One of the biggest questions that I see when talking about minimalist golf is just how it affects score. I was reading one of the golf forums the other day and someone said something like “I am completely on board with fewer clubs, but I just can’t do it because it will cost me shots.” This is a pretty valid comment and one I can understand but is it true? Does it even matter? what is the relationship between minimalist golf and score?
What is Minimalist Golf?
Of course, this is going to depend quite a bit on just what we mean by minimalist. If you go full tin cup and tackle the course with a seven iron from the tips, nobody is going to shoot their best ever score. It just creates too many limits. This doesn’t mean one club golf is a bad idea, far from it and I will come back to it a bit later on. However, minimalism doesn’t need to be about 1 club.
As an example, I usually have about 10 or 11 clubs in what I consider my full bag. This is a few short of the normal, maximum of 14. Does it make it minimalist? I don’t know and honestly, it doesn’t matter. I would say that if you aren’t scoring about the same with 11 clubs compared to 14, the problem isn’t the clubs.
Let’s talk about what most people see as a minimalist bag, something like 7 or 8 clubs. I love a five club set up too, but let’s take 8 for now. What you actually put in the bag is going to be one of the most important factors in just how many you shoot. Here is an example to show what I mean.
This is an eight club bag. This is also a tough way to score. This is clearly a pretty unreasonable example. After all, how many people would expect to do well carrying nothing shorter than a seven iron? Not many I would guess.
Choose the Right Clubs for the Course
Of course, what you put in your bag is dependent on both player and course. Here is what I might play as eight clubs on my home course.
This might seem odd given that there are clearly some holes in the bag, however for me on my course (depending on tees) this set up probably wouldn’t make it anymore difficult to score than normal. Why is this? I often play on a course that is 9 holes and relatively short. The two par threes call for a 5 and 6 iron normally. On the par 4/5s, I will either be hitting driver or five iron. In both cases, my second shot should be either 7/8 iron or less than a 50 degree edge.
The clubs I pick here fit my distances and the course. Of course, I might find myself with a nine iron shot. This means that I have hit something less than perfectly to end up in that position. However, hitting an easy eight isn’t really the end of the world either.
Not Just a Numbers Game
This brings us to the other important point of playing with fewer clubs in the bag-it can make you a better golfer. Modern golf has become something of a numbers game. Modern technology like rangefinders or GPS mean that we usually a fairly precise number to hit. We pull out the club that corresponds to that yardage and swing away.
In truth, I am a golfer that prefers to hit a full swing whenever possible and not having the exact club all the time has helped me no end in learning to take a little bit off a shot, hit a knock or whatever. If you use a half set as an occasional change, this sort of practice really does make a difference when you go back to the full bag.
But what if you are looking to turn minimalism into a full time thing? This is usually when the question about score comes into play. The easy answer is just try it, you will be surprised how well you score. While this is true, I don’t think it actually that satisfying as far as answers go and perhaps won’t encourage someone to take the leap.
So let’s look at this in a bit more detail. The first question is “does score really matter?” I am not saying that it is unimportant, but it doesn’t need to be the reason for every round of golf we play. I used to be a bit obsessional about chasing scores and lowering my handicap and my enjoyment in the game decreased progressively. Minimalism isn’t just about less, it is also about seeing things little bit differently.
Enjoyment is Key
This doesn’t need to be some sort of zen meets golf thing either. For example, I enjoy putting a half set of blades in the bag and walking nine holes in the late afternoon. I will usually play a mix of tees, hit a few balls if the course is quiet, play a shop in two different ways, play a hole with both driver and iron off the tee and so on. Keeping score in this situation is clearly pointless.
This brings us back to one club golf. The point isn’t to beat your score with 14, it is simply to find a different challenge on the course and a new way to play a course you perhaps know very well.
You might find that score doesn’t matter as much as you might think. Enjoyment of the surroundings, simply hitting a ball and pulling off a few fun shots could well be enough. A lot of the time, it is for me.
What if you are someone who keeps score every round? Well, in all likelihood, you aren’t a candidate for removing clubs from your bag in the first place. You would probably have an extra driver and putter, a couple more wedges and a driving iron over the 14 if you could! And that is just great. If it is what you enjoy (and I certainly do enjoy this sometimes), that is perfect.
If you are someone who wants to try a lighter bag but also takes there score seriously, try removing clubs progressively. For example, here is my current 11 club bag.
17 degree hybrid
This isn’t about having a certain number of clubs in the bag. This is a set that covers all my bases. I really don’t feel like I have any gaps. In fact, I would say that I would score better with this than with the full 14. Why is this?
Firstly, I have removed clubs that cost me more shots that they save. No three wood because for every one out of the screws on a par five, there is probably another heading at best into the undergrowth and at worst out of bounds. Likewise, for the lob wedge. I enjoy that lob over the bunker to a tight pin as much as the next guy but even as a single figure golfer, my success rate just isn’t that high.
Play Smart Golf
This links into my second reason. this bag plays to my strengths. I hit my irons well and I prefer to play to distances that let me hit them. Hitting even a five iron into a green would have to be a disappointing shot to leave myself needing a lob wedge over a bunker.
Cutting down say 3 clubs for a while will let you start to see the benefits of a shorter set without any real damage to scores. Progressively, you might find that there are other areas where you can cut down too. For example, playing two wedges has been hugely beneficial to my short game compared to 3 or even 4. It makes little sense to me to worry overly about gapping when wedges are concerned. For me, they are clubs to be hit with a whole range of shots. Do you need a 48 or a 52 or can you hit a range of shots with a 50?
Getting to know a wedge or two far better can only be a good thing. Learning how to hit that three quarter wedge is a great shot to have, even if you have another wedge. It manages flight, spin and rill out for example and gives any golfer another string to their bow.
This logic also applies to irons. In truth, I prefer not to do this, but taking out every other iron shouldn’t be that damaging. It teaches us to step on one or take a little bit off and in all honesty, how precise are we with our irons anyway? for example, a ten yard gap between irons is common but I would guess many golfers have, at the very least, 5 yards dispersion short to long between well struck shots.
If you are 150 to the flag and you have a 150 club, I would guess most of us would be happy to be five yards short or long. Looking at proximity to the hole in the PGA tour stats tells us that this is a pretty good result. So why is it that we worry that only having a 140 or 160 club will wreck the card? Of course it won’t. Isn’t it better to know that you can just take a comfortable swing with a 160 club and put it just past the flag and be pin high if contact is less that perfect?
Ultimately then, a short set something like this shouldn’t cause a massive difference in score and will certainly teach the average golfer how to do other things than simply hit to a number:
This isn’t an exact science, and the clubs you choose will depend on how far you your irons. I would particularly recommend having the right club for the tee shots on par threes, for example. The point is, playing a minimalist set doesn’t mean sacrificing certain shots. It does mean learning how to play different shots and understanding that it is how we play the game that generally has the biggest effect on out score rather than what is actually in the bag.