We know, we know. When you hear the phrase "go-to shot," you laugh, because it implies that you have total control over your game. If it was that easy, you'd just hit it straight down the middle every time, right?
Turns out you can play more predictable golf no matter what your handicap is, says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. You just need to open your eyes—and your mind.
"I don't care what scores you shoot, I bet if you go to the range and hit a bucket of balls going through your entire bag, there's a shot in there that you're better at than others," says Manzella, who is based at English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans. "Maybe it's a 3-wood that slices 15 yards. Maybe it's a full pitching wedge. For me, it's a middle iron that moves five yards right to left. For David Toms, it might be a hybrid that falls one yard to the right. Tiger Woods always relied on his 'stinger' when he absolutely needed to hit a fairway. The point is, everybody has that shot—and that's the one you should be building your game around."
If you can identify the shot you hit the best AND identify your predominant ball flight, you can shoot better scores with exactly the game you have now, says Manzella. "Once you get over the ego part of this game and accept what you have going on right now, you can start doing some things on purpose. You can have a shot you go to," says Manzella. "If you know you have that 15-yard slice with the three-wood, it's a matter of accepting what it is, seeing it in your mind before you hit it and actually committing to aiming for it when you swing. Most students I see practicing on the range aim straight down range at no particular target and try to make the ball do something else."
The key to all of this? Embracing what you already do. "There's no shame in golfing your ball in play. Bubba Watson hits straight-up 50-yard slices, but for him they aren't foul balls like they are for you because he's actually planning to hit them," says Manzella. "And it doesn't even have to be something 'conventional' off the tee! Maybe the hardest hole on your course eats you up every time. Hit a 6-iron off the tee, then hit it again, and put yourself in position to make a bogey instead of a triple. Maybe your go-to shot is a wedge like the one I described in this article about Thomas Pieters. That means you should be doing everything you can to be giving yourself lots of those, and not trying to smash fairway woods and get to a green you'll almost never hit."
And that reveals an important corollary to the go-to shot concept—knowing what your "stay-away" shot is, too. "I'm all in favor of people working on their games and learning to hit new shots, but when you're playing for a score, you should be choosing from a menu of shots you actually have a chance to hit," says Manzella. "That means knowing what shots you absolutely HATE to hit, and doing everything you can to avoid them. Don't like hitting hybrids from a downhill lie? Don't do it. Hit your 7-iron, come up short and play for a short-game shot. Hate tight lie chips? Putt the ball and give yourself a chance on the next shot instead of blading it over the green. Your handicap goes down when you give yourself more chances to hit 'easy' shots for you and reduce the downside to your mistakes."