Welcome to Play Smart, a new game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Director of Game Improvement content Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.
Whether your 2020 golf season was good, bad or indifferent, 2021 marks the start of a new year. A clean slate. And there’s never a better time than January 1st to make some new year’s resolutions for your golf game, so I took the liberty of suggesting a few common sense ones that will help every golfer, regardless of their skill level. Adopt all of them if you’d like, or just one. But attack the season ahead with a new sense of purpose, and you’ll be shooting lower scores by the end of it:
1. Practice more short putts
Practicing short putts may be tedious, but there’s arguably nothing better for your game — and the stats back it up. As renowned statistician Mark Broadie explains here, 80s shooters gain more than half a shot over 90s shooters simply by making more putts inside 10 feet. And the best part is improving form within 10 feet often doesn’t requite some huge technical overhaul, it just requires slightly more practice. So invest in a putting mat, set it up in your home, and get to work.
2. Stay in play off the tee
Yes, distance is important, and don’t worry, we’ll get to that. But unless you’re already a low handicap who hits a ton of fairways, I want you to focus on avoiding disaster off the tee in 2021. Forget the fairway itself, but focus on keeping it between the goalposts. Rough is fine, jail in the trees isn’t. If that means hitting more three woods, fine. If that means aiming left and playing a slice, fine (though in that case, I’d suggest seeing a good teacher). Once you’re able to hit all 18 tee shots in play, then you can start chasing distance.
3. Aim for the middle of more greens
Continuing on the theme, follow DECADE Golf Scott Fawcett’s advice: Don’t be a hero when approaching greens, because more often than not, you’ll end up being the villain to your own game. So in 2021, forget the pin and aim for the fat part of the green. If the pin is on the left, hit it to the middle. If it’s on the right, hit it in the middle. If the green is tucked up front, take an extra club and try to hit it past it. If it’s long, aim to be short of it. It may sound counterintuitive, but taking a safer approach into greens is golf’s version of addition by subtraction.
4. Work on your wedges
Pros know how far they hit each wedge — and the variations within — to an exacting degree. Your shortest clubs don’t need to withstand that level of scrutiny, but you do need to have an idea. So spend half an hour on the range one day, with a wedge and a rangefinder, and write down your results. How far does your good sand wedge go? How about your soft lob wedge? What about a standard pitch shot? Try the clock system, if that works for you, or just go by your feel. I don’t care how you do it, but I do care that you do it.
5. Fix your fundamentals
The offseason is a perfect time to run through your fundamentals. Get your grip sorted, make sure your stance is a good width, and your posture is in good shape. Use a mirror at your home to check. Take your setup, check in the mirror, then back off and start again. All you need is a few minutes a day, but your game will thank you for it.
6. Get fit
We said distance is important, so rather than swinging for the moon and hitting your golf ball off the planet, why not do the above instead, and focus on gaining distance by getting a driver that’s actually fit to your swing? Finding a good fitter at GOLF’s sister-company True Spec can work wonders, and may help you gain the easiest 10 yards of your life, without any uncomfortable changes to your swing.
7. Improve your balance
Talk to pros about what they work on and you’ll quickly hear them talk about two things: balance and stability. They’re two underrated aspects of the golf swing, so devote your 2021 to improving them from your home. It won’t just improve your contact, it’ll give you a picturesque follow through, too.