Editor's note: Ted Johnson is a talented golfer and golf writer who has played and written about the most exclusive courses in the world, along with more than a few municipal tracks, as well.
He is not an elitist. As a golfing pen for hire, he's seen all kinds of golfers, including plenty of hacks. It's not their scores that concern him, but how they play. "I get to see up close the problems with the game of golf, and as complex as it might be it comes down to one thing – golfers," he says. "Courses are better, equipment is better and yet the biggest complaint about the game is that it takes too long."
Here, then, is Ted Johnson's list of top-10 recommendations for better, faster, more enjoyable play. If you want to play faster and break 80, read on.
Tip 1: A Unique Concept: 3-Metal off the Tee
We're a nation of tech geeks. We love the latest and the greatest. Your 45-inch driver is definitely a high-tech wonder. It has composite materials and new compounds right off the space shuttle. Hit a ball well, and yes, it travels farther.
But beware, because a longer shaft means a longer arc, which means a larger margin for error in keeping the clubface square. Causes beget effects. When golfers lack consistency, those longer drives finish deeper in the trees.
So, take a lesson from Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and countless other PGA Tour stars: Use a 3-metal off the tee. Here's why:
A) It's shorter, allowing you stand a little closer to the ball, and that only helps you make clean, middle-of-the-clubface contact.
B) The face has more loft, inducing more backspin, which keeps the ball in the air for more distance, allowing it to fly straighter, which is a key to getting the ball in the fairway.
C) If you think your friends will think you're weak for not using the driver, consider that until most drivers were 43.5 inches long until the 1990's, and that is the current length of today's 3-metals. What's more, those old persimmon drivers had 10 and 12 degrees of face loft, which isn't too different from the 13- and 15-degree 3-metals so prevalent today.
D) So, yes, while a good driver may get you 250 yards, a good 3-metal will go 220. Would you rather be 30 yards shorter in the fairway, or 30 yards longer, but in the parking lot?
Tip 2: Play Away From the Edges
Remember, your eye wants a target. Your brain wants to focus on a flag, way out there in the distance. Subconsciously it will force your body to find that target (so your stance can change).
Course architects like Pete Dye know this, and use it to mess with your mind. That's why he'll put hazards like bunkers or water directly in your target line. From the tee, he can make a fairway look three yards wide.
At such times, recognize that an architect may be asking you to aim away from the target. If you're not intent on following the 'line of charm', play a safe distance away from long bunkers, slopes, canyons and lakes/ponds. When doing so, your just-missed-it-shot will land safely instead of in a stroke-eating hazard.
Tip 3: It's Not How Far. It's How Close:
Hit the Range and Learn Short Shots
We love to watch the "ball go far." Unfortunately, it often finishes in the parking lot some other less-than-opportune landing area. Resist temptation when you visit the range. Forget about that once-in-a-round drive. Focus on getting the ball close to the pin.
At the range, drop ten balls 120 yards away from a target – a sign, a clump of grass, a flagstick. Hit ten short iron shots, and count how many land within 20 feet of that target. An average 20-handicapper might score four out of the ten, and probably fewer.
The 10-handicapper might get seven of the ten. A scratch player might miss once, but when he's dialed in it's more like ten out of ten, with his worst shots finishing twenty feet away.
Wake Justin Leonard up at 4 a.m. with ten balls from 120 yards out, and he'll probably hit the flag stick twice out of the 10 shots.
It's not how far as much as how close.
Tip 4: Know Your Distances
My 76-year-old father plays more golf than a PGA Tour pro (seriously), but ask him how far he hits a 9-iron his reply is, "I don't know."
You have to know. Find out, even if it mean you taking old gym towels and dropping them 100, 110, 120 and 130 yards from your hitting area.
Just go out and do it.
Drop 10 balls. Fire that 9-iron, pitching wedge and 8-iron. On the solid struck shots, note their distances. That way, when it's 115 yard to carry the bunker you won't hit well-struck shot 108.
Tip 5: Avoid The Hero Shot
Here's something Nick Price told me a few years ago. When deciding whether try to reach a par-5 on the second shot, he won't go for it if that means taking an extraordinary swing. If his 4-wood is geared for 220 yards and the shot calls for 230, he'll lay up.
The higher handicapper can learn from that. If a carry is 180 yards off the tee and your driver only goes 175, don't try for that 1-in-100 shot. Either choose different tees or find another way to play the hole. But that leads to --
Tip 6: Find Your Reliable Shot
What many amateurs don't realize is that PGA Tour pros have bad days, too. They'll snap it into the trees and block it into never-get-out bunkers. But what they have over you is dead-certain distance. For Paul Azinger, it was 110 yards. For others, it may be 130 or 150 or even 80. It doesn't matter. This goes back to Tip No. 1.
When you're in bunker or under the trees, forget the hero shot and get the ball to that reliable distance. For Azinger, a 110-yard shot with his Ping Eye2 pitching wedge proved as reliable as the sun setting. That's very important for the 20-handicapper.
A bad tee shot followed by a play back to the fairway that leads to a comfortable distance for a third shot to the green can cap your bad scores. Maybe you'll suffer a two-putt bogey. That's preferable to a hero shot rattling between trees or splashing a pond, leading to the snowman. And it keeps the pace up.
Tip 7: Be Realistic: Gouge Back to Safety
Nothing is worse than watching the ahead get into trees or deep bunkers, and then having to wait for them because they think this is the day they can hit that 165-yard cut 6-iron with a higher trajectory to the green, or the sweeping 3-iron from under the trees.
Believe me, they can't.
And nothing's more absurd than having a sharply slicing playing partner ask about yardage when he's in tall grass and with plenty of hazards ahead. He'll make himself and everyone else much happier by punching a 9-iron and back into the fairway.
Tip 8: Please Keep It Moving
Seriously, we don't care about your game, how great you shoot, how poorly, or what you are trying to do. All we care about is having a good time. I'm talking pace. When you have a bad hole, please consider one of two options.
First, if the shot can't be hit, throw it. Seriously. As long as you move, we're happy. We don't care if you punt it, spit it, sling it, swallow it, carry it, or marry it. Just get out of our landing area.
Or, put it "in pocket," and move to the next tee.
Thank-you, in advance.
Tip 9: You're Not Playing the U.S. Open
Rules are rules, within reason. But when it comes to playing recreational golf in a public setting, remember that other people are on the course. Look around. They are both ahead and behind you.
We know it might be a men's club event. We know that there might be a bet involved with buddies. That said, if you're lining up a two-footer for a net-double, hit the thing. Ready golf is considerate golf.
Tip 10: Check Your Balls
To Titleist's credit, the company has convinced a vast majority of golfers to use the same model of golf ball that many pros play, the Pro-V1. That means 20-handicappers with max driver swing speeds of 95 mph are using a ball designed for swing speeds of 110 mph and higher.
Most 20-handicapers do not have enough swing speed to activate the core. Rather than flying farther, the ball falls out of the sky faster, costing distance. And if there's a miss-hit, the soft cover induces more sidespin. Hooks and slices become more severe.
Do not despair. Balls like the E5 by Bridgestone, for example – are cheaper, more durable, and perform better for the slower swing speed than ProV1s.
In the meantime, you golfers remain stubborn. This is why rounds keep getting slower and your scores never improve.
The only good news is that that I find many ProV1s, YOUR ProV1's, in the tall grass, creeks and waste areas.
Thanks very much.