Course strategy with Matt

Matt and I spent 90 minutes on the practice fairway hitting shots, chipping balls, playing bunker shots and putting. We finished the session by playing 9 holes. This is where it all comes together and is the only true way to measure your game. If you can’t take your game onto the golf course then you need to have a look at the way you practise or your course strategy. This post looks at course strategy.

If you simulate play when you practise you’ll find the transition far easier. The mistake golfers make (like Matt) is they randomly beat balls and lack an objective. “Practise like you play” don’t “play like you practise”.

The first step to a better course strategy is choosing the shot you know you can hit. You need a really good excuse NOT to hit your favourite shot. In Matt’s case this is now going to be a fade from the tee and a controlled draw to the green. It doesn’t matter if the course designer is screaming at you to play a different shot – you should almost always play your shot.

Extra info: What I mean here is that don’t change your strategy to suit what the course designer wants you to do. Even if the hole doglegs to the left – play your fade. If the pin is back right and you like hitting the draw – keep hitting it. Sticking to your strategy is hard. Learn to trust your shot and you’ll do just fine.

I also spoke to Matt about avoiding bunkers and difficult chip shots (because he struggles with them). This essentially requires a conservative mindset. Instead of playing for every pin (or green) aim for an area that gives you a greater margin for error. Matt had it in his mind that he could go for every pin – this is OK if he managed to hit a good shot but this is not going to happen. You have to plan for when small errors are made.

I’m a firm believer that a long putt is better than a short chip or bunker shot. Learn to locate where all the trouble is and then play away from it.

Example: The pin is located on the back right of the green. There is a deep bunker to the right and a swale at the rear. The spot you should be aiming is front right. A conservative strategy, but it allows you to swing freely and avoid all the trouble.

In Matt’s case he’ll be aiming where a miss will leave him a simple 6 iron chip and run. This is playing to his strength.

The good news is for every difficult shot or location that doesn’t suit, you’ll find one that does. These are your green lights when you can go all out. If you can avoid the trouble on hard holes you’ll learn to save yourself many strokes.

I know this isn’t the most exciting way to play. Playing conservatively and hitting away from the pin is a tad boring. But unless you’re super talented you need to play within your limitations. It’s the only way you’ll maximise your potential for low scores.

I gave Matt the goal of playing the next five rounds with this strategy. It’s good advice and gives him a good way to compare his current way of play.

I recommend you do the same and see how your scores compare. As always let me know how you go and if you have any thoughts.

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  • Steady

    Reply Reply October 26, 2009

    Hi Cam,
    thanx at last for a blog on course strategy. Other than preparation to hitting a shot, course strategem and pulling the right club for the right shot is essential to great scores.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply October 26, 2009

    ps other than 3 foot putts.
    Cheers Steady

  • Ross

    Reply Reply October 27, 2009

    A great little series and it all makes so much sense; it, as usual, just comes down to the execution.

  • Tony Lucas (Lukey)

    Reply Reply October 27, 2009

    Hi Cam
    I do agree with you as far as course strategy goes but sometimes that can be difficult when the ball is not exactlly going where one wants it to go (seems a lot lately) but it is just a case of more application

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply October 28, 2009

    @Steady: Yep it’s important all right. Good course strategy can make the game far easier.

    @Ross: I think execution becomes easier with the right strategy. I have found it’s tough to pull off those shots you know you shouldn’t hit (like over water from rough to a tough pin)- but when you choose the right approach you make a much more confident swing. At least you maximise your chances which is half the battle.

    @Lukey: See above. In Matt’s case he needs to stop thinking he has the right to hit each shot perfectly. He doesn’t. A more conservative approach is more realistic.

    This is a good subject that needs further review.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply October 29, 2009

    HI Cam,
    i had a conversation with a kid I teach, yesterday. I told him about strategy and he asked me how he could improve.
    I told him the fllowing
    3ft putts practice practice practice
    lag 30ft putts
    chipping to 3 feet
    pitching to 3 feet.
    Bunker play, learn to play high, low spinning or flop bunker shots
    I said if you can do that consistently you will beat 99% of golfers.
    He said how is that going to help me with course strategy? I said It won’t but if you make a mistake in YOUR strategy you will have the short game to get you out of trouble.That is I think the secret key to great scores. Let me know what you think.
    Cheers Steady

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply October 29, 2009

    @Steady: Not bad advice. I’d be worried that hitting chips, pitches to 3 feet is not possible consistently. But I understand what you’re saying.

    Having a good short game can help overcome bad shots and keep your score moving in the right direction. But strategy needs some attention because you can’t rely on a magical short game forever.

    Good golfing,


  • Golf Fix

    Reply Reply October 29, 2009

    Course management is hard when you are concerned about your swing.

  • Gregor

    Reply Reply October 30, 2009

    strategy seems to be in two parts. Confidence and placement. Is that correct.
    It seems you are saying not to try and play a shot that you have doubts over and then to aim for where there is least trouble. Makes sense. So if you have to aim for the back of a green because there are bunkers at the front but doubt you can hit a good long iron to get there, what do you do – play ultra conservative to be short of the green? I assume that even if you are confident and then play a bad shot anyway you just need to try and recover with a good short game, but at least if you have a strategy you give yourself a more consistent chance of lower scores

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply November 1, 2009

    @Gregor: Yes, you always have to weigh up the risk and reward of each shot. One reason golf is such a great game.

    My thinking is that we almost always get over confident. Sometimes we should gear back and play a tad more conservatively.

    Best bet is to experiment with your game plan. Try a highly conservative approach versus an all out one. Let me know how you go.


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