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5 Things You Can Do to Play Better Golf

07 FEB 2017

By Peter Mumford

The standard advice on how to improve your golf game isn’t wrong – in fact, it’s rock solid. However, there are some other things to put into practice that can lower your score and maybe make the game a bit more fun too. Here are 5 things you can do to play better golf:

Adjust Your Strategy

The New England Patriots just won their fifth Super Bowl under Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. It was an incredible victory that included overcoming the largest deficit ever in a championship game. At half time, the score was 21-3 in favour of Atlanta and the Falcons added another 7 points early in the third quarter to widen their lead to 25 points!

Nothing seemed to be working for the Patriots on either side of the line. Their defence couldn’t stop the Falcons and the offence couldn’t score. And to make matters worse, they had coughed up the ball twice, resulting in touchdowns.

One of the hallmarks of the Patriots’ success however has been the ability to assess their performance mid-game and make adjustments if something isn’t working. On Sunday, both the offensive and defensive co-ordinators made strategic changes that lead to that epic comeback and overtime win.

Over the past three weeks I’ve been playing a lot of golf in the South, usually with people I’ve never met before. One of the things I’ve observed is that almost every golfer has a stubborn streak a mile wide. However, it’s also what makes them persist in trying to hit their driver when it’s clearly not working, makes them try flop shots and recovery shots that even the pros rarely pull off and let’s them pick target lines that bring all the worst possible scenarios into play.

One fellow I played with at ClubLink’s Heron Bay Club in Coral Springs, Florida was really struggling with the driver. The course has lots of bunkers and it’s fair to say his duck hooks and wimpy fades found most of them. At one point, in desperation, he asked what he was doing wrong. I suggested that since he was struggling with his driver, perhaps he should hit a fairway metal or rescue club off the tee.

Surprisingly he took my advice and not only started hitting more fairways, the rest of his game improved too.

The definition of insanity is “continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result”. If something isn’t working, make a change.

Think in Reverse

If you ever talk to tour pros about strategy, they will tell you that they plan their game from the green back to the tee. Most amateurs are just the opposite. We automatically pull driver on virtually every par 4 and 5, then proceed to hit the ball as far as possible and likely do it on the next shot too. Sometimes that can leave awkward little pitches of 30-40 yards.

The pros will hit a club that leaves them a distance they can work with – usually something in the 90-100 yard range where they can make a full swing and stop the ball next to the pin. It’s probably the shot they practice most and are very confident about. How confident are you about that 30-40 yarder?

There’s a saying in billiards that “it’s not what you make, it’s what you leave”.

Before you play any hole, think about the best place to play each shot from, then hit the right club to get you to that point.

Embrace Technology

Another thing I observed on my Florida swing was that almost everybody I played with had a new driver, even the 93-year old that joined our group in Orlando. But relatively few of them had new irons or wedges.

I used to be a sceptic, thinking that all of the claims of added distance was just hype. But after spending an afternoon with the folks from TaylorMade at the PGA Show, I am confident in saying that there is a technology out there for everyone - every skill level and swing type. Drivers get most of the attention but the technology that goes into irons, wedges, hybrids, balls and putters would shock you.

That’s not to say you have to chase every new piece of technology that comes to market but it’s worth a fitting session to understand what works for you. And it’s not all about added distance either. New groove designs on putters, new sole grinds on wedges, different materials, weights, shafts and grips on every club in the bag can make a difference. Check it out.

Move Forward

One reason people like golf so much is that they can play the same courses as the best professionals and to some extent measure their game against the pros. However, there is a fallacy to the way they do it.

Most golfers can’t hit the ball as far as the PGA Tour bombers but they reason that by moving up a deck (or two), they can reach the same spot the pro can. Let’s assume that spot is the 150 yard marker on a par 4 hole.

For you, a 150 yard shot might be a 7-iron shot but for the pro it could be a 9-iron or even a wedge. Of course, everybody gets more accurate with shorter clubs, so even if you hit your drive to the same spot as the pro, he’s now got a huge advantage over you from 150 yards.

The trick to playing the same game as the pros is to play a tee deck that lets you hit your drive to a spot where you have the same club as the pro, not the same yardage. That might mean you need to be at 120 or 130 yards to use a wedge or 9-iron. And to do that, perhaps you need to move up another tee deck.

If you find yourself playing at 6,000 yards instead of 6,500, that’s OK. Fine tune your short game as well as Phil Mickelson and you’ll start making a lot more birdies too.

Play a Match

I’m excited about the upcoming Zurich Invitational on the PGA Tour. The tournament changed its format this year to team match play and players are already pairing up and issuing challenges. It’s going to be a lot of fun and should be instructive to all golfers.

Why? People ask me all the time, “How do I get better?” My standard answer is to play more competitive matches.

Match play forces you to learn shots that aren’t in your comfort zone. It teaches you how to strategize on the golf course and especially how to put your ego away and just play smart golf. It’s surprising these days how often I play with a group and nobody even cares about keeping score. For many of them it’s just a pleasant way to spend half a day without consequences. But rarely will that make you a better golfer. Learning to grind a bit with something on the line adds a perspective you can’t get from casual play.

Next time out, put a couple of bucks down and challenge your buddy to a match.

Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag