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The Color Ball Drill

Learning Distance Control First and Foremost

To attain short game success a golfer must master a number of factors: accuracy, trajectory, spin rate, turf and terrain variations, club variations, shot configurations and touch. The last of these is the most important. Without "touch" a golfer has no sense of distance control. Without distance control no golf shot, regardless of how well it is executed, can be effective. A golfer might learn every shot in the book from high, soft, easy, flop shots hit with a lob wedge to long, low, hot, half-swing bump and run shots struck with a 4-iron. It matters naught if he doesn't have the ability to gauge whether the ball will stop near or far from the pin. Few golfers can sink sixty foot long putts with any regularity. 

An inaccurate golfer with a sense of touch is the equal to a highly accurate one who has little idea where the ball will stop. "Pin High" equals "On Line" in importance. A twenty yard putt from the back of the green is no easier than a twenty yard putt from the side of the green.

The Color Ball Drill is an easy way to instill a sense of distance feel, whether it be with chips, pitches or lobs. You will need three distinctively marked groups of practice balls. They can be white, yellow, pink, orange or blue. If you only have white balls, buy two markers and place black rings around one group and red rings around another. Leave the last group white.

To execute the drill, place three pins (or markers) in a straight line on the ground; space them 10 yards apart. Make your distances 20, 30 and 40 yards or make them 50. 60 & 70 yards. It doesn't matter. In golf, every distance is important. Use 15 balls; use 99 balls; whatever you choose. Each pin or marker will be designated to serve as a target for just one color golf ball.

Using the same club, alternate between the different colored balls with every shot. The object is simple - don't have your final patterns overlap. Your primary goal is to keep the colored balls clustered around their respective target markers. How you manage to do that is of secondary importance in this drill. Distance control is your objective!

As you keep alternating shots throughout this drill you will find that you must come up with some sort of memory system to remind yourself of the subtle changes you are forced to make to keep the balls from landing short or long. Some players attempt to use the same swing while choking up or down on the grip a specified amount. Some make note of how far back they take the club before descending. Controlling the length of their backswing is their key. Others try to manipulate distance with changes in the shot structure itself, i.e. they open their stance, try to cut the ball more or move the ball forwards or back in their stance. Whatever it is that you choose to do, you will have to memorize a system that allows you to attain consistency or your struggles will prove to be in vain. Most amateurs try a different combination of all of the above elements on every shot and never achieve desirable results regardless of how long and often they work on this drill.

Simple variations on this drill may be done for chipping, putting, sand shots or anything other short game shot that might be imagined.

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Go One Club Up

Practice with more club than you need.

If you are looking for more distance with your irons, try an approach that is pure "backwards logic" in its approach. Let's say that you hit your 8-iron 130 yards and you are bound and determined to increase that by 5 to 10 yards. If you exhaust 100 range balls trying to hit your 8-iron to the 140 mark, you will probably never get there. Your tendency would be to just to try to swing harder and harder. You could end up losing yardage.

Jack Nicklaus, and others, have suggested the following effective remedy for this endeavor. Instead of trying to hit your 8-iron to the 140 marker, hit your 6-iron. Your normal weapon of choice would be the 7-iron, so the 6-iron is "one more club".  Take full swings and don't choke down on the grip. You will soon find that you have to swing very slowly to keep the ball from flying past the pin. After a number of slow, smooth swings you will probably find that you unable to hit the ball that short no matter how hard you try. You will try to hit the 6-iron as though you are hitting high, easy pitch shots, yet still they go past the pin. It is simply too much club. You will begin to view the swing as a slow, easy entity. You will find your sense of timing and your awareness of the clubhead have improved immensely. You will relax because you are Over-achieving, not Under-achieving.


You may want to shorten that pause at the top, Mr. Miller.

Once you've reached the point of not being able to keep the 6-iron from flying far past the pin no matter what you do switch to your 7-iron making certain that you transfer the exact same slow, smooth tempo. You should find that the 7-iron goes easily past the pin as well. Keep hitting the 7 until you are unable to keep it short to the pin. Now, pick up the 8-iron and put your normal swing on it. With any luck you will find that you have added at least five yards to your previous standard. It may be more.

If you had started your practice session attempting to hit the 8-iron to that distance you would have never been relaxed enough to maintain that smooth, even tempo.

The reason for this bit of convoluted logic is that golf balls fly farther when struck by a loose, long rhythmic swing (think of Freddy Couples and Ernie Els). Most of us tense up and swing harder when we want to hit the ball farther. HARDER DOES NOT MEAN FASTER. Fast ball pitchers are never built like Arnold Schwarzenegger.


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The Shotmakers Secret

The Three Tees Drill     

Johnny Miller said that every great shotmaker he had ever seen had one thing in common: they "stayed down" on the ball through and after impact; that the clubhead extended down the target line for a fraction or two longer than did that of the regular golfer. As two of the greatest examples of exceptional shotmakers he cited Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino.

It is no coincidence that Lee Trevino is included for consideration of shotmaking skills alongside the great Ben Hogan. When Lee was a struggling young golf pro in his native Texas he made a trip to watch Hogan practice in Fort Worth. Sitting on a hillside, he watched carefully as the Legend went through his practice regimen. Carefully studying the famous Hogan technique, Trevino picked up on Ben's habit of "staying down" on the ball for a few inches after impact.

Trevino, addicted to practice almost as much as was Bantam Ben, himself, returned home that evening with an idea. Lee immediately began using a drill he had devised which involved placing three tees in the ground in front of the ball on a direct line to the target, the tees spaced out over several inches. With each shot he would first hit the ball and then make certain that he clipped each tee after impact. He used the drill for hours on end. The results of this creative dedication can still be seen today in Lee's distinctive swing.

