Grip it and rip it! This is the overwhelming response from most golfers when asked how they view a game of golf. This is obvious when you watch players grab a bucket of balls and head out to the driving range. The first club most pull out of their golf bag is their driver.
When I ask players why they have pulled their driver out instead of warming up with a shorter club and work their way up to the driver, their response generally is “because I want to hit it far. I have to hit the ball further than the player standing in the next stall, further than my buddies and most certainly as far as the tour players.”
Distance, it seems, is the number one result (of many), that satisfies the golfing public. Prior to the beginning of each new lesson I teach, the student is asked to write down his/her goals. Although the goals vary from player to player, the two most common are improved consistency and increased distance.
Consistency is relative to the level of the golfer. For a beginner or new golfer, consistency may mean to make consistent contact each and every time. For the intermediate golfer, it may mean to make consistent contact in the direction you are aiming. The advanced golfers become more specific in that they are looking for consistent contact, with the same trajectory, ball flight and distance control (from club to club). Regardless of your level of play or experience, most golfers are looking for the same result — to walk off the golf course satisfied that they have played the best they could play.
Distance in some ways is the root of all evils on the golf course. If you hit the ball far but have no consistency (direction control), then what this generally means is that you hit the ball further into the bush or the water! Now, if score does not matter to you, then this is OK. You have likely just out driven your playing partners. But at the end of the game, it is the player that thinks his/her way around the course and manages his/her game properly that will end up with the lower score and have bragging rights.
When asked about golf course management, most golfer’s first thought would be that it does not apply to them. “I am not a good enough golfer that I have to worry about managing myself around the course. I stand up on the tee, hit my shot and hopefully I am not in trouble.”
Golf course management applies to all players, and if you pay attention to the little things and plan your way around the golf course, you are likely to stay away from trouble more often, ultimately lowering your scores. Some of the little things are: Where to play from on the tee box, alignment, trouble spots and distance control.
The first step is to understand and to pay attention to the shape of your shot. Very few players hit the ball perfectly straight. What this means is the majority of players will have some sort of movement on the ball. Some will fade or slice the ball (for right-handed golfers, the ball will spin right) and others will play a draw or hook (spin to the left for right-handed golfers), with the opposite being true for left-handed golfers. To properly plan all shots you have to pay attention to this.
Let’s start at the tee box. Most golfers when they tee off, will grab their club, place the tee in the ground and then hit. There is no consideration given to where the trouble is and where they want to land the ball. Noticing the lay of the land and how the hole sets up is the first step to improved course management.
For example, if you have a row of trees running down the right side of the fairway and there is no trouble down the left side, for right-handed golfers who hit a slice you want to be sure to aim yourself down the left side of the fairway or rough. By doing so you are playing the odds, knowing that if you hit the ball straight you are in a good spot, or if you mishit the shot and it slices more than normal, then you have allowed for that by aligning yourself down the left side.
Where you place your tee on the tee box can have a huge bearing on where the ball ends up. Right-handed golfer who slice the ball in most cases should place their tee on the right side of the tee box (the opposite is true for a left-handed golfer). This gives you the opportunity to align yourself further left so that you have more fairway to work with.
Aligning yourself properly is critical to sending the ball towards your target. I find that most players line themselves up directly to where they want the ball to land. Alignment is relative to the spin you put on the ball. For example, if you typically play about a 20-yard slice then you have to be sure to aim yourself 20 yards to the left of your intended target (for right-handed golfers). Aligning yourself down the middle when you play a 20-yard slice will most certainly ensure your ball ends up in trouble.
Finally, if you are going to lay up, then lay up! Many times on the course we are faced with having to hit over water or another form of hazard. You have realized that you can not hit over the trouble, therefore you find the yardage to the hazard. Be sure that when you are faced with this situation that you do not choose a club that will go that yardage.
I see too often that players, while attempting a lay-up shot, hit the ball into the hazard that they are laying up to and trying to avoid. Be sure that first of all you know how far each club goes for a good shot and that you choose a club that will not hit the ball into the trouble you are laying up from.
These are just a few of the numerous situations that could assist you in planning your way around the golf course. The bottom line is to pay attention to your surroundings and play the appropriate club that ensures you are not in the bush or water. Quite often this means the driver may not be the best choice.
Scott Bergdahl is the head professional at Lakewood Golf Resort near Sylvan Lake. His column appears Tuesdays in the Advocate.