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Golf: Tips and Tricks

Steve Loesher
Director of Instruction, Nike Golf Learning Center, Reston National G.C.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; 11:00 AM

Steve Loesher, Director of Instruction at the Nike Golf Learning Center, was online Wednesday, April 20, at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions about golf and to discuss tips and tricks for your game.

The Washington Post's feature, "Swing 2005: A Guide to Washington Area Golf" highlights a printable course map online, descriptions of the most scenic holes around the Washington, D.C.,-Metro area, and ways to improve your game.


Wednesday's Sessions
World: Greece's second bailout, 11 ET
Food: Free Range on Food, 12 ET
Entertainment: Reliable Source Live, 12 ET
Style: 30 Lessons for Living, 12 ET
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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Steve, I can't stop over swinging -- taking club way past parallel at the top of my swing, a la John Daley with my driver. This is more often than not ends up with a pulled shot to the left usually into the trees. How can I stop this and stop trying to kill the ball? Thanks.

Steve Loesher: If you are right handed, when you take your backswing you need to me sure that your left foot stays on the ground. This will hopefully restrict you from turning too much. With your arms, you need to practice taking the club back to where your left arm is parallel to the ground (9:00) and practice just hitting balls from that position. You need to trust that you don't need to swing that far back in order to gain distance. Lastly, your hips need to start first before your shoulders. This will help you from swinging "over the top".

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Bartlett, Ill.: I'm a beginner and I was wondering, what is more important, as far as working on, the grip or the stance? I realize that both are important but sometimes it's just to hard to remember to work on both.

Steve Loesher: The grip is the most important thing. It controls direction and distance. An improper grip can lead to many other problems. If the grip is "off" your body will start to do all kinds of others things to try to compensate.

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Wheaton, Md.: After making contact, my ball's flight path always slices terribly to the right. My instructor suggested I try to keep my head stationary and not look up immediately after making contact. Is this the best advice? Can you offer any additional insight? Thanks in advance.

Steve Loesher: Two things to look for: whether you grip is correct because the club face is definitely open at impact. That's because you are holding on to the club too tight or your grip position (hands on the club) is weak. Secondly, you probably are not getting your weight transferred off of the right side. Sometimes when you are told to keep your head down, then you end up not moving at all.

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Alexandria, Va.:
Do you know where to find a list of driving ranges in the area? Thanks!

Steve Loesher: There are a number of publications that publish an annual golf directory/guide. These usually are published in the spring - at the beginning of golf season. "Pros and Hackers" and "Washington Golf Monthly" are such publications. They have web sites as well.

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Indianapolis,Ind.: I can't get any distance when hitting my irons. I have to use as four iron when others are using a seven iron. I've tried everything. Hitting it easy, slow backswing without trying to kill the ball, moving forward so the head of the club comes down on the ball instead of picking the ball up with the club head. Nothing seems to work. My seven iron goes about 100 yards, my four iron goes about 125 yards. This is not acceptable to me.

Steve Loesher: Your grip is probably "weak". You should see the first two to two-and one-half knuckles of the left hand when looking down at your hands. Without looking at your swing, I can't know how far back your swing is. Your probably not getting your arms and the club "set" (finish the back swing) forming an "L" with your left arm and the golf club to get leverage. If the club doesn't get set, or releases too early, you will lose power/distance. Always makes sure that you are getting your weight transferred to your left side.

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Oakton, Va.: What is the best way to pick an instructor? I took a series of lessons with someone last year, and after the first couple lessons the guy seemed burnt out and not really invested into whether I really improved, basically throwing out rote instruction almost mechanically. Do you or other instructors offer a discounted "trial" lesson that would allow someone to see if its a good fit? And would you happen to be able to recommend some good golf schools or golf camps in the area I may want to check out? Thanks very much.

Steve Loesher: I'm sorry to hear that you had a bad experience with an instructor. I hope that it wasn't a PGA Golf Professional. The best advise is to ask the instructor about his/her background. Don't be afraid to ask questions about their teaching history, i.e., how many lessons they give. Another good indication is how long they had been at their current location. Instructors that change locations a lot usually means that students aren't returning. Also, when taking lessons, it's not usual to just take one to see if you get along with the instructor and then sign up for a series of lessons if you and the instructor seem to connect. Of course, we recommend a Nike Golf Learning Center. We specialize is teaching students of all levels. We have hundreds of students and our retention rate is very high. We do not have adult camps, only junior camps. Our Tee It Up Program is not just one of two lessons, it's a year long process.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm a new golfer, and every club I hit besides my wedge goes at least as far right as it does forward. I've tried changing my grip four or five times, I've closed my club face, I've changed my stance to be angled left, and done all of the above together and in every combination you can think of. Can you think of any other suggestions without seeing my swing?

