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The USGA recently released averages of the Handicap Index for men and women in the U.S. For the roughly 2 million men who have a handicap, it is 14.2; for the roughly half million women, it is 27.5. Of course, that is only 10 percent of the total number of golfers in this country. Since only a small fraction of golfers are able to break 100, the average handicaps could be sky high. The truth is that golf is a hard game to learn and a hard game to play well. For golfers who desire to get better and lower their handicap the plan I recommend is practice, practice, practice. Further, my suggestion is “high yield practice.” (“High yield” learning and studying techniques are the result of research in education and have been around for decades.)
First off, you need to practice with a purpose. Spend some time to establish your golfing goals and your game improvement plan and put it down on paper in a place you view it often. Your overall objective is not to become perfect, but more effective and competent as a player. On the range, warm up properly, starting with short irons, and then, in a disciplined manner, moving through a progression of longer irons, hybrids, woods and driver. Always re-visit one fundamental, such as grip, alignment and tempo, each time you practice. Be sure to use your pre-shot routine on every practice shot you take; that way you will ingrain that habit so it will be second nature on the golf course. Practice the shots you are likely to face when playing your round on the course, while picking specific targets. It is easy to practice those shots that you do best and provide the most favorable results, but that isn’t making you a better golfer. So, apply the “80/20” rule on the range and green: focus on those shots that cause the most mistakes and give you the most trouble. That said, work on “trouble” shots, like deep rough, lies that are uphill, downhill and side-hill, shots that are over and around trees, shots over a hazard and long sand bunker shots.
Along with your written game improvement plan, I recommend that you keep a small notebook for lessons, yardage, swing thoughts, repeating mistakes, successful recovery shots and other items that can be reminders of how you are progressing. These are processes that virtually all tour players, their caddies and coaches use, and that makes sense for you doing that too. It also makes sense to take some videos of your swing – maybe even from your club pro. And maybe take an occasional lesson. As for lessons, I prefer playing lessons; that way my pro can get a good idea of specific mistake patterns in real situations.
It’s wise to make your short game your priority: pitching, chipping and putting. Around and on the greens are where you score and save strokes. In my experience chipping is the area where high handicappers have the biggest problems and neglect the most. The average golfer misses over half the greens in regulations, so practice getting up and down off the green. For putting practice I’m a believer in using putting drills. One of my favorites is putting four balls each from 5, 10, 15 and 20 feet from the hole. Putt those balls five times and try to make over a total of 100 feet of putts. Lastly, friends, we’re not getting any younger, meaning strength, flexibility, stamina and balance are harder to maintain. Work out at the gym!
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at email@example.com.