As passionate golfers, we want to watch the best professional golfers play in the biggest tournaments on TV. But don’t you get the feeling sometimes that you’ve wasted the entire weekend on the couch watching golf instead of improving your own game?

Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, you can actually get better at playing golf by simply watching golf on TV. Here are a few things to look for the next time you turn on the tournament coverage during the weekend:

  • Professional golfers’ pre-shot routines do not change unless they are way out of their comfort zone.
  • Even the leaders hit funky shots and make “simple” mistakes on the back nine.
  • Professionals tend to “miss” the ball in the correct place.
  • Dial-a-Shot (I’ll explain this one later).
  • If you want to be a better player, then you only have to master THREE clubs.

The importance of a pre-shot routine

Now I know each one of you are saying, “I already have a pre-shot routine.” And you’re getting ready to skip this section, but hold on!

Yes, most of you have a few actions that you tend to repeat before you hit the ball, but let’s dig a little deeper into your pre-shot routine. Let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you have a pre-shot routine for decision making behind the ball, or do you just randomly examine each shot?
  • Do you have a set way you determine your target and how you approach alignment, or do you just walk up to the ball and begin your physical routine?
  • Do you have a set physical routine before you hit the ball, or do you just take a few random swings and go from there?

As you can see, there are multiple routines within your overall routine, and it’s up to you to understand the differences. But I promise one thing, if you watch the professionals on Tour you will see the same exact actions from a particular player over and over, time after time. The only time this will vary is if they are in big trouble and are trying to find the “feel” of the grass or slope, or if they’re figuring out a confusing wind pattern. But 98 percent of the time they approach each shot the same exact way. Do you?

Funky shots don’t necessarily mean disaster

How many times have you watched your buddy play a great front nine, then on No. 11 or 12 hit it down the middle, miss the green with a wedge and make bogey. Then you watch him beat himself up for such a “stupid mistake” and never recover for the rest of the day?

Pay attention to the leaders during a given Saturday or Sunday. At least one time on the back nine they will miss a simple drive, approach shot, etc., but do they let it bother them? Nope. If you remember Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters victory (the last major he ever won), he bogeyed No. 12 from just off the green and then played Nos. 13-18 in 5-under par. Later he said the silly bogey made him focus more. Do you react this way? Did your buddy?

Watch the professionals, as they ALL hit funky shots at inopportune moments, but most of the time they keep their cool enough to recover or at least not let it bother them for the rest of the day. Golf is all about mental and emotional management. So you have a resolve like most of the professionals on Tour?

Where to miss it

Let’s take a very simple green design and see how the professionals would play the hole. Here is the green on hole No. 9 on the Norman Course at Vidanta.

StickneyGolfonTV

The green is firm, and it’s long and skinny with bunkers short and one long. If a professional had a similar shot with a 6 or 7 iron, where would he tend to try and leave this shot? Where would you?

I can assure you that with a firm green, you would see most professionals who prefer a fade start the ball a touch right of the left bunker and move it back toward the center of the green, thus taking the short and long bunkers out of play. If they prefer a draw, then you’d see a short right miss, if anything, taking the front bunker out of play as well.

How many of you would start the ball just right or left of the pin and work it toward the flag from 150 or so? Most of you, I’d bet. And you’d likely hit it short in the bunker, possibly plugged, or one-hop it in the back bunker; both of are very difficult up and downs. Professionals try to always miss the ball in the “easiest” places so they don’t tax their short games. It’s far easier to get the ball up and down with some green to work with than without.

While watching an event on TV, quiz yourself as to where you would aim on each shot, and where you’d want your ideal miss to end up. Then, note where that particular player ended up missing his shot. The more you play this game with yourself, the better you’ll get at managing the course in your rounds of golf.

Dial-a-shot

This is where you can learn more about how to score from watching TV than you can with your shag bag at the practice area.

The fact is, if you don’t have the shot for a certain situation, or you choose to play the incorrect shot, you have made the shot 10 times harder than it needs to be!

