Category Archives: playing the game

The Importance of Ball-Striking

So often you hear touring professionals say that your score is made from 100 yards in, so that’s where you (the amateurs they’re taking to) should spend most of your time practicing. The trouble is, they’re projecting the way they score onto your game. That doesn’t make sense.

The professional game is built around getting the ball in the hole as quickly as possible once it gets to the green. That’s how you make birdies, and save pars if you miss. But the pros are taking for granted that they’re already getting the ball up to the green as quickly as it is possible to do, and we aren’t.

If you count on hitting 12-14 greens per round, then the short game is what will make you stand out. But if you generally hit just three or four greens, how is your short game going to help you break 80? or even 90?

If you want to get your score down, you have to stop wasting shots getting the ball up to and onto the green. Ball-striking, hitting more fairways and more greens, is the key. That means getting swing lessons and diligently practicing what you were taught.

I’m not saying you should neglect your work around the green, but all you need to be for now is to be adequate. The quickest way for you to get into the 70s is to have a swing that reliably hits the ball straight. Once you’re there, you can become a short game and putting wizard if you want to start chasing par. But get that swing straightened out first.

One last way to look at this. Which would led to a lower score? For a touring professional to hit all your full swings shots, or to hit all your short shots and putts?

I thought so.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

A Few Thoughts on Playing Golf

Hit Your Approaches Pin-High
Most recreational golfers want to lower their score by making more pars. Forget pars. Go for birdies. That’s how you lower your score. How do you go for birdies? Hit your approaches pin-high. Always have enough club in your hands to get pin-high.

If you’re at the limit of the range for a certain club, take one more club, grip down, and swing away. On par 3s, take one more club than the yardage indicates. You’ll find yourself having a lot of 8- to 10-foot birdie putts that you never had before.

Take a Notebook To the Range
Did you go to the range today and work on a shot that had been troubling you? Did you figure out how to hit it? Did you write down what you did to make it work? No? Then you just wasted that practice session, because you won’t remember.

Bring a notebook and write down the winning formula as soon as you have figured it out. Even if you go back to that shot a half hour later, chances are great you have already forgotten what you did right.

Putting Tip
Keep your putter low on the follow-through. If you feel a pulling or stretching on your upper right arm as you follow through, you have kept your putter low.

Don’t ask why. Just try it.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

Make your golf game your own

Yesterday I mentioned that I have begun, with smashing success, to hit all my long pitches with my pitching wedge. It feels good. It feels right. I feel in full control.

Yesterday I hit one from 60 yards, and one from 35, and both of them ended up less than three feet away. The second one almost rolled in.

This brings to mind that we have a lot of clubs in the bag we can use to hit a lot of different shots. It should not be said that you have to use this club for that shot, or that shot has to be hit with this club.

You should feel free to hit any shot you want with the club that you want to use. Not the club that everyone else uses, or what the pro says to use.

The reason is that when it comes down to putting the club to the ball, it has to feel to you like the right thing to do. You need to feel at ease with it in the same way that you write with one hand and not the other. It has to feel like your shot.

Let me give you an example. I have a stroke of one particular length and firmness that I use when I chip. Every time, for every chip, the same stroke. For some reason, that’s the way I like to hit those little shots. This stroke turns on the artist in me.

So to chip the ball different distances, I use different clubs. I make little adjustments to fine-tune the distance, but it’s basically the same stroke every time.

To play golf, you need
a tee shot,
an advancement (fairway) shot,
a pitch,
a chip,
a long putt,
and a short putt.

If you can find your way to hit each of these shots, with the clubs you like, your golf will improve immediately, because it will be your golf.

P.S. I sometimes use two putters. One for long putts and another for the shorties.

See also Play a Difficult Course

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

3-club day

The men’s club I play in had its annual 3-club + putter day. We all go out and play nine holes with three clubs of our choice and a putter, shoot the same score we always do, and wonder why we bring the other ten clubs. Works that way every year.

You would be surprised at how well you can do with a limited set of clubs, and how limited that set can be. You have to have a different strategy for getting the ball around the course, and it usually means you hit only shots you feel good about hitting.

