By Michael Johnson
One of the best things about golf is there are times even the worst players can feel like a tour pro. You knock an iron stiff, spin a bunker shot or hole a lengthy putt and you're ready to tip your cap to the crowd.
There are plenty of things we can learn from tour players that can help our games. But there are also a bunch of things the world's best do that we should probably avoid, mostly because we lack the skill—or time—to execute. Whether it be course management, equipment or even your wardrobe, here's our primer on what you should—and shouldn't—copy from a tour player.
Arrive at the course well ahead of your tee time. How many times have you raced to the golf course and headed straight to the first tee? It probably takes you five or six holes just to settle in, right? That’s no way to play golf. The pros like to get to the course incredibly early, not just to get their work in, but to do so at a leisurely pace that sets them up well for a controlled round of golf. For an everyday player 45 minutes before tee time should be the minimum. An hour and 15 minutes would be better.
Getting to the course early allows for you to mimic another thing professional golfers do: stretch out. No one benefits from banging balls at full throttle right off the bat. Whether it’s an actual stretching routine in the locker room or even just taking some soft, slow swings on the range without worrying about where the ball goes, this helps prevent injury and get you limbered up for the round.
After getting stretched out, practice with a purpose. If you think for a moment the pros are just swatting shots on the range you’re nuts. Each shot has a purpose. A target, a desired curve, trying to hit a spot in the distance or a target yardage. Even if you don’t have that discipline, at least try to hit the tee shot you’ll open with as well as the iron you’re likely to have into the first green.
Then go spend some time in the short game area and finally the practice green where you should practice a variety of putts, most of them concerned with dialing in the speed.
We beat you over the head with this topic, but there’s a reason—we hate watching you piss away shots on the golf course. Every single tour player gets fit for their clubs. And for those who say they’re not good enough for it to matter, horsehockey! That’s like saying you shouldn’t get pants that fit because you’re overweight.
Just like someone with a few extra pounds wants to look the best they can, you should want to play the best golf you can and you can’t do that with tools ill-fitted to you. And while you’re getting fit, don’t forget the putter. It might be the most poorly fit club in your bag.
Golf is like a game of billiards. The shot you’re currently hitting sets up the next one. In golf that's knowing what side of the fairway to leave yourself on off the tee to better approach the green. It’s the ability to determine if you should be left, right, long or short of the hole on your approach to set up the best putt.
It’s deciding hitting to the fat part of the green is a better play than taking dead aim at a sucker pin. And it’s definitely the ability to resist the urge to hit it through a forest of trees through an opening the size of a softball and pitching out and trying to get up-and-down for par instead. And speaking of pitching out, the pros always play to a specific spot instead of just slapping it back in the fairway in disgust.
One of the reasons tour players step up to the ball with confidence is not only their superior ability but a consistent pre-shot routine that puts them in a frame of mind they can consistently achieve quality golf shots. While the routine will differ from player to player, find one that works for you and stick to it (as long as it’s not so time consuming your playing companions are shooting daggers at you with their eyes).
It’s been a rough few rounds on the course and you’re ready to take a break from the game. Don’t. Instead, take stock of what’s going wrong and devise a plan of attack to address it. If you’re tiring at the end of rounds, it might be as simple as shedding a few pounds and strengthening some golf muscles with a fitness expert.
If the swing or short game has deserted you, don’t be afraid to take some lessons. The pros do both all the time. Everyone needs help in this game at some point. It’s the ones who seek it out that win the trophies—or grab the cash in the grill room.
OK, it’s pretty cool to watch Tiger Woods bend a 9-iron from a fairway bunker around a tree, onto a green and then watch it spin towards the hole. You are not Tiger Woods. While a tour player has a decent chance of saving a stroke by taking a calculated risk, you’re just, well, taking a risk—and likely on the way to an equitable-stroke-control 7.
Our position on this one is pretty clear: If you’re not playing for prize money, then it’s better to remain anonymous. If you have your name on your bag there’s an expectation you’re a pretty good player and on some kind of tour. Save yourself the embarrassment when someone says, “Oh, what tour do you play on?” Added bonus advice: If you have your name on a big ol’ staff bag, then every caddie worldwide just thinks you’re a clown.
