Beginning with golf: 10 tips

All golfers have started their golf career as a beginner. The more experienced you get, the more you understand how hard the game actually is. Only after six years of golf, did I realize how hard the game actually is and to how many things you have to pay attention. During the first two years of my golfing career I personally had no idea what I was doing and how to improve my game.

After failing quite miserably in a tennis career filled with injuries and a complete lack of talent for any agile footwork, I decided to pick up a game that fitted my movement skills much better: Golf! I started the game about six years ago with some friends and grabbed my golf permit. I played some random rounds and just had a lot of fun with a handicap of around 35. After watching the Ryder cup in 2018, I really felt like improving my game and started to practice more seriously and took some private lessons. Now, four years and a lot of practice hours later I have improved my handicap to 8,6. I also found out that I basically wasted the first two years of my ‘golfing life’ because I honestly had no idea what I was doing. Looking back there were ten things that I didn’t do very well.

1. Play without emotions and accept your bad shots

Probably the most difficult advice to apply, but many golfers react emotionally to a bad shot, which is understandable. The problem is that you bring these emotions to your next shot creating another bad shot, leading to even more emotions. Golf is a sport where the misses can be extreme, for anyone. The only difference between you and a pro is that they have fewer of these misses. Try to accept the bad shots laugh at them, and move on as soon as possible.  

Try following Tiger Woods’ 10-Step Rule: After hitting a bad shot Tiger Woods lets himself feel bad about it for the time it takes to walk 10 steps. After that, he dismisses the negativity in his mind, turns his focus to the next shot and commits himself to the present moment.  If you don’t let bad shots influence your next shot, you are one up already!

2. Let your instinct hit the shot

“Standing on the tee of hole 1, I need to make sure to flex my right arm, rotate my left hip and make sure my left wrist is flexible enough to extend over my left elbow while double-checking I don’t pivot my upper body compared to my feet”. What could possibly go wrong right? Well, probably everything because no human is capable of processing anything like this.

Think about it: If you are riding your bike, or if somebody throws a set of keys at you, are you thinking about anything? Or is that your instinct kicking in and taking over? Exactly! Well that instinct, that cool alter ego that is somewhere deep inside you, the same instinct that is taking over when you are in the zone, that instinct should hit the shot. Practice this instinct with all your pro tips on the range, but just play while you are on the course!

3. Take Lessons, Practice, and then play

The easiest part about golf, I know it’s rare, is probably the way you have to improve your game. Take several lessons per year, privately or in a small group, and work on swing- or technique improvements. Then practice these improvements on the range, preferably every week before you play a round. Remember the instinct? Well, the only way to work on that instinct is to train your instinct, and with golf, this instinct needs a lot of attention. Every pro golfer still has lessons (Ok maybe except for Bubba) and every pro practices daily, often with a very clear goal:

4. Practice with a clear goal on the driving range

Practice, practice, practice! (Photo by kaleb tapp on Unsplash)

Hitting 120 balls as quickly as possible creating a sore back was something I frequently did during my first 2 years of golf. But what exactly was I practicing? Well nothing actually.  Here are a few simple tips that can help you on the range, get feedback for improvement and work on your game:

  • Practice what you just learned in your previous lesson and focus on one specific point on the range. It’s really important to do your homework just like in school.
  • Add a sticker or gel to your club face to determine the hitting point. You can gain more speed by hitting in the center of the club face, then by swinging harder or faster. With this valuable feedback, you can correct yourself in the next swing. 
  • Record yourself with your camera. Fixing your swing isn’t exactly easy, not even when you see yourself on camera. But creating awareness of your swing and how changing something affects your swing is great feedback. 
  • Don’t hit too many balls, there is no point in hitting more than 60 balls per hour, that’s already more than you do on an actual course!
  • Have a look at other players: If you just started to play golf, you might be the worst guy on the range. Don’t worry, everybody on the range has been there and the difference between you and them is a few 100 hours of practice and some expensive lessons.

5. Swing at 80%

A swing is a smooth motion where you try to combine speed from your arms, rotation, hips, lower body, and wrists into a perfect motion. By NOT swinging at 100%, you improve the smoothness of your swing and quite likely the result. It helps you to relax your muscles instead of cramping – which usually leads to bad shots. Whether you are on the range, or on the course. A smooth and easy swing is a good swing. Don’t believe me? Just check Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, or Fred Couples on Youtube and you will see what “controlled effortless swinging” looks like.

