Pro Page – The Power of Three – A Trio of Strategies to Improve your Score

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I have always contended the toughest part of playing golf in the spring after a long hiatus is managing expectations. It’s a safe bet the first few rounds of the year won’t pick up exactly where you left off in the fall. That’s life, and that’s definitely golf. Fortunately for us we’ve asked our resident pro, Nate Gray, to offer a few tips on making those early season rounds enjoyable. The great news is that these are universal – they work just as well in the middle of August as the beginning of May. {Introduction by Glen Turk}

Everyone who plays golf knows what their best score for 9 or 18 holes is, and we all want to improve upon that milestone. Playing a lot of golf and practicing helps but even if you don’t have the time to play or work on your game you can still find ways to lose a few more strokes. Looking back on how I learned to improve my score, I remember a few keys that got me a little better as I started the season.

The first thing is that whatever you show up with is what you have. This means that you need to know how your ball flies. If you hit the ball left to right or right to left, hit it high or low, spin it a lot or not, are long or short, etc., you need to play it on the golf course. This sounds simple but a lot of golfers have expectations that aren’t realistic and make huge numbers on the course because they fail to strategize.

Usually the first place I see a player make a mistake is when they line up for a shot. When I was an assistant at North Hills CC a guy I knew came out for an outing and on the first tee he asked me where he should aim. I told him to aim for the trees because if he aimed down the middle he was definitely going to find them! I was kidding him but the truth is most golfers would aim down the middle and most golfers aren’t Fred Funk or Jim Furyk.

Say you are on the tee of a hole that is tight with trees on both sides and you normally hit a left to right shot. My advice is to aim down the left side and tee the ball up on the right side of the tee. This will make the hole a little wider for your shot shape and improve your chances of hitting the fairway, and at worst you won’t be in the trees. Another example is from the fairway or on a par-3. If you are a right-to-left player and the hole is cut on the left, give yourself some room by aiming right of the pin. If you have a 7-iron give it 30 feet. If it goes straight you have a birdie putt and if it draws you might end up pretty close.

Once you know how to aim off of the tee or your approach from the fairway, you want to know how to approach a hole position based upon its location and distance. You need to know your yardage to the hole, but you should also try to figure out where it is located from front to back in respect to the green and the course conditions. Say you have 150 yards to the hole. Now figure out how close the hole is to the front and to the back. If you are three steps from the back you may want to choose another club and run it up to the hole instead of hitting it over the green. If the hole is up front and there is water in front of the green, take one more club and take your chances from there. Likewise, you need to take into the firmness (or softness) of the course conditions you are playing from.

My third way to improve your score is to know your limitations and control the damage. Here are a few examples:

1) If you are in the trees don’t try to hit it through the trees. Chip it out.

2) If you can’t carry the water, you can’t carry the water. Lay up to a good distance and try to make your score from there.

3) If you have a tricky chip get it on the green – don’t get cute and have to chip it again.

The basic rules to hitting it closer and scoring better are counter-intuitive.

Rule #1 – Don’t aim down the middle

Rule #2 – Don’t aim at the pin

Rule #3 – Don’t play the Hero

There are many other tests on the course that will come up, but you should weigh the penalty for making the mistake and appreciate how to score rather than bulldozing your way through the round. As you improve, you may be able to tighten your lines but having a good strategy will ultimately lower your scores no matter what level you are at.

Nate Gray is the Head PGA Golf Professional at Fire Ridge Golf Club in Grafton, Wisconsin. Before Fire Ridge, Nate spent the previous seven years as a full-time golf instructor. Although he loves to help his students win championships, Nate hopes to resume a fuller schedule of competitive golf in the Wisconsin PGA Section events following his second shoulder surgery in the last three years. When Nate has free time his likes to spend it with his best pal Twigs. His lesson rates start at $40 per half for juniors and $50 per half hour for adults, plus he offers numerous lesson packages to customize your experience. He can be reached via email at ngray@fireridgecc.com or by phone at (262) 375-2252.

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