Going to College Archive

Are You Practicing to Play the Odds?

Developing strong course management skills can make you a more valuable recruit!

At the collegiate level, coaches continually stress the importance of course management to their players. They know that a sound game plan paired with conservative decision making will improve the chances for more birdies and minimize the potential for costly big numbers. When coaches evaluate recruits during junior tournaments, they are looking for smart, disciplined golfers. In addition to swing mechanics and attitude, course management is one of the main criteria on their checklist, and becoming a savvy strategist can help elevate your standing in a competitive recruiting marketplace.

In my experience, many high school players have a tendency to hit golf shots without doing their homework. Also, when they get into trouble, they attempt aggressive recovery shots that don’t really provide much reward given the degree of difficulty. What are some of the key issues that you should focus on to improve your course management skills? Here are my top five keys that can help you play more intelligently and keep the odds of success in your favor.

Reassess the yardages for each club in your bag. Accurate carry distance information will help you select the appropriate club for a given shot. An annual club fitting (incorporating launch monitor analysis) is a great way to update distance measurements and optimize equipment performance.

Gather the information needed to make wise decisions during competition. In practice round settings, laser yardages to landing areas off the tee and preferred layup zones on par 5s. Determine appropriate targets for tee shots and approaches into greens.

Become familiar with the greens and greenside turf conditions. Gaining a comfort level with the speed, firmness, and undulations on the putting surfaces as well as the surrounding grass conditions is crucial. Confidence with your short game will foster more patience with your game plan and shot selection.

Think “conservative strategy and cocky swing.” Bob Rotella was a mentor of mine growing up, and his quote has always stayed with me. Swinging aggressively doesn’t mean you have to have an aggressive course management plan. For young players still refining their skills and reigning in missed shots, choosing conservative targets helps allow for the greatest room for error and promotes confident swings.

Avoid risky recovery shots when facing a precarious situation. Many players overestimate their chances of success as they attempt to get out of trouble. Rather than a safe play to the fairway, the possibility of getting closer to the green or hole location becomes too seductive. Breakdowns here can result in big numbers and take you out of the competitive race.

One on-course practice drill that has been helpful with college players I’ve coached, as well as with the junior golfers I currently mentor, is called the “trouble shot challenge.” It’s a great way to learn to play smarter and focus on the keys I’ve mentioned thus far. To properly perform the drill, play nine holes and attempt to shoot three over par or better from “trouble” positions that you select. After hitting your tee shot on each hole, you should pick up your ball and place it in a trouble position. For example, on your second shot into a par four, place the ball so you’re forced to maneuver it around/under/over a tree to a “safe” position to save par. Another example of a trouble position could be a fairway bunker with a steep lip located in the landing area of a par five. You’ll find the places on the course that present precarious situations. Be wise and play conservative shots from the locations you select. Adhering to this way of thinking will allow you to get onto the green safely or near the green for a simple up and down. Over time, your course management and shot making will become more disciplined, especially when you face tough decisions in tournament competition.

Practicing the principles of proper course management will ensure that you’re “keeping the odds” in your favor. You’ll improve your chances of shooting lower scores, and college coaches will find your disciplined play to be an attractive asset. Play smart and you will reap the rewards in the long run!

nicky goetze


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