The 8 stupid mistakes every golfer makes. And how you can avoid them

All golfers make mistakes-even the best tour pros. On the following pages I’ll discuss eight of the most common mistakes I see average players make. But remember, I work on these same problems with Tiger Woods-things like faulty ball position, poor knee flex, putter deceleration and questionable course management.

We’re all human, so it’s natural that we make mistakes. Sometimes we think so much about swing mechanics that we don’t pay attention to obvious things like setup, which takes no athletic ability. Sometimes our egos make us think just because we reached a green with a 7-iron once, we can do it every time.

The key is to know what you can and can’t do, and don’t try the impossible. Be careful with your setup. Take more club. Play to the middle of the green. It’s simple: Avoid the stupid mistakes and you’ll shoot lower scores.


Wrong ball position

Your ball position dictates how you’ll start your swing. Too far forward, and your shoulders will aim left, you’ll take the club back outside and loop it under coming down, resulting in a block or hook. Too far back, and you’ll aim right, start inside, come over the top, and slice or pull the ball.

Position the ball even with your heart

On full shots, I believe in a constant ball position for every club-the ball even with your heart or shirt logo (right). As you go from shorter to longer clubs, you then just move your right foot away from the target to widen your stance.

With this ball position, your shoulders and hips (above) stay almost parallel to the target line (they may be open just a bit, because your right hand is farther away from you), and you’re more likely to start the club back properly. Even tour players sometimes lose a feel for ball position. Tiger and

I work on it constantly.

MISTAKE #2: Poor takeaway

There are two faults you can make in the takeaway: You can pick the club up (near right), or you can pull it back inside (far right).

When you pick the club up, your left shoulder drops. You tilt but don’t really turn your shoulders. You hang on your left side, reverse pivot, and either top the ball or chunk it.

When you take the club back inside, your left arm goes out away from your body, and halfway back it’s above your right arm. The club goes behind your body, and you have to loop it up and over on the downswing, causing slices or pulls.

No: Picking the club up
No: Pulling the club inside

Drill: Clip the tee going back

I believe strongly in a one-piece takeaway. That means that until your hands are waist high, you maintain the triangle formed by your arms and shoulders at address. It helps to think about taking the club back low and slow. Here’s a good drill: Place a tee about a grip-length behind the ball, then try to clip the tee on your takeaway. That will help you learn a low one-piece takeaway.

A good takeaway: When your club is half-way back, the shaft should be exactly in line with your toes, and your right arm slightly higher than your left.

MISTAKE #3: The straight knee

Many amateurs straighten or even lock the right knee immediately as they start their backswing (near right). That causes their hips and shoulders to turn the same amount, so they aren’t building any coil for power. They end up throwing the club over the top to get back to the ball, which further reduces power and leads to slices or pulls.

Instead, maintain the flex of your right knee throughout the swing (far right). This encourages the shoulders to turn more than the hips, storing power. On the downswing you’ll be more on plane and can release the club later for a more powerful hit.

Drill: Put a brace behind the right knee

Knee flex is something that Tiger Woods and I have worked on for years. He has perfect posture at address and tries to maintain the posture of his right leg all the way back in his swing.

If you tend to straighten your right leg on the backswing, try the drill shown here, in which a partner pushes a club into the back of your right knee as you swing. If you’re by yourself, bury the head of your wedge in the ground so the shaft is angled at 45 degrees upward, place a head cover over the grip end, then back your knee up to it before you swing.

MISTAKE #4: Over the top

A good downswing begins from the ground up. But many amateurs, trying to hit the ball hard, start the downswing with the upper body, which gets the hands and the right shoulder going out and over the proper plane. For most high handicappers, the result is usually a weak slice. For better players with fast hands, the result is often a quick pull.

To work on the problem, practice swinging back to the top and stopping for a count of two or three. From there, to finish the swing, first transfer your weight to the left and unwind your hips, and then just let your hands and arms drop naturally. The first few times, you’ll want to throw the club from the top with your hands and right shoulder. Force yourself to let your arms just drop. Watch Freddie Couples take practice swings: He goes up, stops, then unwinds his lower body and swings through. He’s working on the same thing.

Feel as if you’re just letting your arms drop. You’ll avoid the slice and hit the ball a lot farther.

Here’s a good drill to combat the over-the-top move: Place two head covers just beyond the ball. If you swing properly, you won’t hit the covers as you swing through impact.

MISTAKE #5: Hitting the ‘ego’ shot

Ego is a big thing in golf. We all hate to think that we have to take more club, especially as we get older. I see average club players all the time who take too little club for the shot at hand. If the hole is 150 yards, they automatically reach for the 7-iron, say, whether the air is heavy or light, whether it’s warm or cold, whether they’re loose or stiff that day. Seldom do you see a high handicapper hit a ball over the green on the fly, because they’re taking a club that if they hit absolutely perfectly, they may just reach the flag.

As a rule, always take one more club. If you think it’s a 7-iron shot, take a 6-iron. That way you can swing under control. If you can’t hold your follow-through until the ball hits the ground, then you’ve swung too hard. Take the club that allows you to reach your target with a 70 percent effort.

Ego also leads players to go for sucker pins (top). Think about it: If you could put your ball in the middle of every green, you’d shoot a pretty good score. Go for the fat part of the green, take the lakes and bunkers out of play, and you’ll save a lot of strokes.

MISTAKE #6: Laying up too close

The term “lay up” means just that: lay up. It doesn’t mean “get right next to.” In the situation shown here, I’ve got 270 yards to the green and 210 to the wide waste bunker crossing the fairway. I want to lay up in front of that bunker. Too many club players would try to hit the ball right up to the edge of the bunker. That’s the mistake. Instead, you should take a club you can hit only 180 yards. You’ll leave yourself only 90 yards into the green, and if you hit the ball a little harder than you plan, you’re still short of the trouble. If you mis-hit it a little and go only 165 yards, you’ve still got only 105 yards to the pin. In general, whatever hazard you have in front of you, whether it’s a bunker, a lake or a ravine, you want to choose a club that leaves you at least 20 yards short of it.

MISTAKE #7: Weight back on chips

Setup is extremely important in chipping, and here’s a mistake we see all the time in our schools: The player sets up with the ball forward in his stance, all his weight on the back foot, and his hands back even with the ball or even behind it. Then he ends up trying to scoop the ball in the air. From this position, you can’t make solid contact with the ball or control its trajectory, which is absolutely necessary for good chipping. Instead, you’ll either hit behind the ball, or you’ll blade it.

Drill: Lift the right heel for crisp chips

To chip, set up with your weight and your hands forward. Position the ball back toward your right foot, and put your hands ahead. Then try to maintain those positions throughout the swing. As a drill, take a normal setup, then lift your right heel and hit shots (above). With all your weight on the left side, you’ll be amazed at the crisp contact you make.

MISTAKE #8: Decelerating the putter

The most common putting mistake I see the average club player make is this: Taking the putterblade back too far and then decelerating coming into the ball. When you slow the putter down to hit the ball, the blade tends to open or close, and you’re more likely to mis-hit the putt.

Even Tiger sometimes makes the mistake of decelerating. The putting drill you see here is one we used on the practice green the weeks of the PGA Championship and the NEC Invitational this year, both of which he won, putting beautifully.

To shorten his backswing, I put my foot behind his putter while he makes practice putts. When you don’t have a friend to help, you can simply fold up a golf glove or towel and lay it behind the ball to restrict your backswing.

If you can always be accelerating into the ball, no matter what the length of the putt, you’re always going to hit it pretty solid, and your ball is going to stay on line. You’re also going to be more likely to roll the ball the proper distance, which, on longer putts especially, is even more important than the line.

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