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October 29 2013

10:38 AM

Four steps to avoiding big numbers

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Steve Stricker led the TOUR in par 4 scoring in 2013.

By Ted Brasile, Head Instructor, TOURAcademy Tiburón

It's Halloween, so what better time to talk about those ghastly double and triple bogeys that keep haunting your golf game? According to statistics from TOURCaddie (www.PGATOURcaddie.com), there are plenty of gremlins and goblins to be had out there. Consider: the average 20-plus handicapper makes a double bogey or worse almost 25 percent of the time, compared to 1.2 percent for a birdie; the 10- to 19-handicapper also makes his or her fair share, at 19 percent. That means for every 100 holes they play, they're posting a double bogey or worse 19 times. Scary.

If you can eliminate these doubles and triples from your scorecard -- and turn them into bogeys -- just think how many strokes you could save per round. That's golf -- it's as much about managing your misses as it is hitting good golf shots. As Annika Sorenstam said in her book, “Play Golf Annika's Way,” the best players in the world don't always hit it the best, but they manage their misses well. Most amateurs don't think about where they're going to miss, and their feet are always on the throttle. They not only overestimate how well and how far they hit the ball, but they also take unnecessary chances, like hitting driver on every tee and going for every green, instead of laying up 15 to 20 yards short of the green and getting the ball up and down from there.

There are a number of factors that contribute to all of these blood-curdling doubles and triples -- a poor tee shot, misplaced approach shot, an inadequate short game -- but frequently, it comes down to simply bad course management. Here are some tips and strategies to help you limit the damage and keep your card clean and respectable.

Step No. 1: Keep the Ball in Play

You don't always have to hit driver off of the tee. Sure, it's the longest club in your bag, but it's also the least-lofted club (with the exception of the putter) and, as such, the most difficult to control. It's the one most likely to get you into trouble. If you hit your tee shot into the trees or a water hazard, you're going to be scrambling just to make bogey or double bogey. Choose a club that you know is going to keep you in play, whether that's your 3-wood, hybrid, or a long iron. This is especially true on shorter par 4s or those three-shot par 5s. Don't take an unnecessary risk with driver if a hybrid will leave you with a short- or mid-iron into the green or an easy second shot you can advance far down the fairway.

If you're going to hit driver, make sure to tee the ball up on the side of trouble and hit away from it. For example: If there's water down the entire right side of the fairway, and you like to play a slight fade, then tee the ball up on the right side of the teeing area (very close to the markers) and aim down the left side of the fairway, allowing for your fade to bring the ball back to the center of the fairway. You wouldn't want to stick your tee in the middle of the teeing ground and aim down the center of the fairway, because then that fade may end up in the hazard.

Step No. 2: Manage Your Misses Better

Let's say you have 200-220 yards to the green, with a very steep greenside bunker and water to the right of the green ... with a flag cut on the right-hand portion of the green. Are you going to take your 3-wood out, aim at the hole location and hope for the best? Surprisingly, that's what most golfers do, and then they're puzzled when their approach shot winds up in the water and they end up taking a double or triple bogey. If only the most perfect shot is going to get you close, then consider a safer option. On most holes, the architect is going to allow you to play away from the trouble.

Perhaps, in this instance, the green will be open on the left side. If that's the case, then take a lesser club (i.e., a hybrid), aim at the left side of the green, and try and chase the ball up onto the fringe or putting surface. Mishit the ball just slightly, and at worst you'll come up 20 to 30 yards short of the green, leaving yourself with a very manageable chip or pitch and a chance at making par. Don't overestimate your abilities -- if you have a one in 10 chance of pulling off the shot, look at where the trouble is, and see if there's a place you can bail out to that will leave you with a reasonable chance at getting up and down.

Step No. 3: Eliminate 3-Putts

I remember hearing this stat on Tiger Woods around the time he was working with Hank Haney, and it said that every tournament Tiger didn't three-putt in, he had an 85 percent chance of winning. And when he did three-putt, that percentage dropped significantly. I can tell you with certainty that if you're posting a lot of double and triple bogeys, you're also three-putting your fair share of holes. To get better from long range, you need to practice differently.

Instead of dropping three balls down and putting them toward a hole, step off distances of 30, 45, and 60 feet, stick a tee in the ground, and roll several putts to each spot. Keep doing this every time you practice, and you'll learn to calibrate a certain length stroke for each distance. You'll get a better feel for the length of stroke needed to hit the ball 30 feet. On the course, continue stepping off your longer putts, then use your library of knowledge gained on the practice green to dial in the right stroke.

Step No. 4: Practice Your Short Game More

How many times have you hit two good shots in a row, only to walk off the green with a 6 or a 7 because you made a mess of the last 60 yards? It happens all of the time to amateurs, because they don't practice their short game at all. They're too busy slamming drivers on the range instead of working on their chipping, pitching, or bunker play. Take a cue from the average TOUR pro when it comes to practicing the short game, and devote 70 to 80 percent of your practice time to these finesse and partial shots.

When you do practice, don't just drop a bucket of balls and chip everything to the same spot over and over again. Grab your putter and two chipping clubs (one high-lofted, the other low-lofted, such as 9-iron or PW) and play three different shots around the green -- one requiring a low, running trajectory, the other two a higher trajectory.

Putt each shot out, and keep score. If you get the ball up-and-down, it's scored as a par; three strokes makes it a bogey; and so on. Continue changing shots and targets, seeing how many times you can get up-and-down. By keeping score and simulating real course conditions, you have a much better chance of executing the shots under the gun, and avoiding those mishits that can lead to so much trouble.


Ted Brasile is Head Instructor at TOURAcademy Tiburón in Naples, Fla.  For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole you play, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.


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