path of least resistance

On some golf holes, trouble is simply unavoidable.

There are bunkers on both sides of the fairway, the green is ringed with sand, or a huge water hazard lies between you and the target – with no place to bail out.

The vast majority of the time, however, course designers leave an escape route. Unless you're a very skilled player – or until you become one -- this hazard-free path is nearly always your best bet.

Think about how often you face a straightforward wedge shot to the green, with a sand trap between you and the flagstick. How often do you come up short – either by mishitting or misclubbing – and dump the ball into the bunker? Entirely too often, right?

Most times, there's simply no need to take on the trouble. If the pin is behind a hazard, look left or right and you'll likely find nothing but grass from you to the green. Play this angle and a good shot will put you on the putting surface, while a poor one will leave you a chip or pitch – much easier than a sand shot for most golfers.

In golf, it's important to know your limitations. Unless you hit a very high percentage of shots the right distance and direction, you'll fare much better by steering clear of hazards. Follow the path of least resistance until you're ready to challenge those trouble spots.

Golfers will try just about anything to shoot lower scores.

Path of Least Resistance Leads to Lower Golf Scores

For many, improving their handicap becomes an obsession – they spend hour after hour thinking about ways to cut even a stroke or two from their average round. Unfortunately, all of this effort often goes wasted. Despite trying so hard, many golfers never manage to make any improvements at all. In fact, plenty of players wind up going the other direction, making themselves worse by attempting one change after the next. Failed attempts to get better can lead to significant frustration, and the golfer may end up losing their love for the game as a result.

We'd hate to see that happen. In this article, we want to offer some advice which will hopefully point you in the right direction with regard to making improvements in your game. Rather than trying anything you can think of to get better, we would encourage you to carefully plan any changes you are going to make before you put them into action. You don't get better at a game as hard as golf by accident, after all. Without a plan to guide your actions, you will just be rolling the dice and hoping for the best. By the end of this article, we hope that you will have a few different ideas with regard to how you can improve your game moving forward. Using those ideas one at a time, you may be able to make meaningful progress in the months and years to come.

It does need to be said that you shouldn't expect immediate results when working on your golf game. This is an incredibly difficult game, and progress is often slow to come. Even if you are on the right track, you may not see lower scores as soon as you would like. If you are ever going to reach your goals, you have to be willing to stick it out through the rough patches. Trust in the process you have decided to use, keep the faith even when you are playing poorly, and look for any small signs of progress along the way.

All of the content below is written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Simple Swing Fundamentals

Simple Swing Fundamentals

The golf swing can get complicated in a hurry. While you already know that you need a reliable swing if you are going to play at a high level, you may not know how to go about building such a swing. Do you need to read book after book on advanced swing techniques? Do you need to watch a ton of videos of the best players in the world swinging the club, looking for ideas? No, not really. The best way to improve your golf swing, especially as an amateur player, is to keep it simple.

If you allow your attempts at improvement to get too complicated, you are never going to be able to work on them enough to actually make progress. It takes an incredible amount of practice to make a complex change to your swing technique, and the average player simply doesn't have time for that kind of work. Unless you can practice your game day after day for hours at a time, you will be better off if you keep things simple.

In this section, we are going to highlight a few important golf swing fundamentals for you to watch during your practice sessions. Yes, these keys are basic – and that is the point. Don't let yourself get caught up working on complicated swing theories that are never going to pay off for you in the real world. Instead, take the path of least resistance to a better swing, which is paved with basic fundamentals that have stood the test of time.

