I've seen quite a few threads tracking progress from a very high score (100+) to a respectable score and trying to get better, and I've seen a few people ask "how do i get better if I'm really bad?" or being very frustrated in the 100s. I have recently finished this transition - 130 to the 80s - and it was a ton of work. I had messed around with golf since about 09, but this past xmas I recieved a new set of irons for christmas, and played a round with my dad in Florida. For some reason, it was really, really fun in a way that it hadn't been before. I also got a lesson for xmas while in Florida. That pro changed my grip, stance, everything and made the game alot more fun to play. With the new irons, I decided to committ to golf. This is my post-mortem of what worked, and what did not work, to improve my game and shoot a lower score. I took approsimately 30 strokes off my game from xmas to July 1, 2011. I consistently shot in the 120s, and now I have a legit handicap around 16.5. My last three rounds were 90 (on a ridiculously tough course), 87, 89, 89, 88. I decided to write into a post what worked and what did not so people can try to do the same thing. Golf is really fun at around 90 strokes because its about where you can really say you've started playing golf as oppossed to just hacking. I'm excited to move forward and would like to break 80 in another 12 months (a big goal, I know).
I read several golf books (didn't work for me) and watched countless golf videos. I took lessons, bought new clubs, tried drills. My set schedule was three 18 hole rounds a week: one Saturday afternoon (the money round with three friends skins-style, but with strokes recorded as well), one Wend. night at a muni course thats just alot of fun, and one friday night by myself walking that is a practice round to try new things. Every other day except Monday is a range day after work of about an hour and a half. Monday is rest. Thats six days a week for six months to take 30 strokes off the game. Hopefully, you can do it in less time by learning from what worked and didn't work for me. Again, these are just suggestions on what worked to get me into the 80s from the 120s. Sneak preview: about 70% of it is mental stuff like setting goals and having meaning in practice.
I also tried really hard not to have the post be "hit the fairway more" or "don't three-putt". Thats obvious. Hopefully this stuff will show you *how* to get to where you hit more fairways, etc... I put them in order of what I thought were the most important to the least important. I hope this might give some people some ideas.
1. Took 5 lessons from a PGA pro and videotaped them
This was far and away the #1 contribution to improvement. THe pro changed everything - grip, stance, swing line, follow through - all of it. I'm not going to write what he said, because its too long, but in five lessons we did grip and backswing (#1), swing plane and follow through (#2), driver (#3), putting (#4) and pitchign/chipping/bunker (#5).
After the first, I brought a cheap digital camera I got for opening a bank account to the lesson. Really, the important stuff is the audio, but you can't imagine how much more valuable the money for the lesson was when I could review it whenever I want. For all those who complain they take lesson after lesson and it doesn't work, I'm willing to bet you didn't videotape it. I forgot almost everything after he told me and if I couldn't watch the video I would be lost. In charting my rounds (see number 5), I often watch the video right after playing poorly in certain areas - bad putting day, I'll come home and put on the lesson for an hour. If you don't know the fundamentals, don't figure them out for yourself. Go get lessons. Its worth every penny.
2. Stopped Cheating
Seriously, this is important. If you mulligan off the tee four times a round, take foot wedges so you don't have to hit around trees, and take 3 foot gimmee putts, you are only cheating yourself. That sound silly, but you can't imagine how much my game got better when I stopped cheating (notice I didn't say score improved, I said game improved. Two different things). I added about 15 strokes to my score by playing by the rules (seriously) but I got a real look at my golf game not a veiled one (see number 5). You cannot improve unless you know where you are weak. You cannot know where you are truly weak if you cheat. Therefore, you cannot improve if you cheat. Logic! Chart your rounds. Whatever the score is, you will improve it. The key is not the score itself that matters, but the *direction* of the score over time. Stop cheating so you know exactly how good you are.
3. Watched "Golf Strategies", a DVD from 2006 w/Robert Karlsson, and it started me really thinking while on the golf course.
