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Instruction

10 things I’m going all in on to shoot lower scores this season

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Every spring I cook up some reasons to hype myself for the forthcoming season. But this year, I’ve got some legitimate ones.

For starters, I just joined a club, which means I won’t just be able to play a little more golf this year, but between the various money matches and club tournaments, I’ll also be able to play some competitive golf for the first time since college. I’m also teeing it up in the Golf Digest Open later this summer with my boss (more on that here), and I’m playing my boss’ boss in the first round of our company’s match play tournament.

All of which is to say that I’ve got some decent stakes floating around this season, and with my standing goal to return to a sub-scratch handicap for the first time since college golf (I’m currently stuck at a 1.6), I think I have a good chance at a great season.

But in golf and life, it’s less about the ideas than what you do with them. So, here are a few things I’m planning on doing that’ll hopefully help me run the tables. Except for maybe the whole beating my boss’ boss thing, because now that I think about it, I might be better off losing that match.

1. Dialing-in my driver specs

A couple weeks ago I played my first round of the season with one of my regular golf partners. We’re usually pretty evenly matched in terms of handicap and driving distance, but not on this occasion. He had put a new driver in the bag, and was now about 15 yards longer than me.

Slightly alarmed, I booked a driver fitting and found my spin-launch numbers were off. My drives had too much spin—in the 3,200 RPM range—which turned them too floaty. All it took was a driver shaft change to bring my optimal launch conditions back in range. It served as a good reminder: If you’re serious about your game, no matter your handicap, you really need to dial-in your driver specs. If you don’t, all you’re doing is leaving distance on the table.

2. Upgrading my hip flexibility

Like many of you, most of my time isn’t spent on the golf course, but sitting behind a desk. My hips have gotten tighter and tighter over the years, which is generally pretty terrible for your golf swing.

So starting this offseason, I’ve been working-in some basic hip mobility exercises. It only takes me about 15 minutes, and I do them before each round and a few times a week away from the golf course.

3. More pre-round chipping and bunkers

One thing I've generally been pretty terrible about is hitting chips and bunker shots before my round. Usually I just head straight to the range, spend most of my time there, roll a handful of putts and go.

This season will be different. My plan is to focus more on stretching pre-round and only hit a literal handful of golf balls (in the 10-12 range), then spend the rest of my time hitting different short game shots. We’ll see how it goes.

4. Embrace feel on long putts

It only took me a few rounds this season to realize my speed control on the greens is a disaster, which is bad, because speed control is maybe the most important part of putting.

I need to stop changing putters as often because it’s really not helping matters. But I think the larger issue is that I’m not being reactive enough on my long putts. I tense up, start thinking and worrying. Then all my feel disappears.

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So, I’m going to follow Butch Harmon’s advice of starting my stroke the second I pull my eyes back to the golf ball. If that doesn’t work, my Plan B is to commit to heads-up putting.

5. Diving deep into stats

Though I generally have a pretty good idea of my general strengths and weaknesses, I’m leaning into stats this season. I took advantage of this free Arccos trial and got a set of Arccos smart grips put on my clubs. On the greens, I’ve been using the The Stack System Training Aid’s new putting beta, which is an 18-hole putting test that grades you on a PGA Tour players strokes gained putting metrics.

6. Being smarter about targets

I write a lot about all the research showing that aiming for the middle of the green is generally the best strategy. It is, to be clear, but sometimes I overcook it—I am too far away from the pin, make a bail out swing, and end up leaving myself really difficult putts.

So, this season, I’m tying to do a better job of picking the right targets, which I’m hoping my renewed focus on stats-gathering will help me with. The goal ultimately is to avoid being short-sided (which is to miss the green with a small amount of green between you and the hole). Sometimes that means aiming away. When the pin is in the middle, sometimes that means going right at it. But regardless, it means making committed swings no matter where you aim.

7. Keeping the setup consistent

As you can see from everything above, I’m trying to be less technical generally, knowing my tendency is to get way too technical. But I will allow myself to obsess over two things, the first being my setup.

On putting, that means using a mirror to make sure my eyes are in the same spot relative to the golf ball. Pros swear by them, so I will too.

On my full swing, that means making sure my ball position, posture and other fundamentals stay consistent. It’s one of the few things in the golf swing that golfers can totally control, so there’s no excuse for letting them get sloppy.

As for the other technical thing…

8. Shift my weight

No two golf swings are the same, but ask any coach and they’ll say the reason they work is because they all sequence correctly. That’s a fancy way of saying the different parts of their body fire in the correct order.

One of the biggest ways this goes wrong for regular golfers is with the way we shift our weight. We slide too far away on the backswing, then never get back on the way through. That’s my tendency, too. So when I do dive into swing stuff this season, that’ll be front and center.

9. Target micro practice sessions

I’ve got a job and a family. I don’t have unlimited time to practice. This season, I’m not going to fret about the hours I don’t have to spend on the range. But instead, I focus on how to accomplish something every time I do practice. Butch Harmon says in his Golf Digest Schools series here that every practice session should have a goal. Something you want to accomplish. So, whether it’s 15 minutes practicing my putting at home, or an hour before my round, that’s what I’m going to do this season.

10. Check my ego

I’m not a PGA Tour player. I’m not trying to win the U.S. Amateur. Sure, I’d like to get back to a scratch, but ultimately, I’m trying to have fun. That means checking my ego at the door, and not trying to swing an X-flex shaft or care about having blades. Managing my expectations, as statistician Lou Sagner likes to say, really is the key to happiness in golf.