Start your golf year by taking more lessons from Jack

Written by Charlie Epps on 01 February 2011.

We all want to play better golf in 2011. To make it happen, here's a tip: Practice more than you play, especially the short game.

In December I introduced a few of "Jack Nicklaus' Winning Thoughts" that I learned and taught while I was an instructor at the Nicklaus/Jim Flick Golf School. Jack had a set list of "thoughts"

that he used to become the all-time major championship winner in PGA Tour history.

One of these winning thoughts from Nicklaus is "Practice more than you play, especially the short game."

It's been said that up to 75-80 percent of the game is played from 100 yards and in. I like to look at it from another angle.

Let's say if your score for an average round is 90. Let's take a closer look at what makes up that score. You have 18 tee shots, so that leaves 72 shots from the ground. That also means that 80 percent of all golf shots are hit without a tee.

That proves just how critical ball-striking is to your score.

Our famous Texas golf professional, Harvey Penick, always taught us that you should hit the grass in front of the ball, not the grass behind the ball. One of the best ways to practice hitting

the grass in front of the ball is through the short game. In the short game, the swing is a little more upright, and what goes up must come down. You always want the bottom of the swing arc in front of the ball, which guarantees ball-club contact.

Consequently, practicing the short game, as Nicklaus tells us, should help our overall golf game as well. It provides the feel of hitting down on the ball, which lets the loft of the club get the ball in the air.

What happened to Dustin Johnson on the last hole of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits never would have happened to Nicklaus. You ask why? Nicklaus never soled his club behind the ball. He always held it so that it was suspended in air behind the ball. Nicklaus never would have grounded his club and incurred the penalty, as Johnson did in that ill-fated sand trap.

I encourage everyone reading this to stop grounding their clubs behind their golf ball on every shot, including putts. Nicklaus always said that not doing so always helps to achieve the proper

grip pressure. You feel the club in your hands before you start the club back. If your club is resting on the ground, you can neither accurately feel the weight of the club nor have a feel for proper grip pressure.

I have always felt the three most important words before you hit a golf shot are: visualize, feel and execute. So when you're practicing your short game this spring, visualize the shot you're trying to create, feel the club in your hands with the proper grip pressure and hit the ball with a descending blow.

If you do those things routinely, you'll achieve much greater success on the course.

In closing, I look for 2011 to a great year for golf—not only in the professional ranks, but in amateur golf, too. I encourage everybody to support The First Tee program here in Texas, through the chapters at Redstone Golf Club, F.M. Law Park and the newest addition at Houston Oaks in nearby Hockley. These programs are truly building the game and building good, young citizens at the same time.