How to Improve Your Golf Game

When looking to improve their game, golfers often head to the driving range or the putting green to drill shots over and over again. But without proper instruction, this exercise is merely guesswork. Private lessons with a pro can help any golfer shoot straighter, drive farther, sink more putts and chip with greater accuracy, whether novice or a par-player. According to PGA pro instructor Michael Jacobs at X Golf School in Manorville, “The majority of students say that lessons bring their score down two or three strokes. What they consider even more important is that their game becomes easier and more consistent.”

Jacobs makes this claim based on ample anecdotal evidence, having instructed more than 20,000 amateurs and 1,000 PGA pros. Recognized by Golf Digest as one of New York State’s Top Teachers, he first started playing golf with his dad on a public course in Smithtown at five years old. “I practiced all day every day. Then I took lessons and got worse because of bad instruction. I promised myself that I’d never let that happen to another kid.” He recommends learning from a PGA-recognized pro for those who can afford it, because students receive more personalized attention. “Private lessons are absolutely worth the investment; a three-pack or four-pack is best, but even a half-hour session helps.”

Jacobs believes that beginners profit most from instruction because they start out free of pre-existing ideas and established flaws. “Most beginners go out to a driving range on their own and just try to smash the ball; they don’t even consider technique. Golf has nothing to do with hitting with all of your might.” For new golfers, he recommends alternating hour-long private lessons with practice sessions and suggests a bare minimum of one class, even a half-hour, to learn how to hold a club properly, strike the ball and avoid getting a blister. “The proper way to hold the club is so counter-intuitive that you need to be shown the right way.”

For players who have reached a plateau and want to take their game to the next level, Jacobs recommends five lessons annually. To improve their form many students benefit from a two-hour Optical 3D Motion Capture session.

improve your golf gameAfter an interview, Jacobs uses the GEARS 3D swing analysis for a diagnostic evaluation. “It’s like a Biomechanic MRI. The student wears a special suit with two dozen markers and hits in a studio, while eight cameras record each movement,” he said. “It’s a great visual experience. Students see their exact head-to-toe posture, how they swing, how their hips and arms move and where the ball strikes the clubface.” From this analysis, the pro determines which part of the game needs focus and prepares an individualized plan. Techies can even get golf-specific apps, such as V-1 Pro and Swing Catalyst, to record their swing in slow motion capturing face-on and down-the-line movements.

Athletes getting back to the game after years away from the course require more than the usual diagnosis and instruction because the game has changed so much. “These students have to re-familiarize themselves with a game that has changed substantially. Since the year 2000, there’s a difference in woods and drivers, the head is bigger and the club is tilted higher.

The golfer’s technique has to change, and he needs to adjust to a different, nuanced swing for woods and irons.”

But it’s about more than just the swing. No matter if a golfer is a single-digit handicapper or a relative beginner, the short game counts for about 60 percent of the score. “Most golfers spend more time practicing their drive when they should be paying attention to putting and chipping. They should also make sure their putter and wedges are properly fitted,” said the pro.

A good grip helps. According to Jacobs, the grip is the same for chipping as for the full swing, when the club should be held like a suitcase in the hand. For putting, it’s different; the grip should neutralize the twisting and turning of the clubface to keep it straighter in relationship to the ball. When putting, Jacobs suggested, “Golfers should hold the club diagonally across the palm, as if they’re  grabbing a ruler or yardstick.”

Fitness matters as well. Natalie Gulbis, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Tiger Woods have all developed better balance, power and flexibility by integrating golf-specific training into their fitness routines. John Ondrush, a physical therapist and certified instructor at Golf & Fitness Academy in Syosset recommended specifically focusing on strengthening the core and glutes. “We believe your body should not be your ‘handicap,’” he said. He suggested a pre-round stretching routine to address the three major areas of rotation in the swing: the torso, hips and shoulders. Fitness enhances function, that’s simply a fact.

Golf Getaways

Instead of seeking instruction close to home, why not combine training with travel and enroll in a golf academy? Affiliated with world-class resorts, these schools offer the opportunity for cutting-edge diagnostic analysis, lessons with a top pro, superb fitness facilities, golf training specialists and the challenge of playing extraordinary courses in superb settings.

The Breakers, Palm Beach

At The Breakers, there are two championship courses exclusive to hotel guests and club members: the historic, newly redesigned, par-70 Ocean Course and the recently revamped Rees Jones Course. PGA professionals at both state-of-the-art John Webster Golf Academy facilities instruct using HD Video, SAM Lab force plates and TrackMan, the most advanced radar-based launch monitor available. thebreakers.com

Pebble Beach Resorts, California

Just 15 minutes from Monterey Peninsula airport, these four courses include the country’s number one public course: oceanfront Pebble Beach Golf Links. At the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, Pros use the Robotic Swing Trainer, a V-1 Video Swing Analysis and the Quintic Ball Roll Putting Analysis System. pebblebeach.com

Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort, Provence

Architect Dave Thomas’ design preserved the exquisite Provencal hillside with its lakes, waterfalls and panoramic views. Golf packages include a three-hour session at the Leadbetter Academy and access to the state-of-the-art Albatros Golf Performance Center and Biomecaswing Center, where physiological scans, performance analysis and recommendations are available. terre-blanche.com

irvina lew

Irvina Lew is an author and freelance contributor to guidebooks, magazines and websites who shares intriguing stories about the world’s best destinations including hotels, restaurants, spas, cruises and safaris.