On this Christmas Eve day, with snow on the ground up here in New Jersey, I'd like to offer up a little preaching to the choir.
Yesterday, as I was making my way to the dentist, two close friends of mine were about to begin their annual Christmas Golf "Death Match" on their home course in Jacksonville.
Donnie, Grant, and I met in 1978 when I moved from New Jersey to Ponte Vedra, FL.
It was the summer of our ninth grade year.
We've stayed friends over the years and distance—they're still in the Jacksonville area and I'm back in NJ.
I have envied the fact that they could be playing golf at this time of year and that I wouldn't be with them in person.
Nonetheless, my cell phone rang and I was able to "hear" them hit their tee shots.
It got me thinking about all the mistakes we make as golfers on the golf course.
So here are five New Year's ideas for improving your upcoming season on the golf course.
Gleaned over 30 years as a player and caddy, perhaps it could be a holiday gift from me to you.
1. Take the 60-degree wedge out of your bag.
Unless you play a course with very firm bunkers and/or you're VERY comfortable taking the assertive stroke you need to pull of a shot with that club, ditch it. I've seen more chili dips, fat shots, and thinned T-bones hit with the 60 than just about all the other clubs in any amateur's bag.
It's primarily a finesse club for players with above average abilities. Unless this describes your game—15 handicap or below, as a rough guide—save the money you'd spend on the 60 and instead cozy it on up with your sand wedge.
2. Hit your driver. Just hit it.
Stop trying to steer it. Hit it.
You'll probably find it. And if we don't, so what? You can hit another. The point is, golfers need to hit their drivers.
Spend time on the range to get comfortable with it. Then, when you actually play, swing away.
3. Unless your swing speed is in the 110-mph range, most amateurs would do better with regular shafted clubs. Especially with the irons.
I have regular shafted irons, and firm to stiff "woods," and I'm a mid-handicap golfer who's been playing since I was 14—I'm 46 now and I've got the aches and pains to prove it.
The typical steel shafts used for irons are stiff enough in regular shafts. You can get away with a firmer shaft in your woods because the materials used for wood shafts—typically some sort of graphite—are so light weight that a stiff is more like a firm.
4. All golfers are familiar with the adage, "Drive for show, putt for dough." But how true is this for the amateur golfer?
Over many years of caddying for golfers of all abilities, I can attest to the sayings merit. I cannot tell you how many club tournaments I've seen won, and lost, due to putting. And I'm not just talking about "making" putts. It has just as much to do with "getting it close" as it does to actually sinking big putts.
Too often, it's easier to turn a bogey into a double bogey, than it is to turn a par into a bogey. And those doubles are the bugaboo of the amateur golfer.
Eliminating double bogeys from your score card is often the difference between a good round and a forgettable round. And the quickest way to rid yourself of doubles is through focusing on improving your putting.
5. Hit the range.
There is no substitution for hitting balls. A lot of balls. Here's a good rule of thumb: The ratio of time spent practicing versus playing should be about 70-30. If you're serious about improving, this might be the single most important way to become a better golfer.
Here's to a Happy New Year!