Steve Loesher: Have you had lessons? That's the best recommendation. When you change your grip a lot, that alone would create problems. Also, the more you "open" your stance (angled left) you create a swing that is going to come across your body. Couple that with a club face either opening or closing, the ball will go either way right or way left. Put two clubs down on the ground, one where your feet would be, the other where the golf ball would align to the target. This will get your setup square to the target.

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Washington, D.C.: Please talk about the cause and cures for hitting off the toe for the club. Thanks!

Steve Loesher: Three things that could commonly be happening: 1) you just are coming up out of your shot which brings that club towards your body, 2) your "flipping/rolling" your hands over two quickly at impact (the club face will be very closed), and 3) you are swinging with your arms only (no legs) which will bring the club from outside in. To fix this, set up to the ball, put something out in front of your ball (a marker 4-6 inches) towards the target, and try to swing through the ball AND your marker. This will help you to extend your arms to the target and through the ball hopefully forcing you to not pull across it or lift out of the swing.

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Dulles, Va.: Hi Steve!

I'm a big fan of the nike golf products. I have a dilemma. Last year I bought a set of the Nike pro combos in a graphite REGULAR flex shaft.

Since then I have been working out and have gotten significantly stronger. I'm 27, 5/11, and my driver is averaging around 270-280 range. I'm playing a Stiff flex in my driver.

I think my iron shafts are too weak for me. I feel my irons lagging too much behind in my swing. But I'm concerned a stiffer flex will force me to overswing. I've always heard play as weak flex shaft as you can.

your thoughts?

Steve Loesher: The best thing to do is get fitted to find out what your current swing speed is. This will tell you what flex shaft your should have.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to learn golf as a beginner? I tried as a young adult but gave up in frustration. Now with two young boys, I would like to learn myself and introduce my boys to the game. Is it sufficient to work with an instructor at a driving range until one feels competent to go on a course? Are there "golf camps" that families can go to for a week or so to learn the game?

Steve Loesher: There are camps available that teach both adults and kids at the same time. Here at the Nike Golf Learning Center, classes are separated. I do, however, believe that getting lessons at a driving range is only a part of the learning experience. All of our classes include getting the students (adults and children) onto the golf course, because it's important to translate what you are doing on the driving range to the course. You will also gain confidence. Our school offers "play with the pro" sessions for both adults and children to help players become more comfortable on the course.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Dear Mr. Loesher,

I'm a left hander and usually draw the ball -- what's an easy way to try and hit a fade when I need to?

Steve Loesher: If you are drawing the ball, that means you have a good grip and set up. If you want to fade the ball, weaken your grip and open your stance a little bit. Also, put the ball a little forward in your stance.

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Columbia, Md.: Earlier, you mentioned the importance of a proper grip. I just started playing last year and up until a month ago I was using a baseball grip, which I knew was wrong, but it felt natural. A more knowledgeable buddy made me change to an interlocking grip which I'm now comfortable with. Can you explain why this grip is more beneficial?

Steve Loesher: The tendency with a baseball grip is that your right hand will hold too tightly. You will hold the club in the palm of your hand too much which usually means that the ball will go to the right and your hands won't move as freely (release) and the ball won't go as far. Interlocking or overlapping grip will allow your hands to work together rather than your right hand being too dominant.

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Los Angeles, CA: Steve,
What causes drives to go right and what can be done to correct this?

Steve Loesher: First thing is your set up. When you set up with your driver, you should have your ball a little father forward in your stance (off the heel of your left foot). What this does is open your shoulders so you have to make sure that your right shoulder is a little "behind" the left at address and a little lower than the left shoulder. In other words, right should is down and back. This will keep you from bringing the club too steep. By bringing your shoulders back you create more of an inside to outside swing. Make sure that you are transferring your weight off your back foot.

