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What you can do to keep your game sharp and get ready for spring

By Cynthia Boal Janssens, Contributor

Ladies, if you live in northern climes, then I bet you haven't looked at your golf clubs all winter. Chances are they were stuck in a corner of the garage or basement about the time you set out your holiday decorations and you won't think about them again until you see daffodils popping up in the next few months.

Plus, heaps of snow, dreary weather, ultra cold temps and lack of sunlight haven't put you in the mood, right?

But think of it this way: Rather than curling up with seed catalogs these last months of winter, why not get a head start on this golf season. Here are some things you can do to keep your game sharp and get ready for spring:

• Practice putting. Build a putting course around your living room or den and have fun contests on the carpet to sharpen your putting stroke. You can even involve your children in this exercise. This might even be a good time to consider using a different kind of putter. Local golf shops are pretty quiet at this time of year, and they will be able to recommend putters you might try. (I am now using a belly putter, ever tried one?)

#8226; Take a club to the garage or any other space with high ceilings and practice swinging for 10 to 15 minutes a day to help strengthen muscles and get your groove back.

• Read a good golf book. For technique, I recommend any of the late Harvey Penick's books or "Rock Solid Golf" by Dana Rader. For fun, read Roberta Isleib's golf mystery series featuring LPGA Tour player Cassandra Burdette. The first book in the three-book series is "Six Strokes Under."

You can buy these paperback mysteries at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com for $5.99 each. Check out the author's website at robertaisleib.com.

• Dig out the clubs from the garage and take inventory. How do your grips feel? Often, our equipment sits in a cold garage where grips get dried out and golf balls lose compression. Clean out old balls from your bag and check your clubs to see if they need re-gripping.

• Take stock of your clubs. Is it time to consider replacing a club or two, or is it time to invest in a new set? Women with handicaps over 20 will want to consider the new TaylorMade Miscelas, or the Nancy Lopez Golf Torri system or the Ping G2L clubs. These are new hybrid sets designed for players with slower swing speeds. Beginner golfers will want to take a look at the new Callaway G.E.S. clubs (Game Enjoyment System). These are a radically new design and the set of seven clubs, including mallet putter and small bag, sells for around $500.

• Consider trading in your old clubs or selling them online. Callaway offers a trade-in program that you can investigate at tradeintradeup.com. (They will accept Callaway, Ping and Titleist clubs in trade.) And Ebay runs an aggressive golf club sale/resale business.

• What about the bag itself? It is getting frayed around the edges or faded in color? Time to go shopping for a new model. But buy with care. Make sure that you know what you want in your bag, like how many pockets and where you want them located. Maybe you will want to consider one of the newer, lighter bags on the market like the new ICE model for women by Ogio. Remember: A cutesy bag might look sharp on the cart but be a real pain to play with.

• Poking around your bag should put you in the mood to check out your golf wardrobe. Be ruthless here. Get out all of those shirts and shorts and get rid of those that are faded, stained, frayed or that you just don't wear because you really don't like them. After all, as soon as you get back out there you will want to add some new outfits to your closet. Most course pro shops will have sales on last season's merchandise when they open, and your local golf stores are bound to offer great deals this time of year. Remember you can also find clothing deals online. Right now womenonthegreen.com is holding its winter clearance sale.

(If it appears that I am steering you away from local golf retailers, I am not doing so. I love to browse around a good golf shop as well as the next gal. But the fact is that most northern stores carry very little stock for women, both in equipment and clothing, especially if you are a larger size. Which is why I recommend going online for many of your golf needs.)

#8226; Check out your physical fitness and crank up your routine. Yoga is an excellent way to increase your flexibility and get you in shape for a great season. Sign up for a series of local classes now, or buy a video or DVD by Katherine Roberts. Check out her Web site, yogaforgolfers.com.

Dig out your golf videos and watch them. You'd be amazed at how quickly you' ll tune in to the message, no matter how old the videos are. Plus you will pick up a few tips. Or, for fun, watch "Leslie Nielsen's Bad Golf Made Easier (1993)."

• Rent or buy a few golf movies and grab a bowl of popcorn. Of course, "Tin Cup," "Caddyshack" and "Happy Gilmore" are always good, but see if you can find "Pat and Mike" with Tracy and Hepburn (1952) or "Follow the Sun," the biography of Ben Hogan (1951.) Golfmovies.com is a great reference.

• As soon as there is a clear day and you can find a range, go out and hit a bucket of balls. Do you remember how to hold the club? Try hitting all the clubs in your bag and evaluate where you need help the most. Try a couple different practice sessions. See what comes back on its own before seeking professional assistance.

• If the cobwebs just won't go away, now is the time to call for help. Call your local professional and either take a spring series of lessons or just a tune-up lesson to get you going again. If you do just a few of these things, you will be more ready than ever to get out there and play as soon as the courses open.

Cynthia Boal Janssens is a former newspaper writer and editor turned freelance writer. She is the former travel editor and Sunday magazine editor of The Detroit News. In addition, she has worked for newspapers in California, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Ohio University.

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