Breath-taking views as you hit towards the Hudson Bay at Sleepy Hollow.

Course Management – Play according to your ability

By Tarquin Clark

“You’re a 17, there’s a reason you have a handicap.”

That comment stung, for two reasons; the first was that I had just hit my second into the road instead of onto the green. The other is that as a golfer, you are always trying to improve your handicap. It’s like a Club House status symbol.

But, the comment was 100% true. My second that I tried to hit onto the green was from 260m out, on a par five. I didn’t need to make the green in two, I could easily have hit a 7 iron, and a pitching wedge and almost guarantee being on the green in three.

Course Management
Choosing the right club for every shot is important

And that is another strange myth of golf, Green in Regulation. As a pro golfer, or someone with a single figure handicap, making a par four green in two (GIR) is important, because it leaves you with two putts for the par, 2 points. An average of two points per hole will mean you are shooting your handicap. But as a higher handicap, like me for example, I only have to bogie most holes to shoot my handicap. So forget GIR, aim to be on the green leaving yourself 2 putts for a bogey.

What it all comes down to is course management!

Understanding course management is a vital part of your game, often neglected by higher handicap golfers. It is, however, the easiest way to bring your handicap down. Forget about your swing and making changes for a while, as long as your swing is more or less consistent, keep it the way. You can always make more changes to your swing later. The key is understanding your own game, which shots you hit well, and which you don’t. Play to your strengths, try and make sure you are hitting a shot you are good at, and that it leaves you in a position where the next shot you need to play, is also a shot you’re good at. Being between clubs on a hole, means that you didn’t think ahead. I hit a pitching wedge well, so if I am on the tee box of a 350m par four, I would ordinarily try and smash a driver onto the green. Usually this results in me being in the trees, or in the road, and then having to play recovery golf. Even if I miraculously manage to hit it onto the fairway, I have very little control over where it ends up, most often it will be ‘between clubs’. I should rather, in my case, hit a five iron, and leave myself with a pitching wedge in. That way I leave myself 3 shots for my two pointer. If I hit a good 5 and good wedge, I can have a look at a birdie or par, but I have guaranteed myself the two pointer. That’s smart golf that will bring your handicap down.

You have to understand why there are bunkers, and water hazards, and trees in awkward positions. They are there to try and stop you shooting your best score. So have a look at the hole first, see where the hazards and obstacles are, and play around them, play shots that will help you avoid the hazards. If the shot you want to play is not one you’re good at, don’t play it, play a punch shot, or layup. Don’t try it the shot you’re not good at on the golf course, hit it on the range, until you’re good at it. Where it won’t hurt your game.

Course Management
Playing smart golf can help you better understand why a course is designed in a certain way

Understanding your way around a green is also vitally important in choosing your shots. An uphill shot into the green is always easier than a downhill shot, the same applies for putting, an uphill putt is always easier. Try not to leave yourself off the short side of the green, the more green you have to try and pitch onto, the easier the shot will be, and the less likely you are to mess it up.

And if you’re standing over the ball, and it just doesn’t feel right, take a few seconds, set up again, and you will invariably hit a better shot.

The finer details make a golfer, if two golfers of equal ability play against each other, the one with better course management will almost always win.

Now, all I have to do is listen to my own advice. FORE!

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