Over the year, I have improved my game to a point where I can hit in the 80s, even on days I play poorly. Whether I am testing a new club, putter, mental approach, or swing mechanic, I find myself below the 90 mark on the scorecard. I know this comes with time for most golfers, but I owe most of this consistency to my on-course strategy.
It is no surprise to the people that I golf with regularly that my “long ball” is mediocre at best. I do not gain a massive advantage off the tee, and my putter is anything but consistent. However, I usually hit in the low 80s on most rounds despite not having a solid presence at the beginning or ends of holes.
Many things are needed to complete a sub-90 round; I have chosen strategy to be the topic for the article. How do I navigate the course instead of focusing on swing mechanics and tips? The mental approach to golf is very demanding throughout a round or tournament. It is essential to keep your cool and move on to the next shot and plan that shot and commit to it fully.
Before Your Round Starts
Warming up is necessary to complete a good round of golf; however, most golfers only warm up their bodies and give very little attention to their mindset and mission for the day. Before you start your round, create a goal or two for the day. Maybe it’s something simple like accomplishing par on all par fives for the day. Perhaps you pick a few holes on the front and back nine that you will not use your driver on to focus on the position of your second shot. It could be as simple as not recording a penalty or sand trap all round. The options are endless if you think about it.
No matter what you decide, having a plan will immediately allow you to focus on the part of the game that is not simply the score or your swing. It creates a game within a game that helps you become a better player each time you play. Once you have your game in mind, you are ready to step up to the tee box. From here, each part of the course has standard strategies that you should almost always follow.
From The Tee Box
For the standard amateur golfer, this is the least essential swing on most holes. I know I will have plenty of people disagree, but the bottom line remains, the closer you get to the hole, the more critical the shot becomes. It would be best to begin your strategy on the course as soon as you step into the tee box.
Planning your shot consists of intending to land the ball in the fairway, what the next shot will look like, what hazards are or will be in play, and what club you should be selected to give you the best look at the green. There are many ways to simplify this piece, depending on how involved your strategy is. If your focus is solely on hitting fairways, you can shift your focus to distance control. Putting the driver back in the bag may cut some distance but likely increases your chance of hitting the fairway, and if you know what club you intend on hitting next, you may be able to plan the hole out much more manageable than just smashing your driver.
It is also imperative when envisioning your shots to aim for a safe area. Do not use a bunker or a water hazard as your target. If you do this, a well-struck ball will end where you aimed, turning a superb shot into a penalty or unwanted approach. Hitting the ball well should not end with you being upset with the outcome. Always aim for the fairway and truly see the shot occurring in your mind. If you cannot visualize the shot, you are likely unable to achieve it and should not attempt it.
If you pair the two thoughts together, you have the basics around strategy from the tee box. Use a club that keeps you in the fairway, plan on that club either surpassing or falling short of hazards, and never use a hazard as your target. Most important, do not forget to think through this checklist before you hit your ball. Once you have committed to your plan, step up and swing carefree, the results will show through repetition.
Your Approach Shot Is Crucial
When attempting to improve your overall golf game by focusing on lower scores, the strategy around your approach shot must be well thought out. To hit in the 80’s you will have to find around 25% of greens in regulation (GIR). That by no means states that you have to hit birdie or par on all these holes, but to have a fighting chance, you will need the attempts to be there. You will need to hit three or four GIR’s per 18 holes to put this into perspective.
The second part that pairs with needing GIR’s, is understanding what a “Good Miss” looks like on the golf course. When you break it down to something so simple, it becomes straightforward to obtain consistently. Knowing that you only need to land on the green a few times per round takes the pressure off when you miss near the green.
The average golfer will not regularly hit GIR’s, which means that players should expect misses to occur frequently. With this mindset going in, how can we mitigate the negative impact of missed greens? Simply put, miss where you have the best chance for recovery.
When approaching a green, split it into four sections and include the surrounding areas and hazards that defend it. You can select a club and target that gives you the results you need to compete with this information. Can you land on the green; despite the distance from the hole, can you get the putter in your hand? Looking at the image here, you can quickly see where you would like to miss if you do not hit the green.
Now, how exactly do we plan this out using this scenario?
Step one is to assess what you are looking at to help with your decision. When we look at this green, we do not want to miss short to the left or right. While the image is perfectly squared up, it shows that the miss you are looking for is long.
Step two is finding your distance and knowing what you hit your clubs. If you are pushing to break into the 80’s chances are you have a good idea of your distances with your irons and are savvy to calculate the distance to the green.
From there, you gameplan the hole for the ball to land on the back half of the green. If you miss short, you are likely still on the front of the green, eliminating the bunkers. If you hit it too long, you are off the back of the green with hazards not in play, leaving a clear view of a simple chip or pitch.
Around And On The Green
We have finally made it! You have arrived on the green or just around it after a well-planned approach shot. Whether you are pitching, chipping, or putting at this point, everything is based on feel. Unfortunately, there is no secret sauce to part of the game except for practicing and learning your feel for shots. When looking to practice to improve your golf game, focus more on your targets inside 30 yards. If you go to the driving range, put in twice the amount of time, you use your driver with your wedges and putter.
While I firmly believe that the short game comes with practice and feel more than strategy, I can share a few techniques as your plan has provided you with these opportunities.
- When pitching, keep a loose, relaxed grip through the swing. Feel the pad of the club bounce of the ground. You should feel a very distinct “thud” when the club makes contact with the ground. Repeating this sensation will allow you to make better contact and help your overall consistency with pitches, allowing you to hone in the distance.
- When chipping, you are still relaxed through your swing but not releasing your hands at contact. Instead, you are holding the hitch in your wrist set during your backswing throughout. The intention is to have the ball up and back down quickly, rolling on the green. Be sure to consider the lay of the green as the ball should be moving like a putt after it lands. That is why your swing, when chipping so closely, resembles your putter stroke. Club selection is also significant when chipping. You are looking for the ball to be back on the green as soon as possible with minimum time in the air, so the close you are to the green, the lower the iron you should be using. If you are just off the fringe in the rough, a 7-iron will be enough to get you out of the second cut, over the fringe, and then rolling on the green.
- Putting, man oh man, there have been novels written about putting techniques and how to improve. I can tell you that most amateur players hit the ball too hard and don’t account for the break. The harder you hit the ball, the more minor the break will be. The softer you hit your ball, the more noticeable it will become. I offer this suggestion to those facing this issue:
- Focus on a spot 80% the distance from the hole and try to get the ball to land there. Truly envision the pin being at this location. If you are regularly blasting the ball past the hole, this should help reign that in.
- Double the break you think you see. If you are aiming at a spot four inches to the right of the hole, move your line out to eight inches. Chances are you have been misreading the break because of the speed you have been hitting the ball.
Again, when it comes to this close-range part of the game, only time and practice will be able to help you sharpen your skills.
Strategy when playing each shot will lead to results, guaranteed. Take the time to plan out your next swing and when you step up to the ball fully committed, relax and swing away. You will shoot lower scores and enjoy the game more than you ever had while only adding a few minutes to each hole. And as anything in life goes, practice makes permanent, so be sure to practice with results in mind.