Same as anyone, I can get ticked off at bad shots. But I really try not to. Ups and downs are the nature of this game, and what separates great players from merely good players is the ability to coolly diagnose what's going on in their swings—and then adjust. Is it going to take one or two missed shots on the course to figure it out, or are you going to shoot a thousand and need to plow through five bags of range balls after the round to get it sorted? Hopefully it's closer to the first scenario, but I've also noticed great players don't rely on hope. Rather, when the ball starts behaving unexpectedly, they have a systematic method for reassuming control. You start with the minor stuff that's easy to fix, and then only move on to more dramatic shifts of swing thought if necessary. And you go through this process in the same order every time. This is how you prevent getting totally lost.

I've got the Masters coming up—a tournament I love. Suppose I open bogey-bogey. There will be no value in getting upset. My only job is to collect information. What can the ball flight of a missed shot suggest about the swing that produced it? How about the next missed shot? There's a way to fix a swing efficiently, and I'm going to show you my basic three-step method. If you apply this to your game, I think you'll waste less time searching, which leaves more time for playing at a level where you can score. —With Max Adler


STEP 1: BECOME A SHOT DETECTIVE

Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

My goal is to fix my swing without hitting another ball. After a bad shot, rather than pout, I put the club precisely where the divot was, and make a swing imagining a good result. Quite often I can feel what the mistake was, and re-creating the good swing helps me move on psychologically. Figuring out a fault without hitting a ball is just as important on the range. It takes some willpower not to start beating balls, but trust me, you'll save time. I have an alignment stick with my various ball positions marked. For example, my 6-iron is just forward of middle, and my driver is just inside my left heel. With an imaginary target, I'll stand in and think, Is this how it felt on the golf course? Why is this different on my eyes? Most of the time, the culprit was a small variance in my setup. I'll adjust, wave a few practice swings through the impact zone, and feel better.


STEP 2: KNOW YOUR ‘THING’

Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

Let's say you've checked your setup and feel comfortable over the ball, but you're still hitting bad shots. Now what? Well, I think “flaw” is too harsh a word, but every golfer has a central “idiosyncrasy” in their swing that results in misses. They've contended with it ever since picking up a club. Chances are, you know what yours is, but if you don't, find a teacher you trust to help you identify it. Ever since I was a boy, I've had a tendency to tilt forward slightly at the top of the backswing. At the moment I'm anticipating the shot, my left hip buckles. If it's windy, or I've played two or three events in a row without seeing my coach, Cameron McCormick, my likelihood of doing it increases. To fix it, I stop at the top of my backswing and check that my weight is loaded and stable over my right hip. Point is, I always check my “thing” before I snoop around anywhere else.


STEP 3: SOLVE FOR CONTACT

Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

If you've gone through the first two steps and still can't figure out what's wrong, don't panic. Maybe you can sort your swing with my third step: Solve for contact. That means identify where you're striking the ball on the clubface. I've developed a pretty keen sense for this, but you can tell by putting powder or a spray on the face, or simply checking where the grooves are dirty. When I'm striking the ball toward the heel, that's an indication I'm standing up through impact and my hands are getting too high. When that happens, I tend to hit heavy draws. When I strike the ball off the toe, that usually means I'm squatting too early in the downswing. I got off to a bad start on Friday at the 2018 Masters with some toe balls that sailed to the right. But I was able to recognize this and play the last 16 holes in one under par. Sometimes you'll need a deep-dive lesson or practice session to find your fault, but hopefully my three-step method can save an important round.


WATCH: GOLF DIGEST VIDEOS