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Rockville, Md.: Where would you suggest taking a beginners or advanced beginners class for playing golf in the D.C.-Metro area?

Steve Loesher: Of course I would recommend that you take classes with us at the Nike Golf Learning Center! But, if you can't make it here, go to your PGA Web site , Play Golf America, and this will list golf schools in the area.

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Lanham, Maryland: Steve,
I'm still a beginner, about 2 1/2 years, playing mostly at Haines Point. I've taken a course there about 1 3/4 years ago. I can drive the ball fairly well now, about 200 to 230, after I warm up, and I'm a decent putter from 10 to 25 feet. Where I am not consistent is on the fairway from the end of the tee shot to the green. I bought some knock off clubs last spring with over-sized heads so I have a comfortable feel when hitting the ball. Some how I am opening the face of the club and spend time from one side of the fairway to the other. What should I do about the iron game? Take another class? Practice more on a par 3 course? Buy one of those funny video tapes? Any thoughts or help would be appreciated.
Bill

Steve Loesher: Taking another class or getting a lesson is always a good idea. Even Tiger and Vijay are constantly getting help with their swings. Sounds like you are steering the ball too much, so try to relax and slow your swing down. Make sure you're transferring your weight on the course. Sometimes when we're target oriented hitting the ball to the green we have a tendency to try to "guide" the irons. So, let go and swing easy.

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Abingdon, Md.: I have a problem with pitches and chips around the green. Sometimes I will skull the ball across the green, other times hit it fat and hardly advance the ball. I definitely do not feel as comfortable when finessing those short shots - arms tighten up and unsure how hard to hit the ball. Any suggestions. Thanks for the help.

Steve Loesher: When chipping, set up with the ball inside your back foot, open your stance little bit, grip down on the club (hands all the way to the bottom of the grip). It sounds as though one of two things is happening: you are trying to "help" the ball in the air by flicking your wrists, or trying to "pull" the ball off the ground with your body. Try to move the club as though you are putting, using your shoulders instead of your wrists. Try to relax and stay committed to your shot.

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Tampa, Fla.: I have a question about the Moe Norman golf swing: do you consider it a viable alternative to the conventional swing? It's mechanics seem intriguing. I've tried it (pulled out the Golf Digest from about 10 years ago with the late Mr. Norman on the cover and photos showing his swing) and it seems to work, but I haven't gone whole hog on it. I've been told you lose distance with it, but I've seen convert Sandy Lyle say you don't. Any thoughts?

Steve Loesher: Yes. I think that the Moe Normand swing has its merits. It does help people to get more control, but most of the time it does, unfortunately, lose some distance. So, it becomes a choice as to distance vs. accuracy (how straight). For a lot of golfers, hitting the ball straight and in play is better than worrying about the distance.

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Alexandria, VA: Are there any training aids on the market that you would highly recommend for mid handicappers?

Steve Loesher: The Medicus (sp?) has a hinge on the shaft that breaks down if the swing is off plain, swing too fast, or your unhinge too early. It's a great training aid.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you have a recommendation in the N.Va. area for a teacher for a 13 year old who has been playing for a couple of years? He has taken lessons in the past, but would like to get more serious about it.

Steve Loesher: Here at the Nike Golf Learning Center we have an extensive program of options for junior golfers. We have a "graduate" level for juniors which is designed to get juniors ready for competition and tournament play. We also have a junior league that helps students to learn on the golf course. All the instructors are experiences with junior golfers since we had over 400 juniors in our program last year.

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Washington, D.C.: To prevent slicing, I was once given a tip to basically angle the club so that your slice goes "straight." This is obviously a terrible solution, but now I can't get out of the practice. Any tips on undo-ing this "great" tip?

Steve Loesher: Set some clubs down (parallel to each other) one on which to align your feet and the other pointed towards the target. This will get you started on a better set up. The more you are "open" to the ball (your hips and shoulders are facing to the left) this will make it more difficult for you to hit it straight. Also, make sure that your grip is correct. If the ball is going to the right, this means that the club face is open at impact, your grip is too weak, or you're holding too tight.

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South Riding, Va.: I have just started playing golf with a borrowed set of clubs. I am thinking of getting my own set. Were is a good location to get a starter set? How important is it to get "fitted"? Thanks.

