Warren Montgomery's Golf Tips
These are my favorite tips for better scoring. Most of these aren't
things I've found in books or instructional videos, but from my experience
in playing the game for 40+ years. They are tips aimed at the mid-handicap
(5-15) golfer, not the tour pro or the total hacker, though I think most
are general enough to be of use to anyone. They represent techniques
and shots that aren't always obvious. Keep in mind I'm not a pro nor
am I a swing coach, just a life long golfer with about a 10 handicap who
plays mostly on muni and public courses. Of course that may be a lot closer
to the layout you face than the resorts that get featured in the golf tips
presented by TV and magazines.
How to be a better chipper
Chipping is probably the least practiced and most important part of the
game for the mid-handicapper. The mid handicapper has the game to hit
almost all greens inregulation, but because of less than perfect execution
rarely does. This means that the difference between a lot of pars and
birdies and a lot of bogies and worse is how well you chip the ball (and how
well you get yourself out of other problems around the green). Chipping
really has 3 aspects:
- Picking the right shot
- Picking the spot you want it to land
- Executing the shot to land it where you want.
Picking the shot.
Chip shots involve a little loft and a lot of roll on the green. There
are two basic philosophies in chiping. One is to try to roll the ball
as long as possible and as a result pick different clubs depending on where
you want it to land, and the other is to make one shot with one club and
vary the landing spot. Many pros advocate maximizing roll, but I've
found it a lot easier to chip consistently by making this the same shot with
the same club whenever I can. I've found the 9I to be the best club
for me. It has enough loft to be usable almost always (i.e. the ball
doesn't roll too much), and most 9 irons have large faces and curved
bottoms which makes it easy to hit consistently, especially out of the rough.
The few situations I get where I can't chip with a 9 Iron I usually
use a pitch shot of some kind or maybe a putt.
Picking the landing spot
The number one piece of advice is to pick the spot where you want the shot
to land, and focus on hitting it. DONT EVEN LOOK AT THE PIN once you
pick your spot, it will just cause you to unconsciously try to hit at it
and go way to far.. There are many basic guidelines on how far a ball
will roll compared to how far it travels in the air that help, but I think
knowing where to land the ball is one element you just have to practice and
get a feel for. Pick a spot, make a chip, and if you hit the spot and
don't get the result you want ask why and adjust your thinking the next time.
Several things that the guides often don't consider include:
- The slope of the ground in the landing area. I've found that
whether the chip lands on a flat spot, an upslope, or a downslope has a
huge influence on how long it will run. Knowing this will really help
you get the distance right.
- The slope of the lie -- if you are on an upslope, your chip will
go higher and run shorter from the landing spot. You may in rare cases
even want to take a lower lofted club to avoid a popup.
- The second bounce effect -- Don't be afraid to land a chip short
of the green and bounce it on, but do be aware of where the bounces will
be. In my experience, whether the second bounce is on or off the green
is a key factor. If the second bounce is on the green, the chip will
run like a normal shot. If the second bounce is short of the green
it will kill much of the ball's momentum and it will dribble forward from
there. This can be very useful in chipping to tight pin positions.
If I had to take a guess as to why it would be that the first bounce
puts overspin on the ball and if the ball then lands on a smooth green it
will scoot forwards, but if it lands in rougher grass the spin is largely
Executing the shot
Again there are different techniques. All that is essential is that
you hit the ball consistently. For me that's easiest if I take an
open stance with the ball off my rear (right for a rightie like me) heel
and make a smooth short swing at it with just very little (but some) wrist
action. Just make sure the club is moving downwards with the hands
a little ahead of the clubhead at impact. Again, practice here makes
all the difference.
So, the real secret is to spend a lot of time chipping. Take advantage
of the opportunity to chip a few at a green when you aren't holding up play
and playing an informal round. Practice greens are okay, but often
don't have the variety of slopes or lies you will see on the course.
How to learn to love sand traps (really!)
I used to be an absolute klutz in bunkers (sand traps). I called
them 2-stroke penalty pits, because that's what it usually added to my score
-- one to flub out into a bad lie and another to get it onto the green with
some hope of 2 putting from there. I tried just about everything, but
still found myself inconsistent. About a year ago though I found something
quite by accident. Maybe it's so obvious that nobody bothers telling
you, but for me it makes all the difference.
