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8 common sense tips to lower your scores



When you’re playing golf — especially when you’re working to improve something specific in your game — your head is often jumbled with so many thoughts that you forget to use common sense. You can save critical strokes on the course, however, by thinking logically, and not being bogged down by endless swing thoughts and fears.

Here are my 8 common sense tips to help you get through your next round of golf in the lowest number of shots possible.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

When deciding what line to take over a water hazard off the tee, everyone seems to select the one that would get them across on a “good drive.” Positive thinking is great, but what about those shots you don’t catch perfectly? I’ve watched people hit countless poor drives in a row, only to come to a shot over the corner of a lake and use the carry yardage for their best drive rather than making an adjustment based on how they were swinging that day. What happens next is rarely pretty.

Use history to your advantage

Obviously, it would be nice to come out of the gates every round with your A-game, but that’s often not the case. That’s why I suggest playing the first six holes conservatively, and then using that information over the next 6-12 holes to create an adjusted game plan. If you’re controlling the ball well over the first six holes, you know you can be a little more aggressive on the next six holes, and vice versa.

Have a go-to shot off the tee

So it’s the last hole of your match and you must hit the fairway; what shot do you hit on you best days, your average days and your bad days?

All golfers need a tee shot they can rely on regardless of the way they are playing. It might curve a lot, not go very far or fly really low, but you know it’s going to finish on the fairway. Unfortunately, most don’t have such a shot, so if their A-game isn’t working then it’s a crapshoot off the tee.

Have an exit strategy

The best article I have ever read on golf strategy was an old Golf Digest interview with Lee Trevino when I was about 12 years old, and I still remember it more than 30 years later. They asked him why he felt he he had an advantage over his peers on Tour, and his reply was simple: “I had three guys playing for me, while the other guys only had one.”

Trevino went on to explain that he had three different shot patterns he’d use: his A game, B game and C game. Thus, when is A game wasn’t there, he’d drop back and use his B game or his C game. “One guy always showed up ready to play,” Trevino said. How many times have you tried to hit your stock shot over and over on the course, waiting for it to work “this time.” Be more flexible with your game like Trevino, and you’ll see your average score drop.

Think target, not swing

Good luck with the idea that you can play with 15 swing thoughts in your head; the results are rarely any good. Your best golf comes when you are on autopilot and only see and think about the target. This sounds easier than it is, of course, but try your best to only think about where you want the ball to go, especially when you’re swinging well.

If you must have swing thoughts, choose one and keep it simple

If you think that my last tip is great in theory, but does not work for you because you must think about your swing, then please choose one swing thought and keep it simple. Avoid mechanical thoughts like fire the hips to right field, hold the shoulders back and drop the hands. Instead, focus on things like tempo, tension and a smooth transition.

Don’t try to do too much

I had a good player ask me how often he should curve the ball different ways during a round. “Don’t try to do it too much,” I said. Golfers need to make the game simpler, not more complex.

Sure, there are times when you must curve the ball a lot, or use a trajectory that’s different from your stock shot, but really… how often is it necessary on the course? And how much time do you actually spend practicing different trajectories?

If you’re not striking the ball dead center of the club face most of the time, don’t try to become a great shot maker… not yet, at least. But if you want to start playing for paychecks, the nuances of shot shaping might be for you. Far fewer PGA Tour players work it both ways than most golfers think. Just ask Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry.

Work around your weaknesses

The golf gods didn’t give any golfer a full bag, as they say. Everyone has a weakness within their game that’s not quite up to par with the rest of their game. So if you’re horrible from 30 yards, then why would you leave yourself a 30-yard shot? Work on your weaknesses, but don’t let them ruin their scores in the meantime.

Remember, use your brain first, emotions second, and your ego third, and I promise that these common sense tips will improve your scores quickly.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at tomst[email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.



  1. devilsadvocate

    Jul 6, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Lol is that you Swanson?

  2. IHateGolfIsAwesome

    Jul 3, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    I’m kind of wild off the tee with any wood (kind of = very). So I use a “3 iron” approach on many par 5s. 6i to get it out around 185, then 7i another 170, and a 9i for the final 150. My playing partners razz me but I don’t care – I’m so tired of hitting and hunting, so this works for me (usually ;).

  3. Jerry

    Jul 2, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Smizzle – just because you can break 80 sometimes don’t make you the man.

    • Bill Mac

      Jul 3, 2016 at 7:56 pm

      I’ve said it before. “You are the man.”

  4. DR

    Jul 2, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Why such a hater. We need more positive things in the world.

  5. Roger

    Jul 1, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Tom, as always a great read and advice.
    Lee’s A,B,C games, priceless advice.
    I,m just rebuilding my bag as its mid winter.
    Looking at all clubs to be Super Easy to use…not game improvement, but well fit weapons!!
    At the Tee no warmup used 5 iron then 7 iron then 1 putt in from a metre away…that was the fail safe option for sure!!
    Just bought an R7 Quad driver, had a similar R7 2 years ago and it was my Most Accurate Driver Ever…

  6. Pingback: 8 Common Sense Tips to Lower Your Scores - Dan Hansen Golf Instruction

  7. Bob Pegram

    Jul 1, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    This is why a golfer who hasn’t played a course will often play better because they are just trying to keep the ball in play rather than making hero shots. Hero shots just happen. Play the shots you know you can hit.

  8. David Largen

    Jul 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Par 5’s made easy… Say you are in the fairway 250 yards from the green. Instead of hitting 3 wood and trying to go for it. Hitting it in the trees, water or ob. How easy is it to play a 150 yard shot… a 7 iron for example. Your in the fairway 100 yards from the green with a wedge. You will make many more pars and birdies and a whole lot less others…

  9. Steve S

    Jul 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Great article.. about common sense! Which most golfers don’t have. No.s 6,7 and 8 fit a good friend of mine. He is always over-estimating his distance capability. Because of that he comes up short 9 out of 10 times…..and he is always surprised. I’ve seen him hit his 5 iron 190 yards, twice. But he always uses it for 190 yard shot and can’t believe it when it goes 165.

  10. David Largen

    Jul 1, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    After reading these tips it reminded me of what my dad told me one day. We were playing a par 71 golf course and he said I could bogey every hole and still shoot 89. At the time i had never shot in the 80’s before. That thought took all the pressure off me that day and i shot 89. Thanks Dad…

  11. JJVas

    Jul 1, 2016 at 11:19 am

    My key recently has been to play aggressive to conservative lines. Like most people, I tend to get a bit guidey on tight courses with the driver. Bad move unless you like the trees. If you’re tense, take out a FW, H, or long iron. If you’re swinging driver… HIT IT! Most of us can split the fairways on wide open courses because we’re free. I’m trying to keep that thought no matter where I play… so far, so good.

  12. NC Golfa

    Jul 1, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Great points, Tom. So, often I get caught up on how to best execute my swing and fail to think about course strategy. Last time, I had started my round out with three great holes and snap hooked a driver
    on a narrow hole, which put me into a tail spin for the rest of the round. I believe going to a 5 wood and playing for bogey would have been the right call.

  13. Gordy

    Jun 30, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I think the biggest tip for any golfer who isn’t a pro is just be happy to be on the green putting for birdie no matter the distance. And be happy with a par that is makeable. The biggest trap golfers fall into is getting mad with proximity to the hole. The average on tour is like 30ft or close to it. So, for the recreational golfer, being on the green putting for birdie is a plus. My 2 cents, I am a 5 handicap and my goal is to just have a birdie putt on every hole and have a shot for the green. When I took that approach my birdies went up, and my score went down. From a 8 to a 5. And I shoot almost par from time to time.

    • Ronald

      Jun 30, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      You’re a 5 and your goal is to have a birdie putt??? Get real

    • Ronald

      Jun 30, 2016 at 10:39 pm

      Wait I didn’t read the rest of your comment! If you are shooting par from “time to time” you are not a 5! You are a complete fool or a liar! Stop visiting this page

      • Egor

        Jul 1, 2016 at 1:08 am

        Ronald – I play frequently with a man who is a 6 hdcp. He occasionally shoots even par on a par 72 course with a 65.6 rating and 116 slope. He’s still a 6. He gets up and down very well and he hits GIR about 65% of the time or better. You can shoot even par from time to time depending on the course slope/rating and still have a 5-7 hdcp.

        It could be derived from your statement that you don’t understand the USGA handicap system. Be careful calling someone a fool or a liar when you don’t have all of the information and don’t understand the system of which you reference.

      • Egor

        Jul 1, 2016 at 1:13 am

        To add to my statement above, you took Gordy’s words and wrested them – he said “my goal is to just have a birdie putt on every hole” – note.. on every hole, that would be 100% GIR on 18.

        You do seem like a keyboard warrior – you may wish to spend some time warrioring your way over to the USGA website and read up on how the HDCP system works (math and all that.. )

        Gordy’s tips for the recreational golfer are very helpful and kind, your’s just came across as angry and grumpy.

