This year I committed to improving my golf game. Both my scores and my consistency greatly improved because I decided to play smarter golf. I went from barely being able to break 100, to consistently scoring in the mid to low 90’s. My goal is to break 90 by the end of the year, and luckily I live in a relatively warm climate and can play golf year round.
What I share in this blog may not be ground-breaking information for scratch and low handicap golfers, but these tips can help anybody, especially if you’re trying to break 100.
Play Smarter Golf
Some people are going to read the title of this blog and think…boring! A lot of golfers have heard it all before; Smart golf means hitting an iron off the tees, good lag putting, and visualizing your shots. While that’s a very simple smart golf strategy, even though it’s all true, but the crazy thing about smart golf is that it sounds simple, but you have to commit to it!
The 5 Club Challenge
Mu journey towards playing smarter golf and shooting lower scores started one night while I was browsing the internet. I Googled something like, “how to break 100” and I was running across the typical blogs and tips. As I was browsing through the articles I stumbled upon a forum where golfers were discussing techniques to lower scores.
There was a golf instructor commenting that he tells his students to play a round of golf with 5 clubs. Any 5 clubs you want except driver. He said his students were amazed when they came back and shot the lowest scores of their lives. I called my brother up, ran the idea past him, and the next time we went out we tried the 5 club challenge.
When we played I grabbed my hybrid 3 (3h), 7i, PW, 64* and putter. I shot a 98! Now, I’ve shot a 98 before but it had been awhile. Early in the season I was hovering around 100 with 13 clubs in my bag. Implementing the 5 club challenge proved to me that it was possible to shoot lower scores when you commit to it. A few times in the past before rounds I’ve told myself, ‘I won’t use driver today. I’ll keep the ball in play and I won’t take penalty shots.’
Then what happens? I roll up to a par 5, break out the driver and smash one in the woods.
The 5 club challenge made me keep my other clubs in the car….literally. Since I had some success with the 5 clubs, I wound up playing a few rounds with 5 clubs and broke 100 all 3 times (98, 97, 97). Since then I’ve gone back to the full bag, but you know what? I haven’t hit driver since. I have been strictly hybrid 3 off the tee and my scores have improved. 94, 96, 96, 98. In my golf life I’ve never consistently broke 100 like this. My wallet is also fatter because I’ve purchased far fewer balls than in seasons past. What I truly couldn’t believe was that I played an entire round without losing a ball. What a feeling that was; made me feel like Justin Thomas.
The 5 club challenge also taught me a few other things. I know this is going to be tough for a lot of golfers to deal with, and it might even be a blow to your ego, but it’s ok to layup. Layups are not just for basketball. Were there times I wish I had my 5 iron so I could try and reach the green, sure. Instead I’d hit my 7, have an easy chip up, and hopefully leave myself with a short par putt. In the past I’d smash a 5 iron, have it go left, long or in the bunker, and leave myself a difficult chip/pitch shot and most likely two putt.
When using 5 clubs, it quickly becomes clear that smart golf equals lower scores.
Another great thing about only having 5 clubs is eliminating paralysis by analysis and committing to shots. With only 5 clubs I couldn’t stand there and think, ‘well this is an easy 8 iron, or maybe a hard 9, and it’s slightly up hill, but there’s wind at my back.’ All I could do was grab my seven and hit a shot. I’m sure we could all use a little less analysis on the course. If anything it’ll speed up some rounds.
Also, the great thing about having less decisions to make because of the fewer clubs, is that it teaches finesse. Some players like to go to the range and figure out the exact distance they hit a 7 iron, but how may times will that come up during a round? Once, maybe twice. Great golfers and great golf scores have to have finesse. You can’t be scared to hit half a P wedge or give a sand wedge a three quarter swing. Being able to add a little finesses will help improve your scores and your confidence.
Find Your Money Club & Distance
Whether you’re playing with 5 clubs or fourteen you have to find your money club and distance. Here’s an example:
You pull up to a 450 yard par 4. Pretty standard, relatively straight with fairway and greenside bunkers. Playing smart, you hit a nice hybrid 3 or 3 wood down the middle of the fairway 225 yards. For all you math majors that now leaves 225 yards. So what do you do? For years I played with the mentality of getting it as close as I could. I’d probably try to smash another hybrid 3. Most likely I’d miss!
I’d swing too hard and completely mess up the shot. Or I’d hit it decent but off line and be in a bunker or thick rough. Even if you did hit a great shot and it rolled on the green, be honest with yourself. How often would this happen? Maybe 1 out of 10 times. If you’re going to play smart golf you have to be honest with yourself.
Now let’s take the smarter golf approach.
