There's little doubt that proper swing fundamentals and short-game techniques are important parts of a consistent golf game. Good golf, however, isn't purely about perfect mechanics; it's also largely about strategy. Fortunately, there are several key strategies anyone can easily utilize to produce lower scores. Better yet, using your smarts is a lot easier than trying to create a fundamentally perfect backswing or impact position. In this regard, the title of this story holds true—you can score better without changing your swing.
Below are five nontechnical techniques you can employ to achieve more consistent results the next time you step on the course. They encompass the areas of shot and target selection, tension-free mechanics, tempo and rhythm, mental toughness and score-saving (rather than pride-saving) decision making. If you can master these strategic musts, you'll be well on your way to a decent round even if your swing isn't in tip-top shape. And when it is, watch out!
1. Hit To The Fat Part Of The Green
Far too many golfers aim for the pin without considering its location on the green. Better golfers understand the importance of playing to their ability and, therefore, think twice before firing at a pin that's tucked near the edge of the green. This may not leave them with a better chance for birdie, but certainly lessens the chance for bogey or worse.
To make better decisions concerning when and when not to go for the flag, divide your clubs into three categories: 1) play it safe, 2) proceed with caution and 3) go for it. The clubs in the play it safe category are your fairway woods and long irons. For most golfers, these are the clubs that present the greatest challenge when it comes to consistently controlling distance and direction. Therefore, when you have a shot to the green that puts a fairway wood or long iron in your hands, always play it safe by aiming at the middle of the green. Proceed with caution with the clubs that are toward the middle of the set (5-iron through 8-iron). These clubs require a judgment call on your part based on how you're swinging on a given day. If you're swinging well and feeling confident, you can be more aggressive if you have a mid-iron in your hands. If you're a little off, take a more conservative approach and aim for the fat part of the green. Most golfers are the most accurate with their short irons, which are the go for it clubs. If you have a wedge distance to the flag, be unafraid in taking a more aggressive line to your target.
2. Play Golf, Not Golf Swing
One of the biggest and most common mistakes golfers make during the course of a round is spending too much time focusing on their mechanics. Don't let yourself fall into this trap. When you tinker with your swing during a round of golf, not only do your mechanics tend to get worse, but you also lose sight of your objective—to play the game of golf. When you get wrapped up in swing fundamentals on the course, you're not playing golf, you're playing golf swing.
The next time you warm up on the range, note how well you're swinging that day. You may not have your A swing; in fact, you may have your B or even C swing. In any case, it's important to take whatever swing you have that day and make the best of it. If you've got a little fade going on the range before the round, aim a little more left than you normally would during the round and worry about straightening it out after you play. Your task for the day is to shoot an A score with your B or C swing. When you learn to do that, you'll really be playing golf.
3. Monitor Your Tempo And Rhythm
Inconsistent performance on the course often can be related to inconsistent tempo and rhythm. Tempo is the total amount of time it takes to create your golf swing from beginning to end. Even though the swing is longer with the driver, it should take the same time to execute as a swing with a sand wedge.
Rhythm describes how you split the total time between the backswing and forwardswing. If you treat the golf swing like a pendulum and divide it into equal beats, the backswing would take two beats and the combined downswing and forwardswing would take two beats. Like tempo, golf swing rhythm should be the same for every club and every type of swing.
The key to developing consistent tempo and rhythm is to understand that the forwardswing should be a gradual acceleration from the top. If you employ proper tempo and rhythm, maximum clubhead speed will naturally occur at the point of contact without putting in any extra effort. To internalize the feeling of optimal tempo and rhythm, hit five 7-irons with your optimum tempo and rhythm, and then hit five drivers trying to duplicate the same tempo and rhythm. Make sure that the start of your forwardswing is the same with both clubs. Trust the increase in shaft length to produce an increase in speed—and distance.
4. Be Positive
Are you always positive over every shot? Let me put that question another way: Have you ever pulled out a water ball on a par-3 that required a carry over a lake or river or some other type of dangerous hazard? If so, it's easy to make the case that you weren't totally committed to a successful outcome, nor were you necessarily brimming with confidence or optimism. While it's true you need to identify the trouble spots on a particular hole, you also need to sharpen your focus on creating the proper distance, direction and trajectory that will put you in position to score. In order to do that most successfully, it's crucial to focus on what you want to do before hitting your shot, not on what you don't want to do.
Here's a simple test. Close your eyes and try not to think about a red apple. If you're like most people, a red apple is just what pops into your mind. You see, your mind doesn't understand don't. If you give yourself a cue not to do something, like hitting the ball in the water, out of bounds, or hitting it fat, generally one of two things will happen: 1) the power of suggestion will take over and you'll actually do what it was that you were trying to avoid, or 2) you'll compensate with a swing motion that sends the ball in the opposite direction of the trouble and into just as bad a situation.
To develop a more positive attitude, try this preshot routine. Start by evaluating the lie, the distance of the shot, the wind strength and direction, and take note of any obstacles or hazards. Visualize a successful outcome of the shot and take a single practice swing to restore the feeling of the swing you would like to make. Once you're over the ball, commit to the shot, focus on your target and let it go. Practice this technique consistently and you'll soon find the quality of your shots improving.
5. Know When To Leave The Driver In The Bag, Baby
The key to good driving isn't producing long hits. Instead, good drivers of the golf ball always put themselves into position for the next shot. To accomplish this seemingly simple task, it's important to realize you don't always have to hit a driver. When selecting the appropriate club to hit off the tee, it's best to start by deciding how long a second shot you want to leave yourself. For example, if you're playing a short par-4, say, 350 yards, use the distance of an average-length shot (250 yards) with your driver to calculate your yardage into the green. In this example, you'll only have approximately 100 yards left to the green, provided you hit the fairway. Realistically, you might be better off using your 3-wood and hitting the ball 230 yards, which would leave only 120 yards to the green. Although the distance for the second shot is slightly longer, a fairway wood is generally easier to control than a driver, which makes finding the fairway more likely.
Remember that the most important thing is getting the ball in play, not hitting it as far as possible. Lean toward choosing the club you hit most accurately, and your results will generally be better.
Another situation where you can leave the driver in the bag is when you're faced with a long par-5 that you know you won't be able to reach in two shots, even with your best drive and fairway wood into the green. You have a better chance at par, or even birdie, if you keep your tee shot in play with a fairway wood or long iron. This way, you have a chance to lay up to a comfortable distance for your third shot without having to hit any unnecessarily risky shots.
Lana Ortega is a Class-A LPGA member and director of instruction at the McGetrick Golf Academy (www.mcgetrickgolf.com) in Denver, Colo.