People choose to play sports for many reasons. For golf, you’ll most likely be into it if you’re not interested in contact sports. Unlike basketball, in which you have to rip the ball from another player, or soccer, in which you have to side-tackle someone at some point to get to the goal. You have to react and move very quickly to take control of the ball and increase your chances of winning.
But golf is none of those things. So much of the game depends on one person: you.
It’s about taking control of your mind and your muscle.
Patience tags along with that control. Truth be told, the elegance of golf is dictated by patience. With the ball being so tiny and the playing field a whole lot bigger than that in any other sport out there, you have to have a great amount of the virtue.
If you’re just starting out in golf, how you react and how you learn from difficult situations matter above everything else. Once you’re on the greens, a lot of external factors come into play: the weather conditions, grass surface, and natural obstacles in the field itself, (e.g., trees, bunkers, and puddles).
If you’re at that phase where you’re ready to commit to a lifetime of golf, there are a couple of things you should know.
Basic Golf Etiquette
There’s no denying the fact that golf can be intimidating at the beginning. If you’ve been invited to play at a private club or if it’s your first time to do so, you need to know about the basics.
It’s always better to be early than to be late. In any kind of social setting, being early always leaves the right impression and shows respect. And make no mistake—golf clubs are social platforms in their own right.
If you arrive at the club before your host does, you can check in with the receptionist or available attendant and let them know that you’re a guest. Once you say the name of the club member you’re waiting for and playing with, the attendant will let you know where to go and make you feel right at home.
Usually, your host will tell you everything you need to know about the club.
But while waiting, you can get started by letting one of the club attendants guide you to the locker room. You need not worry because most private clubs always have a place where guests can change into their playing gear. That means you won’t have to change your shoes in the parking lot.
Spikeless golf shoes are your sure bet, but tennis shoes and other types of running footwear should be fine too. Long pants and collared shirts should definitely be your go-to clothing.
If you look at the mirror and see that you’re dressed the same way you did when you first met your in-laws, then you’re good to go. Also, it’s best to pack a casual blazer just in case your host invites you to dinner after playing.
When it comes to tips and fees, your host will graciously work that out for you and will most probably let you know a day before you’re playing schedule. Nevertheless, it’s always good practice to offer to pay for guest fees and caddies and maybe a reasonable tip for your attendants. Since it’s your first time, it’s always better to leave a good impression and get to know some of the people you’ll probably be seeing on your next visit.
Get a Grip and Swing
The fastest way to learn how to swing is to take lessons from a professional. If you’d rather get a feel of what the sport is like first, you’ll probably take the most common route of all: cash in a favor from a friend. It’s a bonus if your friend happens to be a professional.
You need to start with a solid grip. For right-handed players, the lead hand will be the left hand while the trailing hand will be the right hand. If you are left-handed, you will be using the right hand as your lead and your left for trailing.
To pull off one of the most common grips in golf, the Vardon grip, you need to hold the club with your left hand and grasp the club as if you were shaking someone else’s hand. Wrap your right hand around the club.
Place your right little finger tightly in the space between your left index finger and your middle finger. Move the club back and forth, and make sure it doesn’t slip down when you’re swinging.
When you’re swinging for the first time, it’s best to focus less on the technical aspect of the swing for now. Try to copy as accurately as you can what your friend or anyone else who’s with you at that particular time on the greens do. You need to be patient on your first few tries because it’s not exactly going to be a pleasant experience. You can expect it to be a challenging one all the way through.
Make sure you have a good stance and alignment. You can do this by doing a quick measurement. Place your club on the ground, pointing at the target. Get a second club, place it parallel to the first.
Align your feet along the line, and square your hips parallel to the target line. Bend forward from the hips, knees ready with your feet apart. Straighten your back, and reach for the ball.
Start with a short game, like a chip or putter shot, anything close to the green. Your hands should be on the grip with your thumbs pointing straight down the club. Get your feet positioned parallel to the target line. Always remember that parallel is your default stance in golf.
When holding on to the shaft, your arms and club should visually form the letter Y at rest. When you make the backswing, it should look like the letter L. Same goes for the forward swing.
Try swinging back and forth a couple of times, finding the Y and L positions that you’re comfortable with. Practice by doing a couple of swings without the ball until your hands, arms, and shoulders have adjusted to the weight of the club and your swing feels smooth or at least not too awkward.
With a straight arm and the shaft positioned in a 90-degree angle, start your backswing by initially putting your weight on your right leg with your stomach facing front. When you get to the forward swing, transfer your weight on your left leg for the finish.
Practice swinging back and forth and moving your weight left to right a few more times before doing it with the ball. Weight shifting is important to get you the power you need for your swing, especially when you start playing long courses.
Practice playing with each club that you have so you’ll start building muscle memory for them in terms of weight, how they feel on your arms, shoulders, and legs when you take a swing. Start with clubs that are easier to hit, like the 9-iron driver. Skip the 5-iron for later when you’ve got a good feel of the easier ones.
Make sure you finish with a balanced swing. It will get easier and feel more natural the more you practice swings. For good measure, you can put on an elastic sports tape before getting on the course to reduce feeling any kind of soreness when you get home.
Playing the Game
When you’ve locked down your grip, stance, and swing, then you’re just about ready to take your first hit. If you’ve already done that, then you’re ready to learn about scoring and playing the game.
Start on a short par, a three-course hole for your first few games. It’s not as restricting as the other pars are, and you get to enjoy the view of the course and the company you’re playing with since the longest hole is roughly 150 yards away. Sort out with your fellow players who gets to hit the ball first. But if it’s your first time, best to offer that chance to the other players.
When scoring, keep in mind that you have to count one stroke for every time you hit the ball. Each player will have his or her own tee box to play from (red, blue, or white). If your ball lands on a bunker or in a hazard spot, you can drop another ball near it and receive a one-stroke penalty.
Remember that there may be a couple of players behind you. Try to play at a good pace. Choose the right club, walk toward the ball, and maintain a proper stance.
With your eyes on the target, take the time to focus only on the ball and visualize your shot. Take one or two practice swings first without making contact with the back. When you’re confident enough, steady your position, breathe in, take a swing, and let it rip.
A Few More Things to Remember
The lessons you learn from the moment you started playing the sport are the same lessons you’ll be facing as you become a better player. The great thing about golf is that it doesn’t change. It remains constant from the first day until the last day you play it.
At some point, you’ll have to say goodbye to the other sports you used to play once you’ve reached your thirties. The physical aspect and training required in other sports are simply not as sustainable as you grow older. You just can’t play basketball or soccer forever.
But not golf.
Golf is timeless in that sense.
There’s some comfort in knowing that it never has to end.