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Today’s post is from u/viola0shredder who answers the question: “What did you change / do to become a single digit handicap golfer?”
Hey! Former D1 collegiate golfer/ +3 handicap / Now PGA Professional here. A true 9 handicap is still going to average 80-85 on most courses, so being single digit does not mean you’re going to be breaking 70 left and right.
First difference: low handicap players are more often playing appropriate tees for their game than mid handicap golfers.
Let’s look at PGA tour distances for example in comparison to a 12 handicap. The average tour player hits the ball 290 yards under tour conditions. If they showed up to your course, chances are they would hit the ball 280 since the fairways are not conditioned for roll. The 12 handicap hits the drive about 230-240. A 400 yard hole for our 12 handicap leaves them 160-70 into the green after a solid tee ball. 160-170 is likely a 5 iron for this type of player. This type of player is also rarely proficient in making accurate contact with a 5 iron and will miss more greens than they hit. A pga tour player will hit one of their wedges into a 400 yard hole. L,S, maybe G. So let’s stretch it out and make them hit 5 iron into the hole and now the hole is 470-490.
Now let’s find the middle with driver 8 iron. Puts the hole around 430-440. Not only do these guys hit it a long way, but their courses are set up for them to have way more 8 irons into holes than 5 irons.
The 12 handicap needs a 360 yard hole to have driver 8 iron into. To have the wedge, 330. This puts a 12 handicap playing roughly 5800 yards to have pga tour equivalent clubs into greens. 5800 yards. How many people do you know that have never broken 80 but insist on playing 6400 yards because it’s the “men’s tee”. You should have 2-4 holes in your round that require you to hit a longer shot in, and 2-4+par fives that require you to hit wedges/ short shots into the green. Now you’re in an environment where you’re testing your skills properly.
If you want to be single digit, you need to get the ball in play, end of discussion. If you cannot get the ball in play 12 times of 14 and are giving away penalty strokes, work on your tee shot. I didn’t say hit the fairway, just be able to make an honest and reasonable attempt to put the ball on the green 12 times per round.
Now let’s look at a ball in play.
The most important part of a good golfer is a consistent set up. Being able to get themselves in a position that allows repetition in the golf swing is important. I see lots of golfers set up really closed one tee shot and then open or square on the next and wonder what is wrong with their swing when the results are inconsistent. Most of my colleagues that were having rough patches in college play were mostly out of alignment, not “swinging” poorly. Now that we have a consistent setup that produces acceptable results most of the time, let’s look back at our “average hole”
Let’s assume this is an average hole, so you’ve hit a good drive in terms of distance and now have 8 iron into the green. What are some situations in which you personally experience an 8 iron – as a difficult club to make solid contact with/ advance properly. Is it a certain lie? (Ball below, ball above, down/uphill stance, fairway bunker, rough)pick the one that gives you the most grief and practice it. There are certain ways in which you can adjust that consistent setup to compensate for the situation, rather than having your swing adjust for each of them. For example, an uphill lie requires a ball placement that is further back than usual and a few degrees of open clubface. Go grab a playing lesson to work with these type of situations.
Next is short game. Having the proper shortgame mechanics is extremely important. A low handicap golfer may not be packing a full arsenal of shots with varying trajectories and spins like a tour player, but they will know how to hit a low shot, a medium shot and a high shot so that they can take their ball and put it on the green. Not necessarily near the hole, but on the green. They select the shot that gets them on the green as often as possible in that situation. This allows them to lessen the occurance of double bogeys or worse on an otherwise decent golf hole. Ball in play, ball in play near the green, ball on putting surface with a chance to make par. If you’ve ever found yourself 8 yards off the green directly over a back flag facing a flat or even downhill green, you have to be able to eliminate a shot that leaves you in the rough. Knowing how to simply fly the ball onto the green, even if it goes by 20 feet is way better than risking a high shot to make par that could leave you off the green still, or unacceptably long to where you may need to chip/pitch again in the event of a thin shot.
The same goes for bunker play. Get the ball onto the putting surface from a green side bunker. It is ok to hit anything from lob wedge to pitching wedge from green side bunkers. Trying to hit every shot with 56 is harder than changing club. Back right hole and you’re in the front left bunker? Take your standard bunker swing with a 50 or pitching wedge to get the ball to the other side. You can use the same swing with a 56 to get the ball to the middle of that green and a 60 to keep it in the front left vicinity without having to swing soft/ aggressive, take more or less sand or adjust spin.
Now on to putting. There’s a good chance that your putter is too long. Get in a comfortable stance and let your right hand dangle freely. That’s how long your putter should be. If you feel like you have your hands closer to you than a free dangle, you’re introducing more places in which the putting stroke can have unnecessary moving parts. These moving parts will affect both your speed and aim To practice speed control, we need to ensure you are making a positive and accelerating stroke. Brandt snedeker and Adam Scott have two totally different strokes with different lengths and cadence. Both of them accelerate to the ball. The majority of mid handicap golfers are too generous in their backswing which allows for time and reason to decelerate. A great drill to monitor this is to take a 10 foot putt and place a tee in your backswing path right off of your back foot. There’s a good chance you may run into it and find it uncomfortable. If so, move the tee a ball or two closer and practice that flat 10 foot putt until you feel comfortable with a shorter backstroke and more accelerating through stroke. If your putting stroke is accelerating but you are still not rolling the ball acceptably on the line you intend, film yourself or consult a PGA professional. Most likely, you will feel much better about both your distance control and like after adjusting the tempo/ length of your putting stroke.
Other minor areas to consider. Course management. Allowing yourself to have 6/7 iron into a hole that should only require you to have 8 when it means eliminating a scenario that will cost you a penalty stroke or leave you somewhere where reaching the green becomes more difficult than a few more clubs in.
Reading the green. It’s time to get the “breaks toward the water” and other anecdotal nonsense out of your head. PGA tour players use Strackaline books that display slope of the green down to increments of a few feet. Your putt will usually have more than one section with more than one thing going on. Start simple with a 20 foot putt where the goal is to lag it near the hole. Place a tee half way to the hole. Notice how the putt may be straight going from the tee to the hole but break on it’s way from your ball to the tee. A mid handicap golfer may look at the hole and assume since the hole is flat the putt is flat. The putt is made up of many smaller sections of unique movements. And the more you practice looking at the finder details, the more accurately you’re going to read greens.
If you need clarification on anything let me know. Good luck in your journey!