It makes golf real simple.

If you look at the famous picture of Francis Ouimet and his caddy at the 1913 U.S. Open at the The Country Club in Brookline, MA, you can count the seven clubs in his bag he used to shoot a 72.

So which clubs did I use? My 19-degree hybrid, 7-iron, sand wedge, and putter. Shot a 40, two strokes under my 9-hole handicap. And I only hit the sand wedge once.


My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

One Question

Wherever you are on the golf course, wherever the ball is, there’s only one question you need to ask yourself. One question that will help you shoot the best possible score. That question is, What’s the best shot I can hit from here?

What is the best shot I can hit from here, given my skills and what I have to do to get the ball in the hole as quickly a possible from here. That’s the long version, but that’s the question.

The question is not, What’s the best shot Arnold Palmer could hit from here? The question is also not, What if I hit my 5-iron like I did two months ago one time? It’s, What’s the best shot I can hit from here, right now?

Brad Faxon once said that you should play conservative shots with a cocky attitude. He meant to play shots you know you can hit, with all the assurance you can muster.

If you have 160 yards from the fairway into a well-defended green, and you know you can get the ball there, then hit the shot. If you have 160 yards into that same green, but from the rough, the best shot you can play from there might be a layup to your favorite chipping distance.

Attack the course with the best shots you have, and you’ll get the most out of your skills and have the most fun.

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Five Pieces of Advice to Golfers

I’m just sayin’ . . .

1. Don’t swing a club that has less loft than your handicap.

2. If you can drive and you can putt, you can play good golf. (Actually, Byron Nelson said that.)

3. Practice these things in this priority: short irons, short putts, greenside chips, driver.

4. On difficult holes play for easy bogies rather than hard pars.

5. It’s more important to have fun with your friends than to shoot a low score.

For all you literalists, numbers 1-4 have wiggle room. Number 5 does not. Also, numbers 2 and 3 do not contradict each other.

Play well and have fun.

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Ride a Hot Hand on the Golf Course

You practice lots of shots with different clubs so you’ll know just which shot to hit with what club for each situation you’ll find. Most of the time, that’s the smart way to play. Unless there’s no option, the pros won’t play a shot they haven’t practiced many times before.

On the other hand, sometimes you hit a shot that turns out uncommonly well. It felt easy, and it feels like you can do it again and again. So go ahead.

Did you just hit a pured 6-iron? Believe in this club and hit it again as soon as you can. Did it work out again? Now hit that club as often as you can the rest of the round. Give yourself opportunities by laying back on shorter par 4s and on the par 5s.

Did you just fly a chip to a few feet from the hole with a lofted wedge? Keep hitting it that shot with that club, even if you would normally do something else.

Performance is all about confidence. If you find something on the course that gives you confidence, ride it for all it’s worth. It could be a shot, or a club. It could be a thought. Just take every advantage of what helps you perform your best.

The next time you play, try that thing again, but if it doesn’t work, let it go and start looking for the next one.

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How To Master Difficult Golf Holes

If you keep a record of your golf scores on the courses you play, you might find there are holes you make a bad score on more often than you should. There is a hole that lures you into trying to hit shots that you really can’t hit that well. Or you’re on the edge of your ability with no room for error.

The way you play the other seventeen holes on the course doesn’t work on this hole. You need a different strategy. That strategy is to figure out the hole in reverse. Architects design holes to look as frightening as possible in the direction they are played. But when you look at the hole in reverse, you can see there is lots of room and several safe places you can hit the ball to.

So from the fairway, find a safe landing area for your tee shot, and hit it there. You’ll have to make note of the line from the tee to that spot, as well as its distance. Look for a safe place near the green. Note how far away it is from the green so if you have to hit to that spot, you’ll know which club to use.

This strategy might mean you’re playing for bogey and you’ll only get a par with a great chip and a great putt. That’s OK. You’ll have taken the big number out of play, and that’s how you shoot a good score.


Ten Rules For Playing Better Golf – Part 2

Rules 1-5 were about shotmaking. These rules concern thinking about your game and supporting your game.

Rule Six: figure out what score you expect to make on the hole you’re playing, given your skills, and play to get that score. If you’re not good enough to get a par, but a bogey isn’t a problem, play for bogey and get pars when they come. Depending on your skill level, even playing for double bogey might be the best strategy. Playing for par on a hole that is too much for you leads to high scores. As you improve, you can re-evaluate certain holes, but never overreach. That’s how you throw away strokes needlessly.

Rule Seven: have go-to clubs and use them constantly. I have a 24° hybrid iron that is my ticket to good scoring. It hit it as my second shot on par 5s and long par 4s. I don’t care if it leaves me short sometimes. The ball is always in an ideal position for the next shot. Around the green, I love my sand wedge. Not because it makes me look cool, but because I’ve practiced a lot with it and I know what I’m doing.

Rule Eight: identify the one error that’s hurting you most and fix it. I played with a guy who hit marvelous irons, putted well, and had a decent short game, but could not hit the fairway with a driver to save his life. Every drive careened to the right, in the rough, in the trees. He shoots in the high 90s, and if he could just get the ball in the fairway, he’d be shooting 85 and under. We could all improve in every phase of the game, but I’ll bet there’s one flaw that when corrected will turn you loose.

Rule Nine: be happy. I play much better when I’m having fun with the people I’m playing with. Other players have told me they, too, started playing better when they stopped being so intense out there, and just lightened up. The problem is that we have an overinflated opinion of how good we are because of the good shots we hit. We hit bad shots, too, and they are as much a part of our game as the good ones. So just take what you get and have fun. That’s what the rest of us are doing.

Rule Ten: get lessons. (1) Go to the range and watch people beat balls. Based on the results you wonder why they even bother. If they would get a few lessons they would be hitting the ball the way they imagine they can. (2) I played with a guy once who was pretty good, but was terrible in that 20-40 yard in-between range. He said, “I just can’t hit these shots.” I thought, “So why don’t you get a lesson??!!” (3) How many of you get around in 32 putts or less consistently? But a teaching pro I know says he gives a thousand lessons in a year and maybe fifty of them are putting lessons. If you want to play better, GET LESSONS.

Ten Rules For Playing Better Golf – Part 1

The object of golf is to get the ball in the hole with as few strokes as possible. Every recreational golfer would get an ‘A’ if golf was a written test, but we don’t do so well on the practical exam. These ten rules will help.

Rule One: get the ball in the fairway. Use the longest club off the tee that gets the all in the fairway three times out of four. That means most of the time you WON’T be using your driver. One hundred eighty yards into the fairway beats two-twenty into the weeds/water/out-of-bounds every time.

Rule Two: get your approach shot up to the green, not necessarily on it, and away from trouble. Trouble is most often to the left, right, and back, but the front is usually wide open. Thus, playing short and chipping on from a good lie is often a better choice than hitting into challenges that can cost you strokes. Counting greens hit in regulation (GIR) is for highly skilled golfers. Until you get very good, GIR has nothing to do with making a good score, and the pursuit will definitely harm your score.

Rule Three: chip so you can start putting. Just getting a chip shot on the green is much more important than getting the ball close to the hole. Have you played a tough chip at the hole and had the ball run all the way across the green, when you could have played an easy shot for twenty feet away and two putts, and saved yourself a stroke?

Rule Four: think about where you want to leave your approach putt and hit it there. Thinking about the hole from thirty feet away, especially if the contours are tricky, is why we blow it eight feet by. If you think about hitting the ball to the vicinity of the hole, you’ll have a much easier second putt, and occasionally the first one will go in!

Rule Five: hit only reliable shots that you’re good at. Avoid using clubs you don’t hit well from the situation you’re in. Avoid hitting shots you haven’t practiced, or that have a big disaster factor lurking in the background, especially when there’s little to gain. If the voice inside your head says, “I’m not too sure about this,” listen! Get a different club, choose a different shot, or both. From wherever you are, there’s a shot that makes sense to you. Hit that one.

See also Ten Rules For Playing Better – Part 2