Winterize Your Golf Game

Ron Kaspriske
Golf Digest

You're not into skiing; you can't skate; you built your last snowman 27 years ago, and that whole dusk at 4:25 p.m. thing really gets you down. We get it. Winter sucks. For those of us who don't have a nourishing cold-weather activity to pass the time between golf seasons, the "dark months" are brutal. Even worse, as we peek out the window, wondering if it will ever be playable again, our golf games turn to crap. By the time spring rolls around, we're struggling just to put the ball in play.

✱ Though we understand this annual plight, it doesn't have to be this way. There's no need to let your game get rusty. These days there are commercial simulators, indoor practice centers, hitting bays with heaters, even software that turns your flatscreen into a virtual-golf experience. What we're trying to say is that you don't have to put your sticks away if you live in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Just practice anywhere it's warm.

✱ In this package, tour pros such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Cheyenne Woods, and top instructors including David Leadbetter and Stan Utley (above) are going to teach you how to winterize your game while you wait for the big thaw. And for you Sunbelt golfers, these tips work outdoors, too.

GET COMFORTABLE PITCHING OFF TIGHT LIES
By Stan Utley

Whether you're making swings on artificial turf, like I am here at this indoor facility (see photo above), or you're practicing on berber in your den, you can get a feel for how your wedge needs to slide along the surface to execute a pitch from a tight or hardpan lie. Come in too steep, and you're going to feel that hard impact all the way up your arms. Stand tall and swing so the wedge's sole skims along the ground.

Stan Utley is one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America.

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<cite class="credit">Photo by J.D. Cuban</cite>
Photo by J.D. Cuban

USE THIS TIME TO MAKE A PUTTING CHANGE—FOR THE BETTER
By Hank Haney

The racks are filled with all kinds of putters designed to make rolling the ball easier, and that's great for some players. But the best putterhead technology in the world isn't going to help if you can't control the face through impact. If you think you have the yips, or generally struggle to hit putts on the line you've chosen, don't be afraid to try different ways to hold the club, as well as grips of different shapes and sizes. Shaking things up can really change the way your hands and wrists respond through impact and can calm down extra movement. Here I'm holding an oversize putting grip. If you're still using a grip of standard thickness, just the different feeling of holding this grip can do wonders for a shaky stroke. It has saved plenty of careers on the professional tours, believe me, and can make putting fun for you again.

Hank Haney is one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America.

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<cite class="credit">Photo by J.D. Cuban</cite>
Photo by J.D. Cuban

HIT SOLID CHIPS WITH YOUR KNEES
By David Leadbetter

Chipping indoors is a time-honored way to get your golf fix on inclement days. But rather than doing it mindlessly, use this time to improve your lower-body action. Many amateurs hit these shots off their back foot, trying to lift the ball into the air. If you hang back with a cushy lie, you might get lucky and still chip it OK. But do it on a door mat, and you might ricochet one off the china cabinet. The goal is to get your weight on the front foot and hit down on the ball. A good technique to ensure that happens is to move your back knee toward the target as you swing down. It can even bump the front knee. This will help you hit it solid. Check this move in front of a mirror to confirm what you're doing.

David Leadbetter is one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America.

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<cite class="credit">Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.</cite>
Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

LEARN TO TAKE IT EASY WHEN YOU PUTT
By Jordan Spieth

Putting problems often stem from effort—too much effort. I see a lot of amateurs strangle the grip and then make a jabby stroke. The result is typically a miss, usually short, often crooked. If you make a softer, quieter stroke, the result will almost always be better. Spend this offseason developing smooth tempo by swinging your phone charger back and forth—heavy end hanging down—like you're making a putting stroke. Notice how you can't do it if you use too much muscle. You have to stay smooth. Duplicate this effort with a putter in your hands to make a better stroke.

Jordan Spieth is a Golf Digest Playing Editor.

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SEE HOW MANY SHOTS YOU CAN PULL OFF WITH ONE WEDGE
By Chris Como

Conventional wisdom in pitching is that you use different clubs to change trajectories. For example, use a 60-degree lob wedge for the soft, floating shots and a 50-degree gap wedge for those low checkers. That's fine, but I'd rather see you get versatile with just one club. Spend this winter using your sand wedge to hit a variety of pitch shots. Try to hit it super high; make the ball grab and stop; see if you can get it to run out once it lands. Why only one club? It helps improve feel, and that's super important in the short game. You get more control over your angles of attack and experience different kinds of contact. When it comes time to play again, you'll have so much more confidence and flexibility with that one club, and your scoring should improve because you'll be more comfortable in a variety of short-game situations. As a bonus, practicing with one wedge this way will eventually help you be more versatile with all the clubs in your bag. You'll have so many more tools to navigate a round of golf.

Chris Como is one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America.

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<cite class="credit">Photo by J.D. Cuban</cite>
Photo by J.D. Cuban

FINE-TUNE YOUR PUTTING SETUP NOW!
By Charley Hull

With putting, even the most subtle changes can feel really awkward at first. That's why it's smart to make them in the offseason. Be prepared that your putting might get worse before it gets better, but you can't ignore the importance of fine-tuning—especially your setup. One of the most important things I concentrate on in practice is eye positioning. You should check to make sure your eyes are either directly over the ball or just inside of it, otherwise you'll probably struggle to hit the putt on the line that you see. You can check your eye positioning by simply setting up for a putt and dropping another ball from your eyes to the ground. Wherever it lands is directly below where your eyes are set. I've been working on getting my eyes just inside the ball I address, rather than directly over it. I roll it on line better this way. Give it a try.