Oh boy, that pin is tight over the front bunker and you’re ready to channel your inner Mickelson. You lay the blade of your 60-degree wedge (another mistake, by the way, a 58-degree is easier for ams to handle) wide open, and take a mighty swing to shoot the ball straight up in the air where it will land so soft you'd think the green had a pillowy mattress under it.
A lovely thought—except you’re more likely to send the ball shooting straight over the green with a skull or dig a trench the size of a small sea bass as you chunk it. Be realistic and just get it on the green. Your odds of making the 20-footer are better than that of pulling off the flop.
This reminds me of the commercial currently running where the tattoo artist says, “Stay in your lane, bro.” Even Patrick Reed looks bad wearing red on Sundays—and he has a Masters title to his credit. Feel free to go with the black pants or shorts. After all, black goes with any color. Just steer clear of the red shirt when doing so. There’s only one person that works for. And unless you have 14 majors, it isn’t you.
Sure, we all would like to hit that “stinger” 2-iron. Except the high majority of us simply don’t have that shot in our bag. So given that, why have the long iron at all? Tour pros have eschewed hybrids for utility or long irons at a pretty significant rate in recent years. That’s a trend you absolutely should not follow. A hybrid or high-lofted fairway wood is more forgiving, easier to get some height under and probably will give you more distance, too. This is what is called a win-win-win.
We know, we know . . . we’re dying to give it a go, too. But seriously, think of this in practical terms. On a short par 4 you’re trying to hit a tee shot 290-plus yards and hit it straight and hope against hope that it somehow bounces onto the green and stops. Or you’re 240 from the green on a par 5 holding a 3-wood in your hands that you somehow have conned yourself into believing you can smack off the deck and scoot it up there. Come on.
These shots—while admittedly fun to try and almost impossible to pass on—are about as long a shot as winning the Pick Six Lottery. Instead, figure out what the best yardage is for you to hit an approach shot from and lay up to that yardage. Trust us, your scoring average in these situations will go down, even if your ego takes a mild beating in the process.
Tour pros are great at dialing in their yardages to the pin (heck, Johnny Miller was famous for trying to get it within the half-yard). That’s because they have stock yardages for their clubs. Us? Every swing is pretty much a random event. Unfortunately, we make the mistake of playing the yardage to our best swing. Instead, Hank Haney suggests calculating to the back of the green. That makes sense. Hit it perfect and you’re on the back. Mis-hit it (a likely outcome) and you’re either on the front or pretty close to it. And come on, how often have you flown a green with an iron shot? We thought so.
Dude, you just look so tour-pro cool in those flat-front, cuffs just over the shoes trousers in 90-degree heat. Or not. Here’s the deal—most tour pros would wear shorts if they could. They wear long pants only because they are bound by duty to do so. We’re not. So take advantage and give those O.B. stake white legs of yours some sun. Just make sure to apply the sunscreen so you don’t look like this guy.
When we ask tour players what the No. 1 mistake their pro-am partners make, shafts that are too stiff are often mentioned. Look, there’s nothing fun about trying to get a telephone pole through the ball. A more flexible shaft can help you get through the ball and probably add some height to your shot while you’re at it. We’re guessing both of those are things that many of you could use in your game.
Tour players aren’t the only ones that take five-plus hours to play 18 holes and J.B. Holmes and Kevin Na aren’t the only slowpoke players. We all know that guy (or girl). In fact, you might see them simply by looking in the mirror. Simply put, there is zero reason to not be ready to play when it’s your turn. You likely play the same course almost all the time so you know your yardages, where the danger is, etc., etc. So stop throwing grass in the air like it’s actually going to matter. Grab a club and go. Not only will you play faster, but your score is likely to be lower.
We’re all for information that allows us to play better golf. But if you’re one of those players that’s trying to make like Rickie Fowler by consulting their green reading book on every 40-footer, we ask you to please stop. By all means use them before a round as a reminder of what putts break which way, but once out on the course please reserve serious reading for the library.