Simplify Golf to Get better Quickly!

This Blog is all about simplifying the game down to its purest form and getting rid of all the ideas we as amateur golfers cram our heads with when we watch the pro’s on TV or read monthly magazines or see what others are doing and try to copy them.

Having too many choices when we make shots on the course caused by having too much information, too many club options, technical swing thoughts, opinions & advice from playing partners are all factors we regularly face that get in the way of us just doing the simple function of hitting a shot to a target.

We’re going to talk about our feelings of what shot to play with as little information & outside influence to cloud this sub-conscious way of playing as possible.

At this stage I want to make it clear that nothing talked about in this Blog is new or patented by Golf Geeks, this is more of a culmination of things we feel are good ideas for amateur golfers taken from a whole host of sources, books, videos, articles etc. from fellow amateurs and some pro’s aswell.

The industry as a whole has managed to overcomplicate the game of golf, especially when it comes to the swing and equipment available. In essence, the game is simple, get this small white ball in a hole which is set at various distances from the tee.

To help with this, it has created a handicap system that many people don’t understand or play the game according to the handicap that they have. If you play to your handicap, you will simplify the game no end immediately.

The number of amateurs that I have played with, I would say 90% of them, are not trying to play to their handicap they are trying to play much better, and guess what, they spend most the time annoyed and frustrated by the result.

As an example, let’s take a reasonably long Par 4 (420 yards) that’s stroke index 10 with a player whose handicap is 18. Standing on the tee they should recognise this is a par 5 for them as they get a shot on every hole.

However, most amateurs don’t do this they stand on the tee getting worried & tense about how far it is and getting stressed about having to hit the biggest drive of the day because they want to hit the green in 2 to have a chance at scratch par.

They need to hit it 250 yards to give themselves 170 to the green. The average amateur golfer only hits it 210 yards off the tee so suddenly they need to find 40 yards from somewhere and this is when the drive gets sliced into the trees or hooked into the water hazard because their rhythm and tempo goes out the window.

They could hit a 6-iron 150 yards twice and leave themselves 120 with a wedge to the green and have two putts for 2 points (net par) and move on. Or just hit their regular 200-yard tee shot, then a 6-iron and have a chip on the green no more than 70 yards. There are many ways to play the hole as an amateur with a handicap. But so many of us still play the hole with massive expectation well above our pay grade so to speak.

This also applies to second shots on a par 5. The amount of the time I’ve seen guys hit a tee shot into the rough and then get a 3-wood out the bag to hit their second shot and when I say ‘what are you doing’ they’ll say well I’m hitting a 3-wood because that’s all I’ve got that will go 200+ yards. They then go on to proceed to top it out the rough and it goes 15-20 yards if their lucky & suddenly they are under even more significant pressure to go for the green on the next shot that may still be 250+ away.

Mid-handicap golfers on a Par 5 should simplify it right down by using their longest club off the tee followed by a couple of nice iron shots down the fairway and most the time you will be on the green in 3 giving you two putts for a net birdie. A 510-yard Par 5 can be tackled with a 210-yard tee shot, followed by a 160-yard iron and another 140-yard iron to the heart of the green leaving two putts for a gross five and a net birdie. It’s so simple that I think that’s half the reason us amateurs don’t do it!

Now this was me 18 months ago, I was a 24 handicapper who thought he was good enough to be single figures. Sounds crazy doesn’t it and it is but I was training at the gym, I was hitting 100 balls at the range 2-3 times a week and having lessons with 2 coaches, one specific to short game and playing twice a week as well as watching golf and reading magazines and books for as many tips and swing improvements as I could find. When I stood on the tee as a high handicap golfer my expectation was that of a single figure golfer who therefore thought he could play to single figures and guess what, my handicap went up! Shocking isn’t it!?

I was frustrated, angry at my lack of progress and why I couldn’t execute what my brain told me I should be doing and should be able to do. Hand on heart, I nearly gave the game up numerous times. Ask the people I played with. I must have been unbearable, I was angry, moody, and just a nightmare to be around.

I’m sure we can all relate to differing levels of extremity when it comes to this disappearing down the ‘rabbit hole’ situation where we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel & no matter how hard we try we seem to dig the hole deeper for ourselves.

Luckily, I found help from the content that was aimed at the psychology of golf and understanding that if I just relaxed and let my body do 90% of the work it already knew how to do my game would improve significantly in a short period.

Because I had hit so many balls and my fundamental swing was not that bad & I could hit the ball straight most the time during my practice sessions it was about understanding why I couldn’t replicate this on the course.

If I closed my eyes and hit a ball my swing looked ok, as good as any mid-handicapper could ask for anyway. Yet out on the course, I played like I had no swing at all, tense, rigid, overthought mechanical movements because my conscious brain was trying to micro-manage every action I was making to force a good shot.

All this resulted in was weak swings & everything negative that comes with that.

So how do you go about simplifying golf to get better quickly?

Firstly, get out of your own way, simplify your bag right down to the bare minimum number of clubs. As amateur golfers, we need to be realistic about our skillset at this present time.

Now if you’re telling me, as a mid/high handicap golfer, you can tell the difference between 28 degrees of loft and 32 degrees of loft say between your 6 & 7 iron then you are good enough to be a single figure golfer, so why aren’t you?

