By Dr. Tom Dorsel, Ph.D.
Many unplanned, unexpected things can happen in a round of golf, but I can think of only two certainties that will happen in every round:
- You will tee up the ball on 18 different holes and have the opportunity to drive it to a favorable spot in the fairway or in the vicinity of a Par-3 green.
- You will face many putts inside 10 feet. They might be for birdie, par, bogey or higher, and they might be first, second, third or fourth putts. But you will have them, varying in length from 1 inch to 10 feet.
If you want to improve your scores, working on placement of tee shots and putts inside 10 feet would be a great place to start.
Getting Tee Shots in the Right Place.
- The driver is not an infinite weapon. It goes a limited distance, just like every other club in the bag. If you think you can hit the ball over the horizon with the driver, you will more than likely end up swinging wildly and hitting it into the woods.
Pick a spot out in the fairway where you think the driver should carry to, and then make the same smooth swing you do with other clubs, maybe even backing off to 80%, since you have such a “powerful weapon” in your hands!
- Choose the safest route. Unless you are a pro, don’t take crazy chances. Look at the fairway and figure out where you feel most comfortable hitting your tee shot to, and then take the club that you feel most comfortable using to get your ball there. Hit driver only if it gives you a distinct advantage you can’t get with a safer club.
On Par-3 holes, aim for the safest part of the green, whether the pin is there or not. Also take into account the front, back or side of the green that leaves you the easiest chip shot, if you do miss the green.
As for shooting at pins, I remember one time when I played a course in the evening and all the pins had been removed from the holes. So, I just aimed at the safest, most general part of the green, thinking, “Just see how many greens you can hit?” If my memory serves me right, I was closer to more holes than my usual count when I played with the pins in.
- Tiger said, “Hit it to the picture.” Don’t fight the dominant image ahead of you. That is, if the fairway slopes from left to right, then play your shot to the high side and let the fairway bring it down to a lower point.
Similarly, if that same image before you makes you feel like you are going to hit a left-to-right shot, well, commit yourself to a controlled fade (for right handers), rather than letting the image take over and cause you to hit an out-of-control slice, or fighting the image and trying to draw the ball into the slope. Make the image your friend and go with it in a controlled manner.
Conquering Putts Inside 10-feet
- Pressure-packed practice. Make 18 short putts in a row, or start over. I’m talking 2-4 foot putts. You will feel the sweaty palms when you get to the 17th and 18th putts in the sequence, because you don’t want to start over — again. If that sounds like a heavy assignment, consider that Phil Mickelson’s number was 100 in a row.
- For longer putts. Similar to above, set some realistic criterion that you have to meet before you allow yourself to quit your practice session and go home. For example, you have to make three 6-10 foot putts in a row. That third one should feel like the real deal, just like the 72nd hole to win the US Open.
Sport Psychologist, Dr. Tom Dorsel, is author of “GOLF: The Mental Game,” has contributed over 100 columns to national golf magazines, and was featured in ten different ESPN golf programs. Visit Dr. Tom on Facebook at “Sport Psychology of Hilton Head,” or on the Web at Dorsel.com.