Tee Up Your Best Game
Bring your score down and your opponents to their knees with these hard-won tips from the county’s top golf pros
photographs by Visko Hatfield
For such a social game, golf is also the great refuge for rugged individualists. And at no time in golf does one witness the self-guided maverick in action more than when it comes to scheduling an actual lesson: Many folks simply want to go it alone. But there’s no reason to be intimidated, says Cory Muller, head golf pro at Country Club of Darien. “There’s nothing you can do in front of me that I haven’t seen a hundred times before.” While golf teachers generally have the patience of midwives, they also have different coaching styles and strengths. To compile the technique tips on the following pages, we consulted with five pros at some of the area’s top clubs. Every course, public and private, has a PGA-trained professional on-site, ready to solve problems with a personalized approach.
Location: Brooklawn Country Club, Fairfield
Kudos: Rated a top instructor in state by Golf Digest
Specialty: Instruction for juniors and beginners
Alma Mater: Stetson University
WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN
When she was a girl, Megin O’Donnell-Kelly’s father took her out of class one day so she could watch Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros play. She was thrilled when the enigmatic player warmly posed for pictures with her, and she was bowled over by his magical short-game heroics. Today, she counsels locals on the value of smart play from just off the green. Most of us spend the day just missing the green. Learning how to move the ball from the fringe safely on the green will make the evil high numbers tumble from our scorecards. To alleviate that frustration, O’Donnell-Kelly says Seve’s supernatural technique is not required. She teaches a simplistic method for a chip shot. But first, a semantics lesson: A “pitch” shot is one that flies through the air, over the hazard, let’s say, and onto the green. A “chip” is the shorter stroke from just off the putting surface; the important task is to roll it as close as possible to the pin. “You’re not always going to hit the green in regulation,” she says. “When you’re faced with a chip shot, concentrate on getting it to remain on the green. Unfortunately, many golfers overthink it and either chunk it or skull it across the green.”
She encourages her students to be creative around the green and to learn how different clubs work in the short game. For the classic greenside chip, she recommends a nine-iron. Open your stance with your weight favoring your target side (as a right-handed golfer, your left side), then choke down on the club and shorten it—this will help you gain better control. “The ball position should be off your back foot as you want to catch the ball first — not the ground,” she says. “Make a smooth takeaway and start your forward swing by letting your hands lead the way. Don’t fall for the mistake of getting ‘wristy’ in this shot. Keep the stroke simple. Don’t get your lower body involved or you will lose balance and most likely mis-hit the shot. The actual chipping stroke is very similar to a putting stroke. All you want is to keep the ball low to the ground and rolling toward your target.”
Swing Tip: To help you learn what it feels like to keep your body quiet during a chip shot, O’Donnell-Kelly says to try this drill when practicing: First, put all of your weight on your target side, then just raise the other foot behind you and rest your toe on the ground (see photo above). This is the feeling you’ll want when you make the proper chipping motion on two feet.
Location: The Stanwich Club, Greenwich
Credentials: Titleist staff for ten years and PGA Class A member
Former employer: Apawamis Club, Rye, New York
Tour Trivia: Competed on the PGA Winner Series
Putting represents about 40 percent of the round, and only a little help here could provide a lot of help on your scorecard. But because it appears to be the most rudimentary of actions, most of us just wing it...and suffer. John Scali helps golfers learn confidence for the short knocks and to use the powers of visualization on long putts.“People don’t read the greens enough,” Scali says. “They might be concerned about the pace of play and worry that, by spending five or ten seconds getting a good read, they’ll hold up all the players on the course. I teach my students to not only work on mechanics, but also on how to read a green. A lot of visualization takes place before you even stand over the ball. On a double-breaking putt, for instance, you have to see the speed and know how gravity is going to affect it on the side of a hill. Most people don’t focus enough on that.”
Scali encourages his students to visualize the speed the ball will travel and the path it will take as it traverses along the entire length of the putt—from the moment the ball contacts the putter face to the second it drops in the hole. “By running that imagery through their mind’s eye they can program themselves for a good putt,” says Scali. “Many students simply pick a starting line and hit it without proper mental rehearsal, basically hoping for the best. This invites uncertainty into the stroke, which in turn creates tension, poor tempo and inconsistency.”On the practice green, Scali has his students stand well back from the hole and lightly lob a tennis ball toward it. By doing this, they can see how the ball follows a path. “I lay out targets on the green, and it’s almost like we’re playing bank shots. How is the ball going to follow the roller-coaster path to the flag?”
On short putts, it’s a confidence issue and being tested is what makes a person a better putter. “Don’t accept gimmes,” says Scali. “When we have our club championships, gimme putts aren’t allowed and heads are hung low. People suddenly have three-footers that matter, and they simply don’t like posting those scores.”Scali also believes in the power of positive, strategic thinking. “Whether you’re left or right brain, you can train your mind to putt correctly in the same way you train your body to get stronger. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take a long time. Finally, the thing that can separate the good putter from the bad is the routine. A good putter can set a stopwatch on the points of his routine —when he puts the right foot forward, when he looks at the target and when he swings through. There’s a methodical and repeatable rhythm to that whole song and dance.”
Swing Tip: Remember to keep your arms relaxed, with elbows bent slightly and in towards the body. The knees are flexed for balance and stability. The putting stroke is made with the shoulders and arms acting in unison to create a relaxed movement that is free of tension, where the player can feel the weight of the clubhead.
For the complete list of pros who know pick up Greenwich Magazine's June 2012 issue.