The best way to learn to play golf is to not swing a club.
You first need to learn how to grip the club, the correct posture and alignment and how to move and rotate your body and where your hands should be at impact with your ball. Once you get the fundamentals down, then you can start swinging your club.
I strongly believe that the best way to learn to play golf is to start with putting from five feet from the hole, then chipping from just off the green, then pitching, and then half swings (“L” to “L”, or “9 o’clock” to “3” o’clock) working up to a full swing.
Why Start with Putting?
While shifting your weight and body rotation is more important in chipping, pitching and your full swing, it is not the case in putting. Your lower body needs to be locked in and your head has to remain perfectly still. It is only the slight rocking of the shoulders that cause the arms and hands to move back and through.
The triangle that is formed by your shoulders, arms and hands at address should not change during your stroke. The angles formed with your hands on the putter do not break down; there is no hinging on the way back and no flipping at the ball.
1. The Grip
I know there several ways to hold your putter (the “pencil” grip, the “claw”, “cross-handed” or lead hand low), but I am only going to talk about the traditional way to grip your putter.
As David Leadbetter illustrates in the excellent video below, you want your grip to be more in the palms of your hands along your life lines rather than in your fingers as your would for all other clubs.
Grip the putter first with your lead hand and slide your trail hand underneath with both thumbs on top of the handle and the forefinger of your lead hand resting on top of the knuckles of your trail hand parallel to the shaft.
While David talks about gripping your putter first with your lead hand, there are other golf pros that suggest gripping first with your trail hand as you line up putter head with your target line. Then placing your lead hand above your trail hand. I suggest you try it both ways and see which way you prefer.
You want to maintain that same hand/grip position as you slightly rock your shoulders back and through with no hinging of your wrists or flipping at the ball.
Most importantly, keep a very light grip on the putter like you are holding a baby bird in your hands. As a matter of fact, having a light grip is true for all of your clubs.
The correct posture/alignment would be your bending at your hips with your head/eyes directly over your ball with your feet, hips and shoulders all in alignment parallel to your target line. Try to have your forearms in line with the shaft of your putter from your elbows down to your putter head.
3. Rocking Your Shoulders
David illustrates very clearly the rocking of the shoulders while your lower body remains locked in place.
Once your have this down, you can try having your handle lead the follow through so you putter face is slightly trailing the handle. This is an advanced move so you will need to play with it.
4. Straight Back and Straight Through or Arching Your Putter
This will depend on the type of putter your have. If you do not know, balance your putter across your forefinger and if your putter head is pointing down to the ground, you have a face balanced putter which allows you to have a straight back and straight through stroke.
If your putter head is lying at an angle across your forefinger, you have a toe weighted putter which will require more of an arching stroke. Do not try to putt straight back and straight through with this type of putter as you will have to manipulate the putter head which just does not work very well. Believe me, I have tried it.
What is the Difference in Chipping and Pitching?
Clay Ballard of Top Speed Golf has an excellent video on the difference between chipping and pitching.
As Clay emphasizes, one of the main differneces is the amount of spin that you exert on the ball.
With a chip shot, you are usually just off the green and have a little distance between your ball and the hole and are using a less lofted club so as to put less spin on the ball. The goal is to get the ball on the green as soon as possible with little to no spin and let it run out to the cup.
Ball position is another variable, as some like to play the ball really far back in their stance with a lot of forward shaft lean, while others prefer to play the ball more in the middle of their stance with only a little shaft lean.
With your knnes about eight inches apart and 60% of your weight on your lead foot, rotate your knees and core through the chip.
I have a good section on chipping in a previous article, “How to Chip Your Golf Ball Like the Pros” so you might check that out.
With a pitch shot, you will usually be landing the ball closer to the hole with more spin. As Clay states, you will have a more lofted club and will be accelerating your club head through impact with your hands in front of the ball with forward shaft lean.. You will also have more weight shift and body rotation while pitching.
To take this one step farther, watch Clay’s excellent video below on how to make that 60 yard pitch shot.
Once you have mastered this shot, it is an easy transition to the next step in learning how to play golf.
“L” to “L” or “9” O’clock to “3” O’clock
It really is the same thing, but do this excellent drill before you try to immediately jump to a full swing.
1. What the Heck is “L” to “L”?
The “L” to “L” is nothing more than forming an “L” on your back swing or takeaway with your straight lead arm being the bottom of the “L” when parallel to the ground and the shaft of your club is the upright part of the “L” .
Then you pivot by shifting your weight from your trail heel to your lead foot and the second “L” is formed after impact by your straight trail arm parallel to the ground and the upright shaft of your club.
When you finish your swing, you should be standing tall, on the toe of your trail foot, facing the target with your chest and hips with your hands extended right in front of you.
Piers and Andy of Meandmygolf have a nice video shot at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, CA, (one of my favorite courses) demonstrationg how to do this drill.
They demonstrate the drill with their feet together. That’s fine. Do it with your feet together then with your feet in a normal stance. You can practice both ways.
2. “9” O’clock to “3” O’clock
To visualize this drill another way, stand upright and imagine you are standing in front of a big clock with the face of the clock to your back. 12 o’clock would be at the top of your head, six o’clock would be at your feet, for a right-handed golfer, nine o’clock would be about hip high to your right, and three o’clock would be about hip high to your left.
Mike Sullivan, of Mike Sullivan Golf School has a cute entertaining video illustrating how the ‘L” to “L” is the same as “9” to “3”.
Be sure to watch to the end. Cookie is awesome. I could watch this video all day.
The mechanics are the same as for the “L” to “L”.
These drills teach you how to shift your weight and rotate your core.
Once you have mastered each of these steps, you are ready to progress to a fuller swing. If you want to develop a repeatable swing, you have to take these small steps to build your swing.
If you want to learn to play golf, build the foundation with the proper grip, posture, and alignment first. Learn how to rotate your body and where the hands should be at impact. Then, you will be well on your way to building a repeatable swing.
Hope this helps a few of you. Let me know your success stories. I welcome any comments or suggestions you may have.