I probably give far more playing lessons then the average bear. Let’s be clear: on the lesson tee I’m a teacher, on the golf course I’m a coach, and the whole plan, clearly, is to achieve lower golf scores for my clients, and that means not thinking about score.
During a playing lesson I ask the student to refrain from asking any technique questions regardless of the shot outcome. I want on course time to be all about management skills. Therefore, if you hit the first pitch out to deep right center field, let’s go find it and figure out how to best minimize the damage. I talk a lot about “damage control.” The best players in the world hit those “where the heck did that one come from?” shots. The difference is they don’t play a high-risk recovery shot.
Get your ball back in the short stuff the safest way possible and live to fight another day. Imagine if the next ten times you played you never made over a bogey. You completely took the big number off your card. How many shots to the good would you be?
Let me give you a few thoughts and explain how I manage the golf course.
In Photo 1 I’m playing the 9th hole at Bulle Rock, the home of my summer TPGOLF Schools in Havre De Grace, Maryland. Hole 9 is a bear. From the tee I’m playing it plays 430 yards left to right and slightly uphill. There are two very penal bunkers right and just for good measure a big slope headed directly for a not-so-friendly pond to the right of those bunkers.
If I hit my Sunday best I can clear the second bunker and considerably shorten the hole. However, if I miss hit that tee shot a whole lot of hurt awaits me over in that direction. By playing a full 15 yards left of those bunkers (which is my normal play on this hole) I’m adding between 10 to 15 yards to my second shot. So instead of hitting a 7 iron and once in a blue moon an 8 iron in I’m hitting a 6 iron and sometimes a 5 iron. I make a bunch of 4’s on number 9 and rarely exceed 5. Remember, one swing of the club can’t make your round but one swing can certainly ruin it.
Technology in the form of a quality rangefinder, as I’m using in Photo 2 (the operative word here is quality) can be a highly valuable tool, provided you actually know what to do with it. First thing I do with mine is shoot targets on the practice range whenever I practice. You see I’m not on “Fantasy Island” about EXACTLY how far I carry every club in my bag. Knowing how far you carry (carry over bunkers, water hazards, etc. is critical information). Each club in your bag should allow you to make highly comfortable choices when selecting a club to hit a particular shot when it counts. You’d be amazed how few recreational players are even in the ball park with their carry distances. Make real club choice decisions based on real information after a quality and repetitive practice session.
Once you have established “real” numbers, you’ll be on your way to more greens in regulation as well as fewer big numbers because you have a very real sense of what each club can do comfortably. This is critical.
During a playing lesson I discuss your personally best scoring opportunities via making sound decisions that will not stress your golf brain (Photo 3). Also, after each playing lesson I will generally sit with the student to review all that we did to be sure everything is rock solid and crystal clear, as I’m doing in Photo 4.
As an on-course coach who has done this for 36-plus years and given as many playing lessons as any teaching professional on this planet, I’m here to tell you that if every recreational player made solid decisions based on patterns within their game that they truly understood and played — only safe, conservative lines — they would be 6-10 shots to the good tomorrow.
Think, be patient, truly know your limits. Play the smart shot every time.