Well it’s 225 but I know I am money with my SW from 75 yards. I’m so confident from 75 yards I feel like Phil Mickelson. I can hit the tightest pin from 75 yards. So why not just get the ball to 75 yards? All I need to do is hit the ball 150 yards which is also a an easy 7i. Then it’s SW and I’m money. I’m so confident that I’ll have an easy putt, but even if I two putt I can make bogey. There is basically no advantage to stepping up and trying to smash a hybrid 3. Its all about ego. Do you have the stones to tell yourself to hit 7i, SW? It may not be the sexy choice, but it can lead to the sexy scorecard.
This is much easier said than done. We all want to hit the shot that makes a great story, but if you want to score you have to have course management that aligns to your game!
Don’t Be a Hero
The other day I was playing one of the harder courses in town and I shot a 96. I was very pleased with the score, especially when I added it up at the end and realized I played bogey golf from 12-18. It was fun! I had gotten off to a rough start but I managed to keep my head in the game and I never tried to be a hero.
Let me explain; One of the best shots I played all day was a little 8 iron from the top of a hill. I missed the fairwayon a par 4 with my hybrid 3 to the right and I was along the rough with a line of trees running down the hole. The ball slightly below my feet.
I originally grabbed my hybrid 4 and decided I was going for the green, about 180 yards. Then I had a moment of clarity. I thought, ‘what are you doing? Don’t be a hero.’ I put the hybrid 4 back in the bag, grabbed my 8 iron and hit a nice shot about 120 yards that landed right in the middle of the fairway. I pitched it on & two putted for bogey. Who knows what would’ve happened if I hit my 4? Was there a slight chance I would’ve hit a miracle shot? Sure there was, but it was more likely I would’ve scorched a tree, been further in the woods, and looking at an ugly 8. If you want to play smart golf you’ve got to avoid blow up holes.
Instead, that shot started my streak of bogey golf (which for me is the goal and what will help me break 90). Of all the shots I hit that day, this one stood out in my mind and was one of the shots I was most proud of. Was it a monster drive or some crazy miracle shot, nope! It was a smart shot that helped me score better.
The Short Game: Chipping and Putting
Some people will argue that the short game is much more than chipping and putting I’d agree with them. I’m sure you’ve all heard about getting real comfortable from 100 yards and in, and again I agree with that. But for the purposes of this blog post, and because we already talked about having a money club & distance, the short game will be chipping and putting.
The single greatest tip I can give with chipping is to give the ball a chance. Much like birdie putts don’t leave the ball short of the hole! This year I told myself to give the ball a chance and it paid off. I was so sick of leaving chips short and having long putts. All I needed to do was tell myself to ‘give the ball a chance’. Did any go in? No, but you know what happened? I left myself much shorter putts. Instead of leaving chip shots 10-15 feet short I was leaving myself putts coming back the other way from 4-8 feet. And sooner or later one is going to go in, but it has to have a chance.
I know that’s not revolutionary chipping advice but it’ll help. Also, when you’re implementing that into your game, pick one club and get comfortable with it. Forget about chipping with your 9 iron and using a putting stroke, trying to do flop shots, or chipping with a hybrid. If one of those is your go to shot that’s fine, but have one club and one shot. Once you master that you can move onto another type of shot. If you’re struggling to break 100, or even 90, you’re not good enough to have 3-4 options around the green. I’m sorry to be so harsh but it’s true. Become great at one shot! It’ll pay off for the rest of your golf life. Remember, playing smart golf requires self reflection and honesty.
I’ve always been a decent putter for someone who shoots in the 90’s. I’ve worked on my lag putting for years and I take pride in not 3 putting. This year has been even better though because I told myself one thing, and here it is; Read the line, commit to the putt, and hit the ball. For years I would read the line then stand over the ball and change my mind. Then I’d hit the ball the exact opposite of what my read was, and I’d wonder why I’d miss so many putts.
I don’t know why, but for some reason the line of a putt looks different when you’re standing behind the ball and when you’re standing over it. Even though it looks different you have to commit, and your first instinct/read is usually the best.
Even if you’re bad at reading putts there are advantages to reading a line and sticking to it. If you’re reading them wrong you’ll find out much faster why! If you go up there with nothing in mind and just smash the ball, you have no idea what you need to change. In order to fix something you first have to find out what’s wrong.
Play Smart Golf & Save Strokes
Should you play smart golf? Ask yourself this; At the end of the round when you’re enjoying a cold one would you rather say, “I can’t believe I shot my personal best 89” or “man, that drive on 16 was solid”? You may not impress your buddies with a huge drive, but I can tell you this; They’ll remember the day you broke 90, and they’ll even be a little jealous that your game is improving. They’ll forget about your long drive by the time they finish their beer. The choice is yours!