Golfers at all levels struggle with making optimal decisions when it comes to target selection. One of the main reasons this occurs is that players are not taught to think their way around the course when they are first taking up the game. Most of that time and attention is spent learning the mechanics of the golf swing.
Shot dispersion, and how it applies to picking the right targets, is one of my favorite subjects in golf. On the surface, it might seem a bit boring and bland, but wrapping your head around dispersion is essential if you want to become a better golfer. In this article, I’ll be sharing a video with you that ties together a lot of valuable information.
Ever since I started Practical Golf, one of the core topics I have tried to remind golfers of is having a strong understanding of what kinds of shots they can expect on the course. The rewards are usually twofold – happier golfers who shoot lower scores.
When I wrote this article showing my shot patterns with various clubs, many readers had a very positive response and told me how much of an eye-opener it was. For me, it was also an important reminder of why picking smart targets on the course can save strokes in the long run.
Scott Fawcett, the creator of DECADE Golf, is perhaps one of the best communicators in the coaching world when it comes to this subject. He’s allowed me to share another video from his DECADE Foundations app (you can watch the first video here).
I encourage you to take 13 minutes out of your day to watch it:
Some professional golfers have gone their entire careers without learning this basic concept (trust me, I’ve seen the proof). No matter what level of player you are, understanding this fundamental truth about golf can be a complete game-changer.
Typically, I don’t recommend many digital products. If you’re interested in purchasing DECADE Foundations, I’ve arranged for a $25 discount for Practical Golf readers using this link (no coupon code necessary). Instead of $99.99 for six months, you can get it for $75.
Here is a visual representation of how the content will be given to you over six months:
A lot of Practical Golf readers have signed up already, and I think if you take the time to put into practice what you learn, you’re going to see great results on your scorecard.
If every golfer had a magic genie who could grant them one wish, most of them would ask, “please make me more consistent!” This is one of the most common requests amongst anyone who plays the game.
In my opinion, consistency is perhaps one of the most misused and misunderstood words in golf. There are plenty of things about your golf game that you can control and approach with consistency. These include, but are not limited to, many of the topics I discuss on this site (practice, mental game, strategy, your expectations). However, there are also plenty of elements that you will never control, and inconsistency will reign supreme forever.
In this article, I want to discuss one of the more frustrating parts of golf, and why learning to accept this truth will put you on a more productive and happier path.
There are a lot of factors that go into hitting great or even functional golf shots. The golf swing is a complicated movement, and the way it delivers the club at impact gives the ball its “marching orders.”
I don’t want to confuse you with a physics discussion, but three primary factors that I focus on are:
There are plenty of other variables in play (turf interaction, angle of attack, etc.), but for the sake of this article, let’s keep it to those three. To get the ball relatively close to where you are aimed, every swing is a challenge to manage those three factors.
Sometimes, your clubface will be too open at impact, and you will miss your target to the right (for a right-handed player). Or, you could be struggling with an excessive out-to-in club path, and you fight a nasty slice. Other times, you might make poor impact on the clubface and perhaps miss the green on the short side.
Either way, each of these factors only needs to be off by a minimal amount to make a meaningful difference in your ball flight. If your driver is a few degrees more open at impact, that could mean losing your tee shot into the trees versus hitting a fairway.
Long story short, golf is hard (as you know).
For the most part, golfers have very similar looking swings on each shot. It’s tough to notice a few degrees of change in your swing path or missing the center of the clubface by a quarter of an inch. Often, that’s why you see TV analysts grasping at straws when they try to analyze a slow-motion swing of a player who hit an errant shot. The swings usually don’t look all that different from their great shots.
You might start your round hitting your driver perfectly straight, and not missing a fairway on the front nine. Then on the back nine, all of a sudden, you’re battling a two-way miss.
Or, you might feel confident with one part of your game for an entire month, only for it to become a source of panic and frustration weeks later.
Why does this happen? Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I am pretty sure it has to do with the complexity of the golf swing, and how the motion of your body can vary small amounts within a round, or over weeks and months.
No golfer on the planet can escape this fate. If you pay attention to any professional golfer’s performance, you’ll see massive inconsistencies in their ball striking relative to their skill level. Even at Tiger’s peak, he would have rounds where his timing seemed perfect with his driver, only to lose the ball all over the golf course less than 24 hours later.
I know precisely how frustrating all of this is because I experience it just like you do. Things seem great, and then all of a sudden, they fall apart. It feels unfair at the moment, but it’s also part of the game.
