After many years coaching, playing and studying I have some sad news for you – there are no true secrets. To get better at golf you do need to invest time.
However, the good news is that 99.9% of the golfers I come across are not getting better at golf as quickly as they could. They waste time, practice the wrong things and try to make unnecessary changes. All of these things lead to frustration and limited, if any, improvements.
How to get better at golf – focus on your weaknesses
A common issue golfers have when trying to get better at golf is not knowing what areas of their game to focus on. This is true for both amateurs and professionals. The first step is to work out how you are building your current scores.
Once you have this data, or have your playing stats from an app, you need to take some time to work out where you should be spending your practice time – what are the easy wins for lowering your score?
These easy wins (i.e. putting, short-game, driving) should make up an integral part of your weekly practice schedule.
Detailed analysis of playing stats takes time. With pros I work with I tend to spend around an hour per tournament. However, I’m afraid I can’t do this for all of you reading this post, so instead, I’ve put together this quick and simple check list to help you get better at golf. Grab your own playing stats and refer to the checklist below – you can click on the image to expand it.
Start in the top left corner, on level one. If you are currently averaging over 36 putts a round this is the biggest leak in your golfing scoring bucket. You should swiftly build some practice structures to improve this stat.
If your playing stats pass this metric move one to the right. Check if you achieve level one ~ priority two: over 30% of up and down (for amateurs I class this as any shot inside 30-yards, for pros inside 50-yards).
Keep moving along left to right until you complete level one. Then move onto level two and repeat the process. Pick the first two areas you fail on as your key practice priorities.
The following section is slightly over-simplified (golf stats are not independent of each other), but golfers frequently ask me this sort of question. So, roughly speaking, each area of your game that progresses from level one to two and so on will save you between 0.8 – 2 shots a round.
How to get better at golf – a mini strokes gained
How many golf shots will I knock off my score for each level I move up?
- Priority 1 Putting ~ Saves you 2 shots (simple maths)
- Priority 2 Up & Downs ~ Saves you 1.8 shots
- Priority 3 G.I.R. ~ Saves you 1.6 shots
- Priority 4 F.I.R. ~ Saves you 1.2 shots
- Priority 5 Sand saves ~ Saves you 0.8 shots
Use this rough guide to work out what areas and levels you need to work on to achieve your own golfing dream.
If you want to go from a 24 handicap to an 18 handicap you just need to decide what combination of levels are easiest for you to move up. It could be trying to move priorities 1-4 all up one level (which would save you ~ 6.6 shots). Instead, you could just take your putting from level one to level four.
How to get better at golf – a word of caution
Developing any part of your game from levels one to two is quite simple. However, as your golf game improves you have to invest more and more time to move up the next level. In motor learning this is referred to as the law of diminishing returns.
This means you should really focus time on any criteria you don’t hit early on in the table above. If you truly care about getting better at golf, this is your lowest hanging fruit when it comes to improvement.
How to get better at golf – do I need to improve my technique or skill?
In reality this is an impossible question to answer. Your technique is an integral part of your golfing skill.
The reason I ask this question is to make you think:
What do you normally do to improve your score?
“Well I find a coach, then she/he will tell me the things I need to change. Then I will think about these 2-3 swing changes whilst I’m on the golf range and the golf course…and then these thoughts magically help me get better at golf…don’t they?”
If the quote above (or something similar) is running through your head, then you’re with 97% of golfers on this planet. You’re not wrong, but with this approach I feel you may be missing out on a large chunk of potential skill development.
Feel free to keep the approach above – a great golf coach is needed to reach your full potential. But, what if you reverse engineered the problem and played golf skills games, that in-turn developed your technique?
How to get better at golf – play games, solve problems
What most golfers misunderstand is how they really should practice to get better at golf. A great practice structure is the foundation of your golfing development. It’s probably the most critical factor in making you a better golfer. It should consist of the following three elements:
- Technical practice
- Skill development practice
- Pressure training / game simulation
You need to take your top 2-3 priorities from the checklist above and find a great skills game(s) for each area (i.e. putting, short-game, driving) that you can play each week.
If you’re short on time, focus on one to two skills games from the list below. Note though, that to really get better at golf you need to commit to playing these skills game every week.
How to get better at golf – skills games start packs
All-round long game – Will’s range challenge
Driving skills games – Dead man’s cliff
Iron play – Hugo’s range challenge & mid-iron challenge
Chipping zone challenge & Par 18
If you need any more skills games to help you get better at golf just click the ‘Practice’ tab above and have a scroll through the relevant articles. Alternatively, I have further games and challenges in the Golf Insider performance diary.
How to get better at golf – practice schedule
Build these skills games into a weekly schedule and stick to it. Your practice schedule can be a simple list of skills games you write somewhere, or if you want a serious training schedule download this free spreadsheet to plan and track your practice and play. For many years I used this with pros. I’ve now upgraded, so have this for free. 😉
I’ve left a previous schedule of a mini tour player in as an example.
How to get better at golf – track your practice stats
Each week complete your skills games with one aim in mind – score as high as possible. Worry far less about perfecting your technique, just find a way to solve the problem at hand. After all, golf is about getting the ball in the hole.
As a result, your technique will change purely from completing these challenges. It may only be subtle technique changes, but these minor changes will help you become better at golf and more consistent. This is often the reverse of how golfers practice, they tend to work on their technique with the secondary aim of getting the ball to their target – weird isn’t it?
On the same download I have added a second tab for you to track your practice stats. I think this will help nearly all of you. I urge you to stick to the process of updating it, if you truly want to get better at golf.
On the ‘practice stats’ tab, write your chosen practice games, set a goal and then track your scores each week. The graph below will update and track your progress towards the practice goals you set – I can’t tell you how useful this is for becoming better at golf.
If you would like more skills games and a notebook to track all your practice and playing stats check out the Golf Insider performance diary.
How to get better at golf – summary
That rounds up how to get better at golf and our second instalment of the Golf Insider challenge. If you don’t want to miss the next part and would like a free weekly article sent to your inbox, come join the Golf Insiders.
Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider
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11 thoughts on “How to Get Better at Golf”
This is some of the most useful stuff online for improving golf. Well done
Thanks so much for getting in touch and the kind words – it really makes me smile when I get a comment like this one. I’ll keep trying to provide some great info for you all to keep getting better.
I hope the golf is going well.
What do “GIR in any missing section” and “fairways left or right” mean?
Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve just updated this section, it has been on my to do list for a while. I’m also going to fire you an email if that is okay to check it clarifies your question.
Giving it a try. Started on your overthinking concepts and working through to practice. Thank you.
Best of luck Dan. Keep doing the basics right and you will start to move in the right direction.
Can you explain what priority 5 means? It says Equals ~ 2 shots off your score. I am guessing based on the next paragraph is has to do with sand saves, but could you elaborate?
Thanks for the question. The ‘~’ symbol measures ‘roughly/estimated’. The table gives a very rough idea of how the progression in each area will ‘roughly translate to reducing your score by 2 shots’.
I hope that helps.
Section 5 on the table should that not be referring to sand saves? and indicating how many sand saves per level?
Yes sorry, these are a little unclear, this is an old article that needs a good update. For simplicity include sand saves in your general up and downs and up and downs can be considered inside 50-yards.
The ‘priority 5’ should be removed, with the idea that each box that you move down equals you reducing your score by ~2 shot. Again, this calculation is far from perfect, but its a useful framework to start thinking about developing your game.
I hope that helps.
Another question ..up and downs is this =<50 or =<30 yds