The video is availible on netflix play on demand, and it plays 18 holes with Robert Karlsson. It doesn't talk about the swing much. It starts on the range where they go through Robert's practice routine - it is eye opening how focused it is - no banging balls at all - and it is really interesting how he imagines scenarios for himself while practicing (OK, I'm hitting this 6 iron into a strong headwind with water on my right. Now this 6 iron is with a strong wind behind me and a back flag, etc...) rather than just hitting them. IIRC, he even practiced a few 4 irons that were "OK, I'm in the trees". You wouldn't believe how many strokes I shaved off my game when i was at about 110 by learning to hit my 4 iron on a dead line drive about 170 yards as oppossed to trying to get it up. Having a wedge in your hand with three storkes left for a bogey is so much better than being stuck in the trees trying a hero shot to the green over and over (and over and over). My course has three par fives with lots of woods and this shot is amazingly effective and not that hard to hit (you basically take some loft of and make a putter swing as hard as you can). I can be in a position to get a green in regulation with a 7 iron after a drive in the woods with this shot. Anyway, after the practice routine, he goes out on a course and plays a round, talking about what he is thinking. He sees things you don't even think are there as a high-handicapper - for example, that there is a bunker in front, and a large well-mown hill behind with an uphill green and a back hole position - he goes a club up because he can afford to be long and does not want to be short. I never thought of that stuff when I shot 120 - just "How far is the flag?". It is incredible how he takes hazards out of play by aiming right and left and how much you can see on a golf course if you just look for it. Just his discussion of when to fire at the flag versus when to go middle of the green depending on the wind is worth the time.
4. Learned my real, honest, smooth-swing distances and started counting a miss long and short just as bad as left or right when at the range.
This was almost number one. I see people at the range all the time swinging irons that are going in a 25 yard spread - but as long as they are high and straight, the swingers give themselves reinforcement that it is a good shot. It isn't. On the course, missing long or short with an iron is just as bad as left or right - might be a hazard, might be rough, etc... You need to train yourself to get into the 80s that hitting your irons *the correct distance* is just as important as hitting them straight. When I was over 100, I honestly thought my six iron was a 170 yard club (See another of my posts), and it was - unfortunately, I had to swing insanely hard and only really hit it one in ten or so. Its much easier, and more confidence inspiring, to know you can swing within yourself on a 130 yard 7 iron and hit it well than try to hit a 9 iron that far knowing you have to swing out of your shoes and make perfect contact. Most people (my playing partners included) try to hit their irons either way too far, or have no idea how far they actually hit them. To figure this out, I stole a drill from Michael Breed on the Golf Fix. Go to a course (not with range balls - you will get fooled but with your ball (see number 12) late in the afternoon. Use 20 shots with each iron (Takes about an hour and a half) and measure your smooth distances - a nice smooth swing with a reasonable takeaway and acceleration through the ball. After doing this, I found my distances were:
LW - anything inside 30
SW - 30-70
AW - 70-100
PW - 100s
9 - 110s
8 - 120s
7 - 130s
6 - 140-145 (this is a wierd one, I'm not sure why, but my 6 iron doesn't have the 10 yard spread, I can't hit it farther than 145 with a smooth swing, whereas the 5 with a hard/soft swing has a 20 yard gap. As a result, this club doesn't get hit that often - I find it easier to hit a hard 7 iron or a shorter 5. Not sure why, and kinda flies in the face of what I'm saying here, but the 6 iron for me is a wierd club for some reason.)
5 - 145 - 165
4 - 170s
3 hybrid - 180 to 195
These consistent distances are significantly shorter than the 1 in 10 when swinging as hard as a I can distances.
