Play Well When You Can't Play Often

I’ve talked to a lot of people who lament the fact that they can’t play a lot of golf. It’s tough to improve your game when you only play a couple times per year. Then, when they do get out to play, they’re frustrated because it doesn’t go as well as they hoped. Instead of having a fun, relaxing afternoon on the golf course, they leave frustrated, exhausted, and angry.

One of the big reasons I believe this happens is that golfers don’t know what to focus on, have too much going through their head, and haven’t developed any muscle memory. There are two solutions to the problem of inconsistent play. The first, is to play and practice more often; devote large and frequent chunks of your schedule to the game. That’s probably not realistic for most people. The second option is to focus on a few things that will improve your game the most.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted my five tips to help people to play well when they can’t play often. In this article, I’ll explain those in a little more detail…


First, if you want to play your best, simplify your game. This isn’t just for the occasional weekend amateur golfer, the pros do the same thing. The truth is, you can’t think of more than 1 or 2 things during your swing. If you try to you’ll, more than likely, fail to accomplish any of them.

I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of swing tips from teaching professionals or a buddy in your foursome. (If not, surf this blog to find a bunch of good ones.) Find 1 or 2 of those tips that seem to help you game the most. It’s ok to think of multiple things before you hit a shot, like your grip, aim, and posture, those things you can “set and forget.” I’m talking about in-swing thoughts.

Focus on those 1 or 2 things throughout your entire round. Most amateur golfers struggle, partially because they change swing thoughts every hole (or shot) and can’t ever get any mental consistency or momentum. One of the greatest golfers of all-time agreed.

“You swing your best when you have the fewest things to think about.” -Bobby Jones.


Next, on approach shots into the green, always take one more club than you think. Most golfers think they hit the ball farther than they actually do. We like to think our best shot ever is the barometer we use to determine our club distances. Again, the truth is that most shots aren’t hit absolutely perfect. Also, we all have a little bit of “big fish” syndrome; when we think something we did was actually a lot more impressive than it was. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s just how humans work.

Example, I can’t tell you how often I hear an 18 handicapper tell me they hit their driver 300 yards. Very few amateur golfers can actually hit the ball that far. In fact, a lot of PGA Tour pros can’t even hit a 300 yard drive every time. The PGA Tour average driving distance is 292. Consider than when you hear someone who can’t break 90 say they hit the ball 3-bills.

The lesson is simple, if you think you need to hit a 7-iron to get to the green, hit a 6. Don’t believe me? Count how many times you come up short on your approach shot in a round. I think you’ll be surprised.


Similar to the last tip, most amateur golfers don’t read enough break when putting. If you recorded the number of times you missed a putt on the low side, I think you’d be amazed. A simple way to fix this is by aiming your put like normal and then adding 1/2” to 1” more break. On putts that have a ton of break, you may need to do 2” to 3” more. (Note: “high side” and “low side” is the terms used to indicate the where the putt breaks. Putts break away from the “high side” and towards the “low side.”

Do this and you’ll see more putts find the bottom of the cup.


Next, keep your grip pressure fairly loose. The tendency is to tighten your grip when you’re uncomfortable and, if you don’t play much, golf may be a little uncomfortable. It’s important to stay relaxed in order for your body to perform at its highest level.

A good image to consider is a tube of toothpaste. Imagine your grip is a tube of toothpaste, flipped upside down, with the cap off. Your grip should be tight enough that you don’t let go of it, but loose enough that no toothpaste came out when you swing. This will especially allow you to release the club face; hitting it longer and straighter.


Finally, be sure to stretch your muscles before you play. It doesn’t take long, maybe 10-15 minutes, but you won’t regret it. Think about the last time you played golf, the first 3-4 holes were probably the worst. Then, by the time you get to the back nine, you’ve loosened up and are probably playing your best.

Taking time to stretch before you play will allow you to hit your peak earlier in the round; hopefully right from the first tee box. Focus your stretching on your torso, shoulders, next, and arms.

There you have it! Write down these five things on a small piece of paper and put them in your golf bag for the next time you play. Then, before each shot, take it out and read through it, taking note of the relevant points. I’m sure you’ll see your scores drop and enjoyment rise.