The Top 10 Course Management Mistakes That Golfers Make

I recently had a question on twitter. Thank you @mstaley for your question because I think it is an important one. “What are the biggest mistakes that the average golfer makes in their course management?” As I prepare for my mental game seminars this winter, I thought I would come up with a top 10 list and see if we can help your games without changing your swing mechanics or putting stroke. So here we go!

1. Not hitting enough club on approach shots – I think this stems firstly from not knowing how far each club carries to begin with. I encourage you to find someone who has a launch monitor and do a gapping session. Most golfers rely on their absolute best shot distance instead of their average which doesnt leave room for a slight miss hit. Make a card with your distances on it and put it in your bag for reference. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your golf score.

2. Aiming at every flag no matter what – I use the stop light color code system whencoaching students around the course. There are three types of flags. 1)red – a flag that is tucked behind a bunker or a water hazard or that is very close to the edge of one side. yellow – this is an exposed pin that is closer to the front or the back of the green. It will bait you into trying to get it close but you have to make sure to take the correct club. Green – This is a flag that is in the middle of the green or is very accessible for the ball to land and stop. These are “Go Zone” opportunities. There are typically about 6 of these per round so take advantage of these. For the average golfer 15-25 handicap, you will be well served to play to the largest part of the green and take your chances. You will be amazed at how your scores will decrease.

3. Hitting Driver On Every Hole – There is no rule that you have to hit driver on every par 4 or 5. It is important to know your strengths and weaknesses and driving can be a key weakness if you don’t play smart. We all have our holes that we struggle with at our home course. My advice is to change your strategy. Hit a fairway wood or a hybrid off the tee and see if your scores don’t improve. You must have room to miss your tee ball and still keep it in play. If the hole is super tight, play a shot that you know that you can get in play 80% of the time even if you give up a little distance. Dont let your playing partners dictate your game plane. Stick to it!

4. Trying To Play the Hero Shot – One of my “NEVER’S” in course management is never hit two bad shots in a row if you can help it. This usually refers to trouble shots. You have pushed your tee shots into the trees and have to decide on what to do. 1) hit a 80 yard slice with a hybrid through a 6 foot gap just to hit the green or 2) punch out into the fairway in the large gap that you could drive your truck through. Most players choose #1 just because they saw Bubba Waston do it in the Masters. No. take your medicine and eliminate the big number. Wedge it on and try to make par the hard way but take double or worse out of the equation.

5. Putting To the Apex of the Putt – As an Aimpoint Green reading instructor, this is a huge pet peeve. I am not going to go into this as it could become an entire article but I hear this constantly from golfers when asked to read a putt. The apex is the top of the curve on a breaking putt. If you “Aim” at the apex, your ball will begin to break early in the putt and always miss low and will never make it to the “Apex.” The apex is an area that ball will roll through if the ball is started on the correct line. My advice is twofold 1) Take an AimPoint Class and 2)Play 20% more break than you think and you will come out ahead in the long run. We always want the ball breaking toward the hole. If you under read your putts, you must hit the ball too hard or miss on the low side and have no chance.

6. Not taking advantage of the teeing ground – After you have picked your target off the tee, I would suggest you tee off on the side that you don’t want to miss it. For example – You have a par 4 with water down left side. Tee of on the left side of box which will open up your target area

7. Using Too Much Loft Around the Green – There are times when you must play your toss shots up in the air over obstacles. But there are many more times when you have lots of green between your and hole and you still hit it up in the air and come up short. Don’t be one-dimensional. Learn to use your gap wedge to hit toss shots and learn to use less lofted clubs and hybrids to hit the higher percentage shots. Play the lowest shot allowable is my philosophy.

8. Know your strengths and weaknesses – For you higher handicaps, I suggest that you find your favorite club that you can hit into the air just about every time. Fairway woods are difficult to hit off of the ground for most players. It is OK to hit your tee shot, hit 2 seven irons up to the green and finish the hole. Work on your weaknesses on the practice range and have fun shooting lower scores. I once had a twice a year golfer shoot 43 during a playing lesson by hitting his 7 wood off the tee, 7 iron until we reached the green and pitched it on and made many pars and bogeys. There is no blueprint.

9. Letting A Bad Shot Ruin Your Round – It’s easier said than done but we must have an effective post shot routine. We all get upset over bad shots but when they carry over for several holes then we have a problem. I allow my students 10 seconds to be angry and once that club goes back into the bag we focus on the next shot. This takes practice but it will pay off in the long run.