Steve Loesher: When you're first getting started, getting fitted isn't necessary. It is good to have clubs that are not too heavy for you. Wait until your swing becomes more consistent to purchase fitted clubs. You can usually find a set of new clubs around $300 (woods and irons) which is find to get started. At that price you can find a set at a sporting goods store or golf course.

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Rockville, Md.: I need to release the clubhead. I know this. But everybody tells me I need loose arms and hands. Beside that, is there a drill I can use to help me release?

Steve Loesher: Yes. relaxing your arms and hands is good. When you first start hitting (warm-up) start with the wedge, take some very light, easy swings and hit about 50 yards. Try to feel the release of the club swinging easy and not hard. Work your way up a little bit at a time and try to loosen everything up.

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Birminham, Mich.: Are the new non wooden golf tees advantageous?

The claim is that you will get 7 percent more distance off the tee.

If you don't know them they have flexible plastic strands on the top that allow you to mount your ball on because they have bent plastic strands.

Steve Loesher: No. The golf tee doesn't have any effect on any part of your swing or how far the ball goes.

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Oakton, Va.: I've got a teenager who plays golf, but also wants to start lifting weights. What kind of program would you suggest that would help his golf game, or conversely, are there types of lifting he should stay away from because they might hurt his game?

Steve Loesher: There are some things to be careful of. There is a great book called "Exercise Guide to Better Golf" developed by Frank Jobe, M.D. that is available. It has a great program for golf.

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Columbia, Md.: I have pretty good distance off the tee usually, but sometimes it presents other problems. I played last week and there were a number of times where I had an "in between" shot to the green on a par 4 hole. Anywhere from 40-90 yards to the pin. I have trouble controlling my distance here. I'm so worried about overhitting that I believe I slow down when I hit the ball and don't follow through. The ball goes anywhere. How do you recommend I correct this? Shorter backswing?

Steve Loesher: When are between clubs (or in that 40-90 yard range) depending upon what clubs you have in the bag (log wedge, etc.), you can either have one swing and use one of several different wedges (log wedge that goes 50 yards, sand wedge that goes 70, etc.) and pick one appropriate to your distance. Or, if you have just your basic pitching wedge and and wedge, then you are going to have to have a shorter swing and change where your hands are on the club (choking up, for example).

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Alexandria, Va.: I've been playing for a while and am fairly competent with my irons. However, I'm having trouble getting a good swing rhythm with my driver. In particular, I have a tendency to make good contact with the driver (i.e., it goes straight), but with an excessive amount of top spin. Any tips?

Steve Loesher: Sounds like your hands might be rolling or flipping over at impact which will create topspin. Also, the swing plain might be flat which will not allow you to get the ball into the air. Maybe the ball is too far forward in your stance. Make sure your ball position is opposite the left heel. When you are practicing try to get a feel for where your hands are at contact to see it that clubface is staying square or closing a bit to create that spin. The best way is to feel your way through it.

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Washington D.C.: Do you think that Nike is really helping the average weekend golfer by recommending "play the game, don't play safe, don't be timid, just play."?

Steve Loesher: I think what they're trying to say is get out there, go play, don't be intimidated, and have fun. Golf courses can be very intimidating. Some people are afraid to play and won't go out feeling like they are not good enough. They are missing out on how fun can be.

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Fairfax, Va.: I am a beginner. I have taken a few lessons over the last four years, but never been out on a course except for an executive (par 3) course. I am very conscious of the etiquette of the game, so I am hesitant to go onto a course. How do I know that I can play a round without being an obstuction? Should I just get out there and pick up my ball if I am in a tough spot? Tee up on the fairway to move the ball faster?

Steve Loesher: The best way to find out is to take that plunge. Get out on the golf course and try it. There are certain times of the day that are generally not as busy. Ask when you call to book a tee time when the course is not as busy. That way you can avoid the feeling that you are being pushed. Yes. I would recommend that if you feel like you are going too slowly, then pick the ball up. The first thing is to get acclimated to the speed of the game and not worry abut your score. As you get more comfortable, then you can be more concerned about score. Yes. Tee it up, take it out of places that you don't feel comfortable. As you improve, you can start playing those shots.

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Fairfax, Va.: I hope as an instructor you won't shy away from this question: What are some good golf instruction videos? (Not all of us can afford personal instructors). Thanks.

Steve Loesher: Try "Golf Digest.com"

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