Golf is difficult on many levels. Depending on your handicap range or experience, certain skills are very difficult to learn to reach the next level of improvement. In my mind, this “plateau” is one of the hardest times for golfers, as they can’t seem to get “over the hump” and reach their goal, whether it is breaking 100 for the first time or making more birdies. No point in our golfing lives challenges our patience more than climbing up the mountain of golf, only to slide right back down when we have the top in sight. But there is hope to reach the pinnacle if you can master certain skills in golf.
First off, you have to have a solid mental game. When I bring up the mental game many people give it a roll of the eyes, as if this is just for Tour players or it doesn’t matter. I can assure you it matters even MORE for the weekend golfer! Tour players have tremendous skills in all areas, so they are able to reach the top level of golf and hit all of the shots. The weekend golfer or high handicapper just doesn’t have the ball control or distance that a better player or Tour-level player has, so they need to be extra sharp with their game management. So the mental game encompasses a few things: decision making, club selection, pre-shot routine, the ability to forget, and the commitment to “let go” on a given shot. So to put this all together, let’s imagine a shot on the golf course. You see the target, find out the yardage and take into account factors such as wind, then you pick a club and stick with your decision. Now you are ready to get into the shot itself. You follow a pre-shot routine that is the same EVERY TIME you hit a shot, then you fully commit and just freely swing away, trusting your decision and your swing with no doubt in your mind. Once the shot is over, you accept the result because you did all that you could to make it go your way, and if it turns out badly you evaluate it and then put it out of your mind and move on to the next shot. That is a solid mental game.
In addition, there are three basic areas you need to be good at to score well: driving, wedge play, and putting. Driving is so important because it not only sets the tone for how you will play the hole, but it has a big effect on your mental frame of mind once you leave the tee. The confidence level that good driving creates is hard to quantify but it clearly makes a difference in your chances on the next shot. Learn to hit your driver or preferred tee shot club in play as much as you can, and remember that if your swing isn’t on point that day you need to have a “go to” shot off of the tee that gets the ball in play. It may not be pretty and it may not be far, but if it is in play you have a chance. I spend a great deal of time working with my students on TrackMan to get their driver swings maximized so that they understand what makes a good driver swing and what their tendencies are on the golf course. So spend some time working on driving technique and learn to be ultra confident in the tee shot and the pressure on the rest of your game will be relieved.
Wedge play is the second area that should be a strength if you want to score better and lower your handicap. Let’s first define wedge play as anything 100 yards and in for most people. These shots will be a large part of your game at any level, as even Tour players only hit the green 13 out of 18 times on average. Being able to hit wedge shots to set up a birdie or get it up and down for par can be the difference maker in your game. Once again, knowing that you have a sharp wedge game relaxes your iron game as you know you will get the ball up and in if you miss the green. But be sure you have proper fitted tools to do the job – wedge fitting is something that I do and is very important as many of my students simply buy wedges off of the rack without getting fit for loft, lie, or proper bounce angles for their swing. Get the proper fit and learn a solid but simple technique for wedge play that makes it bulletproof when the pressure is on!
Putting is the third element to better scoring, as it can be the great equalizer. Imagine hitting 3 below-average shots on a hole, only to make a 20 footer for par. All sins are forgiven! That is what putting can do for your game: it is the last line of defense. In my opinion, too many students of my students come to me possessing a pretty decent stroke, but simply don’t spend enough time learning to read greens. So when the putts don’t go in, they blame their stroke (not the read), and begin to make changes when they aren’t needed and suffer from confidence problems. Spend some time working on reading greens when you go to practice putting; walk around the hole, feel the slope with your feet, and generally play more break than you see. Most of my students have difficulty seeing the breaks and that can only improve through practice. Then spend some time working on the 4 main elements in putting: set-up, stroke path, impact, and speed. If you can work on these areas with a good practice station and add a solid stroke in with good green reading, you will see big results!
Take the time to team up with a PGA Professional to truly assess your game and learn your weaknesses in these critical areas. A solid plan, some focused practice, and a good attitude will go a long way in reaching your goals and provide you with a love of the game you never knew you had before.