  Of course the rest is history — have a look:

The Backyard Chipping Drill is the most realistic golf practice most Occasional Golfers can get without heading off to the driving range!  A few minutes a day will bring rapid reduction in your handicap!

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Golf Chipping Tip: Your Putter is Often Your Best Chipping Club

Symptom:  You pull out your sand wedge from the fringe, thinking its your best chipping club, but the results are no good.  You seldom converting up-and-downs from just off the green.  The best golf chipping tip you’ve heard so far doesn’t seem to help.  Expletives are uttered…

Description: If you can putt the ball, you should putt the ball.  Put away your wedge and use the putter for more consistency and better scores.

Ryo Ishikawa putting through the fringe instea of chipping best golf chipping club beset golf chipping tip
Ryo Ishikawa elects to putt from the fringe instead of chip.

Why it works: Around the green, and especially from the fringe, most Occasional Golfers will get the ball closer to the hole with their putter than a wedge.  If the ball is on the fairway in front of the green, or the fringe around the green, or anywhere where the golf ball can travel across the grass without too much impediment, PUTT IT!  It will save you strokes on the golf course.

The Best Golf Chipping Tip is — Putt!

After all, you can hit the ball with any club, no matter where you happen to be.  You can hit putter off the tee if you want.  Or you can hit driver on the green.  There is no rule preventing this!

Ryo Ishikawa knows this — even though his ball is in the fringe, he knows a putt is the best percentage play since there’s not much rough to go through — have a look:

Ignore the Well-Meaning Best Golf Chipping Tip

Often, well-meaning golf teachers and tour pros and golf commentators talk about chipping with a seven iron and such, to carry just on to the green and “get the ball rolling on the green as quickly as possible”.  This sounds reasonable, and I often hear this advice regurgitated from my playing companions.

However, my experience is that this doesn’t work very well unless you practice this a lot.  It is good advice for tour pros who are trying to hole out such shots.  But, you and I are not tour pros.  We are mostly worried about getting up and down, and if the ball goes in the hole, that is a bonus.

You will do better by either a) putting the ball if you possibly can, or b) chipping the ball with the club you usually use to chip with and landing the ball on your chosen spot. Again, putt the ball whenever you can!

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Golf Pitching Tip: Learn Your Golf Pitching Technique From Luke Donald

Symptom: Your golf pitching technique is very poor.  Your golf pitch shots from 80 yards and in are no good.

“How can I hit it close from 150 yards with a full swing but can’t hit a golf pitch shot from 40 yards?” you ask yourself while shaking your head in disbelief.

Description: Limit your backswing on golf pitch shots.  This will force you to accelerate through impact to a high finish — higher than your backswing.

Luke Donald has a high finish for his pitch shots.
Luke Donald has a high finish for his pitch shots.

Why it works: To hit the golf pitch shot the proper distance with a limited backswing, you must accelerate through the golf ball.

By limiting your backswing, you will put lag into your downswing so you hit the ball before you hit the ground, and give you a high finish.

This visualization will prevent the “big backswing and decelerate” fault (remember, you don’t hit the ball on the backswing) that plagues so many golfers’ pitch shots.

Luke’s Golf Pitching Technique

Let’s have Luke Donald demonstrate this for us.  Luke is hitting this pitch shot about 40 yards in the air.  Note that Donald’s backswing goes only until his left arm is parallel to the ground (0:17), but his finish is high (0:27), with his club pointing to the sky and his belt buckle facing the target.  Let’s Look at Luke:

As an added bonus, watch the gentleman in the background hitting a chip shot (not a pitch shot) to the same green (I can’t tell who it is).  For this shorter shot (about ten yards in the air), he keeps his hands ahead of the ball through impact, which means he will not have a high finish.  So you see a demonstration of Luke Donald’s (longer) pitch shot and a (shorter) chip shot in the same video clip!

More generally, accelerating (not decelerating) through the ball on every shot is one of the most fundamental requirements for playing good golf, and is the basis of the no backswing golf swing drill.  A high finish is a good sign that you are indeed accelerating through the ball.

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Golf Strategy: The Best Golf Warm Up Routine

Symptom: Your golf warm up routine is unstructured and scattered.

As a result, your round doesn’t really seem to get going until about the fifth hole, after you’ve dropped five shots and blown your chances of breaking 80 today.  Why can’t you just play 18 holes the way you know you can play them?  You wonder if perhaps you could have done a few golf warm up exercises, or somehow prepared for your round a bit better.