If you want to become a better golfer, which I assume you do if you’re reading this article, then you need to find a way to deal with the inconsistency of your technique. As with any hardship, the first step is acceptance.
Too many golfers beat themselves up over something that is beyond their control. I know I did for a long time, and still do, but to a much lesser level. Either way, you’ll stand a much better chance at becoming a better golfer if you can understand the variability of golf. A lot of people never really grasp this concept, and it hinders their enjoyment and prospects at improving.
So the next time things seem to fall apart out of nowhere, take a deep breath, and realize that it’s supposed to happen.
Years ago, I read a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. It warned how excessive choices in society (even as simple as buying a pair of jeans) wasn’t making us happier, but causing more stress and anxiety because of unrealistic expectations and something referred to as “decision-making paralysis.”
At the time it was published in 2005, it felt very relevant. Fast forward 15 years, and it seems like the author’s central thesis is even more critical. Either way, I’m not here to guide you in your life decisions, but I want to discuss how the paradox of choice is the root of many golfers’ problems, and offer some insight into what you can do to solve it.
One of the fascinating parts of golf is that there is no right way to play the game. Everyone’s game can have their unique fingerprint, which ranges from the way they swing the club to even their demeanor on the course.
Every shot presents you with a different decision. Let’s say you were 40 yards from the green; you could choose from as many as 5-6 clubs and technique styles depending on the pin location, wind, and turf conditions. Depending on the player, and their skill level, each of those scenarios could result in success. You can’t say there is one right way to play that shot.
In all my years playing competitively, I’ve seen so many different styles of golfers who could shoot impressive scores. They ranged from looking fundamentally sound to downright bizarre (if you saw the way I swing a club, you would likely classify me as a bit unorthodox).
They all had a common thread, though. Whatever method they chose, and decisions they made, all had a lot of conviction and belief.
Unfortunately, one of golf’s great attributes is also one of its biggest challenges. With all of those possibilities, indecision can arise.
You can choose to shape your ball off the tee based on whether the hole is a dogleg right or left. If the wind is blowing in your face, you could alter your technique to try and keep the ball lower with a punch shot. Or your approach shot might be short-sided, and you can attempt a flop shot with your wedge to keep the ball closer to the hole.
If your mind is running through a rolodex of different shots to choose from, it becomes harder to trust your decision. At the last second, you might question if you should have chosen something different. Many of you know the types of results you can expect if you’re consistently ambivalent in the 30 seconds before you hit each shot.
On top of that, almost no golfer has the skill to pull off a myriad of shots with regularity. Even PGA Tour players have learned that to stay competitive and keep their jobs, they have to stick with the techniques they are best at and not try to be good at everything. Why do you think Dustin Johnson plays a fade off the tee regardless of what the hole looks like? Because he knows he can do it all the time and is confident in the repetitiveness of that swing.
If you’re looking to become a better golfer and want to shoot lower scores, you need conviction in your decisions. You don’t get bonus points on your scorecard for style.
Stepping up to your ball with as clear of a mind as possible should be your goal. And that’s why I have gravitated more towards a more straightforward form of golf, and recommend it to anyone else who wants to improve. If you remove most of the choices, you’ll have less of an opportunity to be indecisive. You want to get rid of that paradox as much as possible.
So what does that mean? Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:
For a long time, I tried to complicate the game, thinking I needed more options. I know many of you feel the same way.
In my opinion, you should go in the opposite direction. Remove the burden of all of these choices. You’ll feel a lot more confident and have more freedom in your game.
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One of the reasons I started Practical Golf was to help put an end to the myths and misinformation that golfers spread amongst themselves. Game improvement advice is often like a game of telephone from your childhood – by the time it reaches you, the information is not very helpful.
To be clear, I’m just as guilty as all of you. A lot of my own personal mistakes in this game are the genesis of the 350+ articles I’ve written over the past five years. While I don’t have all the answers, I’ve gotten closer to the truth of many essential concepts.
In this article, I will discuss five misconceptions that are rampant amongst golfers. These are all mistakes I’ve made over the years, and I’ll also link to other articles I’ve written to explore these thoughts further.
When I first took up golf as a child, I was obsessed with practicing. I would hit 300 balls at the range until my hands bled. After school, I practiced wedge shots in the yard for hours. It helped me build many skills that are with me to this day, but it also created an unhealthy habit that robbed me of enjoying the game as much as I could have.