      • devilsadvocate

        Jul 6, 2016 at 10:05 am

        It actually depends on the difficulty of the course… Shooting par from time to time on a US open course vs a local muni obviously requires diffent skill levels… That being said I feel a little bit of animosity coming from you… Seems as though you aim at every flagstick but look down on someone who probably shoots lower scores because they only try to hit girs and don’t try to hit it to a foot every time… Newsflash that’s how most good players approach their “approach” shots

  14. fw

    Jun 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Foot wedge. Just use a foot wedge

  15. Troy Vayanos

    Jun 30, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Great tips Tom,

    With number 8 I would add, make sure you always use more than enough club for not just getting over hazards but reaching greens in general.

    I can’t tell you how many times I see my playing partners continually coming up short close to 80% of the time with approach shots and especially on par 3’s.


    • David Largen

      Jul 1, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Very ture… i don’t blame a 3 putt on my putting if i hit my approach to 40 foot. I blame myself for not hitting it pin high more often than not.

      • Troy Vayanos

        Jul 7, 2016 at 7:25 pm

        Thanks Smizzle,

        Yes this purple outfit is super comfortable and for me when I feel good my golf follows suit.

        No sorry, all my golf balls are brand new from my local golf store … Titleist ProV1x.


  16. Chris

    Jun 30, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    A really nice article. Great points. Wish I was as good as Lee though – sometimes, all my personalities fail to show up…..

  17. Steven

    Jun 30, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Great tips. I think many golfers would improve by playing with the shot they brought to the course. Know what the miss will be and play for it. Consistent golf usually has lower scores even if the consistent shots are bad.

  18. George

    Jun 30, 2016 at 11:09 am

    this is good advice Im just trying to shoot 90 and I think if I only use my 8 iron and higher for 3 shots on any hole that is 380 I will be able to acheive that. Put the driver up and excel at putting

  19. Weekend Duffer

    Jun 30, 2016 at 10:54 am

    good tips

  20. Rich

    Jun 30, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I’d say the relationship is doomed before it starts if you’ve already got an exit strategy sorted out! 😉

    • Tom

      Jul 2, 2016 at 10:56 am

      life’s like a box of chocolates. Ya never know what your gonna get.

  21. Tom

    Jun 30, 2016 at 10:39 am

    also sound advice for relationships.

    • alexdub

      Jun 30, 2016 at 11:32 am

      HA! Just reread this as though it was meant for relationships. So good! Everyone one of the points hits dead on.

    • Ryan k

      Jun 30, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      Aha good call Tom and nicely done Mr. Stickney! Good advice all the way around.

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The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things



As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.

For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.

All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.

This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.

So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.

  • Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
  • Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
  • Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
  • Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
  • This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
  • A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
  • And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.

So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…

  • Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
  • You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.

If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.

More from the Wedge Guy

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Clement: Don’t overlook this if you want to find the center of the face




It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!

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Clampett: Why golfers aren’t improving



The average golf score in the United States is still 100 and has been for over 50 years, despite better equipment, improved technologies, and course conditions. Touring pros continue to improve. Seemingly every week is a new tournament scoring record, despite courses getting longer and tougher. So why doesn’t the average golfer improve?

Two major problems exist, and when combined, set the perfect “stymie,” preventing game improvement. Sadly, it’s hurting the game and is responsible for why four million golfers quit every year and why 10 million want-to-be golfers lie waiting, wondering how to learn. The Five Golf Powers, which form the World Golf Federation, have done little to address this problem.

Problem #1

Style-based instruction is the predominant form of golf instruction and continues to confuse golfers. This epidemic has stifled game improvement and established a landscape of frustrated golfers. The search for the perfect style of swing and the desire to create certain “good looking” or “preferred styled” positions has led to countless books, videos, and teachers who taught their “ideal” style of swing. “Stack and Tilt,” “Single Plane Swing.” “Natural Golf Swing,” “The A-Swing,” “The X-Factor Swing,” “The Morad Project,” “The One or Two Plane Swing,” “The Gravity Golf Swing,” and the list of style-based teaching methods go on and on… Meanwhile, the best golfers in the world don’t subscribe to any of these swings.

Television adds to the confusion. An analyst may express his or her opinion about the best grip, setup, backswing, plane, downswing, follow-through, etc. One teacher says to do one thing, and the other contradicts it. Confusion abounds everywhere.

One day while on air at the Golf Channel, I had just finished discussing how to hit a bunker shot by keeping the same swing, just changing the set-up; when another instructor, with little playing credentials, followed me and shared with the viewers an entirely different swing that included throwing away clubhead lag and flipping at the bottom of the swing to hit a bunker shot. The poor viewer who watched that day and who couldn’t interpolate which way was better. How many viewers were confused? My goal is to eliminate the confusion, not be part of it. So, I refused to join the Golf Channel on TV in that capacity anymore.

Today’s average golfer gets much of their information online, surfing the internet and watching YouTube videos while being bombarded with countless emails produced by golf instructors who deliver “swing tips” to promote their business. Contradictory views confuse undereducated golfers searching for clues to playing better golf. Desperate, they head to the driving range, ready to apply whatever they just read, but it rarely helps and never lasts.

Problem #2

Since I left the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions in 2014, I’ve gotten a rare insider’s look at the green grass golf business. I’ve witnessed a second problem that contributes to golfers not improving. A war has developed between golf club staff and professional golf instructors, who dedicate their careers to just teaching golf. Head and assistant professionals, who are underpaid, make much-needed additional income through golf instruction. The additional supplemental income is vital to their survival. They are not trained to teach golf per se, most learn to instruct through shadowing another club professional, or they read books, watch some videos, and learn much as the average golfer does. I was shocked to hear that the PGA does not train golf professionals to become teachers or directors of instruction, though they have just begun offering golf instruction as a track in the PGM College programs. Initially, when this track system began three years ago, the PGA estimated that only 20 percent would choose golf instruction. They were shocked to discover that 50 percent chose the track for golf instruction in their first year. It makes sense to me; golf instruction pays better, has more flexible hours, and, if you’re good at it, brings a smile to people’s faces.

Club staff professionals find it hard to compete with a competent golf instructor who has dedicated their livelihood to instruction. It’s a separate profession that requires a separate set of skills and specific training. It’s not easy to be a good golf instructor. Many full-time professional golf instructors have difficulty finding a job because staff professionals feel they will lose their business. Staff professionals often make their feelings known to management and owners and declare the club “their territory” for golf instruction. They often give the ultimatum and threaten to leave if management hires a professional golf instructor. With so few young people filling the needed gap of golf professionals, the staff usually gets their way. What is left at the club then are under-trained staff professionals teaching golf for the money and ill-equipped to give quality lessons.

No wonder recent statistics show that 70 percent of golfers who take lessons don’t improve. Additionally, 38 percent of private golf club members in the United States want a game improvement program, but their club doesn’t provide a satisfactory solution. One of America’s largest golf management companies; just discovered that clubs with a high-end golf instruction program reduce member attrition rates by 75 percent a year. The Proponent Group, the leading organization for professional golf instructors, reveals that the value of good golf instruction is much larger than most club owners and managers think. In fact, for every dollar an instruction program earns, the club benefits $1.75. Additionally, the lesson takers spend 78 percent more money at the club than non-lesson takers.

Management, to appease the staff’s request to earn an extra $20,000, costs the average club over $1 million per year, though they don’t yet realize the cost. The sadder picture is that most clubs generate less than $50,000 in golf instruction when a $1 million yearly program is available. The market is large; the eager golfers are plentiful, and golfers are starving for good instruction. History suggests that ownership and management don’t value good golf instruction. That’s why it’s unheard of to track instructors’ key performance indicators. But once ownership discovers this, they will emphasize member services and develop good golf instruction programs.

The answer to both problems

Style-based instruction is opinion-based, a failed attempt to find a perfect swing that doesn’t exist. Everyone is different, built differently, coordinated differently, skilled differently, with different natural propensities and learned behavior. Attempting to put them all in a box has proven disastrous.

Arnold Palmer once said, “Swing your own swing; I sure did!” Arnold had it right; style is individual, just like one’s signature, though I admire Arnold’s signature the most. But that’s my opinion. I have his signature on a picture of us hanging in my studio after our last round of golf together. The common denominator of all the best players in the world is impact. It’s the only thing that matters in the swing. Find your way to get there and make it consistent. That’s the name of the game. That’s why I developed “Impact-Based Teaching,” Learning to work from impact, backward, rather than swing-style, forward, is the key to quicker learning, improved instruction, happier golfers, and more golfers getting and staying in the game. Impact-based instruction is the vaccine to the “style-based” teaching methodologies epidemic.

The answer to the second problem is training staff professionals in Impact-Based Teaching and teaching them how to build their business. Track KPIs, improve their closing of new student assessments, and increase their retention, referral, and closing rates. Staff professionals can be successful in instruction once they are trained. It’s not their fault! The fields are ripe, and the harvest is plentiful for good golf instruction.

Good golf instruction is needed and can make a tremendous difference in the game, bringing more golfers, filling up club memberships, driving revenue, supporting junior golf, and more. It’s time we band together for the good of golf. Improve golf instruction and make it available.

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