Start Ripping the Pages Out of Your Golf Shot Menu
Have you ever gone to a diner that has a menu as thick as a book? There are more than 100 options, and you’re flipping through the pages trying to make a decision, but not confident anything will be that good. How could the cooks possibly execute that many dishes well?
Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of golfers’ games are like. They are continually adding more and more dishes to their menu, and when it comes time to cook, the flavors fall flat.
(in this brilliant metaphor the dishes are golf shots)
I want to walk you through a few concepts to give you specific examples of what I mean. I’ll speak anecdotally about my own game and some other ideas, but my main goal here is to shift your thinking.
I want you to become the restaurant that only has a few dishes, but knows how to make them, and does them well.
I Tried Them All
For the majority of my time as a golfer, I was under the assumption that I had to have a vast arsenal of shots and techniques at my disposal.
Draws, fades, punch shots, flop shots, bump and runs – you know the list.
I never really stopped to analyze my performance trying all these shots, but if I had, I would have noticed I wasn’t very good at any of them under pressure. Sure, I could pull them off in the backyard, or at the driving range, but when I only had one chance to get it right, the results fell short.
Looking back, it’s one of the main reasons I had more blowup holes and posted double bogeys (or worse).
What I finally understood is that if I simplified things, and started ripping out all of the pages of my menu, I would become a much better golfer.
The One Trick Pony
Recently, I went through a full evaluation at a facility called Golf & Body NYC. I’ll be writing up the experience in a separate article, but they put my golf swing through all of the latest tools like Trackman (a popular launch monitor) and GEARS (a CT Scan for your golf swing).
We spoke about the current state of my game, the goals I had, and then I went through a ball striking evaluation.
I make some unorthodox moves in my swing and have a very extreme in-to-out swing path. That became apparent to their lead instructor after seeing my numbers on the launch monitor. We also found out why I am a functional ball striker too.
I asked him what he thought about everything, and his response was, “you’re kind of like Mariano Rivera – you’ve only got one pitch, but you’re good at it.”
Of course, he was slightly joking, because I’m not nearly as good as a golfer as Mariano Rivera was a pitcher. But it speaks to the notion of simplicity, execution, and results.
Almost every shot I hit on the golf course is going to be a draw. My swing is incapable of moving the ball in any other direction. It is almost impossible for me to hit a fade unless I do something that feels very bizarre.
I have one swing. I don’t change it at all in almost any situation. Whether I’m hitting my driver or a 50-yard pitch shot, I’m not trying to do anything all that different.
So why am I a far better golfer now than I was before? I believe it’s because I am fully committed to doing one thing rather than partially committed to doing ten. I’m comfortable with what I’ve got, I mostly know what I can expect, and my head is clearer over the ball because of it.
What am I talking about?
Rather than speaking in generalities, I’d like to go through some specific shots and situations to illustrate what I mean. I’ll talk anecdotally about my own game, but I hope that you can find a connection to your game.
Working The Ball In Both Directions
I’m biased, but I don’t think recreational golfers need to hit draws or fades on command. The notion that you have to shape your shot based on the fairway or pin placement sounds sexy, but in reality, I believe you’re wasting shots if you employ that strategy.
One of the biggest myths out there, and I’ve fallen victim to it myself at times, is that you’ll eliminate one side of the golf course playing a particular shot shape. If you look at most golfers’ shot dispersions, they’ll miss plenty on both sides of their target no matter what shape of shot they play.
For example, you would assume I would miss almost all of my targets to the left because I draw the ball, but I miss plenty to the right if my clubface is too open an impact. I’ve measured my game on various shot tracking devices and found that I miss fairways and greens equally to both sides.
My advice is to try and stick with one shot shape as best you can. There are PGA Tour players who have made millions of dollars and won major championships with one shot shape – I think it can work for you too.
I play in windy conditions a lot since I live near the water. I also can’t execute one of those cool punch shots you’ll see on TV during tournaments.
If you’re playing a shot into the wind, spin and trajectory are your enemies.
A nicely executed punch shot will keep the ball low, and also reduce the spin on the ball. Despite being able to play those shots on the practice tee, I’ve found I tend to strike it heavy or hook the ball too much in an actual round. It requires muscle memory outside of my normal swing, and I don’t find that I have enough time to make it work.
So you know what I do to solve this problem? I use more club. If my standard shot called for a 7-iron, I take a 4 or 5-iron, the lower loft on the club will take care of lowering the spin and trajectory on its own.
There is no need for a fancy solution or a different technique. I can reliably get better results overall with what I already have.
Part of the beauty of golf is that there is no right way to play a shot. That’s also part of its curse too.
Let’s say you are 20 yards short of the green and the pin is in the back. Some would say a true golfing artist would have multiple shots at their disposal – they could bump and run a lower lofted club like 7-iron, or loft a wedge back to the pin.
In theory, neither of these shots is particularly challenging to execute. But I would argue that going through the process of having to choose between several shots will invoke enough doubt in your mind to pull any of them off with regularity.
So I would tell all of you to forget about the fancy wedge shots. You don’t need a flop shot. You don’t need a one-hop stop wedge.
What you do need is a technique you are comfortable with that can get the ball on the putting surface most of the time (even if it’s 20 feet away from the hole). I see so many golfers who can’t accomplish this one goal, and it wastes shots. Luckily, they are easier to recoup than tee shots and approach shots.
I can’t tell you what that technique is for you. It’s possible you might need help from a professional to find it. But what I do want you to think about is simplicity. Get good at one kind of wedge shot, good enough that when you stand over the ball, you’re almost certain you will strike the ball cleanly enough to get it on the green. If you can get to that point, I guarantee you that your scores will drop.
This Doesn’t Sound Like Fun Though?