It’s not a punishment or embarrassment to reduce the number of clubs in your bag, its common sense. The first thing I did was cut my fourteen clubs down to eight. I can tell you straight away it feels bizarre to take six clubs out your bag and put them in the garage but what it allowed me to do was reduce my options and so make my decision making on the course simpler.

I knew the yardage, but I might not have had a club that went that exact yardage (on paper), whereas before I did have a club that went that yardage. From gap testing I had done at the range I knew how far each club was supposed to go, but I can tell you that gap testing in a controlled environment has to be taken with a pinch of salt. This is because on the course, with all the other mitigating factors, I didn’t hit it as far as I did on the range and so ended up short most of the time.

Now if I had 150 yards, I would have used a 7-iron with my full bag. However, now my bag only had a 4,6 & 8 iron before going into wedges I knew I had to hit a 6-iron 150 yards. Now here is where it started to get interesting because my 6-iron should go as far as 165 yards, but when I knew I had to hit 150 yards I just made a nice smooth swing (say about 80%) and struck it lovely and hit the green easily. In the same way, if I needed to hit it 175 yards, I used 6-iron again, because I had no 5-iron, and just made sure I made a full swing maintaining my proper rhythm and tempo.

So, what is happening here? Well by simplifying the club selection I have realised I am capable of hitting quite a few different yardages with the same club by using my sub-conscious ‘feel’ of how hard to swing instead of the analytical conscious way of playing where I have lots of clubs with one set yardage on it, and I am then pressurised into hitting that exact yardage every time and anything less is a failure. You are good enough to do this as well, try it, it’s liberating!

The second thing I have done to simplify my bag is to stop calling my clubs by their number & refer to them by loft instead. Below is what I carried with only eight clubs in the bag.

1) Driver (10.5 Degrees) or 3-Wood (15 degrees) depending on the course
2) 19 Degree Hybrid (3-Hybrid)
3) 26 Degree (6-iron)
4) 34.5 Degree (8-iron)
5) 43 Degree (PW)
6) 52 Degree (Loft Wedge)
7) 56 Degree (Used for Green Side bunkers and very short chips only)
8) Putter

So, as you can see instead of only having 4 degrees between clubs and a full bag I am up to 7-9 degrees between clubs. By using the degree numbers, it has helped me lose the stigma surrounding how far we should all be hitting individual clubs. We all know, deep down, that we are using stronger lofted irons than we were in the past so total distances will increase.

Essentially the number on the bottom of the club has become pointless and irrelevant as you’re playing partners (unless they have the same irons) will all be sporting different lofted irons. Hardly any amateur golfer will know the lofts of their irons, do you? It’s not aimed at making you feel bad if you don’t perhaps it’s worth researching the lofts of your irons, so you get a true reflection of the differences between your clubs.

I think most of you will be surprised how similar the loft is between clubs (3-4 degrees) and this comes back to my earlier point that we are not skilled enough to tell the difference between the two because our swings and strike is too inconsistent meaning we then get annoyed that we don’t hit accurate yardages consistently.

Even tour players say that most the time they use more club than they need rather than try to knock the socks off a club to get every last piece of performance from it. I have heard them say in interviews they only hit 2 in 10 shots sweetly and the rest are average for their skill set (which is still a great shot). We can learn from this because if we know, we can hit a 7-iron 160 yards if we make a brilliant swing why put that pressure on yourself on the course to create that perfect swing. Just hit a nice 80% 6-iron and play ‘stress free’ golf.

So how can you relate this to your game right now? Instead of having such narrow yardage gaps between clubs, remove clubs from the bag and have a range of yardages a club can go depending on how you swing and when you need a specific yardage from that club use the sub-conscious part of your brain to make the correct swing weight to make that yardage and see what happens. Think to yourself what you need to do in its purest form and execute it. The longer you take over a shot and the more decisions you have to make before you hit a ball only lets the conscious part of the brain take over, suppressing the sub-conscious ‘natural’ player and restricting a free-flowing golf shot.

Some professional footballers are a prime example of conscious over the subconscious. These players are paid vast amounts of money and are world-class at what they do, but some of them can’t take a penalty or a free-kick to save their lives. Why? Because that requires hitting a stationary ball, you have time to think about it, the same as golf, and as soon as these world-class players who a moment before took a ball out of mid-air, controlled it, beat a man and rushed down the wing to bend a cross straight onto the strikers head to score has time to place the ball & think about how and where he is going to kick it he is lost. Because golf requires us to hit a stationary ball with all the time we want to hit it the conscious part of our brain starts shouting so loud in our heads to take over control we can’t resist it.

I’ve heard some of the best players in the world when they come into the TV studio to talk about their game, and the presenter says to them ‘tell our viewers how you hit a draw’ and the player looks blank and says ‘I don’t really know I just hit a draw when its needed’. I’ve heard other golfers go out of there way to not delve into any technicality about the way they hit the ball because when they do their whole game goes out the window. As amateurs, let us learn from this and simplify golf to get better as quickly as possible.

Thanks for reading, I hope this Blog has been helpful.

There are lots of other blogs and other content on the Golf Geeks Website aimed at helping fellow amateur golfers.

Matt @ Golf Geeks