If a shot is beyond 195 after the tee shot, I think about where to leave it - when most players at over 100 are hitting and are out of range of the green, they take their longest club and just whack it as hard as they can without any real target. Don't do that! See #2, above. Try to think about which club you are consistent with and leave yourself that club with a really nice angle into the green, as oppossed to just banging it as far as you can. Let say you have 210 to the green. Do you really have a better chance to beon the green in 2 hitting a hybrid as hard as you can and dealing with the shot whereever it goes (rough, trees, shortside, long bunker, etc...), or hitting a smooth 7 iron to the middle of the fairway and then an easy wedge? For me, its the second. If you can honestly reach the green, hit it. If you can't reach the green, its pointless to get "as close as possible". Give yourself a nice shot from a clean lie with a 9-Sand whenever you can't reach the green. This will cut down on explosion holes and, if you can 2 putt, will produce alot of bogeys. BTW, my last round: 3 par, 14 bogey, 1 double for a 88. Why so many bogies? Layups if I can't reach the green, then a short iron in. You can add distance in practice, but I will promise you in the pressure of a round it is not the place to be trying to pick up an extra 15 yards you don't have. Know your distances and play within them - if you are 220 to the hole it does you no good to hit a wild 190 shot when you can hit a 130 shot and then a gap wedge.
This all works together - if you have goals (another section), you will most likely layup and hit the correct shot.
5. Got fitted for a modern driver
This is the only place where new clubs really made a huge difference. And I mean huge. With the wedges and the irons, the old clubs worked pretty much exactly the same as the new ones. I was playing an old Callaway Driver with a 360cc head and a graphtie shaft. It didn't do well with mishits. After getting fitted for a Taylor SuperFast Burner 1.0, Blue ProLaunch Shaft, cut down 1" with a slightly thinner grip (small hands), I've added 30 yards and alot of accuracy to the drives. The old drivers just can't cut it. If you have a driver from 3-4 years ago and you are in the 100s, think about paying the $150 to get fitted. My driver cost me about $169 at dicks with all the options and work. You can get some great drivers for <$150 these days, new. Whats really wierd is that I feel the biggest change is the grip. I have small hands, and when I go back and try to grip my old driver it feels like im swinging with a tree branch. It is amazing in a fitting what a tiny change (like a thinner grip) can do for your game. I would highly recommend a driver fittig if you are playing with an old driver. Putter, wedge and irons I didn't see much improvement from new clubs, but driver it was night and day. When I have the money (soon) the next purchase I'm going to make will be to thin the grips on my irons and hybrids same as my driver.
6. Started tracking my rounds beyond just the score, figured out where the most strokes were lost, and practiced those skills relentlessly.
I developed a system to figure out where I was dropping strokes - and the answer surprised me. Turns out, that at 120 my drives and short game weren't all that terrible (not good, just not terrible) but my 3 hybrid - 8 iron were abo****ely horrid - multiple strokes on almost every hole, generally from trying to hit it too far. This conclusion told me where I needed to get better. My system for doing this is to use my own scorecard while playing, and where the names usually go I write:
JC - total score
D - for driving, fairway or playable in the rough within reason of the fairway, "-". Otherwise, "+" however many strokes to get back to fairway. So if I hit it into the right rough, and need a pitching wedge to get back, it would be "+1".
100 - How many shots to get within 100 yards of the hole, "-" if in Reg+1 get "-", +1, +2, etc... if not
GIR - Greens in reg+1 - i.e. putting for par. If I get on in 3 on a par 4 I get a "-"
W - How many shots to get down from within 100 yards. 3 shots gets a "-", more gets a +1, +2, etc..
P - Number of putts. 1 or 2 putts gets a "-", more gets a +1, +2, etc...
