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Playing smart golf a sure way to score better


In golf, as in business, sports and even life, avoiding needless mistakes is a good thing.

The term “course management” has come to signify the proper use of smart mistake-free strategy and the decisions a player makes during a given round. When it comes to cutting strokes off your score in the quickest way possible, better planning and positioning your shots will do it.

There are multiple factors, of course, that affect the outcome of any given shot – and any given round of golf. Most of the factors are within our own control, but some are not. Bounces can be good or bad or in between. Luck can be good or bad. The ball can come to rest in a good or bad lie. A wind gust can come up or lay down at the moment of impact. Distractions and noises come and go. Cups can be cut in the ground with precision and respected by the other players, or they can be cut haphazardly and damaged by clumsy sloths, causing the ball to lip out.

But mostly you can control how you golf you ball around the golf course. By playing smart golf.

Let’s say you face a shot to the green that requires a 170-yard carry over water. You can hit your 3 wood to carry 180 yards; what do you do? My usual answer, in this and several other things is “it depends.” If you can hit the big shot 9 out of 10 times, go for it. If it’s a match with nothing to lose, go for it. If it’s a stroke-play tournament, where a mistake can be very costly, you need to realize that you would have to pull off the perfect shot to stay dry. So, hit the safe shot and lay up – and be sure to aim safe.

Players who don’t play smart often don’t check their aim. Another aspect of smart course management has to do with simply playing intelligent shots. That means noticing bunkers, hazards and places to avoid in your line of play. Chipping safely. Staying out of awkward areas. Choosing clubs that are easy for you to hit, not hard. Better to hit a 7 iron 120 yards than top a 3 wood 30 yards.

Here are a few key principles and learning “takeaways” for smart course management.

First, know your personal capabilities and play within those limits. Next, enhance your awareness and size up the situation properly and realistically. Then, quickly factor in at least two choices that you have for every play. Carefully manage yourself and your emotions throughout your round. In difficult situations think in terms of probabilities of success or failure, risk and reward.

And be keenly aware of where to miss and where not to miss.

Pro golfers do what is commonly called “grinding.” Grinding is where you focus all your effort and intensity on getting it up and down for the best score possible in a difficult situation. When you miss the green, or hit into a bunker, or have to play from an awful spot, you just need to keep grinding to eke out a par. It seems to me the secret of grinding is to not give up on the hole. Sometimes grinding means taking your medicine, without worsening the matter, and don’t give up on the hole. Keep your focus, stick to your routine, look at the options and stay patient. Try to make the best play you possibly can, and accept what happens as the result. You have to be a grinder – a smart grinder – to win. Some folks become totally amazed at “miracle” par saves, but in reality they are witnessing the refusal to quit. Never give up on a hole.

To turn yourself into a smart, winning golfer you sometimes have to take “par” out of the equation. In some ways, par is a fictitious number and concept, representing mostly a way to classify holes as to their length and difficulty. Your task is to play each shot as smartly as you can, and each hole in the fewest number of strokes, par notwithstanding. At times that means not letting your ball stray out of position, making sure your next shot is easier. Also, how about not focusing on the scorecard. You play 18 holes and add up the score at the end, not in the middle.

Try getting ahold of “Smart Golf,” written by World Golf Hall of Fame golfer Hale Irwin.