Small details pay large dividends.
That’s one message emanating from Cheri Rice-Cottelli, the decorated Mainland High School graduate, holder of four golf records at Rutgers University in the 1990’s and a 21-year teaching pro in the “classroom” of Hamilton Trails Golf Club in Mays Landing.
In our monthly installment of tips from area pros, the focus becomes a myriad of fundamentals that produce big rewards. Rice-Cottelli is a master of them, dispensed over a full schedule of lessons at Hamilton Trails throughout the summer. She also instructs on weekends during the fall.
Lessons provide confidence and significant reinforcement for players. Cheri understands not only what works, but why, and her award-winning career enables her to challenge some long-held beliefs on grip, stance and alignment.
She was asked what impacts mid to high-handicap players most.
“Many people talk about wanting to put their drives in play and make sure their shots from the fairway get off the ground,” she indicates.
Cheri illustrated some techniques to enhance the setup for drives and fairway shots. One was lining up the ball to the front heel to establish where one should stand when setting up the shot. Then she connected a fully-extended hand to her body and the end of her club, indicating how close it should be to one’s body. One hand length for each club, regardless of its length. Many players reach too far for the ball or are too close to it and the varied lengths of the clubs increase the problem. This technique gives them a better sense of alignment.
“Use the same guideline for every club,” she says.
As for equipment, Rice-Cottelli encourages an investment in new technology.
“It would be a good idea to replace your irons with hybrids,” she indicates, “especially the three-through-five irons. Hybrids help get the ball in the air more easily, whereas the traditional irons (which have less loft potential) are not easy for most people to use.”
Cheri suggests a strong mental approach to the game’s most difficult shots. Needing to clear water just in front of the green may intimidate some players, causing them to overswing and sail a shot past the green, or to try and be too fine and “stab” at the ball, prompting a mis-hit into the water.
“Picture your shot going over the water,” she says. “If you take a water ball out of the bag, your brain follows that thought and you may well end up in that water,” she adds. “Accelerate through the swing and, in your mind, stay positive.”
Rice-Cottelli, a fifth-grade teacher during the school season, loves introducing the game to new players.
“When you take a person, who says “I know nothing about this game’ and you work with them enough that you then see the joy of them out on the course playing, it’s a wonderful feeling,” she indicates. “Like anything else, golf is something you need to have time for, whether that is playing fairly regularly, or going out to hit balls and putting.”
Cheri endorses modern-day advancements of yoga, Pilates and stretching to determine one’s strength and weaknesses.
“And”, she adds gleaming about one aspect that consumes 43 percent of the average golf score, “don’t forget to putt.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Lessons can reveal much more, and they are worth it.
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Rice-Cottelli has practiced, and perfected, what she has taught. She attended Rutgers University on a golf scholarship, qualified for the 2000 LPGA McDonald’s Championship, won the 1999 Northeast LPGA Club and Teaching Division Championship, was a second-place finisher in the 1998 Northeast LPGA Club and Teaching Division Championship, and holds four individual school records more than two decades later.
She has also been active in community and philanthropic events at Hamilton Trails, the course upon which she learned many of her skills.