How we can all improve by playing a bit smarter

A little longer than three years ago, my family and I moved back to Australia after residing in the United States for 13 years. We’re from Perth originally but always loved Melbourne, so the city known as one of the most liveable in the world became our new home. Little did we know it would become ‘the most locked-down city in the world’ shortly afterwards when COVID-19 hit. With no golf allowed, I began filling days by writing a new book I’d been thinking about as a follow-up to my first one, Tour Mentality – Inside the Mind of a Tour Pro.

Since retiring from full-time playing, I’ve been coaching and mentoring golfers of all standards, from tour pros to 27-handicappers. Throughout this time one simple truth dawned upon me: the easiest way to shoot lower scores is by managing your way around the golf course in the most effective way that works for you. Yes, technique is important, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. There are plenty of technically gifted golfers out there who can’t post a decent score. Figuring out the best way to play a course in the fewest strokes possible… that’s the secret ingredient.

When helping golfers, I rarely talk about changing their swing – that’s for the teaching pros of the world. Instead, I show them how to ‘play’ golf by working on areas such as strategy, the mental game, improving the scoring clubs, how to play from different lies and in varying conditions, to name a few. These areas and many more are covered throughout my new book, How To Play Your Best Golf.

For example, golfers tend to struggle hitting shots into a headwind. Their first instinct is to hit the ball harder, but this leads to creating too much spin on the ball and/or mis-hits sending the ball way offline. Instead, take an extra club or two and make a smooth, three-quarter swing to take spin off the ball, so the wind has less effect. You can even practise this type of shot on calm days at the range. For instance, if there’s a 130-metre target you’d normally hit a 7-iron to, take a 5-iron, narrow your stance a little (like you would for a pitch shot) and make a shorter, smoother swing with the goal of the ball finishing level with the target.

This type of distance control is crucial to playing well. On the course, pin-high is typically our goal and tour pros are the best (obviously) at controlling how far their ball goes. For me, it doesn’t matter what club you use as long as it goes the desired length (e.g. hitting that 5-iron a 7-iron distance). This applies to the short game and putting, too. Think about it: if you have good speed on the greens, you’ll rarely three-putt. Ninety-five percent of three-putts occur from either going too far past the hole or coming up too short with the first attempt. It’s rare to be too wide. The same goes for chipping and bunker play. If you control distance well with these shots, your up and down percentage will rise dramatically.

How do you improve areas like these? Well, you might just have to grab a copy of How To Play Your Best Golf to find out.

For more information, check it out at

Photo by getty images: Paul Kane