There is one big way to shoot low score in golf: avoid blow-up holes. That means no double or triple bogeys, and definitely no snowmen.
By no means am I there yet. I took a 9 on the par 5, 525-yard 4th hole on my home course; and a double at the second. I took a triple on a 435-yard par 4 last Saturday to go with two doubles. The former—if I had just bogeyed each hole—prevented me from shooting a 77; the latter cost me money.
So these tips are as much for me as they are you!
The Most Dreaded Shot in Golf
Last Saturday, on a 310-yard, uphill par 4, my playing partner Sanders and I hit our drives right next to each other—literally just 3 feet apart. We were both looking at an uphill 55-yard pitch shot.
"I hate this shot," he grumbled as we came up to our shots, expressing a sentiment of many golfers.
I was first to hit and knocked mine right of the hole, but pin high to 14 feet (yeah, I walk off my putts). Sanders hit his shot, yanking it long and left and leaving himself a good 30-footer for birdie. I liked my chances at birdie. His? Not so much. (Sanders made a slippery 4 footer for par. Me? My bird finished 2 inches to the right. Damn.)
While I'm no Tiger Woods at an 8.3 handicap, I know why golfers like Sanders hate these pitch shots: They don't practice them enough, if at all! (Sanders negativity didn't help, either.)
How important is this shot to average to above average player?*
Guess how many times I faced shots in that 55-105-yard range last week? 9. My previous round, 6. The round before that, 8. The round before that, 7.
Clearly the 55-105 shot has to be in my bag if I want to score low, so I make sure it is. That's why when I go to the range, my first 15-20 shots are with my 52º and 56º wedges. I also end my session with 7-10 of these shots.
The more I practice it, the more comfortable I am with it. (This is not to say that I've mastered these shots, I'm just less intimidated by them.)
Here's my tip: The next time you go to the range, get a small bucket of roughly 50 balls and use the entire bucket to hit shots in the 50-110 yard range. Yup, leave the driver and irons in the bag and use the entire bucket for these shots.
"But that's wasting balls!" my friend Natalie protested the other day.
"Would you rather "waste" range balls or strokes on the course, Nat?"
That's what I thought. Enough said.
Laying Up: When to Recognize Trouble and Eliminate a Big Score
A couple of times a week I pass my home course's difficult 13th hole. It's par 3 that plays 182 to 191 yards (depending on where the tees are) over a ravine and is ever so slightly downhill. There's a bunker short and right of the green; and another long and back left. To the right is a grove of tall pines with low-hanging branches, and a chain-link fence next to the road. Short and to the left of the hole is wide open. The green slopes from back to front and has a false front. And the hardest part of the hole is prevailing wind, which is either coming straight at you or from the left, thus adding more yards to the hole. Par is a great score; bogey, while obviously not ideal, is acceptable. Here's a view of the hole (though this is shot considerably "up" in front of the tees.):
So how do I approach this hole? First, I identify the trouble. Right is obviously no good. The less obvious trouble is long; it'll be hard to get it close with the green sloping away from me. Left is fine (look at all that room!), but it leaves me with a long and more difficult pitch shot that has to carry the false front. Then I consider my club yardage. I hit my 5-iron off a tee anywhere from 180-190 yards. My 22º 3 hybrid I hit 200-215. So, I'm between clubs.
My strategy is clear then: Aim for the blue spruce, take a 5-iron and play for a lay up.
What? Lay up on a par 3?
Absolutely, and for several reasons. With a good chip, I can get up and down for par—and, at worst, 2-putt for bogey. Two, I virtually eliminate double or even triple bogey from the scorecard. Three, thinking "lay up" puts less pressure on me to make a perfect swing, thus relaxing my muscles and allowing me to make a better swing. (What I'm doing here is fooling my body a bit. I know darn well that I can put it dead center on the green, but putting artificial pressure on myself to do so usually results in a hurried swing with a less-than-ideal result.)
How has this approach worked out? 5 out of the last 7 times I've parred the hole! The other two were bogeys. A fella can really fall in love with those results.
The lay up is a powerful shot; and it can be used in numerous situations around a course with a positive effect on your scorecard. There are just a couple of rules to follow.
First, recognize where potential trouble lurks on a hole. Second, keep your ego in check. (Can I really make this shot? If no, pick a club that gets you to wedge yardage or a spot where you'll be comfortable.) Finally, as I pointed out in my above example, be creative. Defy conventional wisdom. Maybe on a long 450-yard par 4 you lay up your second shot
Keep Your Penis in the Bag and Take More Club
The penis. It costs golfers more shots than any other club in the bag—and that includes women. Nowhere does the penis play a more sinister role than on approaches.
The thinking goes something like this, "Hmm, okay. I have 135 yards to the hole. That's a 9-iron for me, so 9-iron it is." And they end up 10-15 yards short of the hole.
Thank you very much, Mr. Penis.
Had the golfer put the clubhead cover on Mr. Penis and gone with a smooth 8, they would be pin high and tight.
Case in point. A guy I'm playing with, carrying the exact same handicap as me (8.3), steps up to his shot. He has 132-yards to the hole that plays steeply uphill. He breaks out his range finder.
"Well, 132 yards. That's my 9."
We had become friendly during the round, but not so much that I felt like dispensing advice. Take one more club or you'll never get there, sport.
Guess who ended up short. If you said Mr. Penis, you win a dozen Pro V1s.
Meanwhile, just prior to that, yours truly put the clubhead cover on Mr. Penis, broke out the 7-iron—a club I normally hit 148-155 yards+—and from 141 yards put my shot 12 feet above the cup. Par for me**, bogey for him.
The trouble here is that golfers are counting on making their best shot. A good positive state of mind, for sure, but it puts too much pressure on you and your swing to make a perfect shot.
Look, golf isn't about "I hit that 7-iron 165 yards" and then failing to tell everyone that you bogeyed the hole; it's about making accurate shots to give yourself a chance at par or better.
There's no dishonor in clubbing up, so do it.
Do those three things and I guarantee you'll lower your scores for sure!
Here endth the lesson.
*The average golfer is an 18 handicap!
** Damn, I need to start making these. Missed four from within 15 ft for birdie last week.