The 10 biggest mistakes high-handicappers make on the golf course
I love teaching newer golfers. Learning the fundamentals as early as possible is such a huge step in the right direction, and nailing the basics often is what separates high and low handicaps. Here are the most common mistakes I see on the course from golfers who tend to shoot in the 90s or higher.
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1. Inconsistent setup routine
Hand eye coordination is certainly nice, but it isn’t the only reason why better golfers are able to make good contact. Randomly just positioning your feet and adjusting based on comfort can lead to different postures for different clubs and make consistent contact almost impossible.
Better golfers have a consistent set-up routine and order than allows them to get into an athletic, balanced golf posture, which allows them to make consistent contact.
2. Poor balance
Expanding on the point above: Being balanced before, during and after your swing is a big part of making good solid contact. Even if you make a technically good swing but lose your balance along the way, it could still turn a would-be great shot into a miss. A good habit is to simply try to hold your finish until your ball stops moving.
3. Trying to scoop or lift the ball into the air
Topping the ball is the most common miss for high handicappers. This typically comes from not truly understanding what makes the ball go into the air. The most simple way to get going in the right direction and start to get some airtime underneath your ball is understanding that you need to hit down. Extend your trail arm down toward the ground and, yes, it is OK to make a mess and have grass and dirt flying into the air. It may almost feel as if you are throwing the clubhead into the turf — that’s good! If you make a mistake and hit too down and hit a fat shot, then consider it a step in the right direction. It’s all part of the process to learning how to make that ball really fly.
4. Only using your sand wedge around the green
Understanding how to limit your risk when you are in a short-game situation is an important part of lowering your handicap. Higher handicap golfers often think they should always use their sand wedge for a high flop shot around the greens. While these shots certainly can be fun and beautiful, they are risky and can make you look like anything but a hero if not hit solidly. Instead, I have my students adhere to the following order:
1. Putt whenever you can
2. Chip or bump and run when you cannot putt
3. Pitch with your sand wedge only when you have to
Learning to manage risk with better shot selection can help you to lower your scores and your handicap almost immediately.
5. Trying to hit the hero shot
When you are in the fairway and have a long way to go don’t always think you need to hit your longest club (3-wood for many). Sure, you might get a little closer if you hit it well, but you’ll also have bigger mis-hits. Instead, build confidence and momentum with a club that you can hit more consistently — a 7-iron, for instance. Once you do well with this choice and are confident you can keep the ball in play, then you can consider graduating to your longer fairway woods.
6. Not knowing the right yardages
Sometimes it can be a bit confusing knowing which club to hit. Good club selection is necessary to lowering your handicap, but it’s not always easy. Consider that a 3-iron, 4-hybrid and 9-wood all go relatively the same distance, but to choose the right one, you need to pick your desired launch height. Simply knowing how far you hit each club is an important first step to solving these kinds of problems.
If you need some help estimating your club selections, I’d recommend the distance tool in the GolfLogix app (Ed. note: GolfLogix and GOLF.com are operated by the same holding company, 8AM Golf.) But whatever system you use, make sure you’re getting the exact yardages, both for your clubs and the hole itself, so you can make an informed decision.
7. Confusing comfort with correct
Improving your game and lowering your handicap requires technical improvements to your swing. Often these changes can feel uncomfortable or even wrong. To be able to lower your handicap, you need to make these changes and make peace with the fact that tweaks just doesn’t always feel “right.” When I worked for Mike Adams at PGA National, he would often say: “Don’t confuse comfort with correct.” Something uncomfortable in the short term can be great for your game in the long run.
8. The dreaded slice
One of the most common misses that I see with high handicappers is a distance-robbing slice. The loss of distance and lack of good contact can certainly add up on the scorecard quickly. Proper grip and posture are the first parts of making this correction. Turning your slice into a straight ball flight or even a nice little draw will add to total distance on your shots and lower your handicap quickly.
9. Terrified of bunkers
Bunkers can often feel like a real challenge to higher-handicap golfers. A greenside bunker shot typically requires a big swing, and when you combine the inconsistencies of a new golfer’s full swing and the inclination to try to lift the ball, it’s a challenge. Greenside bunkers requires two things when getting started: Taking sand, and generating enough speed to propel the sand onto the green. I suggest you practice simply hitting sand out of the bunker and onto the green without the ball at first as this so you get the correct feel. Once you can do this, then add the ball.
10. Too aggressive on your first putt
One of the biggest differences between high and low handicappers golfers is the number of three-putts. This is a quick way to lower your scores. Higher handicappers often try to make the first putt, get too aggressive, then end up three-putting. Settle for a tap-in, and practice your speed-control. It’s not glamorous, but it’ll save you a few strokes a round, every time.