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The winter golf training plan
Donald Crawley

Boulders, AZ (Sports Network) -- As a golfer that believes the course beckons every weekend regardless of the time of the year, what can you realistically do in these cold winter months? Playing Santa Claus for the moment, and it is the appropriate timeline in which to do so, I am going to provide you with a wish list of sorts, based upon priority and the most helpful hints I can muster for your game. However, it is a "given" that much depends upon your location and whether, as was the case recently in Denver and nearby areas, you are in need of golf balls in a color other than white.

Here you go:

1: Take a winter vacation and spend a few days playing golf in the sunshine States. Yes, you are correct, my current advisory role combines golf professional and instructor with travel agent. My first choice would be Arizona because, frankly, I live here and teach snow birds like yourself from October through May. Check the weather patterns before you come because although sun is guaranteed the majority of time there are cold spells when snow falls in the Rockies and that could mean a shopping sojourn on that day. At the local golf outlet, of course.

Other options are Southern California with its temperate climate, but still necessitating your packing wind shirts for what they call winter. Hawaii is awesome if you can get there and it is affordable for you. Florida, of course, is a natural choice for East coast residents, but the changing climate means you have to plan with avoidance of the hurricanes in mind these days.

If you just want to escape the winter as best you can, play a few rounds as bundled up as need be with still some room to swing. Just trying to keep your hand in the game to have some sense and feel of it, even if the practicality of well, or badly, you do is limited to the putting green once you manage to get there. Do not take the score too seriously when you have encountered a long lay off. On the premise that you be more of a serious golfer, sign up for a lesson or two to get some pointers prior to playing at this time of the year whatever your travel destination might be, from your home club to Maui. Unless you are already familiar with the person you will be seeking for same, check out the instructor's credentials and history, teaching philosophy, and general attitude towards the game and students (do not be afraid to ask others) and be very much aware of what you will be getting to improve your play.

You might want to consider a school or academy package, one that will include instruction and golf play. There are lots from which to choose so, again, do your research and know what to expect. For example, do you want a group setting or a more personalized experience? Do you want more instruction and less play, or vice-versa? After being in the golf school business for many years, I found the majority of golfers would like a balance of instruction and play. The ideal golf day is morning instruction and afternoon golf. That does not mean five hours of instruction and twilight golf because that translates into an endurance test! Consequently, I recommend 2-3 hours instruction, 9 or 18 holes of golf for three days in a row.

If your partner, spouse or whomever you are with (and does not play) wants to sightsee and shop, expecting you to tag along, then go to Plan B - squeeze in a few holes at the end of the day in a twilight setting and be thankful for whatever you can get and satisfy in both instances. Some early risers prefer to schedule a ?dawn patrol? game so they can be back to the hotel by mid morning to spend quality time with their loved one. This would be my preference as well but, remember, in the winter months the early times are prime price, often booked way in advance and there is always the danger of a frost delay of an hour or more.

2: Just in case work, family and other commitments don?t allow you to get away in the winter, the option is to try and keep your game half way in shape by searching for the winter dome in your area. At least you can hit balls, keep supple, work on some of the swing issues that seem to keep recurring each mid season and not be bundled up doing so.

Whatever the case, try to set up a regular schedule and keep to it on a consistent basis. If that is once a week every Thursday night, great! If you can do more, even better. Perhaps it is a weekend workout. This is the alternative to playing only in the "good months," stepping up to the first tee and wondering why you did not stroke the ball at least 250 yards straight down the middle. Consider the buddy system, and meet with the boys/girls every other week, make plans with your regular golfing pals, the same ones that will hold you pleasantly accountable and make certain that you get out there even if ?you don?t feel like it? on a given morning.

Then it is time to set some goals in place for each practice session. Are you just trying to stay loose or do you have specific swing changes you are trying to make? Keeping notes or a journal of what your working on is highly recommended. It helps remind you, keeps you focused and makes the ball hitting time more productive and fun. Don?t just go and smash away without some mental preparation and conscious forethought. One word of caution - indoor mats often have a lot of ?bounce?. That means your club can ?bounce? into the ball if you try to ?get under? it. Absolutely no ?scooping? allowed in the dome!

