Develop and Play to Strengths

By Bruce Dowell
January 1, 2015


One of the most overlooked parts of the golf game (and instruction) is course management and the ability to make a game plan.

I take many of my students out on the course for a playing lesson, and for most of the first few holes, all I do is listen and watch. What I see too often is the “hit and hope” approach, as there is no game plan. The golfer hits a shot and just goes from there.

The idea I try to express during a playing lesson is that we should always try to play to our strengths. If you don’t feel you have a strength, you need to develop at least one. I hear often that a player has a “go to shot” meaning a fade, or a draw, etc.

If you already have a “go to shot”, that’s great! The next thing you’ll need to be a better manager of your game is a “go-to yardage.”

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When I was younger, I practiced a lot at a driving range that had a tree as the 100 yard marker. It was an old, ugly crabapple tree with a wide trunk, the 100 yard signed nailed to the middle of it, and a wide canopy. I basically tried to peel the bark off of that tree with range balls.

As I got better at hitting the tree, I’d start aiming at the sign itself, or try to land in the roots, or hit a certain branch. This type of practice taught me to vary my trajectory, as well as gave me target oriented practice on every single shot.

After a while, I felt like anytime I had a 100 yard shot on the course, I could make it! I did make a few over the years, but I made a lot of birdies and easy pars because of the practice time and that tree.

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Next, I started to chart the golf courses that I played on a regular basis. I was trying to find the way to have the shot I was most confident in as often as I could. On most courses, by the time I’d factored in par 5 holes, and shorter par 4s, I could hit the 100 yard shot at least 6-8 times per round. Several of those holes, I could lay up off of the tee with an easier club than a driver or on a par 5 by hitting an iron with my second shot instead of a 3 wood.

Think about your home golf course and your favorite yardages. If you don’t have that yardage, then look at each hole and figure out how many times you can hit the same shots with a 9 iron or less. Then practice that yardage as much as possible in 2015.

Go to your local driving range and make the 100 yard marker (or the yardage that you’ve charted to be your best option) your main target each time you practice. Play games and hit different clubs to that target distance. Practice off of sidehill lies or out of the rough, if possible.

You’ll see that if you become really good at 100 yards, you’ll also be pretty good if you need a 90 yard shot or 110 yard shot.  Then, have the discipline to play to your yardage as many times as possible.

As I always tell students, “bad swing will happen at times, but bad decisions don’t have to.”

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