Description: Your golf warm up needs to be deliberate and structured.  You need to warm up your body and work on all phases of your game.  It does not take much extra time (though if you are really pressed for time check out this advice), it just takes a bit of discipline.

The Best Golf Warm Up Routine

All the pros follow a set golf warm up routine.  Here is Ricky Fowler’s routine.  Why does he do these things, in this order? Read on, fellow Occasional Golfer, and all will be revealed…

The purpose of your pre-round warm up is not to put a lot of new concepts into play.  You are not trying to “fix your swing”, or anything similarly radical.  Such things must be done in dedicated practice sessions at the driving range or practice facility.  As you warm up, you are just trying to get mentally and physically prepared to play golf.  You need to use the swing and feel you have, on this particular day.  You are looking for the swing thoughts and ideas, feel, and confidence, that work for you today.

Arrive Early

Get to the course about an hour before your tee time if you can.  Check in, pay greens fees, get your cart.  (Walking is better though — it keeps you loose and gives you a much better feel for the course you are playing).  With these chores out of the way, you can focus on preparation for your round.

As you prepare, it is important to start with the simpler drills, and then advance to the more difficult shots.  This builds your confidence, which is absolutely mandatory for a good round of golf.  If you are doubting yourself before a shot you are in big trouble.

Golf Warm Up Starts with Putting

You should start on the putting green.  Putting puts you in the proper frame of mind for golf.  It gets you focused on getting the ball into the hole.  Start close to the hole with the balls in a line putting drill, and the surround the cup putting drill.  Gradually move farther from the hole with these drills.  Once you feel comfortable with your stroke, hit lag putts and be sure to make every putt.  It doesn’t matter how many putts it takes.  You need to feel the sting of the three putt on the practice green.  Here you can quickly redeem yourself and correct your mistakes.  (On the course you will not get to hit another putt until you reach the next green, in 15 minutes.)  As you are putting, be sure to listen for the ball to drop, don’t let your golf ball line wobble, and make sure your putts all either go in or finish past the hole.  Breaking putts should be missing on the high side or going in the hole.

Chipping comes next.  Focus on feel, and always keep your hands ahead of the ball during the chip. Putt in every one of your chips, so you get the feel of getting up and down.  After a few chips, move on to the driving range.

Driving Range Golf Warm Up Routine

Rickie Fowler warming up for a round range balls alignment stick golf warm up golf warm up routine
Rickie Fowler hitting range balls with a short iron before his round, using an alignment stick.

On the driving range, focus on getting the feel of your swing and your tendencies for the day.  Again, you are not trying to invent new swing techniques, just trying to find what works for you today.  Be sure to use a club on the ground for aiming, and aim at a spot right in front of you on your target line, and always aim at something as you practice.  These setup-related points are crucial because they ensure you have a consistent and correct setup for each shot.  They will help you find your swing quickly as you prepare for your round.

Start With Lofted Clubs

When you warm up, begin with your sand or lob wedge.  Hit pitch shots of 20 yards, then 30 yards, 40 yards, and so on.  Only make a full swing after about ten shots.  Be sure to accelerate through the ball and have a high finish on your pitch shots.  Finally, hit some full sand wedges.  Then move to your longer irons — nine iron, seven iron, five iron.

It is important to start with the more lofted clubs because they are easier to hit than your long irons.  This will give you more confidence as you groove your swing for the day.  Don’t move to a longer club until you’ve hit several good shots with the shorter club.  This is important, because if you find that you are struggling with, say, your five iron, you can use your nine iron swing.  The nine iron swing just worked, so you use it on your five iron.

Phil Mickelson progresses from short to long clubs in his warmup routine, have a look:

Unless the grass on the driving range is truly immaculate (seldom the case, but it is at Augusta in the video above!), you should put the ball on a tee for these initial iron shots, especially for the longer irons.  Finally, hit a few three woods, longer irons, and a few drivers.

Simulate Your Round on the Range

Finally, rehearse how you will hit the clubs as you play the course.  For example, if the first hole is a par four, hit a driver (or three wood), then a seven iron off the grass, but aiming at a flag that is not directly in front of you — choose one at an angle that forces you to line up your shot carefully.  If hole #2 is a par three, hit a six iron off a tee.  If hole #3 is a par 5, hit driver, three wood, then a 60-yard sand wedge.  And so on until you are satisfied with your ability to hit your clubs the proper distance.  And at your intended target.

If you follow this routine, you will have both a short and long game that your can trust on the golf course.  This will lead to lower scores and a much more enjoyable round for you and your playing partners.

Enjoy your round!

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