Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club



Low-handicap tips

7 lessons scratch golfers learned from their career-best rounds

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Bob Thomas

No matter your skill level, we have all had at least one round where, relatively speaking, nearly everything went right. The bounces kicked back in play, the putts with too much speed slammed into the back of the cup, and the inevitable blow-up hole missed the memo, all leading to your career-low round.

The tricky part is, it’s often difficult to pinpoint what we did so well on those special days, which is a problem because, after all, those days hold the secrets to becoming the golfers we want to be. To be sure, a bit of luck plays a part in a career-best score, but if you analyze thoroughly enough, you’ll find tangible takeaways that you can apply to future rounds.

That’s what we asked a couple Golf Digest low handicaps, Drew Powell and Luke Kerr-Dineen, to do. They reflected on their lowest rounds, and their insights reveal important lessons about what creates low scores.

Drew Powell, +2.0, Career Best: 62

I shot my lowest-ever round in the fall of 2021, a few months after graduating college, tying the course record with a 10-under 62 at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, Maine. It was a cool late October day in Maine, which might be the first lesson here. You don’t need a perfect weather day to go low. It was overcast and in the 50s with a consistent 10-15 mph breeze—not exactly ideal scoring conditions. Don’t write off a round simply because it’s not 75 and sunny.

Penobscot Valley Country Club
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7 Panelists
One of the country's northernmost Donald Ross designs, Penobscot Valley dates back to 1924. The layout has an open, links-style feel with nearly every hole visible from all parts of the property. Not overly long, the course defends itself with thick rough, deep bunkers and daunting Ross greens. Penoby, as the locals call it, has a strong set of par 3s, including the fourth and 14th, the latter of which is only 150 yards but has a tiny green that slopes off on all sides into deep-faced bunkers. Over the years, the course has hosted Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Patty Berg.
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1. Speed, speed, speed

The round was a few months after Patrick Cantlay beat Bryson DeChambeau in an epic playoff at the BMW Championship, and during that time I was playing Cantlay’s putting stroke over and over in my head. With a long, fluid stroke, Cantlay seemed to have perfect pace on every putt down the stretch.

That was my sole focus on the greens that day—perfect speed on every putt. Now, perfect speed, for me, doesn’t necessarily mean dying pace. Instead, I had a different concept of perfect pace for each putt. For a straight uphill putt, I would be sure to give it a little extra so that it would hold its line. For longer putts with a lot of break, I played the highest line possible so that I would have a tap in at worst.

And it worked. I had the best putting day of my life, dropping numerous 25- and 30-footers, all because they were reaching the hole with ideal pace. When I missed, I had a bunch of tap-ins, which preserved my energy. Focusing on pace more than line freed me up, as I didn’t overanalyze or worry about the exact break.

2. Great isn’t perfect

After the round, I immediately wrote every shot down in my Notes app so that I would be able to look back and track what I did well—and didn’t do well. Reading back through it, I’m shocked that my ball-striking wasn’t sharper. I only hit four fairways, missing left on nearly every occasion off the tee.

Even with my best-ever performance on the greens, I still missed a straightforward five-footer early in the round. I was greenside on a par 5 on the back nine and didn’t get my chip inside 10 feet. I missed that opportunity. I had to pitch-out on the second hole after driving it in the trees.

The point underlines somewhat of a cliché, but one worth repeating: great golf isn’t perfect. If I had overreacted to each poor shot or missed opportunity, I surely would have halted my momentum. The mistakes didn’t seem to bother me.

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Ken Redding

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about it

I’ve written about the do’s and don’ts when your playing partner is having a career round, and a commonality across the list is to make your hot-handed partner feel loose. The thing is, it’s hard to be loose when you’re internalizing all of the pressure and expectation that you’re feeling while going low.

Think of the pressure you feel when having your best round as steam. As you realize how well you’re playing and thinking ahead to what might be, the steam will grow. Those thoughts are normal, so instead of preventing those thoughts, accept them and let them out. If you don’t, you’re going to burst and have a blow-up hole.

I acknowledged early on to my playing partners that I had a chance to put together a really special round. Saying that out loud, after making birdie on the 11th, allowed me to get the steam out and suddenly I was feeling loose again.

To be clear, I wasn’t obsessing over the potential score or what might be. I simply acknowledged the great round going on and then focused on the next shot. Don’t let the potential score scare you. Call it out, let out the steam, then get dialed in for the next shot.

Luke Kerr-Dineen, 0.6, Career Best: 67

My lowest round ever came one summer afternoon at my home club, deep in the throws of my college golf career grind. But, weirdly, that wasn't the round I learned the most from. That honor falls instead to the first time I ever shot under-par in a tournament: one-under 71 at Colleton River's Nicklaus Course on a windy day, to take the first round lead.

I was in High School at the time, but it was the lessons I learned during that round which fueled my best round ever years later. I still draw on them today.

4. Control the clubface

The day before my best round ever was pretty bad. The quality of contact just wasn't there. Lots of fat and thin shots. When I made solid contact, the ball carved left. Big, high hooks.

I went into damage control mode, and focused on one thing: Keeping the clubface more open on the downswing. I made lots and lots of rehearsals of that move throughout the day, like Tommy Fleetwood does. On the first tee, I felt that same open clubface move—and sailed a high draw ball down the fairway. I hit every fairway that day, and 17 of 18 greens.

The lesson? That the clubface is king in golf, so pay attention to it.

5. Good golf looks boring

Still low on confidence from my terrible practice round, and nursing a new emergency swing thought, I gave myself one task: I was going to aim at the middle of every single green. As far as I was concerned, the pin didn't exist.

The only green I missed that day was on the ninth hole. With the pin tucked to the left side of the green and water left of that, and wind gusting from right-to-left, I aimed for the far right fringe. The wind didn't push it as much as I thought. It was the only chip I had all day, but it was an easy one. I got up-and-down.

Often, golfers think their best rounds will look heroic. Truthfully, they're actually kind of boring. Lots of drives in play. Lots of safe shots into greens. Not many three putts. That's the formula for your best golf.

6. Nobody else cares as much as you do

Obviously, I was nervous as the round started to unfold. Then I looked at my playing partners and realized the total indifference on their faces. They simply didn't care. They didn't care how I was playing, or that I was nervous. They didn't care how much this meant to me.

Playing a good round of golf is like talking to your friends about your fantasy football team. Nobody else actually cares. Your best round may be a big deal to you, but in the whole scheme of things, it's not that important. It's just another day playing a silly game. Keep it in perspective.

7. Look failure in the face

Just as Dumbledore told Harry Potter: "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself."

The 18th hole at Colleton River's Nicklaus course is scary. Water all down the left, and it was windy that day. I was one under at the time and obviously didn't want to hit it in the water. But for me, before a meaningful shot that I'm nervous to hit, I've always found it best to just be honest with myself.

Yes, I could hit this drive into the water. Sometimes I miss the ball to the right. Sometimes I miss the ball left. Sometimes I hit drives perfectly straight. I can't predict or control when any of those things are going to happen. So let's just see what happens.

Pretending that water doesn't exist is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. You can't actually do it. Acknowledging the possibility of failure just makes me feel at ease.

And it did that day. I hit a drive down the left side, hit a 7-iron onto the green, and two putted for par.

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