In every round of golf there are a few shots that you’d like to get back—the occasional mis-hit off the tee, the flier out of the rough, the pitch that comes out hotter than you anticipated. These shots happen—it’s part of the game.
But then there are shots that you “leave out there”—the ones that have less to do with your skill level and swing mechanics, and more to do with your decision making and strategy. These shots shouldn’t happen. So we’re going to help you clean up your scorecard by keeping them from happening.
Here are the six mistakes that are costing you strokes and how to get them back.
The Mistake: Hitting the wrong club off the tee.
The Fix: Pick the club that gets you to your go-to distance.
Longer off the tee is not always better. The key is setting up your second shot and avoiding unnecessary risk. When you’re on the tee box, think one shot ahead. Would you rather have a 90-yard approach shot from the fairway or a tricky chip shot from the greenside rough? The driver is the toughest club in the bag to control—plain and simple. So when you think about it, if your hybrid will likely leave you in a better position than your driver will, hitting hybrid off the tee is a no brainer. Not only will you set up your ideal second shot, but your chances of finding the fairway hitting hybrid are much better than hitting driver.
The Mistake: Being overly aggressive with approach shots.
The Fix: Aim for the middle of the green.
How many times, without giving it much thought, have you taken dead aim at the flagstick? The reality is that most golfers are pre-wired to always aim at the pin. In some ways it makes sense: the pin is an easily-identifiable target; it’s the final destination, so why not go for it early. But in other, more important ways, it makes no sense at all: rarely is the pin located on the most accessible portion of the green; challenging a guarded pin location is the low-percentage play; hitting greens in regulation is one of the single biggest determinants of how well you play.
Notice that the statistic is Greens in Regulation (GIR), not “Approaches-Inside-10-Feet in Regulation” or “Flagsticks-Hit in Regulation.” The vast majority of golfers really have no business taking aim at the pin. Even for the best players in the world, aiming for the high-percentage part (usually the middle) of the green is the rule; challenging the pin is the exception. So for the rest of us, aiming for the middle of the green should be the rule; aiming for the pin should be the exception—the very rare exception.
The Mistake: Taking too much club out of the rough.
The Fix: Hit the same club with a different swing.
When you hit a wayward tee shot and find yourself in the rough, you probably take an extra club or two for your second shot, thinking it will compensate for the thicker conditions you’re hitting out of. Though this strategy seems to make sense, it’s the wrong play. The right play: take the same club (or even less club in certain cases) and adjust your swing. The goal is to attack the ball with a steeper angle of approach, resulting in two things: less grass coming between the club face and the ball, and delofting the clubface. To do this, shift more of your weight (60–70%) to your front side and level out your shoulders. Then think about hitting more down on the ball.
By steepening your down swing and delofting the club through impact, you will make solid contact and effectively lengthen the club you’re hitting with the lower ball flight trajectory. This is why you shouldn’t take more club from the rough. Instead, use the same club with a different swing.
The Mistake: Getting cute with the short game.
The Fix: Use different clubs with one chipping motion and one pitching motion.
Inspired by the short game artistry Lefty Phil displays Sunday after Sunday, there are a few shots in every round that dare us to attempt the impossible. And most times, we take the dare—only to once again find out why we’re not Phil.
The key to an effective short game is mastering one chipping motion and one pitching motion, and then using both motions to execute different shots. Changing to a different club is much easier, and more consistent, than trying to hit multiple shots with one club and different swings. Because one thing will always be true: the club is more consistent than you. So build one chipping motion and one pitching motion, and let your club selection determine the shot you hit.
The Mistake: Failing to commit to a shot shape.
The Fix: Commit to one shot shape for an entire round.
The most uncommon ball flight is straight. Nearly every shot will have some movement to it, right or left. Furthermore, every golfer has a ball flight tendency. Whatever yours is—hook, slice, push, pull, fade or draw—it’s safe to say you’ll hit that ball flight more often than you’ll hit it straight. And yet most golfers line up their shots with the assumption of straight ball flight.
The right approach is this: pick a shot shape, learn to hit it, and then hit it as many times as you can during your round. If you already have a consistent shot shape, than simply commit to it. If you hit a draw, line up every shot based on that ball flight. Even if you have a back-right pin location that sets up perfectly for a high fade, stick to what you know and do well—hit the draw, get on the green and two putt for your par. Leave the heroics to somebody else.
The Mistake: Putting with poor distance control.
The Fix: Focus more on speed, less on direction.
Putting is all about speed, not direction. Ask yourself these two questions. 1) How many times have you hit a putt off-line left or right more than six feet? (Our guess: not too many.) 2) How many times have you blasted a putt six or more feet past the hole or left it equally as short? (Our guess: more than you’d like to admit.)
Point is, poor distance control—not direction—is almost always the cause of three putts. So when you’re on the green, whether practicing or during a round, shift your focus from direction to speed. This doesn’t mean you stop reading the greens and choosing your line. It means once you’ve lined up your putt and committed to a line, forget about direction and shift your focus to dialing in the perfect speed. Do this and you’ll start seeing less three and four putts showing up on your scorecard.