My simple secret is in the grip -- when you grip the club, make sure that
the callouses at the base of the fingers of your upper (left for a rightie)
hand are on top of the club. This puts the club entirely in your fingers,
not in the palm. With that simple adjustment, I can set up for a blast
(open clubface, closed stance, ball off the left (forward) foot), take an
outside-in swing with lots of wrist action, and the club actually works the
way it's supposed to, splashing the ball out onto the green very reliably.
With a little practice I found myself varying the shot a bit and actually
feeling I hit a lousy shot if I didn't get it close enough to sink the putt,
instead of feeling grateful I got it out of the bunker.
Why does this work? I'm not sure, but I think that what it does is
ensure that the club shaft will be at a shallower angle to the ground than
your arms, allowing the open clubface to slide through the sand. If you let
the grip slip down into your left palm, the tendancy is for the force of your
swing to try to straighten out the angle the club makes with your arm, making
the club come through lower with the clubface set up to dig in, not bounce,
producing the horrible results I had before. With the callouses of
the left hand on top of the club, it stays shallow. You can vary distance
by the size of the swing and the degree to which you open the face and get
as much control as a pitch shot (After all, this is basically just
a pitch shot that you deliberately hit fat).
One other thing to note about bunkers -- Most pros will freely admit that
a "long" bunker shot is the hardest shot in golf. Now look at where
the greenside bunkers are in the next tournament you see and on those instructional
videos and chances are you will see people playing out of bunkers with nothing
between the bunker and the greeen. This is the norm for them. Now
look at the bunkers on your own course. If it's a public course, chances
are there's 5-10 yards of no-man's land in between the bunker and the green.
If I had to guess here I'd say that's because it's a lot easier to
mow if you have room to maneuver, but the result is that the bunker shots
you have to make are longer than a lot of the ones you see on TV, so don't
expect it to be just a little flip to get out.
Pitching and Flopping
The other shot you need around the green as a mid handicapper is a pitch
shot -- This is a lofted shot anywhere from your full pitching wedge distance
in. The first rule of course is consider alternatives. If there
are no obstacles, a chip that lands short of the green and dribbles on may
be easier and more reliable, or even long putt from off the green
may be easy. If you are going to score though you have to be able
to hit it high. Again, there are different philosophies here, and
again I'll take the simple route -- for me, the only club I use except under
very unsual circumstances is a sand wedge. The curved bottom and bounce,
together with the little sand play secret above make this a very reliable
shot for me out of just about everything. Lay the face open a bit
to a lot, play the ball off your rear(right) heel with an open stance, and
make a wristy swing at it keeping the club face open (up) as you follow
through and the ball will fly high. By adjusting the amount of swing
and the degree of openness I can get anywhere from a few feet to a hundred
yards with this shot, and fly it over 100 foot trees, escaping from places
where my playing partners have declared me dead. Again, this shot
takes practice, but again it's really worth it!
How many wedges do you need? Well, Pelz and others would say 4 or
more, but again I opt for simplicty. I've owned several lob wedges,
and went back to the simplicty of playing the sand wedge with a bit more openness
on the face. There are probably lies I could hit a lob wedge from that
won't take a pitch from a sand wedge, but not very many, and my 7 Wood is
a more useful club to carry.
Making more Putts
You can never spend enough time on putting. The better you are, the
more of your shots will be putts offering you lots of room for improvement.
As with chipping, putting is really about several things:
Picking the right line and speed are essential, and the thing that takes
the most practice. Reading greens is a bit of an art. As a general
rule, make sure you look at the putt from both sides. I have never been
a fan of plum bobbing, though some folks swear by it. For me, it's
enough just to look at the green and visualize where to go. One thing
I agree with the experts on is that most players don't read nearly enough
break. See the whole roll of the ball in your mind and aim in the direction
the ball has to start out, not the highest point it reaches on the way to
the cup. Being able to see the line in your mind is just something
you have to practice.
- Picking the right place to aim and the right speed to hit it.
- Getting yourself properly aimed to the line you read
- Executing a smooth, repeatable stroke.
One other bit of pre-putt preparation worth thinking about is to take 2
seconds to mark, pickup, and replace the ball. Again, I'm not fond
of lining up the logo or other alignment drills, but doing that serves a
very important purpose -- when a ball is rolling on the green, it is very
likely to come to rest against a small object (a grain of gravel, a piece
of twig, etc.) or in the depression of an old ball mark. The greens
on public courses are full of this stuff, and the tiny bit of extra resistance
it puts up stops the ball. You might not even see it looking at the
ball on the green, but if you then go to putt the ball, the little bit of
crud or the depression will kick your ball off line right from the start.
Alinging yourself to the line you read is the only place where a fancy putter
with alignment aids might help you. Basically though it's about developing
your own judgement. Pick a flat part of a green and putt at a target
until you can start every one dead on line. It's also worth doing a
little experimenting with how you want to aline the ball on the face. Don't
just assume that right at the alignment mark is the best place for you. Some
folks, including me, find it easier to putt predictably if I hit it just a
bit off the marked sweet spot.
There is no single right putting stroke. Any motion that brings the
face through square with the line at a predictable speed is good. For
most folks this means swinging it with your upper arms and shoulders and keeping
everything else quiet, but some swear by wristy putting strokes.
Some interesting specialty shots
The Driver Bunt.
Here's a shot I've never seen suggested by a pro, but it's become one of
my favorites. When faced with layup or long par 3 into or across the
wind, the pros will pick a long iron, but if you play like me, hitting one
of those butter knives into a stiff breeze is not a freindly thought. Mine
tend to go like F14 fighters launching off a carrier, curving up and sideways
and carrying inconsistently, whenever the wind is up. A much better
shot for me is to tee up my 400CC driver and "bunt" it. Tee the ball
low and make a smooth partial backswing and follow through. The result
with a little practice is a low flying shot that you can hit anywhere from
100 yards to the full length of your drives. The shot will run, so
this isn't something to try when the ground you have to cover is unfreindly,
but hitting this shot has saved me countless strokes on the long par 3 and
the layup hole on my course that always seem to be into the wind (even though
they are adjacent holes and run in opposite directions!
The punch hook
If you are a mid-high handicapper and play someplace that has trees, chances
are you wind up under them at least once a around. That makes it worth
figuring out good escape shots. For me, there is none better than the
punch hook. This shot stays low curves gently left, and can go as far
as 170 yards depending on how hard I hit it. Take a long iron (3, 4,
or 5 depending on how low you want it), set up with the ball forward in your
stance and take a partial, wristy swing, I get a low hook every time
I do it. The curve ball flight can be very useful in giving you some
room to miss the trees in front and bring the shot back into line.
The Mental game
One of the things I love about golf is that it's a game with lots of opportunities
to use your brain as much as your muscles. Lots of players lose more
strokes due to "brain cramps" than to bad shots. Unfortunately, the
pundits often don't help you here.
Picking the right shot
In the US, golfers have become obsessed with distance. carry yardage
books and range finders, use GPS enabled carts, and pace distances to sprinkler
heads to learn precisely how far it is to the pin or the center of the green,
as if that is the magic formula for picking the right club and the right
shot to hit. Sure, it's useful to know how far you have to go, but
I find a lot of my best shots had little to do with the nominal club distance
and much more to do with visualizing how I was going to hit it and picking
the club that would fit that shot. Aside from accounting from all the
factors other than distance (the wind, the lie, the elevation, the landing
area, etc.) Think about how you see the ball flying when you step up
to it and use that. As an example, while I normally hit a 7 iron only
150 yards, I recently hit one about 170 to a foot from the pin into the wind
from the wrong fairway, and I knew exactly where and how it was going to
go when I picked the club. As I stepped up to the ball, something about
the setup just said "hook" to me, and that with a hook, the 7 iron was plenty,
so I pulled out the 7 and hit the hook, rather than trying to go straight
at the flag with a 5.
Aside from seeing the shot, another thing to consider is where you are likely
to miss. Many pundits will tell you that most amateurs overestimate
their iron distances and as a result come up short of the green and in more
trouble, advising you to take more club. I agree completely that people
overestimate their club distances, but not that most people should take more
club. That depends on the layout of the green you are shooting at.
