Rory McIlroy shows how a good strategy can achieve scoring goals

Rory McIlroy is more than a great player, he's a smart player.
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I’ve been around golf for close to 50 years, and yet I’m still amazed at how the game churns out new talent. Season after season, a bold, young superstar is born, and the way it happens is really the most impressive part.

Rory McIlroy, for example, didn’t shoot to No. 1 because he added three yards to his drives or perfected a new shot from the rough. Rather, he continued to play to his strengths and avoid his weaknesses while applying his game in a more efficient—and intelligent—manner. The swing he used in 2012 was remarkably similar to the one he used in 2011. The way he used it, however, was significantly more tactical.

You, unfortunately, might not be as strategic. Like most amateurs I see, you probably just set up, aim down the center of the fairway or at the flagstick, make the best swing you can, and then deal with whatever trouble you get into. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid trouble in the first place, like a player of McIlroy’s caliber does? If you can answer “yes” to this question, then there’s hope for you.

Your goal this year is to be a smarter golfer. The first step is to pick smarter targets. Look for what I call the “statistically most intelligent places” to land your shots.

1. Play the Odds

When sizing up a target, imagine that you’re going to hit 100 balls from your current lie, then picture the pattern that those 100 shots would fall into. This should give you a clear picture of where you should—and shouldn’t—be aiming.

2. Go for the “Golden Eight”

My research shows that any putt within two to 10 feet of the hole (the “Golden Eight”) is very makeable, but that the odds of missing increase dramatically anywhere outside this range. If you can’t picture more than half of your 100 approach shots ending up inside the Golden Eight, then aim for the center of the green.

3. Manage Your Curve

Very few golfers hit dead-straight drives. If you usually fade yours, tee up on the right side of the tee box and aim down the left side of the fairway. If your drives usually draw, tee up on the left of the tee, and aim down the right side of the fairway. This strategy gives you the entire width of each fairway to hit into, and improves the odds of your ball ending up there.