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Sucking less at golf starts with 2 simple keys, according to this top coach

December 02, 2022

When looking at how average golfers play, Will Robins, a golf performance coach and one of Golf Digest’s Best Teachers in California, says there are a couple of mistakes that almost every amateur makes—and they’re caused by the same fault: unrealistic expectations.

“If you want to suck less,” Robins says, “you have to expect less.”

Many players march up to the first tee with grand visions of ripping that high draw they hit two years ago, but golf isn’t a game of highlights—it’s a game of averages. An unrealistic mind-set not only creates pressure, which makes it difficult to execute the shot at hand, but it can also cause players to take foolish risks that result in big numbers on the scorecard.

The easiest way to avoid this? Have a game plan.

Robins says you should have a playing strategy in place right from the first tee that lays out how much risk you’re going to take on—both generally and on specific shots. Let’s look at his two quick tips for reducing risk and preventing blow-up holes. You can also watch Robins’ entire game-improvement series here!

Be a better caddie to yourself

One of the biggest mistakes amateur players make, Robins says, is playing too aggressively off the tee. They’re quick to pull out the driver and even quicker to blame their swing when it doesn’t work out.

“Playing better is not about making better swings. It’s about reducing your expectations so your tension goes down,” Robins says. “The problem is the shot that you’re choosing, the stress you’re putting yourself under, and then that leads to bad scores.”

Robins says one great way to reduce tension is to act as if you’re caddieing for yourself when making your club selection off the tee. Don’t let yourself make rash decisions.

Take a beat to assess the risk and figure out the smartest way to get in the fairway. Sometimes that means hitting a fairway wood, a hybrid, or even a middle iron. It might not be the most exciting option, but it will help you keep the ball in play and eliminate penalty strokes. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you should never hit your driver. It just means to be sensible and use it only when the risk is very low.

Play to the ‘real’ par of the hole

You’ll need to check your ego at the door for this tip. Robins says that most golfers think they should be making par on holes where, given how they’re ranked on the scorecard, they should be making bogey or worse. Those expectations cause players to make emotional decisions and take unnecessary risks, which often result in blow-up holes. To lower your handicap, you have to learn how to use it to your advantage.

“What we’ve got to start to do is use our handicaps on the tee box, understand what the ‘real’ par of the hole is and go out there and play with less tension,” Robins says.

Instead of playing a long par 4 straight up and then applying your handicap after you finish, Robins says to use your handicap to adjust the par of the hole before you tee off. On holes where you get a handicap stroke, bump up the par. With a par 4 playing as a par 5, your approach would likely change because you have three shots to get to the green. That means less pressure, starting with the tee shot. So adjust those pars before you play.

Check out Robins’ entire series “How to Suck Less at Golf,” now in Golf Digest Schools, and use his advice to shift your mind-set, play easier shots with less stress and put yourself in position to play your best golf.