Category Archives: playing the game

Golf’s Scoring Shots and Anti-Scoring Shots

In another post, I talked about which clubs are the most important for you to be able to hit. (See The three most important clubs) Now I want to talk about the most important shots, which is not quite the same thing.

We’ll break this down into two parts: the good shots to hit, and the bad shots to avoid. First, the good shots.

The tee shot. Getting the ball into the fairway off the tee is a critical scoring shot for recreational golfers. My advice is this: do not tee off with a club that has fewer degrees of loft than your average score over par.

If you aren’t breaking 100, the 5-iron (28° of loft) is your big gun. A 6-iron might be a better choice. Break 90 regularly and you can move up to a 19-degree hybrid iron, which should get you 190-200 yards off the tee. Drivers in this scheme are for golfers who break 80.

The 7-iron. Play from tees that let you hit lots of 7-irons (or less) into the green. Then get very good with this club.

The approach putt. Go to the practice green and develop a stroke that hits the ball 30 feet, every time. This shot is two-putt insurance.

Sand. Can you just get the ball out and onto the green? For recreational golfers, sand saves are accidental without volumes of practice, but down in four, you shouldn’t be doing.

Now for the bad shots you want to avoid, which, quite frankly, are not that hard to avoid. I see golfers wasting strokes all the time on these shots.

Hitting your fairway metal when you can’t reach the green with it. 260 yards away in the fairway on a par 5? That’s two 8-irons. (See The mathematics of club selection.)

Hitting your fairway metal out of hairy lies just because you’re a long way from the green. Instead, chip out to the fairway and play on from there.

Hitting over water when you don’t have to. Or if you have to hit over water, using a club that you have to swing just right to get the ball in the air.

Flying the ball to the pin when you could run there. The first shot is much more risky than the second, and seldom more successful even if you pull it off.

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

Do You Play From the Right Set of Tees?

Golf is a difficult game. Regardless of the better clubs and balls we get to play with, you still have to hit the ball straight. And then there’s distance. Even though everyone is hitting the ball farther than they did twenty years ago, most golfers play a course that is too long for their ability.

Think back a bit. On your home course, how many greens do you hit short irons into? 7-iron on down. My home course is 6,402 yards from the white tees. I hit a short iron into three greens on average, five on a good day. How about you? Think about it, write it down. If the answer is just a few, you’re playing from tees that are too long. You’re making the game harder for yourself than it should be.

How long should a course be that you play on? Let’s find out by looking at courses the pros play on. On the PGA tour, 7,200 yards is a representative length of a tournament course. PGA pros average 290 yards off the tee. If you divide 7,200 by 290, you get 24.8. We’ll call it 25, to make the math easier.

Now, the LPGA. The average driving distance on that tour is about 260 yards. 260 yards times 25 equals 6,500 yards. Sure enough, the women play on courses measuring from 6,400 to 6,600 yards, which is just where they should be.

How about you? Multiply your average driving distance by 25. Say it’s 235 yards, carry plus roll. 235 yards times 25 is 5,875 yards. If you were to play from the whites on my home course, that’s a course almost 9 percent longer.

Nine percent doesn’t sound like much, does it? Yet it’s equivalent to the men on tour playing courses averaging 7,850 yards. Or the women on tour playing courses measuring 7,100 yards, and that’s the handicap you’re giving yourself right now.

Ladies, what if your average driving distance is 190 yards? Well you’re kind of stuck. The shortest set of tees on any of the golf courses I play regularly is 5,400 yards. Most of them are over 5,600 yards. That’s an 18 percent increase in distance, twice what we calculated above, over the 4,750-yard course that you should get to play on! No wonder so few women play golf. How much harder can it be made for you?

Recreational golfers have two solutions to this problem. One is for every architect to design tees at distances average men and women can reasonably play from. Not sure when that will happen. The other solution is to find courses, and they’re out there, that have tees at the right distance for you, and play those courses from those tees.

One more note. I have broken 80 six times in my life. Four of those times came one course which measures 5,917 yards from the white tees. I’ve broken 80 on my 6,402-yard home course, which I play much more often, once. See a pattern here? I do.

See Do You Play From the Right Set of Tees, Part 2

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

Working the Golf Ball

This winter I learned how to hit the ball in both directions — curve it left, curve it right — on command. Those are good skills to have , in that learning them makes you really think about what you’re doing when you hit the ball. It’s not just rear back and fire. There has to be a purpose to the shot, and playing with direction focuses your mind in that regard.

Even though that sounds like it might make the game harder, knowing how to work the ball actually makes the game easier.

I’ve been playing lots of practice rounds since the new year began, and when I first went out I was hitting the ball straight, as usual, or at least trying to. Lately though, I have been noticing that it is easier to curve the ball on command than it is to hit the ball straight on command. A lot easier.

For instance, the 18th hole on my home course present you with the Scary Tee Shot. Water on the right, trees and a creek on the left. There’s no room to be anything but straight. Normally I play left to avoid the water. That puts bogey in play to avoid the double.

For some reason, today it just made sense to start the ball out to the left and swing it back into the fairway. So I did that. Worked like a charm, and it was stress-free!

I knew at worst that the ball couldn’t swing left, it would just stay left and end up in the fairway on that side. I also knew the ball couldn’t go in the water, because the could not swing that far to the right.

So the shot comes off just as planned and I’m in the fairway, dead center. It was easy.

Back up to the 12th hole, and I’m in the fairway, right side, of a right-angle dogleg hole with a tree between me and the green. So I just took out my 2h, drew the ball around the tree, and got a room-service birdie putt. Without knowing how to curve the ball, I would have had no option but to punch up the fairway.

I do not believe that learning to work the ball is an advanced skill. It is an intermediate skill that will help to turn you into an advanced player. Get lessons, work on it, learn to apply it on the course. You will be amazed at how easy golf can be.


How Far Do You Hit Your Irons?

The key to scoring in golf is hitting the green with your iron from the fairway. To get on the green, though, the ball has to get to the green. Too many golfers overestimate the distance they hit their irons, leaving their approaches short. To get the ball pin-high you have to know how far you hit each club. Here’s how to find out.

Go out to the course early, before there’s much traffic on the fairways. On a hole that has a level fairway, find the 200-yard marker. On most golf courses that’s a blue cement circle laid into the ground. Walk from it to the 150-yard marker, counting your steps. Now turn around and take half that number of steps back toward the 200-yard marker. You’re exactly 175 yards from the green.

Drop a few balls and hit them with what you think is your 175-yard club. They need to hit the center of the green. Front portion doesn’t count. You want the center. If they land short of that, try one more club. When you hit the center of the green on the fly, or maybe a little beyond, that is your 175-yard club.

Do the same thing on another hole from the 150-yard marker, and again on a third hole from 125 yards. You’ll end up with three distances from which you know which club to use. The important thing is to do this experiment on the course, under playing conditions and with the ball you play with. You can’t figure this out at the range with perfect lies, do-overs, and range balls.

You have eight irons (3-PW), though, so why am I recommending you hit from only three distances? First of all, you found each distance in a precise way, so you know they’re right. Second, these three distances give you all the information you need.

When I tried this, the irons I came up with were 4, 6, and 9. The 4 and 6 were about five yards long, but the 9 was just right. So I determined these three iron/distance combinations by experiment: 4/180, 6/155, 9/125. The remaining clubs can be easily interpolated into that sequence.

Note: If you have hybrid irons in your bag, check them out individually. The intervals between them could be larger than between your traditional irons.

Once you really know how far you hit your irons under playing conditions, you can account for in-between yardages, wind, the lie, elevation changes, and other factors that affect playing distance so that you can start hitting pin-high irons. It will change the way you play the game.


Odds and Ends

› One course you play on all the time you shoot your handicap consistently. Another course you play on from time to time you shoot five to ten strokes over your handicap. Guess which course you should be playing on if you want to improve?

› Play one round where you give up distance in order to hit shots that keep the ball constantly in play, for all 18 holes. You’ll have to hit something other than your driver on most holes, and play short of the green a number of times. You’ll have more fun and shoot a lower score, I promise you. The test is, will you play this way the next time out, or go back to your usual game?

› How to practice the mental game: Put a ball on the mat in front of you and take ten identical practice swings while you look at the ball, but without hitting it. After the tenth swing, step up to the ball without hesitation and hit it. Was that swing the same as the ten swings before? If not, practice this exercise until you’ve learned to stop letting the presence of a ball control your mind.

› Setup is grip, stance, alignment, posture, and ball position. If you aren’t pleased with the way you hit the ball, fix your setup before you start tinkering with your swing. If you hit the ball well but inconsistently it’s because your setup is inconsistent. Spend as much time practicing your setup as you do your swing. It’s that important.

› Those tips you read in the golf magazines? The ones that promise you more distance, cure your slice, fix your swing problem? They’re pure entertainment. Pay no attention to them. If your swing needs fixing, get a lesson.


Today’s lessons

They say you don’t learn anything when you play well, only when you play poorly. I say, Nonsense. When I play well, I learn how to play well. When else do you learn that?

I shot a 75 today. This is what I learned.

1. Don’t hit a shot until you’re ready. That means you are at ease with what you are about to do. If you have any misgivings, or doubt, or something just doesn’t feel right, step away. Clear your head, and step up to the ball again.
2. Play within yourself, especially off the tee. Play easy and believe in what you’re about to do.
3. Read putts by looking uphill. If you’re putting uphill, read the green from behind the ball. If you’re putting downhill, read from behind the hole. The slope of the hill and the break are always seen more clearly when you look uphill.
4. Find the shots that are working and use them to death. Let the shots that aren’t working take the day off.
5. When in doubt about which iron to choose, take the longer one, grip down a half inch, and fire away.

I Played From the Red Tees Today

I played from the red tees today. Not the Ladies’s Tees, the red tees. Yes, it is primarily women who play from the red tees, but also seniors and people like me who want to try something new. So let’s just call them the red tees.

But why would I want to play from there? It’s really too easy, isn’t it? Not really that fair. Kind of like the varsity football team playing the junior high 7th-graders?

You see, you get a shorter course from the red tees, but it’s a different course. You have to hit your tee shot to different places. You have to hit different shots into the green. You’re hitting shots you don’t usually hit from places you don’t usually play from. That makes it a different game, and not necessarily an easier one. And you still have to putt.

It took me about six holes to adjust my thinking to a new shorter course. What club to use off the tee to set up the club I wanted to use into the green. The red tees were placed in some pretty nasty spots — there wasn’t always a clear look at the fairway, or hazards got brought into play that kept the driver in the bag. In short, the way I played every hole had to be thought through fresh.

Shorter doesn’t mean easier. You can still hit your drive into the weeds. You can still clank an iron into a water hazard. You can still three-putt. You can get caught up between both getting to greedy and being too conservative, and get bitten each way. You still have to hit good shots to score, and you will still pay for the bad ones.

Playing a shorter course doesn’t mean that you’ll hit very shot pure. It means you have to manage your mistakes in a different way, and find out how to think your way around an unfamiliar golf course. In short, it will open your eyes about how you make your way around a golf course, and expose deficiencies in your game you didn’t realize were there.

I predicted I’d shoot a 78, shot a 79. It was great fun the whole day. I recommend you try it.


The Secret to Success in Golf – Simplify

[August 2019: To find out how to have a simple swing, see Bob’s Living Golf Book instead of this post.]

Sometime I go to the range and hit golf balls just great. I come home and think I have finally found it. Then the next time I go out I can’t repeat my success because I forgot what I did. Raise your hand if that’s you, too.

I finally figure out what’s wrong. Those swings have been too complicated. Too many moving parts. Too many positions to hit, too many movements to make. It’s a wonder I can do it once.

The solution, and your entrée to a good golf swing, is to simplify it. Just take the club back, and swing it through.

You have a basic swing; you know how to hit the ball. What I’m saying is start throwing out the complicated stuff, all those little things you try to keep track of. See how much you can simplify your swing. See how easy you can make it. Strip away all the non-essentials and just swing back and through.

Sure, there will still be a lot of stuff going on. Even a”simple” swing isn’t simple. But here’s what you will find out. When your swing has been simplified, the thought that will be in your head when you’re standing over the ball is one of performing with confidence. You will know, trust completely, that if you swing this way the ball will go straight and far. That it just has to.

I would bet that if you asked a number of golfers how confident they feel over the ball, they would say, “Not that much all the time.” It’s that confidence that leads to a good shot, and you only have confidence if you know what you’re doing. Really know what you’re doing.

And how much easier is to really know what you’re doing if your swing is so simple that you could do it in your sleep? That’s the key here. It’s getting a swing that is so easy for you to remember that you can do it time after time, day after day, month after month.

That swing is a simple swing.

So go to the range, or better, take some plastic golf balls to your back yard, and start getting rid of the baggage. Go for a simple, relaxed, rhythmic swing. It’s all you need to play well.


The Three Most Important Golf Clubs

[Comments added January 2018.]

There’s a chapter by this name in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.   He says the three most important clubs are, putter, driver, and wedge, in that order.   Ben Hogan, he reported, said driver, putter, and wedge.   

Penick went on to give the reasons for his order, but we never heard Hogan’s reasons for his.   Here they are, gathered from what I have read of Hogan’s writings.

Hitting a good drive puts you on offense.   It leaves the ball in the part of the fairway where the green, and even the pin, can be attacked.   

You should have a plan at the outset of every hole, and getting the ball off the tee into the right place is the key to carrying out your plan.   

Hogan off the tee wasn’t interested in distance.   He had a spot marked out where he wanted the ball to end up and his goal was to hit it there.   

[For recreational golfers, getting the ball in the fairway off the tee is paramount to making par.]

The putter is next, of course.   Hitting your irons close doesn’t count unless you sink that putt.   

Yes, Hogan hit his irons close, but he didn’t make birdies by hitting six-irons to two feet.   In his prime he was regarded and on of the tour’s best from 10 feet in, and he made his share of 12- to 15-footers, too.

We can sum it up so far from another point of view.   I heard Byron Nelson, Hogan’s contemporary, say on a televised golf match from the 1950s, “If you can drive and you can putt, you can play this game.”

[Try carrying two putters.]

And the wedge.   Sometimes we miss a green, or in the case of a par 5, we need a third shot to get on.   

Hogan prided himself on being able to get his wedge shots close.   He felt if you could, there was no way a pin could be hidden from you.   

In fact, he called his pitching wedge his “equalizer”, and Hogan irons do not have a P or a PW in the set.   They all have an E.   

How can this inform your game?   Practice your swing with your wedges.   All the principles of the golf swing that you need to pay attention can be perfected in this swing.

Before you hit your driver in practice, hit a few wedges first, then with the driver with the same swing.   All you have to do is stand up a little straighter.   

Hit very few drivers in practice.   That sounds odd if it’s such an important club, but it’s a seductive club that can ruin your swing.

Practice your putting every chance you get.   Practice your stroke at home every day for ten minutes or so on 3- to 5-foot putts.   Every time you go to the range, practice approach putting from 30 feet to leave the ball inside 18 inches.   

[This is easy to do if you learn the TAP method.]

Wedge?   Find two distances, 30 yard and 60 yards, and practice until you can hit the ball on a dime from each one, and straight at your target.   A few yards to either side isn’t good enough.   

Learn to chip with your wedges, too, but make sure you’re running the ball to the hole, not flying it up there.   Balls that run to the hole have a much better chance to go in.

Get good with these three clubs.   Imagine what golf would be like if you routinely found the fairway off the tee, closed the deal right away on the putting green, and put those short shots one-putt close.   

All the good players you play with?   That’s exactly what they do.

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

How to Break 100, 90, 80

Every golfer’s goal is to pass a benchmark score. Those three are the major ones, and when we do it for the first time, break out the champagne!

What golfers approaching those benchmark scores don’t realize is, they had the game all along to do it. They just weren’t planning for it in the right way.
Here’s the wrong way to plan for it: go out to the course, play 18 holes, and see what score you get. With this plan, eventually you’ll have a good day but that can be a long time coming, with lots of frustration along the way.
If you want to take charge of your scoring, rather than leaving it to chance, prepare yourself by accepting The Realization and making The Plan.
The Realization is that good scores are not made by making great shots. They are made by getting the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes. In other words, stop playing to impress your buddies, or even yourself. Play to get the ball in the hole.
The Plan is to separate the eighteen holes into two groups — the ones you can take an extra stroke on, and the ones you can’t.
For example: you want to break 100. That means you can get bogey on nine holes, and double bogey on nine holes. Identify the nine holes that are hardest for you, and play them deliberately for double bogey. Play safe off the tee, safe up the fairway, safe onto the green, and safe into the hole. The other nine holes are bogey holes. Play to get onto the green in one extra stroke, then take your two putts. That’s 99.
Now you don’t have to hit lots of great shots to do that. Passable shots with a handful of good ones will do. You’ll keep the ball in play and avoid the blowup holes that you can’t recover from.
Meet the other benchmark scores the same way. Play every hole for bogey except the easiest one, and you play that for par, and that’s 89. Play the hardest nine holes for bogey and the rest for par, and there’s your 79.
The point is to stop trying to be a hero on every hole. Pick your spots and play within yourself the rest of the time. That’s how professionals play, that’s how you should play.