Hate to be the one to break it to you, but as amateur golfers, we shouldn’t try to emulate everything we see the pros do on the PGA Tour and LPGA. They’re paid the big bucks for a reason, and don’t forget, it’s their job, not just a hobby.
Let’s be real. Chances are, we’re never going to be as good as they are – even if we dress like them (a-hem, all the middle-aged Rickie Fowler wannabes). The average golfer doesn’t have the time (and more important, patience and discipline) to practice and get in the reps required to reach that next level.
Of course, there are habits we can pick up from watching PGA Tour and LPGA players to improve our games. Here’s a guide to the DOs and DON’Ts.
Take enough club (or even an extra club). The most common mistake Tour players see their pro-am partners make is overestimating how far they can hit the ball. Amateurs tend to take less than they need.
“If you can’t drive the ball 250 yards, it is very likely your 3-wood won’t fly the 270 yards necessary to carry the water hazard, the greenside bunker or your friends’ heads,” says Christina Kim, a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour.
In other words, check your ego in the parking lot. Your buddies will be much more impressed if you clear the hazard and find dry land or hit the green in regulation.
Know how far you hit your clubs. This goes along with taking enough club, but if you watch the pros, they have excellent distance control and are honest with how far they can hit each club. Amateurs just need to have an (accurate) idea of their range within 5-10 yards.
Develop a pre-shot routine. Every pro goes through the same motions and mannerisms before every shot or putt he or she hits — it’s kind of like a script. The pre-shot routine is integral to a golfer’s performance and increases the chances for success. It can help with everything from basics, such as alignment, to fostering comfort and confidence, especially in pressure-packed situations. It can be how you walk into your setup to the ball, what you’re going to think about and a swing feel in the takeaway or visualizing an image of the target.
Focus on your swing tempo. Watch the ladies on the LPGA, who have swings that look effortless and don’t have the grip it and rip it mentality, advises LPGA pro Paige Mackenzie. Amateurs tend to think they have to swing hard to hit it far. Wrong. Even the PGA Tour players rarely put it way up in their stance and tee it high and try to kill the ball.
“Most Tour pros are only doing that if we’re about to blow the cut and we’re trying to hit it an extra 20 yards,” says Robert Garrigus, who won the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic. “If they (amateurs) put it a little farther back in their stance and swing inside their shoulders, they have a better chance of hitting it straight instead of their tendency to move across the ball and over the top – which causes a big slice.”
Tee it forward. There’s no need to play from the tips unless you can actually handle it. It’s more fun and you’ll score better. There’s already a slow play epidemic and it’s partly caused by players who take a gazillion shots when they don’t play from the proper tees.
Play overly aggressive and be afraid to lay up. Amateurs often waste shots due to our lack of recognition of our abilities and the tendency to attempt shots beyond our talents. You don’t have to go for a par 5 in two just because you have a chance and you think it’s what the pros would do.
“Amateurs put themselves in situations where they can only pull off the shot one out of 10 times based on their ability, rather than playing more conservative where they’re likely to do it successfully nine out of 10 times,” says PGA Tour veteran Greg Chalmers.”
Adds two-time PGA Tour winner Scott Stallings: “The value of par for amateurs is pretty substantial and I don’t think they realize that. We always tell our guys in pro-ams that if we could caddie for them and they did everything we told them, we’d give them the opportunity to take ten shots off a round without changing a single golf swing.”
Leave the driver in the bag and hit a 3-wood, hybrid or even a long-iron on shorter holes to leave you with a yardage you’re comfortable with hitting for your approach.
“I think amateurs should pay attention to why we’re taking 3-wood off the tee instead of drivers on some holes,” says PGA Tour pro Kevin Na. “I see a lot of amateurs taking driver on a 320-yard par 4, when they usually don’t need to.”
On a similar note, lay up to a number you like. If you’re in the heavy rough on a difficult par 4, watch the pros, who often chip out to leave a yardage where they have the best chance to get up-and-down.
“Being comfortable hitting a yardage is much more important than hitting it up somewhere near the green in the rough, where you might have a bad lie,” says Kim. “If you’re comfortable with your yardage, you will give yourself a better chance to get up and down, or at worst, make a bogey. There is no need to go bigger than you’re capable of doing.”
Try to hit flop shots. Or if you do, don’t open up the blade entirely or as much as you think you should. We can’t pull off crazy flops like the one Tiger Woods chipped in on the 16th hole at Muirfield Village when he won the Memorial Tournament in May.
Read putts from every angle. The pros are playing for millions, so they’ll often take time to make sure they get the read right and they’re confident with it. Then again, there are players who don’t overdo it. Remember Rory McIlroy at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional? He looked at the putt, walked into his setup with confidence and pulled the trigger. Odds are studying the read from five different places isn’t going to significantly improve an amateur’s chances of making the putt. Besides, speed is more important than the line, so that should be the primary focus.
Plumb-bob. Pros don’t even know what they’re doing half the time when they use this technique, so save yourself the effort and time.
Practice with a purpose. Go out there with a mindset of what you’re going to accomplish and knowing what it is you’re going to work on. If you watch the pros on the range, they take their time in between each shot and always hit toward a target, whether it’s a flag, tree or pole. (On that note, try using alignment sticks like the pros do – you can find them at your local Home Depot.) The pros also go through their pre-shot routine or a shortened version of it.
Get lessons. Most tour players have swing coaches. You don’t need to spend thousands on a clinic with David Leadbetter or another big “name.” Just taking lessons from your local pro will suffice.
“If amateurs are getting a lesson, they have some direction of what they should be working on,” says Charles Howell III, a two-time PGA Tour winner. “If you’re just beating balls, you might as well go and exercise or do something else better with your time.”
Only work on the long game and neglect chipping and putting. Amateurs probably spend 90% of their practice time hitting balls on the range and only 10% on their short game. If anything, it should be the other way around, but try to even out the ratio. More than half your shots are going to involve the short game.
“If you want to lower your score, you have to chip and putt,” says 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson. “You gotta be consistent inside of eight feet, you have to get up and down a lot. You have to have a smile like Matt Kuchar.”
PACE OF PLAY
Watch Bill Haas, Robert Garrigus, Pat Perez, Brandt Snedeker, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, just to name a few of the faster players on the PGA Tour. They set a good example for how long you should take to hit the golf ball. They’re usually hitting as soon as the other guy’s ball is in the air.
Play ready golf. Get your yardage and pick your club while you’re walking to the ball or while you’re waiting for your playing partners to hit. Four hours is more than enough time for a round of golf.
Watch a number of the ladies on the LPGA who have their caddies line them up on every shot (even though for amateurs this could help, so I encourage it every now and again to check your alignment, but definitely not on every shot or two-foot putt). Six-hour rounds aren’t fun for anyone.
Mark a putt inside three feet. The pros are playing for millions and an 18-inch putt could cost them hundreds of thousands and a major championship. Unless you’re playing for more than you have in your bank account (which you shouldn’t be doing in the first place), just putt out.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is … HAVE FUN. Yeah, yeah, I know, that sounds so cliche, but it’s easy to forget. There’s no reason to get angry and throw clubs. It shouldn’t be stressful for an amateur to play a round of golf. I understand that some of us are inherently competitive and we can’t help getting fired up a little, but let’s keep it within reason. Four-letter words sort of go hand-in-hand with golf, so I recommend using those as a release, then move on to the next shot.
Perhaps Ryan Palmer, a three-time champ on the PGA Tour, had the best advice: “Get a six-pack before you tee off.”
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