  • Stay balanced. If you are only going to work on one thing during a trip to the driving range, work on your balance. Nothing you can do in your swing is going to be more beneficial than simply staying balanced from start to finish. Good balance helps you achieve a clean strike, and it helps to get the maximum amount of power from your swing. Think about it – when you watch professional golf on TV, what do all of the swings have in common? There are plenty of different techniques, but all of the players have beautiful balance. Learn how to control your body weight throughout the swing and you are sure to make progress toward a better game.
  • Keep your head still. You have probably heard that you are supposed to keep your eyes on the ball while hitting a golf shot. That is true, and it is a good tip, but it doesn't go far enough. In addition to keeping your eyes on the ball, you should be keeping your entire head relatively still throughout the swing. There will be a little movement in your head position, of course, but it should be subtle. By keeping your head still, you will improve your chances of hitting the shot cleanly. In fact, if you can blend a stable head position with excellent balance, you'll have a great chance to strike the ball solidly time after time. Keeping your head still means both restricting side to side movement as not moving up and down. Set your head in a comfortable position over the ball at address and do your best to leave it there while the swing develops.
  • Swing to a full finish. The golf ball is not the end point for your swing. Even though the goal is to hit the ball towards your selected target, you need to think about swinging through to a full finish if you are going to strike solid shots. On each swing – unless you are in some kind of awkward position – you should finish with your body turned toward the target, your eyes tracking the ball as it flies through the air. Again, this is something you can easily see when you watch golf on TV. Nearly every professional player does a great job of holding his or her pose after the swing, and you should follow their lead. Get all the way to a full finish and you will know that you've moved your body through the hitting area nicely.

If you want to take the path of least resistance to a better game, focusing on the fundamentals of the swing is a great idea. Don't allow your mind to get cluttered up with complicated techniques and theories – those kinds of thoughts will only hold you back. Instead, keep a clear head and make sure you are executing the basics of the game to the best of your ability.

A New Look at Course Management

A New Look at Course Management

A fundamentally sound golf swing is a great place to start when working toward lower scores. That swing alone is not going to be enough to allow you to reach your goals, however. Golf is a game of countless decisions, and the quality of those decisions will go a long way toward determining your score at the end of the day.

Course management is a topic that goes largely overlooked by the average player. If you ask the typical amateur what he or she needs to do better in order to achieve a lower handicap, course management may not be anywhere on the list. They will talk instead about things like making more putts, hitting longer drives, striking better irons, etc. We aren't saying those things don't matter, because obviously they do. Rather, we are saying that they won't get you to your goals without a great course management strategy to match.

In the title of this article, we referenced the 'path of least resistance'. This is a valuable way to think when making course management decisions. Too many players make the game harder than it needs to be by making bad choices. Don't put yourself in that category. Learn how to pick the right path from tee to green and suddenly the game will be a little easier than it was before.

The list below highlights some of the key course management concepts you can use to reach your goals in this difficult game.

  • Prioritize the fairway. One of the main ways you can simplify this game is to keep your ball on the short grass as often as possible. It might go without saying, but golf gets quite tricky when you stray into the rough and beyond. While you already know that you should aim for the fairway, you might not make decisions that are in line with this priority. Specifically, you may hit your driver far more often than you should. Instead of swinging away at the driver hole after hole, try clubbing down and using your three wood or hybrid clubs more frequently. Opting for these clubs will make it more likely that you will hit the fairway, even if you do have to deal with a slightly longer approach shot. There will still be opportunities to use your driver but being more selective is going to help keep your ball in play and your round on track.
  • Understand the value of the low side. Another big step you can take toward making this game easier is favoring the low side of the course whenever possible. Generally speaking, it is easier to play uphill than downhill, especially when we are talking about the short game. So, for example, if you are hitting an approach shot from 150-yards to a sloped green, you should favor the low side with your aim and ball flight. If you do manage to hit that low side, you'll be left with an uphill putt or chip. That means you can be more aggressive, and you should get down in two (or one) more often. Playing to the low side is always a good idea, but it takes on added importance when the course is firm and fast.
  • Be patient. If there is just one word which could be used to describe the ideal style of course management in golf, it is 'patient'. The golfer who maintains his or her patience most successfully is often the one on top at the end of the day. What does it mean to be patient with regard to course management? Basically, we are talking about playing it smart, and only taking an aggressive line to the target when the odds are in your favor. For instance, a patient golfer lays up with the second shot on a par five, unless it is certain that the shot can reach the green safely. Being patient doesn't always mean that you have to play conservatively, but you will definitely lean that direction. As a general rule, golf is not a game which rewards reckless decision making.

Just like with our discussion on swing fundamentals, course management is handled best when it is kept simple. The more complicated you get with your course management plan, the less likely you are to be successful in the long run. The three points above are very simple for any golfer to follow, and yet they tell you just about everything you need to know about course management. By making the fairway your top priority, playing to the low side, and staying patient, you will be one of the best decision makers at your local club.