I will now take the liberty of digressing to an instructional tip. Scooping. At address, the club face is aimed with correct loft whereby the sole or flange is flush to the ground. The shaft and handle will be in line with the ball. OK, the wedge's handle is slightly ahead of the ball. At impact, you must return to that same position. The bottom of the swing will be at the ball. Swing to hit the mat and ball together - hence the club head is in line with the handle at impact. Got it? Go back and read this again, slowly...with club in hand if you must. If you ?bottom out? too early you are flipping your wrists and scooping the ball, which puts the club head ahead of the handle. On bouncy mats you can get away with scooping sometimes, which leads to a false sense of correct impact. Hitting against an impact bag or a cushion at the base of a wall will give you the in-line impact feel.

3: So, the reality of life is that you can?t get away to the sunshine, or an indoor hitting area ? Accepted. At least go to the gym, work out adding lots of golf stretches. The hamstrings and hip flexors are the two areas overlooked in golf but are the answer to many lower back ailments related to golf. Lifting weights is good but, for golf, don?t bulk up the chest. Strive for a balanced work out. I recommend 20 minutes cardio, 20 minutes weights, 20 minutes abs and stretching. Can?t find that time? You have to do something so, at the minimum, go for some sit ups and push ups with a bit of lower back stretching...ten minutes before bed time three times a week ought to do it. Yes, put on Letterman or Leno to make the time pass quickly and more enjoyably.

There are many good golf stretch books and resources that you can find on-line. It is important to remember that if you gain some flexibility over the winter you may be pleasantly surprised when you do get to swing the club again. Those shoulders will turn a couple more degrees and you will be better prepared to maintain your posture throughout the swing. It is even better if you actually like to work out and are motivated to help your golf swing and game. If that is the case, sign up for a Pilates class. Strengthening your core, adding strength and flexibility, will do wonders for your game, not to mention how much better your day to day posture will be reducing that nagging lower back ache. There is even a Pilates for Golf disc on the market in the form of a DVD exercise.

4: Still struggling to do any of the above? Perhaps you have to settle for 12 ounce curls and an afternoon on the couch watching Golf Channel or installing a TV in your office and taking a few moments daily to see those graceful professional swings that you want to emulate in some fashion, while burning them into your memory for next season. Besides, the few clubs you have in the corner of the office will impress anyone coming by for a visit. All you have to do, without your customary workload suffering, is to jump up on commercial breaks now and then, take a few practice swings using imagery, replaying the pro?s swing in your mind and reproducing by feel without bringing down any parts of the dropped ceiling or fan. Whether you are the CEO or not, I would not use a club whose length will only smash the light or that expensive family heirloom vase on the nearby table!

5: Dream about your past rounds and replay the good shots in your mind. We all do that. Memory and imagery can help you retain past senses and feel. Read up on past articles, magazines and books. Keep your mind active in the game. At least it is something, which is better than nothing, as you wait for the winter to pass and the 2007 season to roll around.

Donald Crawley, Director of Instruction at the Boulders Golf Academy at the Boulders Resort & Golden Door? Spa in Carefree, AZ, and the President of GolfSimplified. Crawley, a veteran of 29 years of teaching experience, is a regular features contributor to The Sports Network that range from tips on improving your game to etiquette at the course. He has established 40 golf school sites in the United States since 1980, previously as vice president and director of instruction at John Jacobs? Golf Schools, consultant to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, and presently at the Boulders Golf Resort in Arizona.

Crawley is recognized among the "Top 100 Teachers in America" by Golf Magazine and one of the "Best Teachers in Arizona" by Golf Digest. As both a Class A U.S. PGA member and a British PGA member, Crawley has been recognized for his outstanding teaching abilities. In 2002 and 2005, he won the Southwest Section PGA?s Teacher of the Year Award. He also received the Horton Smith Award for education in 2000. In addition to teaching over 60,000 students, Crawley has co-authored video instruction tapes with John Jacobs and BBC/ABC golf telecaster Peter Alliss.

Comments? Contact Donald Crawley at dcrawley@luxuryresorts.com.

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