Break the big picture down into small frames.
That’s one philosophy of many espoused by New Jersey Academy of Golf founder and teaching professional Bruce Chelucci.
As part of our monthly discussion with an area pro, we caught up with him to discuss shot-making tips at Blue Heron Pines Golf Club, where he operates several clinics, camps and individual instructions. Chelucci has worked with top amateurs and professionals and been named among the top instructors in the state by Golf Digest.
He advocates the “fun” aspect of “fundamentals,” using putting drills that include color-coded balls, informal contests on the green and individual prizes for player improvement during camps. It counters the frustration players experience from a difficult sport.
“Everything we talk about makes life less confusing for golfers,” he says “and a less confused player is a better player.
“I think this is the hardest game around and next to impossible for someone to learn quickly and become good at,” Chelucci continues. “It’s great to see people having a good time while they pick up on it.”
A deeper understanding can be obtained via lessons, which are well worth their cost. The unique nature of golf instruction is a consumer experiencing improvement while testing a product with the person who created it.
With this impromptu seminar for At the Shore readers, Chelucci started with a drill to identify swing plane and ball-striking consistency. He lined up three balls next to one another, each one ball length apart, and took a swing. The idea is to connect with the middle ball every time. Hitting the left or right ball indicates contact with the toe or heel of the club, which will skew direction and perhaps put a ball out of bounds. Striking the middle ball means one is hitting the ground in the correct place.
For additional emphasis on this drill, he removed the middle ball and took a swing. The club hit the middle area that had no ball, which was the intent.
Trying this exercise often will lead to consistency with the swing, he advises.
“This drill will help you find out what you want to improve with the swing,” Chelucci says. “It allows you to recognize hitting the toe or the heel. One of the biggest problems for many golfers is they don’t hit the ground in the same place every time.”
Chelucci provided a tip about the mental aspect of the game, particularly when one approaches a hazard. Sand or water in front of the green can provide a psychological challenge.
But don’t overthink it.
“If you were in the Masters and trying to hit the fairway you could be nervous,” he says, “but if you could hit the ball into the left woods and it was okay or into the right woods and it was okay, you would relax more.
“That’s why, in a drill, I may have someone hit a shot into the sand or hit it into the water.
“You have to accept the possibility of anything happening in the shot. If you do not care as much about the result on each shot, it will help you trust the process.”
For advanced players, Chelucci unfurled a shot for a specialized situation, like lifting a shot over water or sand onto a green from a short distance, perhaps 20 yards. It is designed to “fly high and land soft” and helps counter hazards directly in front of the green, especially a small one. A sand wedge is a likely club selection for this shot.
Because the tip would take a series of images to illustrate, we’ll take this one verbatim from him.
“The harder the course you are on, the more valuable this will be to you,” he says.
“Set up square to the target with the ball more forward in the stance with a square club face. On the backswing, turn your hips and let your right wrist hinge while rotating the forearms on plane. This will feel like a turning right-hand shake. On the downswing, make a level hip turn while swinging your right hand more palm up through the stroke like pitching slow pitch softball.”
It looked easy when HE did it. Chelucci made the shot look effortless, which, of course, it is not. But it will help a player who must hit a precise shot into a small landing area.
Chelucci has an abundance of tips in his clinical bag. These are just some.