Watch the professionals as they assess how to play a certain short-game shot, and take note of the one they elect to play. The pros you see on TV have several ways to play each shot they encounter, then select from a number of different trajectories, spins, etc. Do you?

You need to develop more weapons in your arsenal around the greens so you’re never stuck hitting a shot that’s not comfortable to you. Take notes of what shots the pros hit around the greens, and try imitating them during your next practice session. Try a new short game shot after each tournament you watch, and your short game prowess will expand like you won’t believe.

Become a three-club master

There once existed a great golf school years ago called “Three Club Golf Schools,” which helped people learn how to hit their driver, wedge and putter. And the professionals you see on TV have also mastered each of these clubs.

When you’re watching an event on TV, pay close attention to how each player swings:

  • The driver. Aggressively, yet in control. They don’t guide the ball down the fairway, but rather hit the ball freely even when the fairway is tight or there’s trouble.
  • Their wedges. Without apprehension. You don’t see a player nervously decelerate, even while hitting difficult shots off of skinny lies.
  • The putter. With confidence and precision. Aside from a few rare cases of the yips, take note of a each player’s putting stroke, mainly his tempo. Practice in the mirror applying the same tempo to your putting stroke.

Remember, you want to be a master at all three, so if you notice a weakness relative to your handicap, you’ve figured out where to spend your time during your next practice session. Don’t forget, you can learn a lot by just watching, and then applying the same approach and confidence of the touring pros into your driving, wedge and putting games.

I hope by now you see that paying attention to HOW professionals play golf and score will give you valuable insight as to how you can lower your handicap. So grab your favorite bag of chips (or broccoli and dip for the fitness-conscious among us), prop your feet up and prepare to watch some golf.

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20 COMMENTS

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  1. Great article! My game started to quickly improve once PGA Tour Live started. Being able to watch an entire round of a player, warts and all, helped me understand that my routine was weak, as well as my course strategy, among other things. The best educational rounds are when they are showing players that are not so hot that week or lower in the standings.

    I used to aim for the flag all the time, until I realized that the majority of the time they aim to spots – on the fairway, as well as, around and on the green. Playing some rounds with just an 8i showed me how much course strategy is very much like a chess game – were you should be always setting up your next shot. I also saw how many just hit little pitch and punch shots to the green all day long – especially when the stance is awkward (unlike those at the top of the standings who are on fire). The less the swing the better ones chances of executing the shot. I realized that they sink so many long putts, not just because they practice, but because they know the spots on the greens that funnel the ball to the hole – as such, I started doing that last season and I started sinking long putts again. I learned that a longer putt from certain spots on a green is better than shorter putts from most of the green. Most important – a confident, accelerating swing/stroke will always win out on a timid swing/stroke. Thus one must know their yardages and only execute the shots they believe in at any moment. If you do not believe in your ability to execute the shot required, then execute the shot you have the most confidence in moving the ball closer to the hole – the principle also applies on the green.

  2. The only thing I will say that you should not learn from watching guys on TV, is pace of play. These guys are fighting for wins, big time money, tour cards, etc etc etc….A LOT of the take their time, back off shots, wait for the green to clear 250+ yards away, etc…I GET IT. They can do that if they need to….Amateurs need not mimic all this, because its completely slowing down play. I see this type of imitation all the time and drives me nuts….Learn from the guys on TV, but please don’t think you have to plumb bob every putt or wait for the green to clear on a par 5, because “I just might get a hold of one”…You probably aren’t, so don’t the rest of us up….Rant over ;)

  3. I fully agree with 4 Pillars :you don’t play the same golf as the Pro’s :first and foremost you don’t hit the ball the same distances .even the short game distances are different .You don’t “work ” the ball as they do and better not try ,you’ll foul your game .Hit it straight ,that’s far enough good for you.
    I ‘m still 7 handicap at age 81 though I lose distance every year that goes by ,but I play my own game ,not the Pro’s game .As said a famous ancient champion :”Always play the easiest club you can play in a given situation .Always play to where you want to play ypur next shot from ”
    Each 10 yards more of distance with your driver equals one point off your handicap :you can’t beat that even with a fabulous short game

  4. I almost never watch the tournament but instead watch what players are doing in their swings. Depending on what I’m working on with my own swing I try to study good players swings. And getting to study Scott, Rose, and Ooosheizen is the best. I think it really helps and you can take what you see to the range too.

  5. I agree. I actually don’t even pay attention to the tournament in general. I watch what the players are doing. Routine, stance, tempo, etc. Most people just watch for fun and pay attention only when shot is hit. Additionally, I play golf online (WGT), and believe it or not, it has helped me tremendously with course management and mental game.

  6. Why we are not like the pros (I know there are a few out there becoming pros someday and some super quality armatures) Have you ever hit a huge drive right down the middle on the first hole, or dropped one in the hole out of the bunker or hit a 5 iron to within a foot? And do you remember by the next hole how you hit one of those wonderful shots…Well besides having super hand eye coordination touring pros have super ability to remember how and what they do and did… You can hit 300 balls out of the practice sand the day before you play and the first bunker you get in your first question is “How did I do that again” How many years have you played and you still do not understand how the lie of the ball can effect your shot…We have to live with our short comings and like any sport golf leaves us with plenty/

  7. 4pillars:
    Yeah, you can learn nothing about golf watching the best players in the world on television (or in person). Just like you can’t learn anything about writing by reading Shakespeare or insert-another-author. Or a musical instrument by listening to…whatever. You can’t tell what they were thinking, either.

  8. I read about a study done with kids. Teachers took a bunch of kids and had them watcb great golf swing for some time before a lesson. The kids that watched did better than the kids that didnt watch the swing video.

  9. Always like your articles. I’m confused on one part of this one, probably in an area I need to work in myself. Number 2 where to miss; could you further explain the thinking behind the draw player? I completely understand the fade player, I think, but can’t understand why the good miss is short right for a draw.

    • Ryan. Short left is probably in a front bunker. Long left probably in the back bunker. So the percentage shot is to aim right of the flag, with a club that can’t reach the back bunker. If he strikes the ball well it draws from the right onto the green. If he doesn’t catch it properly it stops short of the green and right of the flag, avoiding the front bunker and leaving a relatively easy wedge shot with plenty of green to work with.

  10. negate 4pillars comment and really take these notes to heart. one of the easiest ways to get better is by playing (watching) people who are better than you. ask questions and learn either on or off the course. And actually you have a pretty good idea what they are thinking because there are only a few things for them to think about. 1) Yardages (pin, front, middle, back, slopes, bunkers, water) 2) factors (wind, elevation) 3) ideal bail out placement. (away from water hazards).
    and listen to the commentators as well, especially Johnny Miller if you are trying to improve your game. he says a lot of things that are going through the Pros mind, some are very obvious (last week when talking about adam scott hitting two balls in the water “if you hit the first one in you definitely don’t want to hit the second one in”) and some are very insightful.
    4pillars, its pretty obvious you have absolutely no idea what youre talking about. if you read up on Tom’s bio you can see he is a very respected teacher of the game.

    • Never said he wasn’t a respected teacher.

      I just said. you can’t learn from watching TV.

      And if there are only a few things to think about you don’t need to spend hours watching TV.

      Which brings me back to my main point. Tom may know what they are thinking about because of your experience.

      But an individual watching it doesn’t.

  11. I normally regard your articles very highly, but cannot with this one.

    Firstly in your article you are saying what the Tourplayer is thinking. You have absolutely no way when watching the TV to have any idea of what he is thinking about, whether he has an easy miss area identified.

    If you look at tour pros, even if they show the full pre shot routine which is rare they are not that consistent. There is a Youtube of 90 mins showing Jordan and Justin’s round and Jordan is not consistent in his routine. Justin is far more consistent.

    Watching doesn’t translate into action

    You have no reseach data whatsoever to back up your views

      • Tom validates his swing articles with Trackman and 3D motion.

        There is no validation.

        Even a small before and after test with training and watching the Masters would prove things.

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