Sure, if you are firing at a green where being short means being in
the water or sand but being long is okay, that's fine, but most of the courses
I play have hazards behind the green and greens that slope forward, meaning
that a shot that comes up short leaves you with an easy chip or bunker shot,
while going long is likely to mean OB, bushes, or at best an impossible downhill
Another one of those standard pieces of advice is to lay up more often. Again,
that one depends on what hazard you are avoiding with a layup, and how good
you are hitting the shot that the layup leaves you. If you aren't especially
good at hitting full wedge shots, laying up may just mean you are in the
bunker in 3 instead of in 2. Not what you were looking for.
Picking the right shot is all about knowing your game and how it relates
to the course.
Don't be fooled by the course
Golf course architects are tricksters. They try to set up holes so
that shots that look easy are hard and vice versa. Sometimes the trickery
is entirely accidental, like the direction of the mower tracks or the crooked
tee markers set by some assistant wasn't paying attention. The number
one rule here is pick your shot and aim according to where you want it to
wind up and ignore any extraneous aiming clues. That's easier said
Committing to the Shot
A real problem a lot of people have is in not playing the shot they
planned because they don't really believe in it. This is a common problem
beginners have with chips and sand shots -- you don't believe that the ball
will get in the air if you hit down and through it so you try to scoop it
up with the club. Even single digit handicappers though are plagued
by places where they hit a bad shot because the just didn't believe the shot
they planned was really right. This is especially true of holes where
you want to aim away from a hazard, but that line puts you well off the fairway,
so you set up for the shot in the right direction, but halfway through the
backswing your muscle memory panics at the thought of launching the ball
so far off line and tries to jerk your body back into line with the fairway,
usually resulting in a monster hook or slice straight into the hazard you
were trying to avoid. Ever have the experience of hitting one of those
hooks or slices OB, then lining up even further away from the hazard and
hitting an even worse hook or slice? Not committing to the new line
is a very likely cause. Line up at your target and visualize the ball
going there. Convince yourself that this is really where you want to
You will note that this is the last section in my golf tips. That's
because for most people that's where equipment ranks relative to technique
and the mental game. Of course that's not the impression the magazines,
TV shows, merchants, and even the local pro will give you, but most of them
are to some extent on the payroll of the equipment makers, so what would
you expect? I've seen some excellent golf played by people with real
wood in their woods, rusty steel in their shafts, and irons that look like
World War II scrap. Nevertheless, there are some things to be aware
Get it to fit your game
Getting clubs that fit you and your swing is far mor important than the specifics
of what you get. Go to someone or someplace that can really measure
your swing speed and lie requirements and take careful note of them. Most
people overestimate their swing speed and club distances and as a result
play with clubs that are too stiff, too long, and too heavy for them. Clubmakers
and pros have at least finally realized that loft is the freind of the average
golfer, and stopped trying to put everyone into 7 degree drivers and 7 irons
with the loft of a 5.
"Forgiving" is only good if you commit the right sin!
Many clubs are advertised as being "forgiving", as if they were a trip to
the confessional, capable of righting anything that's wrong with your game.
In fact, club designers make clubs to "forgive" specific swing faults,
and what helps cure a slice usually exaggerates pull hooks. Find out
what the club is really designed for and make sure it fits your swing faults
and your course. As an example, consider the trend for some years to
make fairway woods low and thin, in the interest of getting the ball airborne
off of "tight lies". I have no doubt that those skinny little woods
work great off of manicured fairways and hardpan, but if I take a swing with
a skinny little wood on the shaggy fairways or fluffy ruff on my course the
clubhead submarines under the ball resulting in what to me is just about
the worst shot in golf -- the knuckle ball popup hit with the top of the
clubhead that goes just about anywhere.
Woods or Irons?
The pros love their long irons, but let's face it, most of us hate them and
are really lousy hitting them.I think this is largely just a matter of which
club type fits your swing -- some people have swings that hit fairway woods
well and stink with long irons, and some hit the long irons well and aren't
especially good with woods. (If you hit both well, good luck on tour).
Decide what works for you and use it. Don't let some macho bias about
real players hitting 2 irons saddle you with clubs you can't hit. Many
players would do well with lofted woods (5W, 7W, even 9W) replacing the longer