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Low Net

The idiot's guide to course management

If you can't be good, at least don't be dumb
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Welcome back to Low Net, written for the average golfer by an average golfer. This will be a weekly newsletter for Golf Digest+ members, but you're getting it free for now. To continue to get Low Net, sign up for Golf Digest+ right here. Have a topic you want me to explore? Send me an email at Samuel.Weinman@wbd.com.

The worst shot in golf is the botched layup. Surely you know it. You choose a 3-wood to keep it in play, hit it crooked anyway, but good news: You’re also further back.

A close cousin of the botched layup, and really my specialty, is the punch out from under a tree on one side of the fairway that rolls into a bush on the other side.

The common thread to these moments is not so much rotten luck but a recurring case of golfer delusion. I’ve always figured my tortured quest to break 80 depends on more distance off the tee. It’d probably be easier if I just wasn’t so dumb.

This is the core of Scott Fawcett’s philosophy. The former mini-tour player and founder of the DECADE course management system has tutored everyone from tour stars to average players on how we should evaluate risk on the course, and the decisions we need to make as a result (DECADE stands for Distance, Expectation, Correct Target, Analyze, Discipline, Execute).

“It's all about not trying to force things,” Fawcett said as a guest in our inaugural Golf Digest Happy Hour, a series of online forums that gives Golf Digest+ members access to assorted smart people in golf. “The clichés of trying to avoid the landmines are 100 percent how this game actually works.”

While “just don’t mess up” sounds like a crippling swing thought, Fawcett’s strategy can actually be liberating in that it’s meant to promote confident swings to less punishing targets. In his hour-plus discussion on Tuesday night, Fawcett referenced how even Tiger Woods’ winning formula was about avoiding five specific round-killing mistakes: double bogeys, bogeys on par 5s, three-putts, bogeys inside 150 yards and blown easy saves.

How does that translate to mere mortals? The same principles apply, but in Fawcett’s view, better scoring for players of my level comes down to four major strategies:

—Off the tee I should opt for driver when possible because it leaves me a shorter approach and is easier to hit than a 3-wood.

—I should pick a target into a green that avoids serious trouble, usually meaning the middle of the green.

—If I miss the green with my approach, I want my next shot to at least result in a par putt. (Side note: This is why I’ve identified “greenside in regulation” as a stat worth measuring.)

—In putting, speed control is far more important than line.

You’ll notice none of these strategies mention stuffing approach shots or rolling in birdies. They’re decidedly unsexy, but so is shooting 93.

“When you finish a round and think you should have shot lower, it had to either be a mental and strategic mistake or you're just not as good as you think you are,” Fawcett said. “There's really nothing else it can be.”

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Above: Scott Fawcett on Tuesday’s inaugural Golf Digest Happy Hour. A recap of the full Happy Hour with Scott Fawcett, and opportunities to interact live with future guests, is available to Golf Digest+ members.

Low Netter Questions

Another great round of questions this week. Have a question or idea for a future topic? Send me an email and I’ll do my best to dive in.

I’m an older golfer who is suffering from lack of distance. My driver is 45.75” and I’ve got a slice. Should I consider shortening my driver? —Chuck

Chuck, I took your question to our equipment editors Mike Stachura and Mike Johnson, whose stock response to these questions is that the best answer always comes from a clubfitter. The Mikes allow that a shorter shaft is likely going to be easier to get the club on plane, and if you add in other adjustability options—more loft, a draw bias—you might be better able to counter your slice. Plus, even if you lose some potential clubhead speed with a shorter shaft, you’re still going to gain distance by hitting the ball squarely and on a better path. The problem is a shorter shaft affects the swingweight and overall weight of the club, which is why the Mikes say a fitter can help. Adding weight back to the clubhead can give you the full benefit of shortening the shaft and have you hitting tee shots like Rickie Fowler (who uses a 43.5-inch shaft) in no time.

My group needs a better go-to betting game. Advice? —Trent

The Sulker

Trent, I always like playing for something, which is a dangerous proposition for someone on a journalist’s salary, with a kid in college and, well, just not very good. But it doesn’t take much to get my attention. My group usually plays a typical four-ball worth $5 a side and $10 for the match. A fun wrinkle is to add in “Appearance Fees,” which is $1 for earning or keeping honors on the tee. In a Low Net world, more bets in play means a better chance of winning at least something—or a quicker path to financial ruin.

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I play three times a week in the middle of the season but rarely practice. Which do you consider more important? —Blake

Blake, thanks for asking this week’s impossible question. Among other things, my answer depends on what you deem most important, the practice facilities you have access to, and whether you have family members at home you’re actively looking to avoid. Also, you should know I’ve spent plenty of time doing both, and I still can look like this. That said, one of my goals this year is more purposeful practice, which might mean less time playing or working on my game, but sharper focus when I am. If it just was a matter of hours logged, I wouldn’t be grinding over so many five-footers for bogey.