Many of you scour the pages of this magazine looking for the magic answer to this question. If that's your motivation, then this article is for you. On the following pages, I'll show you how to drop strokes from your game by simply changing your approach on the tee box and on the putting green. After all, if you can get down the fairway regularly and hole the putts you're supposed to make–and some of the ones you shouldn't–you'll be well on your way to playing your best rounds ever.
Drive For Show And For Dough
I'm sure you've heard the phrase drive for show and putt for dough. While this adage may be appropriate for the players on the professional tours, most amateurs would be better off by making the drive their money shot. How much fun is it anyway if you're putting for 5 or 6 because your tee ball found water or landed out of bounds? The first step toward better scores is improving your long game. Here's how.
Choose The Safer Club
Simply getting the ball in play off the tee far outweighs hitting the ball a long way, but into trouble. More often than not, you can lower your scores by choosing to play a club off the tee that may not give you the most distance, but puts you into play. A good alternative to the driver is the 3-wood, which features more loft than the driver (up to six degrees). This extra loft imparts more backspin on your ball, which works to lessen the amount of sidespin you'd create with the same swing with the driver. The end result is a shot that curves less and is in play more often.
Alter Your Aim
Selecting the appropriate place on the teeing ground and aiming away from trouble will also help in saving penalty shots (not to mention golf balls!). The simple rule of thumb is that if there's trouble on the right, tee the ball on the right side of the tee box and aim up the left side of the fairway. Do the opposite if there's trouble left. While this strategy may appear to be an escape route, you'll nonetheless see pros do it all the time when the heat of a match starts to rise.
Swing On The Correct Path
The appropriate path on which you should swing any golf club is dictated by the lie angle of that club. Because the lie angles of woods are much flatter than those built into irons and wedges, they require a flatter approach into the back of the ball to produce successful results. This can be achieved by swinging the clubhead into the ball from inside the target line. If you come into the ball on a plane that's much steeper than the lie angle of your wood, or from outside the target line, you'll endure more than your fair share of wayward shots.
The ability to swing the clubhead into the ball correctly is greatly influenced by the way you set up at address. To ensure a proper setup, tilt your spine slightly away from the target and position your left shoulder higher than your right. Furthermore, set your right elbow inside your left elbow. More importantly, re-create these positions at the point of impact. If you can achieve the positions described, you'll create a setup that allows you to swing smoothly and on-plane.
Putt To Win
Once you can drive for dough (and without penalty strokes attached), the next area to attack is your putting. There are two key areas that can really save shots on the greens: lag putting and putts inside six feet.
The key to good lag putting is controlling the distance your ball travels. Of all the fundamentals that are valuable to solid lag putting, perhaps the one that enables you to control your distance the most is a good beat or rhythm to your stroke. I recommend that you practice your stroke in time with the beat of a metronome (which can be purchased at any music store) or count out loud to develop a constant beat to your stroke. Some golfers like a slower beat; others prefer a faster rhythm. Whatever your natural rhythm may be, find the beat with which you feel the most comfortable and you'll have greater success.
In addition to putting with a metronome, practice controlling the distance your ball rolls by performing the Five In A Row drill.
Practice putts from 20 feet on a flat surface with an eye toward rolling each putt to within the length of your puttershaft from the hole. The key here is not to focus on holing every putt, but to get inside that gimme area. Perform the drill until you can get five balls in a row inside the puttershaft, then move to longer lengths in five-foot increments.
If you develop a good consistent beat to your stroke–and practice, practice, practice–you'll become more in control of the distances your putts travel and, ultimately, save a ton of shots on the greens.
Putts Inside Six Feet
Missed putts from short distances build as much doubt in a player's mind as any other shot in golf. To overcome that feeling of doubt, you need to offset it by creating confidence in your ability to get the ball into the hole.
How do you create this confidence? The best way is to practice in an environment built for success and take the fear out of the short ones by simply holing a lot of short putts. When practicing these short putts, use the Chalk Line Drill.
Putterface aim and control is the key to solid putting. The Chalk Line will help you with both. Set up the drill by simply running a chalk line on a flat section of a practice green from the cup to your ball. Position your golf ball on the line and make your stroke. As you do, focus on moving your putterhead directly along the chalk line. If the putterhead moves off the line on either the backstroke or forwardstroke, you've allowed a chance for the ball to stray off-line and potentially miss the cup. Also, you want to make sure your putterface remains perpendicular to the chalk line. On short putts, a straight path and squared face are paramount to success.
Once you get accustomed to seeing the ball go in the hole, you'll be more inclined to trust your aim and stroke on the course.
Once you get your tee game and putting under control, you can take your scores even lower by chipping the ball closer–much closer–to the hole when you miss the green. If PGA Tour players rely on getting up and down when their iron games are a little off, so should amateurs. In order to get up and down more consistently, chip it dead–to the point where putting is taken out of the equation.
The only way to develop a chipping game that will send the ball close to the hole is to control the distance the ball travels. And you'll never know how far the ball will travel without consistent contact. You need to employ a method that will allow you to contact the ball first. Any other type of impact will make distance control difficult.
Choke up slightly on the club.
Extend your arms at address.
Bend from your hips until the club lightly touches the top of the grass.
Play the ball slightly back in your stance.
Swing your clubhead down and through the golf ball.
Keep the back of your left hand pointing toward the ground through impact.
Work on these three areas and I guarantee that, in no time, you'll be enjoying your best rounds ever.
PGA professional Chuck Winstead is the director of golf at the University Club in Baton Rouge and at English Turn Golf and Country Club.