Jack Nicklaus — who with 18 major championship wins and 19 second-place finishes is widely regarded as the most accomplished golfer of all time — calls golf a two-part game. Part one is ball striking; part two involves properly managing or navigating the course you’re playing. While we all strive and practice to be better at the former, we often fail to develop our skills with the latter. Here are a few thoughts that will help you become better with your course-management skills.
✔ When you are on the course, it helps to plan your strategy from the green backwards. For example, at the Breckenridge Golf Club — a Nicklaus-designed course — you can generally see the green from the tee box, allowing you to determine what will be the most advantageous position from which to hit your approach shot. In the process of considering that location a golfer can reduce playing over course hazards like bunkers and water features.
✔ Know your consistent distances on any shot, with any club, and don’t try to hit tour-level shots. Most amateurs almost always overestimate their distances and under-club.
✔ When teeing off maximize your percentage of hitting the fairway. If you fade the ball, tee up on the right side of the tee box and aim for a target in the left-center of the fairway. If you hit it straight you’ll be in the left side of the fairway, and if you hit your normal fade you’ll be in the middle or right side.
✔ When chipping use less loft. Far too many players are infatuated with lob shots and leave the ball short of the hole. Get the ball on the green and rolling as quickly as possible using irons such as your 7, 8 or 9 instead of wedges. (If you’re riding in a cart take two or three chipping clubs with you as you walk to your ball, providing you with options.)
✔ When putting remember you are dealing with two variables — distance and direction. Distance is far more important. Get the ball close to the hole so your next putt is a “tap-in.”
✔ Learn to let go of your bad shots. Once a ball has left the club face all you can really do is start planning your next shot. Focus on what you have to do next, not what just happened. Tour players are masters at this skill. Fixes are made on the range or practice green, not the course.
The simplest course-management skill is to have a game plan that maximizes your strengths and minimizes your weaknesses. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has to know his limitations.”
Mike Wilson is an assistant PGA professional at the Breckenridge Golf Club