Short Game

The Four Big Errors

May 20, 2010

There are so many bad shots in golf that it's tough just to keep up with the nicknames. Worm burner, hosel rocket, dead-yank... Your vocabulary grows every time you tee it up with somebody new. But exactly how much these bad shots affect your final score is debatable. A skull can run up onto the green. You might recover from the rough after a monster block. Unlike other sports where errors are clearly defined -- in tennis it's any ball that catches the net or lands outside the lines -- golf errors are hard to pin down. For 20 years I've been studying golf stats and helping golfers figure out their strengths and weaknesses. Using data from more than 100,000 rounds posted on my website

I've found that the four errors shown here do more to identify a golfer's performance level than any others. How often you commit them really determines your handicap. Read on to find out how to track your errors and start reducing them.


The difference between a given golfer and one with a handicap five strokes better is less than two of the aforementioned errors per round. The chart at the right shows errors at various handicaps, based on my research. But the actual cost in strokes varies, depending on the severity of the error and on the recovery: A drive hit O.B. costs at least two strokes, but if you stub a chip and then chip the next one in, you haven't lost a thing. A 15-handicapper, who makes about five of these errors per round, could lose anywhere from a few strokes to a dozen. Identify which of the errors is hurting you and focus there. Why target errors instead of trying to get better all around? It's easier to fix glaring mistakes than to improve in areas where you might already play well for your level. The tips here -- one for each error -- are from Mike Bender, the PGA Teacher of the Year.

Finally, follow this procedure for assessing your game and keeping those errors to a minimum:

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the definitions of the four shots that separate golfers of different handicap levels (top of the page).

Step 2: Over your next three to five rounds, record your errors in each category, and then average the numbers. Not only will you find what's costing you the most, you can use the chart provided to see how you stack up in each category against golfers at your level.

Step 3: Once you know where you make the most mistakes, you can focus your practice time and adjust your on-course strategy. So take a good, honest look at your game, then use Mike Bender's instruction tips to fix your weak spots. Taking your game to the next level might be easier than you think.

Peter Sanders, a Golf Digest Professional Advisor, operates the game-analysis website