At the time, I assumed that all of those hours spent practicing would directly translate to better performance on the course. When I didn’t play as well as I expected, I lost my temper and spent a lot of time sulking through rounds. What I didn’t know was that golf is a lot more than just practice and that there had to be more of a balance with learning how to play on the course.
The trap I fell into is similar to what many of you experience:
A common theme in many of my articles is that golfers need to have healthier expectations on how much they can practice, how to spend that time efficiently, and then balance that with how much time you can spend on the golf course. Unfortunately, one doesn’t work without the other. This article helps explore that concept further.
For a long time, I played what I would call a version of “scared golf.” Everywhere I looked around the course, I saw trouble, and it forced me to take a very cautious approach. After learning a lot more about strategy and advanced statistics from resources like Mark Broadie
and DECADE, I believe this method worked against me in certain situations, and for me in others.
For the most part, taking a very conservative strategy on approach shots is a good idea. I’ve shown that golfers don’t have as much control over the ball as they think they do. So when a player tries to take aim at the pin and make birdies, it’s usually costing them strokes, and resulting in bogeys or worse. In fact, for many of you, I recommend this simple strategy on almost all of your iron shots.
However, playing it too safe also has its consequences, particularly on tee shots. Often times, golfers will take clubs less than driver off the tee because they feel they can hit more fairways. In this test, I showed that hitting iron off the tee versus driver wasn’t actually such a winning proposition. The main problem was the loss in distance cost me strokes, and I wasn’t as accurate as I believed with an iron.
I now approach tee shots with the mentality that I want to advance the ball as far as possible while avoiding the big trouble (penalty areas, trees, bunkers). Placing too much emphasis on hitting fairways can be a misleading statistic. In other words, landing your tee shot in the rough with a clear path to the green is a positive result.
Swing tempo is one of the most misunderstood topics about the golf swing. In my opinion, the concept is glossed over way too often by the teaching community. Unfortunately, when it comes to the timing of your golf swing, we are usually left with notions like “swing smooth and easy.” Phrases like that don’t give any actionable advice.
We often marvel at swings like Ernie Els and Fred Couples and comment on how effortless and smooth their swings look. What we don’t realize is that they are swinging about 30-40mph faster than a club golfer, but their impeccable timing doesn’t make it look that way. Often times, I’ll see golfers try to exaggerate a slow backswing (myself included for a long time) thinking it’s going to help them become a better ball striker because it felt smooth. Usually, this doesn’t help.
I wrote this article on swing tempo a while ago. It tells the story of how the timing of your golf swing is critical and ways you can work on it. To this day, it’s been one of the most essential concepts for my own golf swing. Additionally, many readers of the site have reached out to me with the success they have seen using these ideas in their own practice swing.
Building the proper relationship between the timing of your backswing and downswing is fundamental to becoming a better player – just trying to swing smoothly for the sake of it without any meaningful direction is not going to cut it!
Somewhere along the way, golfers spread the concept of hitting down on the ball as the best way to become a better iron player. Even I used to tell people, “you have to hit down on the ball to make it go up.”
But what does that even mean?
A lot of us take our cues from watching the pros on TV. For the most part, you’ll see the best golfers in the world taking huge divots that fly a few feet in front of them. When I was a junior golfer, I used to try and mimic them, and I would slam my irons into the artificial turf at the driving range. It didn’t make me any better.
When we refer to hitting down on the ball, we’re talking about a concept called angle of attack. The definition is the angle that the golf club approaches the ball through the impact zone. Without getting too technical, here is an image to help illustrate a negative angle of attack:
With your irons, you will either have a negative or neutral angle of attack. But where some golfers get carried away with the “hit down on it” concept is that they will get too steep. Pro golfers have tremendously fast swing speeds, so they can have very extreme negative attack angles with their irons. However, for ordinary golfers, who have more moderate swing speeds, getting too steep will rob them of distance, create problems with turf interaction (think fat shots), and harm their ability to control the ball.
The truth is that most golfers don’t actually need to hit down on it that much. You’d be better served with a very minimal angle of attack or even neutral. I rarely take divots, and I’ve been measured anywhere between a negative 2 to zero attack angle with most of my irons, which means that my irons approach the golf ball at a very shallow angle. And that’s OK; the loft of the club will primarily take care of getting the ball in the air.
Additionally, this concept also harms golfers when it comes to hitting their driver. For maximum distance, you want to have a positive angle of attack, which means the driver will be moving on an upward trajectory as it approaches the golf ball. In my guide to increasing driving distance, I explore this concept more.
There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to putting. One of the biggest mistakes I used to make, was assuming that if I wanted to make a putt, that I would hit it with more speed to take the break out of it. A lot of golfers believe this is an effective strategy, especially on shorter putts.
It turns out that you’re actually making it harder for yourself to make a putt if you add more speed. While you might remove the variable of the slope, you are essentially making the hole smaller. To expand on this concept, I always recommend golfers watch this video to illustrate why hitting putts with the proper speed is still your best option:
Hopefully, I got you pointed in the right direction on a few key topics. I’d love to hear what misconceptions about becoming a better golfer you have managed to disprove in your own journey. Feel free to comment below
A lot of us are going to be spending more time at home than ever. In an attempt to help many of you keep busy, I created a guide with various ways you can practice golf at home. I’ll focus on three main categories – putting, full shots, and wedge play. Not everyone will have the ability to work on all of these due to size constraints, but I hope that you’ll get some good ideas with whatever methods you can practice. Also, I’ve linked to other articles I’ve written to help explain certain concepts in more detail.
Also, if you have any tried and true methods, please feel free to add them in the comments section!
While all of you may not be able to do each of the practice methods I’ll outline, putting is the one thing that almost anyone can practice at home.
There are three critical putting skills:
Unfortunately, you can’t practice all of them at home. For most of you, your best bet is going to be working on the quality of your stroke.
When I was a teenager, I used to putt on the carpet in the hallway with a glass cup. There’s nothing wrong with going as basic as that. A fun, rather inexpensive product, called PuttOut
is also an excellent tool if you do have an existing surface and want to give yourself more of a challenge. You can read my full review here.
Many of you already have putting mats at home. If you don’t, a premium option that I recently wrote about is the Perfect Practice Putting Mat. I just contacted the owners, and they have a strong supply at the moment still. You can purchase it directly from them on their website here – using code PRACTICAL10 will get you a 10% discount.
Alternatively, the SKLZ accelerator
is a good choice if you want to keep your cost down.
Practicing your putting inside of 10 feet is very important. These are the distances where golfers have a decent chance of making putts.
I often bring up these stats to give people perspective on putting and its difficulty:
Using these percentages as a guideline can help benchmark your progress. There are plenty of different games you can play to keep yourself engaged and challenge yourself to build your putting skills. Here are a few you can try out:
Let’s say you do have a stretch of carpet that is longer than 10-20 feet in your house, perhaps in your basement; you could do some speed drills. While a carpet isn’t the perfect surface, it’s better than nothing!
A great way to work on your speed control is to make small windows to land the ball in. For example, if you’re as little as 10 feet away, you can try to keep the ball within a 6-12 inch area (you can use golf balls or coins to mark these out). As you get further away, say to 20 feet, you can expand the window to 18-36 inches based on your skill level. Try to challenge yourself with games where you have to land a certain amount of balls within the target area before you can move backward.
Here is another example of a game you can play:
I realize not everyone has the space in their apartment or house to hit full shots into a net. But if you do, there are plenty of ways to make this practice meaningful. I’ll break this section into a few parts, depending on whether or not you have any feedback on your shots from a launch monitor. I’ll also link to articles that explore each method in further detail.
Anyone who has read Practical Golf for any amount of time knows that I am a huge proponent of tracking your impact tendencies. This would be my number one recommendation for anyone who is hitting balls into a net at home, especially if they have no way of knowing how the shot turned out.
Where you make impact on the face of the club is crucial for the quality of your golf shots. I’d strongly recommend reading these two articles to understand why it’s so essential and ideas on how to practice:
If you get yourself a can of Dr. Scholls Foot Spray
, you can start to understand where your tendencies are, and improve them.
Another favorite practice method of mine when hitting balls into a net is working on your swing tempo. Most of the readers of this site come back to me with fantastic results when they do it.
To understand why the concept is so important, and how to practice effectively, I recommend reading my full breakdown of swing tempo here.
One of the biggest challenges of practicing on synthetic turf is knowing where your club is bottoming out. A lot of times, mats can give you a false sense of confidence.
A critical skill of any ball striker is low point control. Ideally, you want your irons to make contact with the ball first, and then interact with the grass afterward on a downward trajectory. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to “hit down on it” that much; most golfers would benefit from a relatively shallow angle of attack with their irons.
