Not all golf champions are proficient at teaching others how to play. Some great players just have a natural aptitude for the game that is difficult for them to express in words. On the other hand, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, winner of 71 PGA Tour events and 18 major championships, is the author of golf instruction books that can help both beginners and accomplished players to improve their games. He has a knack for simplifying the golf swing into tips that golfers can take right to the practice range.
A golfer struggling with his game often makes swing adjustments, sometimes radical ones. But Nicklaus suggests that before you do that, you should check something more basic: alignment to the target. When you address the ball, it is not easy to see whether you are aligned correctly. One way to test your alignment is to lay a club on the ground in front of you parallel to your intended target line. Then take your normal stance and put a second club in front of your toes, along your stance line. Step away and look at the two clubs from behind them. They should be parallel. Golfers who try this drill for the first time are sometimes surprised to find they are aimed 20 yards or more offline.
Natural Ball Flight
Many beginning golfers think the objective of the game is to hit the ball straight, but hitting a perfectly straight shot each time is very difficult to do, even for top players. Golfers tend to have a natural ball flight. They either curve the ball from right to left (a draw) or from left to right (a fade). Nicklaus recommends that you take your natural flight into consideration when you plan each shot. You can also use a curved ball flight to avoid trouble. A golfer with a natural fade knows she is not likely to hit her tee shot into a water hazard on the left. Instead, that player's ball flight typically will curve from left to right – away from the trouble.
Nicklaus did not invent the idea of visualizing a successful shot before you play it, but his popularity helped bring this concept to the golfing public. He calls the process "going to the movies" and recommends that golfers employ this technique on the driving range as well as on the course. The first step is to visualize where you want the ball to finish. The second step is picturing the trajectory and roll of the ball as it moves toward the target. Then you see yourself lining up your shot and swinging in a way that will create the imagined result. The last step is to pick the club you need to execute the shot and swing for real.
All golfers – PGA Tour pros and amateurs included – experience anxiety on the first tee. An extreme case of nervousness is called "first-tee jitters" and can affect the execution of your first shot of the day, which in turn can have a negative effect on the entire round. Tension causes amateurs to swing too fast and not make a complete swing with good tempo. Nicklaus' remedy for the jitters is to deliberately slow everything down. Take deep, slow breaths. Take long, slow practice swings. He also recommends blotting out all mental distractions such as who might be watching you and focus on the clubhead striking the ball squarely and solidly.