101 Golf Secrets

Golf Secrets 40 - 42: Playing the Game

Golf Digest

I'm proud of being known for possessing great feel—for having the sensitivity in my hands to control the club in a way that produces not only an entertaining variety of shots, but the correct shot.

We are all born with a certain amount of feel, but some develop theirs more than others. I was lucky to grow up on a course where my father is the pro and my mother runs the shop. I roamed the course with a club in my hand and spent the afternoon trying every kind of shot.

That gave me an intimate familiarity with how a golf ball reacts when struck in different ways from different lies over different ground and wind conditions. It's amazing how much our brains can process if we let their intuitive power take over. Try to develop the comfort and confidence to focus on the target and let athletic instinct take over.

For me, feel begins with the eyes. I want to take in everything—the air, the wind, the lay of the land, the lie, the bunkers, the firmness and contours of the green. I can feel my hands and feet react with increased sensitivity. That's when I let instinct determine what shot to hit. After that, all I try to do is keep it nice and smooth.


There are three ways to secure a difficult tee time at a public course that hosts a major championship, such as Bethpage Black in New York or Torrey Pines South in San Diego, both U.S. Open venues:

1. Qualify for the tournament. Fuggedaboutit.

2. Sleep in your car, sign up on the day of the round, play in your sleep.

3. Install 40 phones and speed dial the impossibly busy reservations number until you get the time you want.

Wait. You don't have to do that third one. Someone's already done it. San Diego Golf Reservations takes requests and then uses its bank of 40 speed dialers working from their homes to secure the time (or near it) that you want. "Hey, you can use the dial-in yourself," says Marvin Sells of SDGR. "We even give you the number on our website. But with only one or two phones, you have little chance. We have 40 and still hit at only 60 or 65 percent."

SDGR charges $169 for a weekday round at Torrey Pines South, $189 on weekends. Of that, $54 is a service charge to the company. Owner Richard MacDonald, a retired military man, got the idea when his daughter set up a dialing service for his friends. "We've been told Torrey is the second most difficult after Bethpage Black," says Sells. Unfortunately, SDGR serves only San Diego, and there is no such service in New York. There you need another alternative (see No. 4).

4. Call a Sales Guy. Sales Guys long to go where no one else can go, usually with client in tow, in quest of a sale. It doesn't matter what kind of Sales Guy, really. They all live for this stuff. Contact a Sales Guy about Bethpage, say, and you'll get an e-mail like this: ". . . 100 bucks gets you in. I can set it up."

This fourth approach comes with a warning, of course, bribery being a felony and whatnot.



Golf Digest ranks Esther Choe No. 2 nationally among girls. Under the eye of Jim Flick, the 16-year-old qualified for and made the cut in the LPGA Safeway International in March. Last fall, she led her team to victory in the Arizona State High School Championship, shooting 61-64 at Tucson's Randolph Complex to win the individual title by eight strokes.

Like most kids, I'm more of a feel player than a technical one. Before each shot, I'll take a couple of practice swings to try to get the feel for the shot I'm trying to hit—a draw, fade, or a three-quarter shot—then I just focus on the target and swing with that same feeling. It's much easier for me to correct myself when things go badly by focusing on feel as opposed to a mechanical thought. On my approach shots, I like to focus on as small a target as possible because it helps me concentrate better. But with my driver, I just get up and think of hitting the right side, or left side of the fairway. This works for me because my strength is hitting the ball straight, and I don't want to overthink my drives.

At the state tournament, I knew I would have to shoot a low number for us to win, so I put a little more pressure on myself to perform, but I actually love pressure. That's when golf gets fun.

When I putt my best, I think of very few things: the ball, putter and the hole. Before the putt, I visualize a line from my ball to the hole, and then I picture the ball rolling into the hole. I try to make everything because I know that every putt is makable. Under pressure, I concentrate a little more on the speed of the putt and try to create a 1-2 tempo with my stroke—like a pendulum going through. I tend to focus more and see better pictures when it matters most.


Images from top: Dom Furore; Joey Terrill