This video gives a great drill with a towel that can be performed on a mat:
Launch monitors have become a popular way to give feedback when practicing into a net. I’ve covered this topic extensively on the site, and many of you know that I use a SkyTrak launch monitor myself.
Whether your budget is as little as $200, or in the thousands, there are plenty of ways to use these devices to practice effectively. Here are links to all of the relevant articles I’ve written on launch monitors:
Here are reviews of popular launch monitors:
If you have a yard at your house and are willing to tear up the lawn a little bit (don’t say I didn’t warn you), there are plenty of ways to sharpen your wedge game. Since your lawn size will be a constraining factor, you will likely be working on shorter chip or pitch shots (read this article to see the difference between the two).
There are three skills you can work on, which primarily dictate success on the golf course:
I’ll give you a few ways to practice each of these in this section.
How well you can land the ball within your intended distance is perhaps the most essential wedge skill. If you can land the ball on the green and keep it there, with regularity, you will conquer one of the most significant challenges in golf – preventing bogeys and double bogeys. Of course, you want to save pars more often, but avoiding wedge shots that don’t make it on the green is a skill within every golfer’s reach.
So whenever you are hitting wedge shots in your yard, always have an intended target. It could be a tree, a bucket, or even a baseball cap. If you want to put pressure on, just put one of your kids out there and try and land the ball just short of them (I’m kidding). Overall, you can’t hone your distance control unless you are actively trying to land the ball within a reasonable distance around your target. Also, don’t expect perfection.
I also prefer simplicity when it comes to wedge play. Get good at controlling your distance with only one or two wedges, so you know what to expect on the course. I do 95% of my practice on these shots with my 56-degree and 60-degree wedges.
Lastly, you should mix up your practice between repetitive and random targets, which I discussed in this post recently. Here are a few examples:
How low or high your wedge shots travel through the air is also very important for scoring. As you have noticed, a shot on a lower trajectory tends to roll out more on the green, whereas a higher-lofted shot will stop a little faster.
Without getting too complicated, there are two primary ways to control your trajectory. The first is with club selection. All things being equal, chipping with an 8-iron will get the ball started on a lower trajectory versus a sand wedge. The second way to control trajectory involves how you deliver the club. Some players are more skilled at using their hands and set up to add or decrease loft with the same club.
I believe loft control is an area of wedge play where a little experimentation can help most players. What I like to do is pick a target and try to land the ball at the same distance with a low, medium, and high trajectory. You can do this with the same club, and experiment with ball position, opening or closing the face, or altering your technique. Conversely, you could also choose different clubs to achieve those different trajectories. Going through this exercise will give you a better sense of what’s required to keep the ball a little lower or higher.
My only warning is that you don’t need to get too fancy with things. For the most part, you can hit very similar wedge trajectories and get good results on the course. Phil Mickelson flop shots aren’t required. But experimentation is a very helpful exercise to build your skills, which will make you more proficient on your “stock wedge shots.”
Another critical wedge skill is reading your lies. Not every ball will be sitting perfectly in the fairway. When your ball lands in the rough, you’ll be dealing with a spectrum of lies ranging from buried to being “fluffy” and on top of the grass. Your technique and club selection need to adjust accordingly.
Your yard might suffer a little bit, but if you are willing, you can experiment with different lies and see how the club reacts. A general rule of thumb to go by is the following:
If your ball is buried, it’s best to get a little steeper with the delivery of the club. Think of it like a plane that is taking a nosedive. Also, use a club with more loft and bounce (like your sand wedge). You want to limit the amount of time the golf club interacts with the grass because it will slow your club down and twist the face, making it harder to control distance and trajectory.
Conversely, if your ball is laying up nicely on top of the grass, you can do the opposite. Instead of the imaginary plane making a steeper descent, you can make a more shallow approach to the ball, like a gentle landing on the runway. Sometimes I like to think of it more as a putting stroke and just gently rock my torso back and forth without engaging my hands much.
This is another area of wedge play where experimentation pays off. Give yourself a variety of lies, and see how slightly altering your technique or club selection can change your results. When you’re presented with those lies on the course, you’ll have a much better understanding of how the ball will react, and how to play those shots.
Thanks for reading, and hopefully, golf can be a meaningful distraction during this challenging time. I’d love for you to contribute any fun ways you’ve managed to practice at home, so please feel free to add them in the comments section below.