- Analyse your game
- Avoid mindless practice
- Cut out the disaster holes
“I am happy with my level and I really don’t need to improve” is something you will hear from no golfer ever. Whether you are trying to get under a hundred, looking for your first bogey round, heading for single figures or trying to regularly break par in competition, none of us are really satisfied with where we are. Learning how to get better in golf is part of the fabric of the game itself, so why not learn how to make it happen? Here are a few key ideas that should lead to some solid progress.
How to Get Better in Golf-the Basics
It generally goes without saying that the more we play, the better we get at most things. This is true for golfers too but it really is a little bit more complicated than that. For example, most of us no a range rat or two who seem to spend their life beating balls, but never improve, at least not in terms of score. There are also golfers who are always on the course but will generally hover around the same sort of standard for most of their golfing career.
If we want to get better, some of the golfing time has to be a little bit more targeted than simply hitting balls mindlessly or wandering around the course with our friends. There is nothing wrong with either of these two things, but they aren’t the fastest track to improvement.
You will often hear someone chirp up at this point telling you that the way to score better is to work on your short game. Just spend your life on the short game area and putting green and you will be breaking par eventually. Unfortunately, the stats don’t back this up, at least not to the degree some would say. Short game and putting are important but I know a reasonable number of golfers who have very tidy short games but are happy to score in the high eighties, when their short game points to ten shots or more less.
I have divided this path to progress into three areas that all need attention in order to make a difference.
Analyse Your Game
In truth, no two golfers have exactly the same game. As an example, I often play with a friend who is 80 years old. He still plays solid golf and our scores can be quite similar. We might both shoot his age for example! However, how we get their is hugely different. I could probably hit five iron off the tee and really not lose much compared to his driver. He might be hitting this five iron into a par three when I might be hitting an easy eight iron. However, I will be happy to chip it close enough to get two easy putts whereas he will be disappointed to leave much more than a tap in from the same spot.
If we both adopt the same practice regime, how are we both going to progress? How would we even know what to practice? The first thing for any golfer wishing to improve is to start tracking stats. It doesn’t need to be PGA Tour level, but having a vague idea of what you are doing on the course is vital. Are you hitting fairways? At what distance? Missing left or right? Normal shot shape? Greens in regulation?
For example, I know from this type of analysis that I will probably hit it closer to the pin (and certainly have a better shot of hitting the green) with a full nine iron than with a half swing wedge. I am better (and more confident) playing from 120m than 80m. Therefore, my best strategy is to try to leave myself this sort of full swing distance if possible. Your mileage might vary hugely.
I also know that I can potentially hit it closer with my 56 degree wedge from the fringe than another club, but over time my average result doing a bump and run with a seven iron will be better.
I know this because at various times, I have noted it down post-round over several rounds. This is important because we lie to ourselves horribly about what we actually do on the course! It is easy to remember those great shots but we sometimes forget what went wrong.
These things change over time too. At one point, my half wedge from 80m was my favourite shot and perhaps in the future it will be again.
Do Truly Effective Practice
Once you have some stats from the course, it is time to progress. You will hear that practice makes perfect, but this isn’t entirely true either. PERFECT practice makes perfect! The guy smashing driver after driver on the range is not necessarily getting better even though he might think he is. The range can be hugely misleading. It might feel like you are striking it really well, but where is the ball going? When you start looking more closely, maybe you are spraying the ball 100 yards from left to right!
This applies to all the clubs and shots in the bag, but driver is a great example. When I try to work on driver, I am not just blindly hitting balls. I am imagining that I am on the tee. Not just any tee, but one I will specifically choose from a course I know. I will picture where I want the ball to go and with what shape. I have a limit of what will be trouble left or right.
As an example, the shot I often choose is the tee shot on the first hole at my local club. There is a line of trees that are out-of-bounds left and too far right (especially with a fade) will send me into trouble. When I stand on the range, I use a tree at the far end to mark the line of trees on the left of the fairway. I use the right-hand corner of the range to represent trouble on the right. I then try to draw the ball off this right-hand corner and into the imaginary centre of my fairway.
If I hit a fantastic high draw that flies down the range but ends up left of the tree, I have not hit a good shot although it might look like it to someone watching. If I hit this shot on the course, I am hitting three off the tee.
In fact, this is why I really don’t spend a lot of time on the range because I don’t think it is the best way to practice getting better in golf at all! I think it is much more useful to hit specific shots on course and if possible I will try to hit two or three balls from the same place if the course is quiet.
This also allows me to make better decisions in my game. I can see what the potential downside of trying to go for a tucked pin might be. Over time, I might well be better to shoot for the fat of the green. If I just remember the one time that the ball curled perfectly over the bunker to three feet, I am not doing anything to realistic get better. Out of ten shots, one finishes perfectly, but perhaps one or two might over draw and finish plugged in the bunker, in deep rough or with an impossible up and down leading to a double.
Cut Out the Disaster Holes
This illustrates perfectly one of the really misunderstood tricks to getting better at golf. For the average golfer, they would probably score ten or more shots better if they had a professional caddie seeing them round the course. This isn’t because of some magic fairy dust which improves the swing, simply because the choices most of us make would be so much better. The direct consequence of this would be fewer blow-up holes.
Depending on your level, a blow-up hole could mean different things. If you are looking to get in the nineties, it might be avoiding getting double figures on a hole. For another golfer, it could be getting a bogey on a straightforward par four.
Generally, the majority of these type of holes come from bad decisions, not really from poor execution. We will all top one over the green, hit the dreaded shank or slice one out-of-bounds now and again. However, far more often will be tying to fly the water two hundred yards away because we know a perfect shot will do it. and strangely, the ball ends up in the water!
This is generally followed by a desperate attempt to “get the shot back” and trying to stick the pin after dropping before the water hazard. We then trudge up to the ball which has inevitably finished in the bunker and try to conjure up a Seve rather than playing out safely away from the pin. 2 (or 3 ) shots in the bunker, A first putt which is far too aggressive, ……and we are tapping in for a solid ten when we could have played bogey six without hitting anything longer than a five iron!
Better Golf Through Better Practice
The beauty of this type of approach is that is will improve scores fairly quickly and without actually doing a lot differently at first. For example, it doesn’t require finding an extra 50 yards off the tee. It doesn’t require sinking putts left, right and centre. It certainly doesn’t need an extra 5 hours a week on the range. It does require a bit of thoughtful analysis and then spending whatever time you have available making smart choices both on the range and on the course.