Whenever I’ve tried to give this kind of advice to golfers, I’ll inevitably get some backlash. Some will evoke nostalgic feelings about how the game is supposed to be played with style and artistry. It sounds great, but I’ve been around thousands of golfers at this point, and I haven’t come across too many who actually can play that way.
What I do see is plenty of golfers who are paralyzed by fear and complexity when they stand over the ball because they’ve got so many conflicting thoughts. That’s not a fun way to play this game.
It’s hard to have it both ways in golf. I know most of you want to find ways to lower your scores; I believe moving towards simplicity is the right path for almost all of you. Feeling the burden of all of your options is not making you a better golfer.
So if you feel like your game is like that diner menu with all of those dishes that aren’t going to taste that good, start ripping out the pages. Take a hard look at your game and think about what is working, and what is making you the most comfortable. Move towards that.
It’s inevitable that you’re going to face situations on the course that make you uncomfortable, that’s part of golf. You want to meet those circumstances with what you’re the most confident in. You won’t be successful every time, but the trick is to get a little bit better at avoiding those big mistakes.
Jon- great article. I have been a natural drawer of the ball since my father started me playing when I was 12. I have fought this most of my life with attempts at hitting fades always falling short. I decided before this season that I’m just going to embrace the draw and play it all the time. Like you mentioned I feel more comfortable on the tee since I’m just doing what feels natural. Here hoping it translates and I can drop that index from the current 11 to single digits 😉
Thanks, Seth! I’ve found the same thing as a natural drawer of the ball. At times I’ve tried to play a fade off the tee, but in the end, I found the different swing thoughts just weren’t worth it.
Sam Straker says
Great post, hopefully, some of these posts helps me with my golf game.
thanks, hope it helps!
Maybe one of your best articles ever! I’ve been thinking the same thing…about simplifying, especially around the green. This is going to give me greater focus in my practice session later today. Thanks!!
what a great compliment – thank you, Terry!
Jon: I LOVE the PRACTICAL advice you give in your articles and on your member pages! It is information that has helped me tremendously and I have passed your web page on to many! One area I really struggle with is around the green and hitting chips. There are SO many theories about what club to hit to get it to fly and then run the correct distance; from pacing off the distance and subtracting from 12 to using just your 3 or four wedges. Any words of wisdom in this area?
Thanks! I’m glad the advice helps, and I really appreciate you spreading the word. While I’m not the best “chipper” in the world, I find that I have to put in the work in order to establish my feel and depth perception. A lot of that I’ll just do playing around in the yard, taking 5 balls and trying to hit them to various targets (you can do this at a practice facility too). I’m really only using two clubs (SW & lob wedge) so that I can really cement what different distances feel like. So when I’m on the course I am trying to recall the muscle memory so I can land the ball on a specific spot on the green. There are many different strategies that can work, but on the whole, I believe the feel on these shots has to be earned in the practice area. I often spend more time early in the golf season working on these because I’ll lose it over the winter/offseason. Hope that helps.
Do you know where I can get the TIBA putting aid. Amazon is out
Let me count my swings:
1 for driver to bottom out behind.
2 for 3 & 5 wood to sweep it off the grass or low tee
3 for full iron swings 4-iron to 7-iron
4 for 3/4 swings & more varable wedges to go for a touch shots 145 yd 4-iron to gap W.
5 for out of a bunker w a SW.
6 for 8 & 9-iron bump & run shots
7 for putting on fringe or green.
This is about as simple as possible I suppose most shutter at choosing 3/4 and lesser swings over full wedge swings, but this is my individual strength that I find extends though out my irons well.
Stumbled on your site a couple of days ago after a particularly demoralizing round at a marquee resort course. I think I may have consumed every article you’ve published over the last 3 days and love the focus on the parts of the game that other sites tend to ignore or gloss (the mental and the course). A lot of what you share is in line with what I’ve heard before and kind of intuitively knew I should be doing, but I’ve had a tendency to get caught up in all the other hoopla around the latest “trick”, the coolest training aid, equipment, and hitting it longer than everyone else I play with.
Well, after reading your “Manifesto” article on a Thursday evening, I made the decision to finally put all this practical advice into practice on a round and see how it played out. I have a Friday morning pre-work game of 9 holes at one of my local home courses, so the timing was great. I spent some time Thursday evening analyzing how I’ve played the course in the past and how I would play it using your practical advice. Step one, hit 4 iron off of #1. I told myself all night long that no matter what happened or how I felt, I was going to hit 4 iron off of #1. Sure enough, I stepped up to the tee and was immediately flooded with thoughts of “but this is so doable with driver/3-wood”. I shoved that inner Phil down (I’m a lefty, so Phil is the devil on my left shoulder, it’s also what I’ve named my driver because it’s a gamble every time I pull it out) and hit my 4 iron straight down the pipe. Birdied #1 for the first time ever. Long story short, I remained disciplined in following your practical approach and shot my best round ever on that 9.
If I wasn’t convinced to be practical before, I certainly am now. Love the site and look forward to continued great content in the future.
That’s awesome Miko; I love hearing stories like these! Glad to hear that the site is helping you 🙂
Short version: you’re dead right. May I suggest that you start chucking clubs out of your bag if you don’t use them? I had to cut back to what they used to call a ‘starter set’ in a Sunday bag when She Who Must Be Obeyed didn’t leave me any club packing room in the car before a trip. I just played the occasional coastal 9-hole courses on the trip, but I scored great! Now I use a tee club (maybe driver, maybe driving iron), 5-7-9 irons, and three or four wedges. And a putter. The bag is carryable, which my doc likes, and, playing ready golf, I cut down 9 holes to an hour and a half. But it all stems from playing the shot that works, every time.