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Lower your score with advice to help you play smart golf

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

Golf is a simple game.
The ball is not moving when you try to make contact with it. No one is out there intercepting it or catching it and throwing it to first base. When you walk down the fairway, no one is rushing you, trying to tackle you and bring you to the ground.
There are no defensive players in the grass, waiting to high-stick you. You have no team and there is no opposing team. When you get to the green, nothing stands between you and the cup except your skills and mental readiness.   
Yet there are thousands of instructive books and videos trying to teach you the perfect swing for all 14 clubs in your bag. There are more books and videos that focus on the mental aspects of the game.
We know how to play the game. Most of us have taken lessons; some of us have played golf since we were pre-teens. So let’s consider the simple approach to lowering our score.
Last week, I spoke at length with Jeff Davis, teaching PGA professional at the Sea Trail Golf School, about simplifying the game, about small steps everyone can take to lower his or her score.
Jeff has been in the business of golf instruction for most of his life and today he has an international clientele. Several of his students fly here from Europe each year to play golf and take lessons from Jeff.
We came up with “10 Steps to a Better Score,” none of which involves swing plane, or grip, or stance or any of the usual things teaching professionals talk about. These are simple directives that can help bring down your score.
1. Get to the course early and give yourself time to drop off your bag and check in at the pro shop. If you have time to hit a few shots, do so. “Even if you only do some putting to warm up, being relaxed as you go to the first tee can help you get off to a good start,” Jeff said.   
2. If your drive finds the trees, play a safe shot back out to the fairway. “Taking a gamble and trying to hit that 2-foot gap in the branches doesn’t pay off enough. When hitting back to the fairway, take a low-lofted club like a 5- or 4-iron so the ball stays low and runs. Use a chip-type of stroke, not a full swing,” Jeff explained.
3. If you hit a poor drive, and it’s in play but the green is out of reach, take a club that you hit well and lay it up. “Trying to kill a 3-wood or attempting to hit a driver off the deck may not be a wise choice,” Jeff said.  
4. If the pin is tucked behind a bunker, maybe playing to the middle of the green is the best choice and you will still have a chance to make that putt. “Going for a tough pin has a risk/reward element, and if you’re not feeling totally confident that you can execute the shot, play it safe.”
5. Always put a mark on those short putts. “I’ve seen so many putts missed because the golfer tries to hurry and tap it in, and then it lips out,” said Jeff. “Take the time to line up those short putts and make sure the putter face stays looking at the hole or break line during the stroke. Every shot is important and goes towards your total score, so don’t be careless on those short putts.”  
6. Some holes aren’t driver holes. “Don’t risk a shot that will blow through the fairway or try to hit a big high hook over the corner dogleg. Instead, just hit a 3-wood (or iron) to the fairway and go from there. Even if you don’t get to the green with your second shot, a short pitch can get you on the green and in position to make that putt,” Jeff explained.  
7. You need to feel confident with chipping and pitching, but if you are in a position just off the green, consider putting the ball. “If the putter can get you closer to the pin than any other club in your bag, go for it,” Jeff said. “Just don’t do this all the time, because there is a huge advantage to learning the proper technique of a chip shot. Learning to use different clubs for chips can help lower your score.”
8. Play from the tee that’s right for you. “Many of our members have moved from the white tees to the gold tees and have found a new enjoyment to their golf,” Jeff said. “Sea Trail has also added a new set of tees for beginners, high-handicappers and juniors. These tees are painted turquoise and are located in the fairway several yards in front of the red tees.”
9. Pay attention to the conditions. “If the wind is blowing, and in our coastal area, that’s most of the time, you may want to tee the ball a little lower to keep the ball down and less affected by the wind,” Jeff said. “Also, don’t swing out of your shoes when hitting into the wind. You’ll go farther by keeping the tempo smooth and relying on good contact.
“When the ball is in the rough, notice how the ball is setting, sometimes it sets high in the grass and sometime it sinks down. You don’t want to swing down too deep into the grass when the ball is setting high. You’ll go right under it and lose distance.”
10. It will not always be your day on the golf course. “I watch the pros on TV and I notice that most tournament fields are made up of 160 players, but only 60 players make the cut each week. The players that miss the cut have to go and work on certain areas of their game so they can do better next time. Pay attention to where you’re losing strokes and work on that part of your game between rounds. There’s always room to grow your consistency and confidence.”
So, dear readers, let’s take Jeff’s tips to heart. We’ll all be playing better by the fall.

Golf Gab groaner
 More Murphy’s Laws of Golf: It takes 17 holes to get really warmed up. No golfer ever swung too slowly. No golfer ever played too fast. No matter how badly you are playing, it’s always possible to play worse. (Submitted by Larry and Peg Agrimonti.)
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.