L_Master other than the general advice about how to hit the golf ball, it seems like your main answer as to how to improve in golf (long game, let's say) is to watch lots of sound swings and compare them to your own swing by using video and/or mirrors. In the past I have not had much luck with that... (A) because I did not have a spot to do this 'mirror work' and (B) because I did not have the ability to record quality video at a time when I was actually hitting golf balls... doing it in your backyard without hitting a ball of course isn't as useful since you don't know how effective a swing you are analyzing was at hitting the ball well. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why working with a pro seemed so necessary to me. Overall, I've found it very difficult to identify what I did wrong much of the time (of course, sometimes it's obvious what you did wrong, or at least one of the things you did wrong).
I want to be clear I'm not saying this is the best way. It's just a method that worked for me, since you asked about getting respectable in skill without having tons of lessons.
One thing worth mentioning here is that much of it just comes down to practice. The idea behind knowing what a good swing looks like and using that as a basis for your own is that you will have relatively good fundamentals. However, a big part of it is just practice; getting in the repetitions. Even pro golfers hit lots of bad shots. Their swing, their fundamentals anyway, are not to blame. They just did something wrong that time. If Tiger duck hooks one of the tee that doesn't mean he needs to go overhaul his swing...he just didn't execute in that instance.
I bring that up to suggest that just because you hit some bad shots doesn't mean you need to fix your swing. It just means you haven't practiced enough to make the same swing everytime, and have the timing and coordination for squaring up the face. You only get alot of that from practice. I could have you make air swings until your swing looked like Tiger's and if I then put you on the range you would still be a 15 handicap because the timing and consistently wouldn't be there.
I used video/knowledge of good swings to ensure I didn't develop any super shitty fundamentals, but by and large the secret as Hogan said "is in the dirt". The main reason I get fairly good is that I hit 500 balls a day for 4 summers.
This is something I still have trouble fully buying into even many years later... if I have to choose between not suddenly pushing/slicing my drive on #2 in to the woods OB, or, after missing the green, two putting for bogie on hole 3 when I probably could have gone up and down for par, I will honestly choose the former.
You picked the most extreme example. You are correct though. The most egregious fault one can make in golf is hitting the ball out of play. Aside from that though the effects of short game are vastly more significant. Take the difference between a good drive that goes lets say 280 down the middle leaving 120 into the pin, or a 220 yard little squinter that ends up in the rough. If you have a good short game, you are very likely to make par from both spot. You might make birdie a little more often from 120, but even for scratch players that's a rare event. So that drive saves you...we'll call it .3 of a stroke. If you are the typical 15-20 handicap, you usually make bogey or double from 180 in the rough, which is giving up 1-2 shots.
Good drives marginally increase the opportunity to make birdie. Good putting and chipping outright saves you a shot.
Short game question: two different pros I spoke to seemed to have different philosophies about chipping... one suggested treating it like a putt and keeping the arms more or less stiff... the other advocated using the wrists (not completely, but not locking them either) in tandem with a small upper body rotation... are both valid? Is one ridiculous? The latter seems to have more potential for shots that don't run much when they land, but seem to be trickier to learn.
Except for very short chips there will always be some natural wrist break. The thought of trying to hit a 30 yard pitch with no wrist break is comical and horribly unnatural. You could use that putting motion if you like to play little chips with lower lofted irons or are playing a 3-wood from the rough/fringe border. Wrists shouldn't get heavily involved, but they should be involved similar to how they would be for your normal swing. "Quiet wrists" on the downswing and follow through is a good way to think of it, unless you really need to get the ball way up in the air.
setting your putts up with good approach shots is also really important, 3 or 4 feet closer on the approach is often the difference between 1 or 2 putts for me
Very true. Just look at tour pros. From:
<3 feet - 99%
6 feet - 62%
10 feet - 57%
10-15 feet - 33%
15-20 feet - 15%
It drops off fast. The difference between chipping to 3 feet and 6 or 7 feet is MASSIVE. Roughly you save half a stroke every-time you chip the ball inside 3 feet versus chipping to 6 feet...and that is if you are a tour pro, I suspect it's even greater for amateurs.