The long game is all about power and distance in the quest for the putting green, and getting the ball where you need it to go. It can be broken down into three elements: the drive, the fairway shot and the approach shot.
The drive is the first shot, and starts with the ball on the tee. The goal of the drive is get the ball as far as possible along the fairway. The fairway shot involves both distance and avoiding obstacles – you want to get your ball on the green if you can, and you definitely want to keep it out of the sand, water or other hazards. The approach shot is the end of the long game and the beginning of the short game, so distance is not a factor here. You need to account for the slope of the green and other hazards, so finesse is important.
With all these shots, you need to keep your focus on the ball rather than the landing spot. It’s important to pick a spot where you want the ball to land and aim towards that, and account for wind and hazards, but the focus still needs to be on the ball. Many people make the mistake of focussing on the destination. Before you hit the ball, you should already have picked your target destination and have your body lined up get the ball there, so all you need to focus on is the ball itself.
Once you’ve picked your spot and accounted for the wind, the slope of the green and any hazards, it’s time to set up for the shot. According to Jack Nicklaus, the quality of your swing is 80% dependent on preparation and 20% on execution, so it’s important to get this right. Remember that you are using your whole body to give direction and power to the swing, not just your hands or arms. To use the power in your body, keep your elbow close to your hip and your lead foot anchored, forcing you to turn your whole body when you swing and follow through in the direction you want to ball to travel.
Gripping the club too tightly can ensure you only use your hands to drive the ball, rather than your whole body. You want a firm grip but not a tight clutch. A looser grip allows your body to come into play to drive the shot while your hands just hold the club in place. Relax the muscles in your forearms and fingers to create a better swing release.
Bring your core muscles into the swing by rotating your hips in a controlled manner on the downswing. This will increase club head speed, resulting in a longer and more powerful drive. Use a short, controlled backswing to increase power and distance. Your hands should be level with your shoulders when the club comes back.
It’s important to anchor your foot and body behind the ball before you swing (the right foot for right handed players and the left foot for left handed players). In your follow through, your foot should stay on the ground as long as possible, until just before the club hits the ball. This allows you to get more distance from your swing as your body maintains the focus of its energy. Your shot will travel a shorter distance if your foot leaves the ground too early.
It’s natural to want to see how your shot’s gone and where it’s headed – but many golfers run into trouble by lifting their head too early. Try and keep your head down for one second after you’ve hit the ball, which will force you to focus on the club’s connection with the ball and give you a more accurate shot.
Take some deep breaths and visualise the shot before you hit it, so you don’t tense up and mis-hit. Relax your body as well as your mind. Concentrate on controlling your swing and let the club do the work – it’s a common misconception that the ball will travel further if you hit it harder. Focussing on the middle of the ball and your swing control will give you better results than increasing the power of your swing. Once you have mastered a controlled swing, you can gradually increase the level of power.
Like anything else, consistent practice will improve your long game. To hone your golf skills, you must practice and play regularly. Golf practice needs to be deliberate and specific in what you want to target, so have a particular aim in mind when you start practicing. Take advantage of your local golf pro and get some personalised tips for your game. Go to a driving range, and as well as practicing your own stance, swing and follow through, watch what others are doing. Once you understand the mechanics of the swing, you’ll have a better chance of improving it. Practice will help you minimise your number of misses and improve your percentage of good shots.
Most importantly, stop putting pressure on yourself and just relax and have fun. Your swing will improve once you take the pressure of a perfect fairway drive off, so be confident in your skills and enjoy the time you’re spending on the golf course.
Paying attention to each small detail will help to make your long game more effective. If your long game is on song, then your confidence will be high and your short game will benefit too.