The art of playing fast golf
A new question sent to my "Ask Stina" column reads: "I'm a beginner and really scared to make the leap from the driving range to the golf course. How can I avoid making a fool of myself?"
This is by far the most common question I get, especially from women golfers, and the answer is always the same: Don't worry about how well you hit the ball -- or whether you'll even hit the ball -- just make sure you keep up the pace.
It's perfectly natural to be worried about playing poorly when you're starting out as a new golfer. But the truth is, the people you play with won't care about your score as long as they don't have to wait for you at every turn, and as long as you don't disrupt their game. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Never take more than one practice swing. Your pre-shot routine has to be short but sweet, and even if you're not happy with your practice swing, don't repeat it. Deal with any swing problems on the range after the round instead -- the golf course is not the place to fix what's wrong.
- Don't waste time standing next to your playing partners when they hit. Sure, watch their shots, but do it from a spot that's either next to, or closer to, your own ball, so that you're ready to hit when it's your turn. Just make sure you're out of the way of the person hitting.
- When it's time to putt, place your bag or cart on the side of the green that's closest to the next tee. If you leave it on the other side, or heaven forbid in the middle of the fairway, you will not only tick off the people in your own group but also those in the group behind you.
- Read your putts from a maximum of two angles. This isn't the U.S. Open -- reading a putt should take no more than 20 seconds. Remember, speed is much more important than direction in putting.
- Pick up the ball once you've reached two shots above your handicap on a hole. This is a common practice in many European countries, and one that should be more popular here in the U.S.: Before the round, mark your card with the strokes you should take above par on each hole when considering your handicap. For instance, if you're an 18 handicap, that means you get one stroke on each hole. If you're a complete beginner and a woman, that means you're technically a 40 handicap, so you get two strokes on each hole and three strokes on the four hardest holes on the course. Once you've taken more strokes than you're given PLUS TWO on any hole, simply pick up the ball and move on to the next hole.
If you can follow these guidelines, you don't have to worry about making a fool of yourself on the golf course. Just go out there and enjoy; playing with a happy, easy-going beginner is much more fun for the rest of the people in your group than playing with a grumpy single-digit handicapper.