How to avoid hitting the 2 kinds of ‘unforgivable’ bad shots

GOLF editor zephyr melton talks with jason baile standing in the middle of a fairway

In today's edition of Play Smart, Jason Baile explains the two "unforgivable" ways players hit bad shots — and how to guard against them.


Welcome to Play Smart, a regular game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.

Golf is a game of misses. It’s impossible to hit every shot perfect, and bad shots will happen. Even the pros hit bad shots. They key is hitting bad shots that aren’t going to kill your score.

But controlling your misses can be difficult. You’re already hitting the ball sub-optimally, so trying to control the ball will be tough. But there are things you can do before you swing that will put you in a position for success even if you hit a poor shot.

For more on that, we enlisted the help of GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jason Baile.

The 2 kinds of ‘unforgivable’ bad shots

There are a variety of ways to hit a bad shot, but Baile has boiled them down to three different factors.

“You can make a bad swing — that’s the forgivable one. Even the best players in the world make bad swings,” Baile says. “The two ways to hit a bad shot that are unforgivable are a poor process and a poor decision.”

Golfers need to do everything they can do manage the variables they can control. And everything that happens in the pre-shot routine is easily controllable.

When you step up to your ball to make a plan for the shot, you are fully in control. You can decide where you want to aim and what club you want to select, and doing so can put you in the best spot possible for a good result. When you are in such a position and you can control so much, it’s important you don’t do anything to mess it up.

Before every shot, you should go through your pre-shot routine and try to make a smart decision. Stick to this process every time — and don’t try to hit a shot that could put yourself in trouble. As long as you do these two things on each and every shot, you’re eliminating two of the three possible ways to hit a poor shot. Then all that’s left to do is make a good swing.

“Anytime we make a bad swing, forgive yourself for that,” Baile says. “But not running through your process or making a poor decision, those are the ones that start that double-bogey train.”

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at