Charley Hull won the LPGA Tour's 2016 CME Group Tour Championship.

<cite class="credit">Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.</cite>
Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

USE THIS CROSS-HANDED DRILL TO DISCOVER CONSISTENT CONTACT
By Cameron McCormick

I started coaching Jordan Spieth when he was 12. His swing was idiosyncratic in many ways—his shoulders were dramatically open at address, he’d flare the club inside on the takeaway, his left elbow was bent nearly 40 degrees at the top—but he produced consistent contact that allowed him to shape the ball both ways. As a young teacher, this really challenged me. If I imposed too much traditional swing philosophy on this phenom, surely I’d mess him up. For the first time, I appreciated the idea that the only position in the swing that truly matters is the bottom.

To get my students to understand impact, I often tell them to think of the swing as a large circle traced by the path of the clubhead. On a perfect strike with an iron, the bottom of this circle occurs after the ball is struck. That’ll make a perfect divot. An effective drill to achieve this is to grip the club cross-handed and hit punch shots. That means for right-handers, the left hand is beneath the right as you see here (large photo, above). Swinging cross-handed can be strenuous on the shoulders, so start with 30-yard punches. If you’re flexible, you can work your way to full swings with any iron. You can even use plastic balls in the yard if your course is closed. Like magic, this drill cures two common swing problems: a premature release and getting stuck. I’ll explain how.

Most amateurs go wrong by reaching the bottom of their swing too early. This premature release, also called casting, leads to chunks and tops. Golfers with this issue need to get the shaft leaning forward at impact—the hands slightly ahead of the ball—to shift the bottom of their swing circle forward. When golfers practice with the cross-handed grip, the top hand has a tendency to push the handle toward the target, creating this desired impact position. Remember this feeling when you go back to your normal grip.

A problem more typical of better players is getting stuck, when the hips unwind so fast on the downswing that the club gets trapped behind the body instead of staying in front of it (photos, above). From here they will hit a lot of blocks to the right, or sometimes snap-hooks if they over-correct with the hands. Because the wrists are restricted with a cross-handed grip, these moves become almost impossible. The weight of the clubhead pulls it in front of the body on the downswing. Now the club is in front of the golfer at the bottom, exactly where it should be.

Cameron McCormick is one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America.

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<cite class="credit">Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.</cite>
Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

TRAIN TO STRIKE A POSE
By Justin Thomas

When I watch amateurs rehearse before hitting a shot, a lot of times I see really nice-looking swings. They look smooth, in no hurry, and they don’t stop until they’ve made a nice wraparound finish. Then they step up to the ball and swing, and it looks short, quick and off-balance. What happened? Well, I’ll let the sport psychologists tackle that one. Rather than focus on that, I want you to pay more attention to what you’re feeling as you make those nice practice swings without a ball. I hope you’ll be doing that a lot around the house this winter. See if you can swing at a pace that allows you to get into a finish position like you’re striking a pose. Here I’ve got my weight on my left side, posting on that leg, and my shoulders and chest are fully rotated. I could stand like this for hours. What I did was swing at a pace where the club was moving its fastest just past impact. The momentum of this acceleration carried me into this pose. Do that over and over, and it will eventually take hold when you get back on the course.

Justin Thomas was the PGA Tour's Player of the Year for 2017.

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<cite class="credit">Photo by J.D. Cuban</cite>
Photo by J.D. Cuban

A SWING DESIGNED TO CURE THOSE FAT AND THIN SHOTS
By Jorge Parada

The reason you’re not hitting it as solid as you like might be a lack of extension. For right-handers, the right arm should be straightening as the clubhead strikes the ball and continuing to extend post impact. When it stops extending or folds before impact, it’s really difficult to catch the ball in the center of the clubface. There goes your consistency. The common result is the club crashing into the turf behind the ball (fat) or catching it on the upswing with the leading edge (thin). You can train a better golf swing this offseason by making half-speed swings with your right arm only. The weight of the clubhead will support the feeling and motion of the right elbow pushing down as you strike the ground. This feeling and look of extension will continue well past impact.

Jorge Parada is one of Golf Digest’s Best Young Teachers.

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DON’T HIT THAT BALL, HIT THE NEXT ONE
By Matt Wilson

This is going to be the year you finally start hitting your irons the distances you’re supposed to hit them. How? You’re going to use this winter to learn to swing through the ball, not at it. If you have plastic or foam balls and can work outside, address a ball with your iron, but place a second ball down an inch closer to your target. When you swing, put all your attention on hitting the second ball. This will get you to strike the first ball solidly, and keep the swing going. After a while, take the second ball away, but pretend like it’s still there and try to hit it. Even if you can’t—or won’t—sdwing outdoors, using the “ball in front of the ball” visualization is a great way to put your attention on the target side of the ball. You’ll feel like the clubhead is moving low along the ground after impact—that’s how to pick up a full club on iron shots.

Matt Wilson is one of Golf Digest’s Best Young Teachers.

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