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Just one thing: Keep your mind clutter-free to improve your golf game

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

"You broke your wrists," said my friend, Sam.

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I wound up once more, smashing it.

"You did it again," he said.

I was down in Sam's basement where he has a room devoted to getting him through a central New York winter where snow has been known to pile up to first-floor windows. This room is all about golf, off limit to kids when he's in practice mode.

There's a driving net, a putting surface with a returnable cup and the place is all padded, the ceiling high enough to make a full swing. Assorted clubs are lined up along one wall. Sam also has a mini range in his back yard and a bunker he dug by hand filled with beach sand. He's into it.

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I have respect for Sam. Playing to a two, he has been around a few teachers in his young life - spent a lot of time on the range. So I asked him, "What would you suggest?"

"Lessons," he said. "Not from me."

I'd tried that, typically in a disparate attempt to correct whatever is going wrong just before a tournament. Don't recommend it. Lessons, yes. Before a big event, no.

How many times have you taken a lesson or a series of lessons or played golf with your husband or best pal and received a barrage of well-intentioned advice? Like bad pennies, they just keep showing up, the gift that keeps on giving.

Some tips work - for the moment - though most are absolutely the worst advice anyone could give or take.

Over the years, I've received a list of tips longer than a teenager's lineup of excuses. "Complete your swing high. Hit down. Sweep it like you're sweeping the floor. Keep your weight on your toes. Think of your wedge as an ice cream scoop balancing a filled wine glass, and try to lift the ball out of the bunker without spilling it. Here, use my 64-degree wedge. You'll love it."

Or one of the most stupid: "Keep your head down. I'll watch the ball."

After these well-intentioned attempts to improve my game, I have approached my ball.

"Okay," I tell myself. "Stand closer to the ball. Flare out your left foot. Keep your head down, take the club back slowly, slowly, more outside. Don't try to kill it. Swing at about 50 percent. Hit down on the ball. Take a divot. Follow through low to the ground, complete the swing. Hold the finish."

Ever heard the definition of a camel: a horse designed by a committee? You got it.

Sage golf tip: Swing smoothly

A few years ago, I was playing in the Algarve with a Brit, a member of Hoylake and the R&A who has been around the game since Churchill told his country, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight ... we shall never surrender. ... Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

Chris, who now plays off a five, knows his way around Britain's links courses and is a master of the bump and run. After an exceptionally great round where he carded two above par, I asked him, "What do you think about when you take your shot?"

"Just to swing smoothly," he replied softly. I've never forgotten that.

I talked to David Brooker, Lorena Ochoa's caddy ... the 6-foot-3 guy who is becoming known not only as one of the best caddies on the LPGA Tour but for wearing brightly patterned shorts from Loudmouth Golf.

He said it was better to remember one little thing, not a boatload of swing thoughts. "Golf is made to be far too complex," he said.

"Good players have one simple thing to think about on any particular day. One thought may work one day, one another. We (Brooker and Ochoa) have a 'hard disc' of about 20 swing thoughts in the bag but only use one at any given time."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Might be, 'Keep your left tricep close to your chest when using your driver,' or, 'Bring the club back on a shallow plane'" Brooker said. "One day everything she's doing may feel great, so easy; another she may be losing it a bit. We try to figure things out. It might be to tighten at top. That's it. Most of the swing thoughts deal with the start of the swing ... nothing else.

"I love watching coaches like Lorena's who comes in and gives her a feeling as to how to correct something. He might ask, 'Do you feel like you're doing this on your take away,' then give her one thought to try. Good coaches keep it simple."

Golf tip for 2009: Eliminate clutter

My plan for '09? Make a list, probably of all the things above, except the keep-head-down very bad idea. On the practice tee (yes, practice before playing is also on "the list"), I'll work with one swing thought only ... just one little thing.

My mantra for '09: eliminate clutter.

And about Ochoa holding her finish? "She just does that because she does it. She doesn't know why."

Whatever inspires her, no matter how simple, it's a beautiful thing.

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.


 
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