You get a good idea of your "score" for each category over your "par" - my "par" right now is 90. Shooting "-" all the way across will produce about an 88 or so, assuming you'll get lucky and hit 1-2 first putts (keep in mind its GIR+1). If you have +6 in putts and shot a 94, thats where you can improve by not triple putting. If you have +10 in GIR+1s and a +1 in putting, go work on your irons, etc... Using the "-" and "+1, "+2" system gives you an idea of how many strokes you are adding in each area. For example, my scorecard might read:
This would tell me everything was pretty good, except my irons, since they added approximately seven shots to my score (if irons were perfect, these numbers would have given me about a 85 instead of a 91). Now, yes, its a little off because better irons mean easier putts, but this system gives you a good idea of why you are not shooting low and how many storkes you are approximately losing. This system treats Par as 90. In a year or so, when and if I can consistently shoot mid-80s, I will revise the standard down to bogey on some holes and par on others, maybe make 78 or 80 "par" for this system. When i first started, I had a line for OB and Water shots adding to the score, but they are infrequent enough now that there is no need to track it. However, you might want to track penalty shots if you have an issue with it.
7. Bought a Smash Bag
I love this little thing. its a bag filled with sand you hit with clubs. Thats it. What I did was use a sharpie to trace a ball and a tee at the usual height I tee it up. Then I would swing my driver and hit it. You can check to make sure your face is square and it trains you to be accelerating when you hit the ball. Its nice to be able to work on backswing in your house on your time. I really liked this utility.
8. Made sure I missed thin, and never missed fat
This change made a huge difference in getting from 120 to 100. A fat miss means you go nowhere - usually the ball pops up with a ton of spin, goes 3 feet, and stops. With a thin "miss" the ball usually goes quite a ways, relatively speaking. A thin miss with a hybrid or Fwood can get out there 160, 170 alot of times. At one par 3, I hit a 6 iron horribly thin, and it streaked toward the green, hit a bunker lip, popped up, and dropped about 3 feet from the hole for the first birdie of my brief golf career. The point is that thin shots still give you a chance for something to happen - fat shots don't. *Make sure you hit the ball before the ground at all costs* - fat shots quickly destroy rounds. Don't worry about hitting it thin - just make sure you hit the ball before the ground even if you have to ridiculously exaggerate it. Thin shots can usually be recovered from. You can also decelerate into the ball if you feel like you are going to hit it fat - if you feel like it'll be thin you still swing hard because you hit the ball. Set up properly.
9. Watched "The Secrets of the Short Game" with Phil Mickelson
This DVD is incredible, and is the best video I watched on golf (and I watched a whole lot of them). There isn't much to say about it beyond "Go watch it right now", but my chipping is, by far, the best part of my game, and all I do is the hing and hold he teaches on the DVD. He goes over putting, bunker play and chipping. Its a fantastic video.
10. Set reasonable goals and don't mentally check out on rounds
This is something I see alot among my high-handicap friends. Friend A walks off the course pissed because he shot a 129. I ask what he was trying for, he says he doesn't know, but a 129 is horrible and feels all upset. Look, you arn't going to go from 110 to a 75 in a month. it isn't going to happen. You need to set reasonable goals because if you do you won't mentally check out on many rounds. Usually, with high-handicappers, they start the round really intense and, by the end, have such a high score that they don't care about the round anymore. Its like weight loss - if you go from 300 lbs to 290 lbs in a month, thats FANTASTIC - don't be pissed because your still 290 lbs, be happy because you dropped 10! In other words, set goals for yourself. People who shoot in the 100s all the time and get mad b/c they are "in the 100s" don't have specific enough goals. If you shot 116 last time, try to shoot 110 this time. And if you come to 18, a long par 4 at my local, you are going to stay mentally "checked in" if you need a bogey to shoot 109 and make your goal. If you don't have that goal, you'll just say "f-it, over 100 again" and blast a drive into the woods. To get better you need specific, intermittant goals. Break 110 five rounds in a row, then set it at 105, then 100, etc... This really worked for me to come down from the 120s into the 80s - slow goals. After I broke 100 a few times in a row, goal goes to 95. This will also make you have more fun, because its much more fun to think "I shaved five strokes off!" then to think "I shot a 114 :(". It doesn't matter if its a high score - its the *direction the score is going in* that is the key to a good mindset and real progress.