6. Short game

A good short game will help you a lot. (Photo by BINYOUSSIF on Unsplash)

You’ve probably heard this one before. Most strokes are to be gained with your short game. The putter is your most frequently used club and by limiting your three- and four-putts and making as many two-putts as possible, you can win up to 20 (!) strokes per round. Another common expression is “Give it a chance”. With putting, distance control is more important than the direction of the putt. It’s very easy to leave a putt short. Always try to aim about 1 meter past the hole, so you have a chance of making the putt!

Let’s also combine this part with a previous practice tip. You should practice your short game every time you visit the course. It doesn’t matter if you go to the range, or play an actual round. Hit a few chips and putts no matter what.

7. Make a realistic plan for the hole and adapt while playing

Create a bogey or double bogey plan that is realistic from the start. Making 50% bogeys and 50% double bogeys gives you a handicap of 27. By going for par- or birdy putts every time, you will probably take too much risk. Hit a tee shot with your five iron, instead of driver for a change. Don’t go for your 162 meters shot with your five iron across the pond, but hit a lay up with an 8-iron, then pitch it on the green and then make a three-putt!  This might not look impressive, but this is your easiest ticket to handicap 27 without playing extremely well.

While executing your plan, It’s important to understand for every shot where your best “miss” is. If the left side is out of bounds and the right side has a lot of space and just some heather, you’ll want to miss it on the right. So that’s where you need to focus on when hitting your shot and not just the middle of the fairway, which might feel like the obvious choice. The same goes for the green and the flag. Attacking the flag is tempting but usually, it’s blocked by hazards. Playing safely to the middle or even the side of the green will really improve your game score-wise. Everybody wants to hit spectacular shots, but golf is about percentage shots, not spectacular shots.

8. Choose the most ‘comfortable’ club for every shot

Are your drives efficient enough to hit the fairway every time? Or do you hit it out of bounds 50% of the time and does the other 50% only give you an additional 40 meters? Hitting an iron or hybrid from the tee is a safer alternative. Once you’ve hit the fairway but still have quite some distance to cover, choose a club you feel comfortable with. Shorter more lofted clubs (e.g. 9-iron) are easier to hit than longer clubs (e.g. 5-iron), so remember that when selecting a club. Hitting an 8-iron a steady 100 meters four consecutive times should bring you close to the pin on any par 5!

9. Choose the right tees

Choose the right tee!

Men’s tees, women’s tees, 60-, 52- tees, or white, yellow, and red tees. These are all ways to distinguish between levels of play and the distance that players hit. I believe men’s / women’s tees are too old-fashioned nowadays, and this old naming convention makes it harder to prove my point as well. If you just started to play golf and your handicap is above 32, just pick the red tees or the ‘52’ tees to reduce the distance towards the flag. It will speed up your pace of play, make your round much more fun and gives you a similar feeling as your fellow players that also hit a good shot. Hitting a bad shot from the back tee is more embarrassing than a decent shot from the red or ‘52’ tee. By choosing the right tee, you acknowledge that you understand and respect the game of golf.

10. KISS

When you hit a bad shot towards a bad location, don’t make it worse in your next shot by hitting it through that tiny gap between the trees that you just spotted. Just take your medicine: An expression commonly used to describe a tough situation that you are now in that requires an easy solution. Accept a penalty shot when your ball is in the bushes or accept the fact that you need to chip it back into the fairway. Lala-layup: Whenever you feel like going for the hole, crossing that big bunker, that huge pond of water, or that gigantic tree with about 160 meters to the hole. Don’t! Keep ISimple Stupid: go for the layup and split your epic shot into two safe shots. Percentage over prestige!

Some closing words

I’ve deliberately left out any kind of technical tips on how to swing a golf club because I’m far from a golf professional. I’ve also not focused on any specific tips on how to improve your mindset. Many experts have written about this already and I don’t have anything to add here (just read the books!). The tips described here are things I struggled with in my first two years of golf. If I could help anyone with 2 or 3 of these tips, that would be great. 

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