The thing I hear the most from golfers who come to me for a lesson is that they want a more reliable swing. I get it, but to play your best golf, it's more important to understand what swing adjustments you need to make for the many scenarios you'll face during any given round. Knowing how to adapt provides you with more latitude to make a less-than-perfect swing and still get a decent result. Your good shots get better, but more importantly, so do your bad ones. That's why knowing how to change up is the quickest way to lower your scores. Let's work on how to modify your game. —With Matthew Rudy
1.) BETTER DRIVING
Change your ball position for better tee shots
To get the best launch and spin with a driver, play the ball forward in your stance and hit up on it. But if you have it aligned with your front heel (above, left), and you're still hitting it too low (and often crooked), play it even farther forward so the ball is lined up off the toes of the front foot (above, right). Address it with your feet together, and then step away from the target with your trail foot. Now you're set up to launch it higher—and hopefully straighter.
2.) BETTER IRON SHOTS
Know how your curve fits the environment
Whether or not you're happy with the way your shots curve, the main thing is knowing how your typical shot shape with irons meshes with what the hole is asking you to do. A big, open range makes it hard to pick small targets, aim at them, and see the way your ball needs to move to reach them. So for a better perspective, put an alignment stick in the ground 10 yards downrange on your target line. Then hit shots, paying attention to how the ball has to curve in relation to that stick to hit your target. This will narrow your focus.
3.) BETTER RECOVERIES
Beat bad lies with brains and experience
Unless you're a member at Augusta National, you're probably not playing every shot from a perfect lie. When it's in a bad spot, instead of hacking at the ball and hoping for the best, have a plan. Start by assessing the lie. If you can get the club on the back of the ball, you want to make sure you make a swing that contacts the ball first. To help make that happen, address it slightly back of center in your stance, and when you swing, focus on hitting down on the ball. If you take the club back steeper with more wrist hinge than normal, you'll pre-set a good angle of attack. Remember that these shots usually fly lower and with more roll than normal. The major mistake here is trying to lift the ball out of the hole by straightening up. You have to keep your posture. If you spend 10 minutes intentionally hitting shots from bad lies when you practice, you'll feel a lot better about your chances of recovering when you play.
4.) BETTER BUNKER PLAY
A good setup makes bunker shots almost automatic
A lot of players try to gouge the ball out with a hard swing that digs with the leading edge, or they hang back and try to scoop it out. Neither is a reliable technique. Instead, open the face, set your grip, and open your stance slightly while keeping the ball position just forward of center. This combination will let you make a regular pitch swing on the line shown here and get the club sliding through the sand at a depth just under the ball.
Kaylin Skovron, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, is based at Jeff Isler Golf in Southlake, Texas.