When I was lucky enough to join a golf club many years ago, my No. 1 goal was to become a real 5-handicap. But first, I had to figure out how to break 90 on my new difficult golf course. I played on weekends and 9-holes after work without seeing improvement. I took one lesson from the pro, who laughed at my list of ambitious goals. His response was, “OK, but how about we start with letting me see you hit a 5-iron.” His prescription was a minor grip change and much more practice time on the range.
In my second month of membership, I signed up for my first event: a one-day member-guest with my 70-year-old, 36-handicap father who had introduced me to golf when I was seven. We played nine holes every Saturday at a public course in Washington, DC, that had no hazards and no sand traps – just nine tees, nine circular greens and one gigantic fairway. When I was 12, “real sports” took over and I dropped golf and my dad.
Anyway, here we were at my great new club getting ready to play in our first event together. My dad, a lofty 36, and me, a shiny new 14-handicap. I was nervous for myself, but I was much more nervous for my Dad. How he would enjoy — or NOT enjoy — the long, difficult test of golf. I was so nervous, I guess, that I started to hit shanks on the practice tee… and I couldn’t figure out how to stop them. Finally, it was time to head to the tee for the shotgun start. To my horror, we were starting on the most difficult par-3 on the course. It was 165 yards over WATER and we were paired with two fairly good golfers that I didn’t know.
“Go ahead,” one of them said. “Lead us off!”
Not wanting to expose my dad to the extreme pressure of going first, I took the tee. I somehow summoned my inner pride and made a fairly good swing with my 6 iron. I did NOT s_____, and my tee shot hit the green. I not only broke 90; I shot 78. Dad chimed in on a couple of holes with his two strokes and we won low net. It’s amazing what can happen when one totally forgets score and focuses on the process of selecting and hitting quality shots.
From there, I worked hard on my game and reached my 5-handicap goal and more. It led me to start a business providing a new type of golf statistics and analysis for golfers, now known as Strokes Gained, and you can read about the History of Strokes Gained on my website www.ShotByShot.com.
Want to break 80? Here is my blueprint
The game of golf is a puzzle and all the pieces fit together. Further, each round is a mix of good shots, average shots and bad shots/errors. The challenge is to determine which piece of your game’s unique puzzle is your greatest weakness in order to target your improvement efforts on the highest impact area. If you track the simple good and bad outcomes listed below for a few rounds, your strengths and weaknesses will become apparent.
Distance: I’ll ignore this and assume you’re playing from the appropriate tees for your game.
Fairways: Hitting fairways is important, as we are all more accurate from the short grass.
Errors: Far more important than Fairways Hit is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of misses. ShotByShot.com users record THREE types of Driving Errors:
- No Shot: You have missed in a place from which you do not have a normal next shot, requiring some sort of advancement to get the ball back to normal play. Preferably, your one error will be of this, less costly, nature.
- Penalty: A one-stroke penalty due to hazard or unplayable lie.
- Lost/OB: Stroke and distance penalty
Short Game (shots from within 50 yards of the hole)
If you miss NINE Greens, you will have EIGHT of these greenside save opportunities.
You should have ONE of these greenside save opportunities.
Errors = Shots that miss the green. The fringe does not count as an error
You need 32 putts.
Good luck, and please let me know if and when you are successful.