11. Developed a practice routine that attacks your weaknesses - aka learn to like to practice shots you hate.
When I practice, now, I start with short game. Its not as fun to practice (at least for me) but it is really important. From tracking my rounds, I know I average just under 5 greens a round (~4.8), and I usually get up and down 1-2 times per round. Those pars, many bogeys, and a double or two give a score around 86-88. If I can get that up to 6 or 7 times up and down a round, I'll be in the 70s. For example, saying "I'm going to shoot in the 70s" is a lot more intimidating than "I'm going to play my usual game just get up and down 6 more times". That gives you a tangible goal to work on in practice. Trying to shoot "in the 70s" is hopeless without specific goals.
To start my practice, I always hit 10 in a row of a few shots I need to improve, and I don't move on until I've hit 10 in a row. When I hit 10 good ones in a row, I move on to more "fun" practice like driver or hybrid or scoring shots. If you are in the 100s, your main goal is to get off the tee without blowing the hole (remember, you are shooting to break 100 not shoot 72). Hit 10 3 woods straight in a row off the tee before you practice anything else. For the first few practices, you will probably do nothing but hit 3 wood off the tee. However, after a while, you'll start being able to hit 10 nice three woods in a row, and you'll do it under pressure. After you've done 9, you start to think about it wanting to go hit that driver. Stay with it. 10 solid 3 woods in a row into the fairway before anything else. Identify your weaknesses and hit 10 a row of those at the start of the practice. For over 100 players, it is probably 10 3 woods, then 10 sand shots onto the green in a row without leaving it in the bunker or blading it over. Look at what your rounds tell you are killing you. If you can hit 10 in a row of both of those, move on to something more fun. As you do this, your weaknesses will go away and your score will go down, *revealing more weaknesses relative to your score*. Rinse and repeat.
For example, I work short game at the start of every practice. I do 3 foot putts until i make 10 in a row, then 20 feet until I two putt 10 in a row, then 10 chips onto the green w/n 5 feet in a row from about 6 ft. off, then 10 bunker shots onto the green in a row. If I don't hit 10 3 foot putts in a row, I don't stop - thats what I do for two hours. Now, it usually lasts about 30 minutes (when I first started, and was shooting 96 or so, the whole practice was usually short game b/c I couldn't do 10 in a row). Then I move on to irons or driver or whatever. Before I play, this is my warmup routine (then irons and driver). Its nice having your pre-round warmup basically the exact same as your pre-practice warmup. If you mess up one of the shots, you start over. By putting your weaknesses front and center of your practice, you get better at them and that translates to the course. One of my good friends hits his driver a country mile but can't really do anything else on the golf course. Sure enough, every time we go to the range, he warms up with a 9 iron for about 5 minutes then just bangs out 270 yard drives (yes, they are really that long) while looking around to see if someone is watching him. out on the course a few saturdays ago at a very tough local course, he never was less than 260 on his drive and shot a 129. I probably never hit it further than 220 off the tee and shot a 90. Work on what your round tracking tells you are your weaknesses! If you ever say to yourself "I don't know why I'm baD" then you need to track your rounds and focus your practice on exactly why your score is that high. Using the make ten in a row before you do something else makes you be consistent and do it under pressure.
12. Started using the same ball every time.
Notice I didn't say "started using the ProV1 every time". I play Nike Crush balls, because I need distance help off the tee, and because they are relatively cheap at $16/dozen. The key here is to use the same ball every time so you know how it will behave in the short game. If you switch up balls you will not improve as fast as possible in the short game because the ball will react slightly diferently. It doesn't have to be a great ball, or an expensive ball, but it should be the same ball every time.
13. Aim the clubface before you step up to the ball
This goes from driver to putter. Once I started doing this I hit it much straighter. Its impossible to align yourself once you are turned sideways. Get your clubface pointed in the right direction and then key everything off the clubface. In other words, line the clubface up to the target, don't move it, and then get the rest o fyour body in line. I couldn't hit straight until I started doing this.
14. Watched the "Off the Tee" section of Bruce Harmon's Ultimate Golf
This DVD, as a whole, isn't very good. But the one part this is fantastic is his "off the tee" part on hitting the driver with power and accuracy. He goes over the set up really, really well (train tracks!) and shows how the wrong setup can lead to very specific mistakes (hitting a duck hook? its probably your grip. hitting a weak slice? its probably your feet pointing diagonally into your clubface instead of straight). This section of the DVD is great. Skip the iron and short game sections, they arn't nearly as good and for some reason I can't figure out feature his son for no reason at all. However, the off the tee section is great.
Of the maybe 50 golf videos I watched, I came to these conclusions as to the best:
Short game and putting: Phil Mickelson's secrets of the short game
Off the tee: Butch Harmon Ultimate Golf
Course Management: Golf Strategies with Robert Karlsson
Irons: PGA Pro in real Life (still haven't found a good video on irons - i think its tough to do a one-sized fits all approach).
Check them out if you get a chance.
What didn't work:
Getting new irons - I got those irons for xmas that started this whole thing, but they arn't, despite being 4 years newer and fancier, that much better than my old off-brand irons. In fact, for a laugh, I took the old irons to an executive course for a friendly afternoon round and hit them fine - pretty much the same, in fact. Unlike the newer driver, which made a huge difference, the new irons didn't do much for me at all - it was pretty much the same as the 2003 irons. Same with wedges. My brand new Callaway Jaws wedge is about as effective as the ancient Tom Watson I had been gaming before. Driver it seems to really matter. Everything else, not so much.
Putt-reading techniques - I read alot about this - plumbbobbing, aimpoint, etc... Maybe its just me, but I never got it. The only way I tend to putt well on movement putts is just feel and practice - "this looks just like that practice hole on the putting green..." etc... The putt-reading techniques take too long and, in my experience, are just as apt to be wrong as right.
stack and tilt - i went to a s&t pro for the first lesson back, having heard so much abou tit. I'm not sure why, but it just did not work for me. Maybe after all this work, I should go back and try again, but I never really got it. This is just a report, and im not condemning it because I dont really understand it, but it didn't work for me. I felt the swing was really short and couldn't generate any power.
Tourstriker - I tried this for about five days. I just duffed alot of shots. I didn't get it. Once in a while the ball would fly down the range, but I couldn't feel like I did anything different off the duffed ones.
What is left to improve (about 8-9 shots per round to challenge the seventies) -
(I know this due to tracking my rounds)
Improve my up and down percentage - mostly i get up and down in 3. I'd like to start converting those to up and down within 100 yards in two. My goal is to get up and down 4-6 times per round from within 100 yards. With 4-5 GIRs a round, those up and downs would put me at about 84, 85 instead of 88.
Learn how to hit out of a fairway bunker - right now, I take a pitching wedge and just get out as far up the fairway as possible. I need to learn how to hit this shot longer than 60 yards, which means another lesson when I have saved up enough. I have no clue how to hit this shot with something other than a wedge.
Develop a fairway wood shot from off the deck - I don't have this shot right now at all, and I have found you don't need it to shoot 90. However, I want to develop one so I have an option from >200 yards out. Right now, I always lay up to a solid gap wedge from anywhere outside 200 yards.
Move out my "automatic putt" goal from 2 feet to 4-5 feet = right now, I putt from 2 feet and in with alot of confidence, but if i get on the green 4 feet away my goal is still a 2 putt. I'd like to move my circle of expected "get it in 1" putts out to 4-5 feet.
Eliminate mishit iron shots - Exactly what it says. I still lose 2 or so strokes a round from hitting irons thin or slicing them right. I need to eliminate this, or at least get it down to .25 to .5 a round. Note: this does not mean hit the green, it just means eliminate shanks.
Having these goals defined clearly from on-course stats makes improvement fun, and goal setting meaninful. Now I just have to do it!
Anyway, long post. Hopefully this gives some people here some ideas on how to improve... I guess once I started typing it took on a life of its own. Its been a fun six months. Hopefully I can write another on how I got from 88 to 79!