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Westchester Golf Pros on How to Improve Your Game

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Photos by John Fortunato

Golf is a multifaceted game, so we asked a half-dozen expert teaching pros to give us some pointers about the shots we need to make par.

Three Basics

Pleasantville CC head pro Sharon McQuillan works with beginning golfer Sara Wilson, 15, on the three keys to a solid swing: grip, posture, and alignment. Sara is a tennis player, so Sharon reminds her to hold her club like a racket, in the fingers, not the palm of her hand. The best posture for golf is a “ready” position, with a flat lower back, knees slightly bent, and hands hanging in front from a natural lean forward. “The target determines your alignment,” McQuillan says. “With your feet the proper width apart for the club you’re using, your shoulders, hips, and knees should all be parallel to the line to the target.”

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Driving Straight and Far

Brad Worthington, director of golf at Pound Ridge GC, works with Howie Munck to lower his swing path throughout impact with the ball to avoid the dreaded topped shot. “Let the driver do the work,” Worthington says. “The hotspot on today’s driver is about a quarter of an inch above the center of the club face, so contact below that point will rob you of distance.” He recommends taking practice swings to hit a tee stuck in the ground without a ball to groove the proper path. “Then, put a ball on the tee and use the same swing.”

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Squaring the Club Face

The most important position in the golf swing is the clubface at impact, according to Brae Burn CC head pro Nick Yaun. “Square equals straight,” he says, “and straight means fairways and greens.” Yaun has been working with 15-year-old Lindsay Adler to make sure her club’s face returns to square at the moment of impact. “For Lindsay,” Yaun says, “when she is able to keep her clubface square — matching her spine angle — on the way back, she’s free to properly turn through the swing and return the face square.”

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Solid Putting

“A solid putting stroke can make a world of difference in your scores,” says Metropolis CC teaching pro John Reeves. He trains 14-year-old Carly Caplan to use a slight forward press to set her hands and to use a pendulum stroke, with an equal-length takeaway and follow-through to help eliminate tension, so the stroke releases smoothly. He says the pendulum stroke helps with distance control, too. “Anything we can do to unclutter the mind while putting will produce a better stroke.”

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Ball-First Chipping

Karen Perkins Dandridge came back to golf this past year and turned to The Saint Andrew’s Club teaching pro, Ambry Bishop-Santillo, to get started the right way. “We began with the short game,” Bishop-Santillo says, “because the chip shot has many components of a full swing.” Grip, stance, and aim all come into play, “and we concentrate on making solid, ball-first contact.” With her weight favoring her left side and standing taller over the ball, Karen can hit shots with different trajectories by altering ball position in her stance. Bishop-Santillo uses an easy meme to remind her where to place the ball between her feet to hit a high pitch or a low bump-and-run: “Left is for lift. Right is for run.”

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Align With the Clock

Ardsley GC’s 13th hole is a tough par 3, but 14-year-old Alex Shapiro, a newcomer to golf, made it look easy when he scored a hole-in-one the first time he played on a golf course! It happened at golf camp at the club last year. “I just did what my instructor said,” he explained, “and hit my six hybrid.” Kayte Decker, the teaching pro who was working with Alex at the time, says she reminds him to align his head, shoulders, knees, and toes just left of the target line. She advises, “Imagine the target at 12 o’clock and swing from seven to one on the clockface.”