How to Think Your Way Around the Golf Course

Thinking Your Way Around the Golf Course

Don’t just visualize your shot, visualize the hole…from tee to green.

Some courses have a sketch of the hole on the scorecard, or if you’re lucky, a detailed reproduction on the hole marker. Ask questions of your playing partners. They may have played the course before and be willing to share information.

Too many people make the mistake of limiting their preparation to simply the data on the scorecard, when there are so many things that should factor in to your approach on how to play the hole. The information you need is listed below (but not limited to).

  • yardage tee to green
  • carry distance to fairway
  • determine distance to the front of bunkers as well as carry distance
  • determine distance to the front of water hazards as well as carry distance
  • is there out of bounds on either side of the fairway, or behind the green
  • are there greenside hazards
  • location of the flag

Resource: Golf Practice System (Practice Plans + Videos + Worksheets)

The first thing you should do when you get to the next hole is assess where the trouble spots are. Keep in mind that your perceived trouble spots may not be the same for you as they would for another player.

For instance, if there is a water hazard starting at the 150 yard marker on a hole that measure 425 yards in length, and you can’t drive the ball any further than 250 yards, then this hazard is not reachable from the tee for you.

Let the big hitters worry about that. You can worry about it on your next shot.

Using this particular example, with a water hazard to carry on your approach shot, it is important that you position yourself accordingly so as not to put undue pressure on your approach shot.

Stay away from any bunkers. Try to keep your ball in the fairway if possible. Sacrifice distance if need be to give yourself a more manageable shot to the green. This goes for any golfer.

The only difference being that a more accomplished player will obviously have more confidence in hitting shots of higher difficulty. He/she still wants to try to get it close to the pin for a realistic birdie opportunity, and that will happen more often from a better lie.

Don’t overload your brain. It is time to pick your club, and visualize your shot without even thinking about the swing.

Okay, now that you have your tee shot in play, let’s look at what is next, keeping your visualization process in place.

If you do have an obstacle between you and the green, you must implement the principle of “Risk-Reward”. Simply put, Risk-Reward means exactly what it implies. The higher the risk involved in your shot, the more reward to the player if the shot is successful.

Conversely, if the shot is not successful, the penalty is usually greater. In this case, let’s assume that there are no obstacles to shoot over. The only issue is a bunker on the left side of the green. It is a large green with many undulations. The pin is near the back of the green and the green slopes from front to back.

The ideal placement of your approach shot would be in the middle of the pin, just below the hole. There are two places that you do not want your approach shot to end up.

Left of the green, or over the back of the green. If you miss left of the green, your chances of getting up and down for par are not good.

If you go over the back of the green, it will be difficult to get the ball close to the flag due to the fact that the slope will carry the ball past the flag.

Resource: Golf Practice System (Practice Plans + Videos + Worksheets)

Now, it will be nearly impossible to determine the slope of the green when looking at it from the fairway. Hopefully, you were able to ask this question of a playing partner who has played the course.

If not, keep in mind that most course designers have their greens sloping this way to some degree to help with drainage issues. Some are more severe than others. Rule of thumb is, “be careful with distance control”.

Another thing to consider in a case such as this where the access to the green is unimpeded, is that you might want to consider a “bump and run” type of shot.

This shot is played lower in trajectory and usually lands short of the green and runs on toward the pin. Because it is played lower, it has less chance of either hooking or slicing.

In addition, it will be less affected by any wind that is blowing. This shot is very popular in the U.K. on their “Links” style courses.

When you have chosen what type of shot to play, and what club to use, visualize the shot, not the swing.

At this point, you are half way there. You have thought your way through a difficult tee shot, put yourself in a position to either two putt for par, or at worst, try to get up and down for one.

Now it is time to take control of the scoring zone. I have a saying that I learned many years ago. “It only takes one good shot on a hole to make par.” Often, I have been able to muddle my way through either a less than stellar tee shot, or a muffled iron and still get a par. More often than not, it is here on the short grass that your brain becomes your greatest ally.

In addition, I find it is easier to visualize a shot around the green than either a tee shot or an approach. What you are in fact visualizing is the exact path that you think is best to get the ball in the hole, not near the hole. That’s not to say that you expect to hole every chip or pitch shot, or make every putt, but being as that is your goal, why not visualize it as such.

The trick here is to put yourself in a position to succeed. If you are chipping or pitching onto the green, try to get your shot to a manageable spot, maybe 2-3 feet away and below the hole. Same goes for a long putt. Nobody likes standing over a 8-10 ft. putt for par just because you misjudged your first attempt. Distance control should be the first thing you think about when you are putting from outside of 20 feet.

So, pick your spot, visualize your shot and Just Do It.

Now that you have hopefully made your par, it’s time to move to the next tee.

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  • Getting Off to a Good Start with Par on the First Hole
  • Your Mental Thoughts During the Pre-Shot Routine
  • Your Mental Thoughts in between Golf Shots
  • How to Recover from a Bad Shot
  • How to Recover from a Bad Hole
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  • Mistakes Amateurs Make
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