There’s a reason why golf is such a difficult game to master. Part of it is the fact that swinging a slender club and making solid contact with a small ball requires a degree of coordination that can be elusive. In addition, players need to familiarize themselves with nearly 150 different scenarios that they might encounter in any 18-hole round. This is because there are many different clubs in the bag, from driver to putter, and you will encounter many different playing surfaces—on a tee, from the fairway, from light rough, from thick rough, on the green, in the sand, from pine straw, wood chips, etc. With all these variables, finding consistency with any club on all surfaces is daunting.
Fortunately, there are a number of uncomplicated techniques that can help you meet these challenges. These course-management suggestions will shave strokes from your scorecard the very next time you play—no practice needed…
Drive the ball from the proper side of the tee box. A straight tee shot is rare. Most golfers curve the ball from the tee box, the vast majority hitting a fade or slice—for example, curving from left-to-right for a right-handed player. To increase the odds of hitting the fairway, golfers who fade the ball should set up on the extreme right-hand portion of the teeing ground. This means that you’ll rotate a bit to keep the fairway in view and give yourself more room for the ball to curve back to the middle of the fairway. For those with a tendency to draw or hook the tee shot—for example, curve the ball from right to left—the opposite applies. They should set up on the left side of the tee box, giving themselves a better chance to curve the shot back toward the middle.
Don’t go from bad to worse. Inevitably a golfer will find himself/herself out of position. The ball will come to rest among trees, in thick rough, amid bushes, etc. We watch the world’s best players extricate themselves from “jail” on TV every weekend, pulling off seemingly impossible hero shots, and we often feel compelled to try the same thing. Don’t! If the ultimate goal is to save shots on the scorecard, then keep both ego and adrenaline in check, and play out laterally to the safety of the fairway. Hopefully it will cost you only that single shot, and with a fine approach or a long putt made, perhaps you’ll escape with par. The hero shot often is the zero shot, and by going out of the frying pan and into the fire (trying to thread the needle between tall pines or rip it toward the green from beneath a bush), one most often will worsen the situation. Remember this mantra: “If you try and thread it, you’ll soon regret it.”
Play to uneven lies. Golf courses are three-dimensional and often will present a player with uneven, as opposed to perfectly flat, lies. Just remember these four tendencies to keep the ball traveling in the intended direction. These directives are for right-handed golfers. For points one and two, lefties should do the opposite…
- If the ball is above your feet, when struck it generally will travel to the left, with a hook.
- If the ball is below your feet, it will likely do the opposite, traveling toward the right, with a fade or slice.
- If the ball comes to rest on a straight uphill lie, the ball will tend to fly higher and shorter than from a flat lie.
- If the ball is directly downhill, the shot will tend to come out lower and straighter, more of a line drive than a normal arcing trajectory.
Bear all of these tendencies in mind and adjust accordingly for a more accurate shot.
Use less loft for long bunker shots. The long bunker shot (20 to 50 yards) is considered one of golf’s most difficult shots. However, few amateur players are aware of the fact that they can increase their odds of success simply by choosing a club with less loft. There’s no need to swing harder or manipulate the club in an unfamiliar way to try to cover the additional distance. Example: In a typical greenside bunker, with the flagstick 10 yards away, most golfers use a sand wedge or lob wedge, typically with 56 or 60 degrees of loft. If the shot is two or three times that distance, simply choose a pitching wedge, even a nine iron (generally speaking, the former has about 50 degrees of loft, the latter about 47). You make the same swing, displacing the sand in the same manner used with a sand wedge, and the reduction in loft will make the ball fly a little lower and travel farther.
The shorter the shot, the more you should grip down on the club. When faced with delicate shots near the green, choke down on the club, placing your hands closer to the bare shaft and farther from the top of the grip. A shorter club is easier to control and allows you to swing the club more vertically and stand closer to the ball. All of these techniques are designed to keep a player more upright, swinging the club closer to the body, which automatically increases accuracy. Stand farther from the ball and hold the club nearer the top when you need speed to generate power to hit longer. Since length and power are moot points with greenside shots, golfers need to do the opposite.
Around the green, keep the ball on or near the ground. Far too many golfers automatically reach for the pitching wedge or sand wedge for short shots. The problem with using lofted clubs exclusively is that there is little room for error. Sometimes the shot will be “chunked,” which means that the player hits the ground instead of the ball, and it barely moves forward. Other times the ball gets “bladed,” or hit thin, and the result is a ball that rockets well past the target, over the green and often into serious trouble. The solution is to use less lofted clubs and strike the ball so that it bounces and rolls toward the target, as opposed to flying through the air. This type of ground shot often is used in the UK, and by using the seven iron, eight iron or a hybrid club, employing a putting-type motion, mistakes can be mitigated. If there’s water or sand between the ball and the green, this technique cannot be used and the golfer must loft the shot over the trouble. However, if there are no impediments between the ball and target, keeping the ball on or near the ground is a much safer play. Major mistakes are minimized with this technique, and over time, the result can be as good as using the more difficult-to-control wedges.