When we discuss getting better at golf, our minds usually race to the big stuff—joining a club, working more with a pro, switching out your irons and woods with clubs that match your specs. Of course, all of these can be factors in shaving strokes off your score (and while we’re at it, so will one one medium-sized investment of joining Golf Digest Schools, which provides video instruction in a curriculum format from some of the leading instructors in the game). But it’s important to note there are incremental improvements you can make to your game without spending much money, or time. Here are nine to consider right now.
1. Get your eyes checked.
You might think your eyes won’t go bad for decades to come, but according to the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, one out of every 10 people 18 or older in the United States reported some decline in vision in 2016—even people who wear glasses. You might joke that you play better when the ball and the fairway are a blur, but the reality is that routine eye checkups will help your game. You need clear vision for aiming, improved coordination between your hands and club, and perhaps most importantly—eye teaming. This term refers to how well your eyes work together (often one has clearer vision than the other) and it’s a big part of having good depth perception.—Ron Kaspriske
2. Get fit for your putter
You take 30-plus whacks with the damn thing every round. It might as well be fit to you. And it might be the least fit club in your bag. A study of 100 golfers by clubfitting experts Club Champion for Golf Digest revealed that two-thirds of golfers do not fit into the standard length of 35 inches. And 28 percent of golfers either need more than 35 inches or less than 34 inches meaning there are some pretty bad fits out there. Which is not exactly what you want when you're trying to roll the rock into a hole only 4.25 inches in diameter—even if you can now leave the pin in.—E. Michael Johnson
3. Hold your pose after every shot
Whether it’s a putt, a chip, a bunker shot or a drive, your goal should be to complete the swing in a great finish position. Why? It means your swing was probably properly synced, had good rhythm, and the speed was in the right place—through impact. If you focus on getting into a nice finish position, you’ll be amazed how much better your ball-striking will become.—R.K.
4. Practice with your worst ball
Want to develop the all-around game and mental toughness needed to play consistently good golf? Try the Worse Ball drill. Scott Gregory, a rookie on the European Tour, credits it with helping him become a complete player. “There's no better way to get good at playing golf ugly,” he says. The concept is simple: Starting on the tee, hit two balls from every position, playing only your worse ball, until you’ve holed out. The key is maintaining your pre-shot routine and concentrating on every shot. Let's say, for example, you're playing a par 4, and you hit two drives, one in the fairway and one in the rough. Play your next two shots from the rough. If one ball lands on the green and the other in a bunker, play your next two shots from the bunker. If you can make par playing your worse ball, you've accomplished something. The lasting benefit, however, is conditioning yourself to handle adversity and improving your ability to play trouble shots. —Alan Pittman
5. Practice pitching sidearm
Most amateurs struggle to swing the club in the correct sequence. This happens for a number of reasons, but all of them can be corrected if you pretend you’re a sidearm pitcher. Grab a tennis ball and throw it sidearm forcefully against a wall. Note how, without thinking, you automatically load into the leg farther from the wall, and your arm rears back for the throw. Then you feel a noticeable lower-body weight shift toward the wall while your arm still hasn’t quite completed the windup. Finally, when all your weight has shifted into your front leg, you rotate your chest toward the wall and then let your arm hurl the ball powerfully forward. This type of sequencing is very similar to what happens to your body, arms and club when you swing. So the more you practice throwing sidearm, the more you’re training the synchronization needed to drive the ball like you always wanted.—R.K.
6. Walk more
Forget the fact that it's just better for you. There's just no denying that you're more in tune with the game when you walk. You have time to calm down after the bad shot (or even great shot); you have an opportunity to actually look at where the pin is as you're walking to your ball and decide what side of the green you want to play to. You have time to sum up the risk and reward of that shot over a water hazard. None of that happens if you're at your golf ball in a blink in a cart with music blaring to further distract you from the task at hand. Plus, how can you soak in the beauty of the surroundings?—E.M.J.
7. Stretch those hammies
Your poor hamstrings. Two things are working against them in terms of good function—our mostly seated lifestyles and anterior-muscle (front side of the body) dominance. And when the hamstrings become chronically short and tight, it can wreak havoc on your golf swing and lead to injuries that will keep you off the course. A great way to start every day is by stretching your hamstrings, says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ralph Simpson. Here are two easy ways to do it: 1) Lie on your back in an open doorway and extend one leg up the door’s frame while the other lies flat on the ground, toes up. Hold for a few seconds and then switch leg positions. 2) Balancing on one leg, lean your torso forward and extend the opposite leg behind you until your chest is roughly parallel to the ground. Return to a standing position and repeat for a number of reps before switching legs. You can hold onto something for better balance.—R.K.
Photo by J.D. Cuban
8. Swing more at home
It’s easy to say the best way to improve is to practice more, but what’s not always easy is getting yourself to a golf course, or even a range. A workaround long advocated by leading instructor Hank Haney requires only a fraction of the space, and whatever club you have lying around the house. By simply taking a 100 practice swings a day, Haney says you can increase strength and flexibility and gain awareness of where the club is in various positions. “You start building a repeatable motion—which is great, even if the motion isn't perfect just yet,” Haney says. —Sam Weinman
9. Have a specific plan at the range
It’s fun to swing with reckless abandon at the range, no water or OB to ruin your rip at the ball. Unfortunately, it’s also a detriment to your game, forming bad habits and improper muscle memory. The next time you’re working through a bucket, come with a plan. Pick a target in the distance. Not only are you replicating on-course demands, it gives your session purpose and prevents aimless hacking. And randomize your club selection for every ball. Rather than barreling through 15 consecutive drivers, favor a sequence of driver, 7-iron, fairway wood, wedge. You’ll still hit a bunch of balls for one particular club, just not in a row—which is how golf is played.— Joel Beall