Whatever your golf resolution looks like in 2023, PGA professionals – Australia’s accredited experts in golf – are here to help get you there. We spoke with three, Skye Choueiri, Michael Jones and Nick Bielawski, and put together a guide to help you drop shots like never before in 2023
25-handicapper, with Skye Choueiri
“It’s the busiest place on the planet!” laughs PGA professional Skye Choueiri when describing the Sydney Golf Academy at Moore Park where she works as a teaching professional.
As a consequence, Choueiri knows all about helping golfers – who are often getting their first taste of the game – set and achieve landmark handicap goals.
“At this level, it’s so important that players have sound fundamental technique in their full swing,” explains Choueiri, who has been a professional for nearly a decade. “We need to make sure the grip, stance, posture and ball position are right, otherwise you will always be making compensations in other parts of your swing.”
Compensations that can often lead to the dreaded ‘beginners’ slice’, Choueiri impresses the importance of working with a PGA professional to understand what can cause the most common of golf woes. “We look to help players understand the relationship between clubface and path,” she details. “It’s the strongest indicator of a slice and helping someone to know what they are doing means they can go and self-correct.”
Once the fundamentals are down, it comes down to saving invaluable shots around the green.
“Most players in this range can get up to the green, but the short game is what can cause some of the dreaded blowouts,” Choueiri says. “Once you’ve got the fundamentals down, it is so much more valuable to spend your practice time around the chipping and putting green. That’s how you eliminate the big scores.”
On that note, she emphasises a change of mindset, too. Forget pin-seeking; the most important thing is simply to give yourself a chance to score. “There is no need to go for hero shots when chipping and pitching,” she says. “Instead, make sure you just get onto the green and are always giving yourself a chance.”
Regardless of a player’s skill, this shift in perspective can help everyone shave a few shots off the final tally.
“A player at this level needs to accept that one bad shot doesn’t make it a bad round,” Choueiri stresses. “It’s about how you recover and move on to get back on track and a clear pre and post-shot routine is the best way to do that.”
Choueiri particularly likes the idea of a routine – something as simple as taking the glove off – after each shot as a trigger that it is done and time to shift focus to the next one, because it is one entirely controllable part of a game otherwise full of variables.
“A good swing can only get you so far. It really comes down to the way you approach your round.”
10 to 15-handicap, with Michael Jones
When your answer to the eternal question of “What are you playing off?” is 9.6, those who know you best tend to have the same response: “So, 10 then.”
Mid-handicap golfers exist in that netherworld between enthusiastic newcomers just starting out and those golf elite who can proudly proclaim to be a single-figure marker.
You may believe that breaking that invisible handicap barrier lies in more time pounding balls on the range, yet PGA professionals such as Michael Jones know that there are two key reasons
why you haven’t transferred ability into lower scores.
Golf instructor at Sanctuary Cove Golf & Country Club on the Gold Coast, Jones has guided Brad Kennedy and Matt Millar to play the best golf of their careers post-40 and works with Sanctuary Cove members on enhancing their proficiency.
Yet for mid-handicappers with a significant playing history, Jones doesn’t want to know ball speed, angle of attack or total carry with driver; he wants to know how you think.
“When the conditions are quite benign, 15-markers can handle most golf courses but once the wind gets up and the greens get a bit quicker, that’s when they tend to struggle,” Jones says.
“The first thing you notice in someone who doesn’t play well in the wind is that their general decision making is quite poor.
“They think they’re going to compress the ball like Adam Scott, so they’re trying to hit 8-iron 140 metres straight back into the breeze.
“When they swing a club that’s two-clubs longer, they immediately swing it smoother rather than trying to go after it. When that shot lands on the green, that’s worth 50 balls on the driving range.
“A lot of people in that handicap range need to do more of that because usually in the monthly medal or a stroke round, it is their decision-making on the tough holes where things go south.”
Another common area for improvement centres on the short game. While many focus their practice on longer drives and hitting more greens, Jones works with his players on turning missed greens into pars.
“If 15-markers spent all their practice time on their short game rather than at the driving range, they’d be saving eight to 10 shots per round by the end of the year,” Jones insists.
“A 15-marker, on a good day, will do 60-65 per cent of things OK but from inside 100 metres they generally aren’t as good as they should be. That’s something that most 15-markers do not pay much attention to because their philosophy is that if they can hit it 300 and hit more greens, they won’t have to worry about short game.
“If a 15-marker is proficient out of bunkers, when they are hitting iron shots into greens they’re not worried about missing the green because they can get the ball up-and-down more often than not.” – with Tony Webeck
5-handicapper and lower, with Nick Bielawski
Coaching programs manager at the PGA of Australia, Nick Bielawski, knows all about helping players reach a handicap of 5 and below. In fact, he even runs the Golf Performance Program, which exists with this very goal in mind.
“It is not uncommon for players to hit a roadblock when they are headed for a low single-figure handicap,” Bielawski explains. “Taking that next step can be very challenging and you need to finely tune all aspects of your game.”
At this end of the scale, it is not just about spending time practising, but ensuring you are practising the right way. “It is essential that you work to a tailored coaching program,” Bielawski insists. “What works for some people might not be what your game requires to take the next step.
“Ultimately, you need a program that addresses the technical, tactical, physical and mental areas of your game,” he says. “You can’t neglect one of these and expect good results.
“Put particular emphasis on ensuring your body can actually do what it needs to do in order to perform – your strength mobility and overall co-ordination need to become high priorities.”
Added to that, Bielawski is a big advocate of encouraging players to get out and play tournament golf against quality players, getting outside your comfort zone and enjoying the challenge
“This is the best way to learn and improve,” he explains. “Getting out there in a high-performance environment with other good players shows you where you are at, what you need to do and helps you learn to perform under pressure.
“These are all the skills that are essential if you are going to get down towards a scratch handicap.”
• For more information on the Golf Performance Program and how it can help you reach your handicap goals in 2023, visit: pgaclp.com.au/golf-performance-program/
To find your local PGA professional and work towards setting up and achieving your own handicap goals, visit: pga.org.au/find-a-pga-pro/