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Golf IQ

5 stupid strategy mistakes amateur golfers make all the time



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Every time I talk to tour players, I'm always reminded of how deeply they think about course strategy. They're obsessed with the tiny little details about where they should hit their golf ball, and more importantly, where they shouldn't.

I always find that rather funny, because these are the best golfers in the world we're talking about, who play the game within the smallest margins of error. Yet they're the ones meticulously planning their way around the spots where they don't want to be.

The rest of us? We're hardly thinking about it at all. We're aiming down the middle of the fairway and then at every pin, self-destructing more than we should because of it.

It's why it's become such a pet topic for me and my co-host, Reed Howard, and the subject of the first episode of our rebooted Golf IQ podcast (which you can subscribe to right here).

The Golf IQ podcast, which you can listen to below, drops every Tuesday-Thursday. Each episode is only 10 minutes long, and the goal is simple: To help you play smarter golf, faster.

Anyway, back to those strategy errors you should avoid...

1. You're aiming at the wrong spot off the tee

I know it sounds backwards, but often average golfers fall into the trap of only aiming where they want to hit their ball, not where they realistically will. If there's water down the right side, golfers will aim down the middle and hope they hit it straight.

In reality, aiming away from trouble doesn't always mean the left side of the fairway. It means getting creative—whatever it takes to avoid the worst possible outcome.

Pros will often aim into rough if it means avoiding a potential penalty, and considering the average 10 handicap only hits the fairway 43 percent of the time according to Arccos, maybe we should, too. In short, it's OK if you hit a good drive into the rough, if it means a bad drive won't find a penalty. Ultimately, it's about staying in play above all else, which means aiming your drive not based on what you wish you have. But rather, what you've got.

"You want to tackle the golf course with what you're realistically playing with that day, and to avoid missing in the worst possible spot," Reed says.

2. You don't know your disaster miss

The old cliche is a true one: Golf is a game of misses. But so often, golfers don't know the one big miss that is killing them.

Maybe it's a big hook or slice. And while that's not great, knowing your one big problem is half the battle. Because, once again, you can plan around it.

Golfers with a handicap between 15 and 18 miss their ball more than 40 yards wide of their intended target about 12 percent of the time. You're going to miss shots — it happens. The key is knowing what that one big miss is.

3. You're not working from bad-to-good

Pros often ask themselves one question when they're approaching greens: Where is the short-side miss? The short side is the side of the hole where the pin is closest to, and it's often the hardest to get up-and-down from because of the limited green you have to work with.

Jupiter Hills Club

Courtesy of Laurence Lambrecht

So again, rather than thinking where you want to be, think about where you don't want to be, and work backwards from there.

Do that, and you're setting yourself up for the next part...

4. You're attacking too many pins

If you're serious about avoiding the short-side miss, then you need to accept the fact that aiming at pins—unless they're dead in the middle of the green—isn't for you. The secret to good golf is in making fewer big numbers, which means playing safer. For that, Reed and I talk about a formula that we used during our days of competitive junior golf:

"Look for the spot where is the easiest to get up-and-down from," Reed says. "Then aim your approach between that spot and the middle of the green. Anything except a really bad miss will leave you in a pretty good spot."

5. You're coming up short way too much

Finally, it's worth mentioning that even when you aim to the ideal spot, you're probably not taking enough club. According to Arccos, 15+ handicap golfers are coming up short almost 30 percent of the time from 50 to 75 yards — and more than 52 percent of the time from 125 to 150 yards.

Simply put, take more club! More than you think you need. It'll probably be just enough.

Once again, you can listen to the full 10 minute podcast right here: