We all want to get better at golf, but doing it without a swing coach can be daunting. To improve efficiently on your own, practice like a Tour player and master the three areas that make the greatest impact on scoring: tee shots, wedges and putting.
FIND A TEE SHOT YOU CAN COUNT ON
Many recreational players hit driver on every par 4 and par 5, often to their own detriment. The most important thing to think about as you step onto the tee box isn't how far you can hit it, but how far you can hit it in play. Weigh the variables—how you're swinging, the design of the hole—and ask yourself, "Which club will give me the most distance in the fairway?" This may mean hitting a 3-wood, 5-wood or a hybrid off the tee. It helps to hone a go-to tee shot on the range. Finding fairways is the first key to lower scores.
MASTER WEDGE SHOTS
Make approaches from 50 to 125 yards your new specialty. Distance control is paramount on these all-important scoring shots, so you need to accelerate through impact to ensure solid strikes. Like a lot of amateurs who struggle with their wedges, you probably make a full backswing and then decelerate as you near impact. To get better at accelerating through the hitting zone, start with your most lofted wedge. Hit shots on the range by making half backswings and a full follow-through. Then work your way up to three-quarter and complete backswings, executing a full follow-through every time. And make sure to chart your distances. When you can hit it inside 30 feet from 50 to 125 yards, you've found the second key to shooting better scores.
GET GOOD FROM 3 AND 33 FEET
Let's look at Tour putting stats from 33 feet. Why that length? Because from 33 feet, the pros two-putt 88 percent of the time, while three-putting and one-putting an identical 6 percent of the time. Therefore, when they go beyond 33 feet, pros are more likely to three-putt than they are to hole it. The lesson: Even the best struggle from long distance, so get good at distance control from 33 feet—and don't bother practicing from farther out. Also, spend plenty of time rolling three-footers. If you can consisently two-putt from 33 feet and drain most of your three-footers, you'll have the third key to posting better numbers than ever.
"But Peter," you say, "I don't have time for long practice sessions." Just 45 minutes a week will help; divide that time into 15-minute increments, with equal time given to tee shots, wedges, and putting. Your scores will make you happy that you did.
ASK PETER KOSTIS
Peter, is it okay to play clubs that are older but fitted properly? Or should I play the latest models? —Todd Hamilton, Kenosha, Wis.
Feel free to keep your old sticks, Todd—clubs designed to complement your stature, strength and swing speed can only help you. There are really just two reasons to replace your clubs: if your grooves wear out, or if you need a new set configuration. The latter might be the case if you're struggling with a new weakness—for example, if you're having difficulty getting your long irons airborne—and you decide to upgrade to a set of hybrids. But otherwise, you shouldn't feel any pressure to play the latest gear if you love your current set.
Do you have a question for Peter? Tweet him @peterjkostis or visit his website at peterkostis.com.