Shake off the cobwebs, folks. Spring is here, temperatures are rising – albeit slower in some places than others – and it’s time to get out on the course and start playing some golf.
In preparation for your new golf season, we reached out to PGA Master Professional Michael Doctor from Skaneateles Country Club in Skaneateles, N.Y. – the 2013 National PGA Golf Professional of the Year – to find out what can be done to get ready for a successful season on the links, no matter your level of ability.
PGA.com: For those folks in colder winter climates, what advice would you offer up as they prepare for a new golf season?
Doctor: Start with putting. You don’t even have to leave home to work on putting, which is one of the most important elements of the game. Set up an area in your house or office to practice. Invest in a few teaching aids or ask you golf professional if he has any putting aids you might be able to use to help develop your stroke during the off season.
Work on your short game. If you have a place to hit golf balls indoors -- like a dome or even into a net -- spend the majority of your time on the short game. Most domes have targets set up throughout the facility. Work on hitting different kinds of shots to those targets. Most importantly: Make your practice session fun.
PGA.com: Are there any particular exercises you would suggest they work on?
Doctor: I think it’s very important that golfers work with a trainer during the off-season. One of the best things I have ever done for my body, my confidence and my game was joining a workout class three days a week during the winter months. Try to find someone who understands the game of golf or specializes in working with golfers. Walking or running, or any cardio exercise, will be very helpful for building stamina especially for those golfers who like to walk when they play. Develop a stretching program with the help of a trainer to improve flexibility, which is so important when it comes to playing good golf. I personally like working with lightweights, kettle bells, a medicine ball and dumbbells.
PGA.com: What about club maintenance? Is now the time to get new grips? Check loft, lie and shaft? Why is that important?
Doctor: I always like to put new grips on my clubs in the spring. I believe that it’s extremely important that you have the right size grips. I make sure that the grip is the right size for the player but I also believe that it’s very important that the grip feels right to the player. For example: I wear a XX Large golf glove but I like grips that are only slightly oversize in the right hand and standard size in the left hand. It helps me to feel the club head when I swing the club. I take the time to interview the customer. I ask them what type of grip they may like and what they would like the club to feel like when they are swinging it. If they aren’t sure if they will like the grip or I’m not sure of the size, I put one on their favorite iron and let them try it. The golfer’s only contact with the golf club is through the grip. It’s important to make sure they like it and make sure it’s right.
Ask your golf professional to check your wedges for the right loft and bounce. I think the bounce on wedges is extremely important so that they fit the conditions of your home course. I also believe that the shaft in your wedges should be a little softer. Ask your golf professional if he has wedges you can demo.
Ask your golf professional to check the lie on your clubs a couple times a year. Sometimes a swing change might have an effect on your lie angle. Forged irons should be checked more often because they tend to change from use.
PGA.com: How important is it to be properly fit for clubs before the season starts?
Doctor: This is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t believe in fitting clubs inside, hitting golf balls into a net unless you have a launch monitor and video the golf swing. I like to fit outdoors -- I want ball-flight feedback. I like the customer to have practiced a little and maybe played a round or two before the fitting. Once we determine the proper fit I like to have the player take the club on the golf course to see how they like it. If I have a demo set I send the player out with them. I’m guilty of taking my time to be sure we properly fit the golfer. Nothing bothers me more than having a customer play with a set of clubs that don’t properly fit them or they don’t like.
My advice to my customers: don’t be in hurry to buy a set of clubs. Take your time, kick the tires and work with your PGA golf professional to get the best possible set of clubs to make playing golf enjoyable and fun.
PGA.com: Do you encourage golfers of any ability to set goals for a new season?
Doctor: I encourage every one of my students from the youngest to the oldest to set realistic goals for their game. Discuss those goals with your golf professional to be sure they are realistic and set a course to accomplish the goals you agree upon. It’s my job to help the student set realistic goals. I keep using the word “realistic” because nothing will slow down progress faster then setting goals that the student has no possible chance of accomplishing.
Example: I took up running many years ago. I set a goal of running and walking for one hour. At first I walked most of the time. Within a month, I ran three-quarters of the time. In two months, I could run for on hour. I accomplished my goal of running for an hour.
A few years ago, I wanted to improve my putting from six feet. I practiced making putts from two feet then three feet, five and six feet. As I made more and more putts from two, three and five feet, I started making more putts from six feet.
I had a student who was a freshman in high school and played on the golf team. He came for a golf lesson one day and I noticed that he was very upset with his game. When I asked him why, he said he wasn’t playing as well as two of the seniors on the team. We looked at the scores they shot as freshman and I showed him that he was actually playing better as a freshman then they did as freshmen. And if he set realistic goals, he would be better as a senior than they are now. Realistic goals are the key to successes in everything we do in life especially in sports.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.