Lee cites that afternoon of Hogan-watching, and the drill which was born from it, as the turning point in his golf career. He emerged from the experience as the world class player we know today.

Two things made this work for Lee Trevino. First of all he, he stuck with it. Drills are of little use unless they are executed repeatedly during many, many sessions. Secondly, he learned to feel as though his head was actually moving backward through impact. This keep him "still" and "behind the ball". The drill would have been detrimental had it caused him to develop the habit of "sliding" through the shot.

Something For Everyone

This is a drill which can perform miracles for hookers and slicers. Some golfers begin hitting better behaved shots from the first hit on. The ball has no choice but to depart on a relatively straight line when the head stays on line for several inches through impact.

Remember three things when doing The Three Tee Drill:  You must keep your head "behind the ball", keep your hands from becoming too active through impact and, lastly, if you learn to stay down on the ball as long as Lee Trevino does, you will have back problems later on. It is better to learn a moderated version of the drill - try two tees spaced out an inch apart until you learn your comfort level.

You may hit the ball off a low tee with a long club or you may hit from the turf with a lofted iron. Stand behind the ball each time to make certain that orientation is correct. Few people can sight accurately from beside and above the golf ball.

A peculiar thing happens to most golfers, however; they quit on the drill even though positive results are apparent to them. Laziness is the problem. It takes considerable effort to constantly retrieve and insert the tees into the ground. The average practitioner of the golfing arts will try the drill for five minutes, say, "Yeah, that really helps!" and then go back to mindlessly banging range balls. A week later they will return and say, "I'm slicing the ball again - that drill didn't work."

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The Putter's Follow-Through


A very common problem with many putting strokes is 'deceleration'. This is generally characterized by a long takeaway and a short follow-through. With many golfers this can become quite exaggerated leading to a fruitless stroke which pretty much just 'baps' the ball. These golfers try to control the length of the ball's roll with how hard they come at the ball not with the length and force of their follow-through. The roll they impart to the ball is invariably poor. Putters aren't designed to work well with such a technique. The ball needs to be 'rolled' to the cup, not 'smacked'.

The best putters in the world share a common look at the completion of their putts. They make a long follow-through towards the cup, they hold the pose with putter extended and they don't look up until the ball is well, well on its way. Poor putters generally look up early and have follow-throughs which are shorter than their takeaways or have strokes which cut obliquely across the line of the putt. 

An easy way to check out your stroke's 'geometry' is to buy and use a putting track of some type and practice within it making note of where your stroke stops and starts. A pure pendulum stroke is centered upon the ball's position. If any deviation from this is made it should be with a long follow-through, not a short one.

If you do not have a putting track or training aid  you can easily make your own. Place three tees into the green aimed on a straight line towards your target. Insert the middle one immediately beside your ball. Place one on the intended line of your takeaway and the other on the target line towards the cup. 

The spacing of the tees will vary depending upon the length of you practice putt. The important thing to remember is that the forward tee should be at least fifty percent farther away from the center tee than is the back tee. This exaggerated spacing will help to train you to extend out with the putt as you practice. 

As you putt make certain that you do not extend past the back tee on your takeaway or fall short of the forward tee on your follow-through. Adjust the tees in and out to suit the length of your practice putt - just keep the spacing proportionate.

You might also run a string along the three tees or you may lay a shaft on the green next to them. This will help you keep your stroke online.

Keep putting balls with this measuring device until you feel that your stroke is actually starting just shy of the ball, is accelerating gently through impact and carrying forward to a proper finishing pose. It could take a few dozen strokes, but more likely hundreds will be required to ingrain a new set of 'muscle memories' into your golfing psyche.

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To feel the spine angle remain constant


  1. With nothing in your hands, address the ball with the proper posture. Place the left hand on the sternum, keeping the left forearm parallel to the ground. Rotate to the back swing, keeping the forearm parallel to the ground. This movement forces the hips to remain level as the trunk rotates back then through keeping the arm level to the ground. The left arm should move around, not up through impact. The sternum should still be facing downward as at address but more open to the target line at impact. The result is a back and through motion that has rotated around the spine without any up/down or left/ right bend.

  2. With golf club in hand, address the ball and make a back swing motion, bringing the club to the top of the back swing. Stop and move the left foot around 90 degrees keeping your arms in the same place. The resulting arm position will be in front of your shoulders. Lower the club straight down. You should be facing 90 degrees from your starting position, but have the same spine and body position you had at address.

To feel hip resistance

  1. Place a large ball between the knees. Assume the proper address posture. Keep the hips still while rotating the upper body back.

  2. Address the ball. Keeping your legs stationary, push outward with your upper thigh. This motion naturally restricts your swing. Hit shots keeping the lower body still.

Left hand and arm

  1. Hold a golf ball in the middle joint of the left index finger, pressing the thumb against the ball. Squeeze firmly and hold for 10 seconds while moving your arm back and through freely from the shoulder. Pretend to make a tossing motion with the ball while keeping the elbow loose and the arm free from tension. Imagine making a full swing using the hand as the face of the club. Rotate the arm from the shoulder and square the "club" at impact. After "impact," allow the left arm to extend and then bend, folding up as the body rotates around.

  2. Grab a Ping-Pong paddle in the left hand. Swing the paddle back and forth, squaring up the face of the paddle to the target as if playing a Ping-Pong game.

Right hand and arm

  1. Repeat Drill 6 with right index finger remembering to take care not to guide the arm, but instead allow a free, fluid motion toward the goal.

  2. Grip the club with only the right hand, making sure the palm is square to the face of the club. Swing the club to the top of the swing and hold the position for a few seconds before returning it back to the position of impact.

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