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Golf IQ

9 tips on how to avoid heartbreaking 'disaster starts' to your round

November 27, 2023
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Karl Hendon

You spend all week looking forward to a round of golf and then, on the very first hole, you make a mess of it. Even after the breakfast ball.

Maybe you came in cold. Maybe you were a little nervous. Maybe it was a bit of everything. But the fact remains that whatever hopes you were harboring for a good score are over before your round has really even gotten started.

It's a deflating feeling, and the topic of slow starts is one we tackle on this week's episode of the Golf IQ podcast, which you can listen to below (and subscribe to right here).

1. Go to the putting green first

Instead of going to the driving range first, and then the putting green, which will leave you with a more than 20-minute stretch without hitting balls, try reversing it. Do your putting and chipping work first, then head to the range. Reserve five minutes (at most) to hit another batch of putts before teeing off. Hitting the range second will prevent your body from getting cold and stiff.

2. Make a swing that feels extra long on the first

Even if you're warm, there's some decent evidence which shows that the nerves of the first tee have the effect of shortening your golf swing. So on the first, feel like you making an extra big backswing turn.

3. Take extra club

Cold, nerves, whatever, the simple strategy is to just take an extra club as a rule on the first hole. Clubbing-up is something we should probably all be doing more of anyway.

4. Aim for acceptable — not for perfect

Aiming into the rough, away from trouble off the tee, or towards the middle of the green on your approach isn't going to kill you. There'll be times to get aggressive. The first hole isn't it. Take the approach of easing into the round.

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5. Play a trick on yourself

If you're nervous on the first tee, try pretending that you've already played nine holes, and now you're making the turn. Pretend like you just shot an average score on the front nine — whatever that is for you — and now you're trying to hit a normal tee shot on the 10th. It's a little strange, yes, but sometimes playing mental tricks like that on yourself can help put you at ease.

6. Practice the first tee shot on the range

On your final few shots on the range visualize the first tee shot and go through your full routine as if you were about to play it. Pick a fairway, and the spots to avoid. Take the club you plan on hitting.

7. Try the Tom Watson range hack

Tom Watson would famously start his range sessions with the hardest club in the bag to hit: Usually a 4-iron, or something similar. Why?

Well, because if he hit that club poorly, it doesn't matter. It's a hard club to hit.

And if he hit that club great, then great! He can hit the hardest-to-hit club in his bag, even when he's cold.

Again, mental tricks, but clearly it worked for him.

8. Don't get fancy around the greens

Again, it's the early part of the round. Don't go crazy. When in doubt, putt from off the green, or opt for a low bump-and-run. You don't need to be at your sharpest to roll something up to the green, and close to the hole.

9. Lower your expectations

Think about the early few holes of your round as defense, in some ways. Your goal is to get the ball rolling, safely and seamlessly. Don't expect too much. The simpler — and more boring — the better.

You can listen to that episode of the Golf IQ podcast, and more, right here: