I get the opportunity to play with a variety of people over the course of a golf season. While I live for the opportunity to play with the best of the best and test myself against great players, I’ve found myself recently learning just as much from the higher handicap players I tee it up with.
On the surface you may be wondering what in the world a scratch golfer could learn from a 20 handicap outside of how not to swing the golf club. Sure, I’ve seen some crazy stuff out of these less experienced players and plenty of swings I choose to forget I ever saw. But I sincerely feel like I’ve improved my game by being reminded of how hard this game can be to play if certain fundamental principles aren’t adhered to.
During a round of golf, inevitably a player will face some difficult shots. Hard shots are simply that – hard. As I teed it up with these higher handicap players, I was reminded just how important executing the easy shots are. Time after time, I witnessed my friends either trying to make an easy shot a difficult one, by virtue of choosing the more difficult technique to execute the shot. They would be just off the green with no forced carry or severe slope to navigate and pull out the 60 degree wedge and attempt to fly the ball 70% of the way to the hole. I asked one of them why they chose that type of shot and the response was “I’ve been working on hitting these flop shots so when I’m in heavy rough, I’m able to save par”. So essentially because they struggled with the difficult shots, like even the best players do, they’ve now sacrificed being efficient on the easy shots too.
Hitting balls on a practice range, seldom do you face the golf ball above your feet or below your feet. Similarly, you don’t deal with uphill or downhill stances. But on any golf course you play, your’re more likely to have your golf ball above or below your feet, if even just the slightest bit, on the majority of the shots you play. I watched my playing partners struggle to understand the effect side hill lies have on ball flight and as a result they were overly critical of themselves when their shot didn’t turn out as they believed it should have. Every golf magazine I’ve seen has at one point or another introduced the fundamentals necessary to playing side hill lies, yet these higher handicap players weren’t assessing their lie or stance before hitting a shot. A few of them actually were able to explain the correct way to play a ball when it was below their feet when I asked, yet they still didn’t position their body or alignment to account for the respective lie. They lacked awareness on the golf course, something players of all calibers struggle with at times.
I believe if I were to caddy for a few of my higher handicap buddies, pulled every club for them and instructed them where to aim every shot, they would immediately lower their handicap by several shots. It’s amazing the shots they try to pull off as if they were run of the mill, routine shots to execute. Just the other day a friend of mine had a 50 yard bunker shot to a tucked pin with a hazard over the green. Tour Players would have been satisfied hitting this shot anywhere on the green and yet he was upset his ball didn’t stop 10 feet from the hole after he hit a wonderful shot to about 20 feet just past the hole. First of all, he never should have been aiming at the flag, as he added about 10 yards of forced carry to his shot. He would have made the shot much easier by aiming 30 feet left of the hole allowing more margin for error. Yet ignorance was truly bliss in this instance. Time after time I see these higher handicap players attempt shots that allow for the slimmest margin of error. Understanding the percentages and truly accepting the fact hitting the ball anywhere on the green from 150 yards is to be considered a successful shot would immediately improve their score. Don’t turn easy shots into difficult ones by making a bad decision.
So this evening when I went out to WingHaven Country Club for a little practice, I spent 90 minutes working on the easy shots I often see during a round. I didn’t drop the ball in the thick rough around the green. Instead I worked on chipping from the fringe with a very predictable lie. I didn’t work on the 10 foot putt with 3 feet of break, but instead spent my time knocking in four and five foot putts with very little break.
Execute the simple shots well, work hard when you find yourself in a difficult spot but don’t compound mistakes trying to pull off the miracle shot and watch your scores improve.