Golf is frustrating when you’re racking up bogeys (or worse) and you just know you’re capable of carding pars and birdies. True, you don’t have a picture-perfect swing (unless your name is Adam or Rory), but playing beneath your abilities can usually be attributed to poor thinking, not poor swinging. If you make smart choices, you can go low with just about any swing. So when the wheels come off, don’t “fix” your swing — fix what’s happening between your ears. How? Follow the Rule of the Next Shot. Before every stroke, do three simple things: Make one guess and two commitments.
GUESS the shot that will leave you the easiest play on your next swing. There’s more to this than simply choosing between, say, your driver and hybrid. Consider the swing, too. Often, hitting a soft fade with a longer club is easier than trying to pure a shorter one. As you consider your options, remember that the following shot is more important than the one you’re about to play.
COMMIT to the shot at hand without hesitation. If, for example, you think that a 75 percent 3-wood up the left side is the smart swing, then fully commit to hitting an easy 3-wood up the left side. All other options no longer exist.
COMMIT to yourself. Relax and make the best swing you can, using a smooth rhythm and holding your finish position until the ball lands.
Will the Rule of the Next Shot improve your swing? Maybe, but that’s not the point. Its main advantage is that it eliminates situations from which it’s difficult to recover and thereby keeps blow-up numbers off your card. Think of it as chess — you’re planning one or two moves ahead. The more you strategize this way, the better you’ll get at choosing smart shots that keep birdie and par in play.
When I practice, I try two different kinds of shots from every lie. In the photo, I’ve used my 8-iron to hit four bump-and-runs up a false-fronted green to a flagstick 15 yards away (white balls); and I’ve used my 60-degree wedge to hit four lobs to the same pin (yellow balls). The lob shots, on average, left me shorter, easier putts. By doing this many times, I’ve learned that I’m better at flying shots the right distance and stopping them quickly than I am at trying to run the ball over difficult terrain. Armed with this information, I know how to put myself in the best position for my next stroke. Experiment this way across a spectrum of swings and situations. You’ll get to know your game better than ever, and when using the Rule of the Next Shot, you’ll make very educated guesses.