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How to use your handicap to lower your scores

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The fastest way to improve the game of an amateur, or a handicap golfer, is to use the established handicap as a guide to direct and then to measure that improvement. The measurement component is simple; as the game improves, the handicap goes down. Using the handicap as a guide is a bit more complex because the player must be dedicated, determined and disciplined enough to stay within the improvement process. And before I share with you the process, I want to share the foundation, or the rationale, that makes it work.

“Placing the ball in the right position for the next shot is 80 percent of winning golf.”

— Ben Hogan

Not all that long ago, I was present when a friend of a client of mine was complaining that no matter what he did with practice or lessons he just wasn’t getting better. He said that if he could just break 90 once he could “die a happy man.” It sounded like an opportunity to be of service to me, so I agreed to a playing lesson. The short version of that lesson was I told him what to hit and where to hit it — and he shot 87.

Was he happy? Not on your life! Angry, not quite… but really upset. Why? The poor guy said he didn’t have any fun!

The day of the playing lesson, I met the player on the range while he was warming up. I observed that he should never hit a driver, so I didn’t let him. I observed he couldn’t hit a long iron, so I didn’t let him. I had him tee off with a six iron on the par 4’s and 5’s, which he hated. And if he could have controlled his putting distance a bit better he wouldn’t have three-putted three times. No penalty shots, no water balls and no OB’s. All we did for 18 holes was try to put the ball in play and to keep it in play. He hated it. So much for dying a happy man.

During this playing lesson, I used the player’s handicap as a guide to maximize his playing ability, and I used his ability to help him make the best score he could at that time. So how did I use his handicap? I could see this player was no better than an 18, so I added one stroke to the posted par for each hole. Par 3’s became Par 4’s. Par 4’s became Par 5’s, and Par 5’s became Par 6’s. Once his par was established, he played each hole to get on the green according to that par adjustment. For example, the 210-yard par-3 became a 210-yard par-4. So instead of trying to get on the green from the tee, we used a strategy to get on the green in two and then two-putt for a 4, or “his par.”

I advocate every player use this handicap game-improvement system. A 15-handicap adjusts 15 holes so his par changes from 72 to 87; an 8-handicap adjusts eight holes so that his par changes from 72 to 80. I use this process for plus handicaps and professionals as well. A plus-4 adjusts four holes so his/her par changes from 72 to 68. Using this mindset, my playing lesson shot 3-under his par of 90.

I’ve had clients cut their handicaps in half in just a few months by adherence to this process. It works in lowering scores because it eliminates most “unforced errors,” and about half of all dropped shots at all levels are a direct result of unforced errors. Unforced errors occur when something is attempted that the player can’t do or shouldn’t do. The fewer unforced errors per round, the lower the score. It’s as simple as that.

I strongly urge golfers to chart each round of golf in order to identify every unforced error. Just email me at edmyersgolf@gmail.com and I will send the game-improvement scorecard that I have my clients use to evaluate their performance.

Posting lower scores is how handicaps go down, and all handicaps plateau when the player is faced with the realities of what he/she can and can’t do. For example, an improving handicap golfer may require the need to use clubs or hit shots not previously necessary. The playing experience reveals what needs practice, and practice is where the player should learn what can and can’t be done. Rule of Thumb: if you can do it 7/10 times in practice, you can consider doing it in play.

In the opening paragraph, I stated that dedication, determination, and discipline are required to stay within this improvement process should the player decide to implement it. But I should have said it takes a whole lot of all three. Experience tells me that players say what they feel, but do what they want. Neither is a plan for progress.

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Ed Myers is the author of Hogan’s Ghost, Golf’s Scoring Secret and The Scoring Machine. He was the Director of Instruction at Memphis National Golf Club, and he is currently the scoring coach for players on all professional tours. "The Ultimate Scoring and Performance Experience" an all day program featuring on course private instruction and unlimited play with "Hogan's Ghost." is now available. More than a "golf school"and more than just short game. Individualized evaluation determines where to start the experience. Learn and work according to your goals, preferences and ability. All practice is supervised and structured to ensure maximum benefit and verifiable results. Program runs Monday -Friday from April through October, 2018. See you in Memphis, Tenn. "The Distance Coaching Program" is now available to all level of golfers worldwide. Thanks to modern technology everyone, everywhere, can train like a touring professional. Learn more about Ed at edmyersgolf.com. He can be reached at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. R k

    Jul 17, 2018 at 8:02 am

    Ed’s few articles published on GolfWRX are probably the most useful I’ve ever read on actually attempting to lower your handicap.

  2. Adam Gutterman

    Jul 15, 2018 at 8:38 am

    I helped someone on my annual buddy trip in a similar way a few years ago. Very powerful young player who had no idea how to think his way around the course. On the third day his uncle asked him to do what I told him for the round. There wasn’t anything genius about it – I made him hit irons off most tees since that put him in the fat part of the fairway. On approaches I made him shoot at the center of the greens using an extra club since he liked to max out his irons on every shot. He broke 40 for the first time, but didn’t enjoy playing that way enough to keep doing it.

    My big takeaway from that experience and this article is that people find enjoyment on the course in different ways. What’s most important is for people to really think about what that is for them. I’m pretty conservative by nature so I tend to try and minimize risk, so I probably leave some birdies out on the course. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with playing outside of your ability so long as you understand that this is what your doing, and don’t beat yourself up when you don’t pull off the shots.

  3. Tom

    Jul 15, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Good idea, but the use of the term “unforced error” in the game of golf is ridiculous. Tell me what a “forced” error is.

    • James T

      Jul 15, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      Let me give that a try. An unforced error in golf is when you try a risk/reward shot and fail… and suffer the consequences. A “forced error” is when you simply hit a bad shot that costs you. Almost every time I’m on the 13th hole (a par 5) at my home course I’m faced with, “Do I go for the green in two, over the pond, or lay up and challenge for a birdie the conventional way.” Usually, if I’m 1 or 2 over par at that point I’ll chicken out and lay up to protect my score. If I’m 3 or more over I’ll go for it. Which 50% of the time ends up putting me another stroke or two over par. An unforced error that I took on knowing the potential calamity.

    • Logan

      Jul 16, 2018 at 9:22 am

      A forced error would be having to hit a driver when you aren’t very comfortable with it to carry a hazard off the tee. While it may not be the percentage play for you, you have no other choice but to hit the driver for that distance.

  4. Carson Henry

    Jul 14, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Ed … This is absolutely FANTASTIC. A fabulous approach to game improvement!

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