10. Carrying Too Many Negative Thoughts or Swing Thoughts into the Play Box (address position) – We have all heard how important a pre-shot routine is in helping you stay focused on the shot at hand. Here is what I recommend. As you are standing behind the ball and preparing to play, ask yourself 2 questions…1)Where is my target? and 2)How do I want my ball to get there? This will help you block out distractions and help you focus on the whats important. Once you get into the play box, check your target, visualize the shot and “Don’t Forget To Breathe”

I hope you enjoyed this post. Many things in golf are common sense but we often need to be reminded of the basics. Play smart and enjoy shooting lower scores.

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Students Of The Game…..Consistency Is Not A Goal!!

Tonight I want to speak to the students in the room. Specifically the ones here that are interested in getting better. Who really wants to improve their scores? Raise your hands high! Is that your real objective? You would be surprised to find that it isn’t always the case. At the beginning of every lesson or golf school, I always ask the student what is your goal for today and where do you want your game to look like in a years time? Anything past that is for tour players. You would be surprised by some of the answers that i get from such a simple question. (or is it). I enjoy asking the goal question and telling them that their answers cannot include the word CONSISTENCY and you wouldn’t believe the look on their faces because they were all going to say it….”I just want to be more consistent”. As a golf coach, that phrase means very little to me as I attempt to gain valuable information about your game that will help direct me towered helping you play better. Players, you have to be more specific. As I watch a new student warm up and hit every shot to the right, i might joke that you are incredibly consistent……… 🙂 the point is, you have to be more specific when setting your goals and a quality coach should be able to help you with this. The first step is with an accurate assessment of your current condition. Now I understand that there are goals that apply to different level of players and this important because the only thing worse than not setting goals is to set them too high only to get frustrated. For example, a beginning golfer might set a goal of getting the ball airborne every time and that is ok. There is nothing worse than a new golfer thinking that they should hit it perfect (just like their friend who has been playing for years) and getting frustrated and quitting the game. Here are some examples of specific yet simple goals and I will give you an easy way to organize your plan for next season.
1. Stop slicing or hooking

2. To hit the ball more solid instead of hitting the ground behind the ball or catching it thin 

3. To hit more fairways or greens

4. To hit my pitch shots the right distance

5. To stop 3 putting

6. To hit my fairway woods off the ground 

7. Gain distance (very popular) but a good goal 

8. To understand my golf swing and what to work on

9. I want to get the ball out of the bunker every time

These examples are what I call skill building goals. As a coach,  I can work with these answers and build a plan to improve these skills which will ultimately lead to the second kind of goal (Outcome Goals). These are good guidance to get started and keep you focused. Examples of outcome goals would be to win the club championship or your flight in the member guest. To lower your handicap from 15 to 9. to qualify for the state amateur or to break 80 for the first time.
These are great starting points but it’s only the beginning. I understand that there are two types of golf 1) ego Golf and 2)scoring golf
Ego golf is the player that doesn’t care what they shoot as long as they hit the ball farther than their golfing buddies so that they can talk about you in the bar after your round. These players look great on the range but can’t post a score.  These are the types of players that drive coaches crazy because we feel that the ultimate goal is to score lower and we don’t care how you do it. If I have to hear,” I shot my career low……buttttt I really putted well on that day,” So What! Its part of the game. The same player goes out and hits 15 greens and shoots worse but is happy with it.

Start by keeping basic stats (gir’s, fir’s, putts, up and downs, penalty strokes) or get a software program that does it for you. My favorite is This will help you to establish a pattern to see where you are actually weak and where you are strong. After you chart 10 rounds, share it with your coach and you can start to set some goals. Here is an example: Lets say you set a goal to lower your handicap from 15 to 9. You chart your rounds and you are hitting 8 greens in reg. 9 fairways with no penalty shots, your up and down % is less than 30 and you are averaging 38 putts per round. If you are like most golfers you are still trying to hit the ball better to get your greens in reg up to 14 because that is what the top tour player is doing. Wrong! Your coach is going to say hop in the cart and lets introduce you to the short game area and putting green. He may even sign you up for an AimPoint clinic, if you are lucky! Build the skills that will help you reach your goals. Be honest with yourself and don’t worry so much about what others think when you are practicing your weaknesses. Pretty soon they will be asking you what has changed when you are thrashing them)  which is the greatest compliment as a golfer…..and the most rewarding.

Be smart this winter and you will thank me later. Dont let your ego keep you from reaching your goals this upcoming season. See you here tomorrow night!

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See you on the lesson tee,


GURU TV – How To Free Up Your Driver Swing Using Visualization

As I wrapped up my last day of family vacation at Beautiful Fripp Island, I couldn’t resist the urge to shoot some video. So I hired my daughter as my film crew (which cost me several virgin Pina Colata’s) and my wife even shot some behind the scenes footage of Guru TV. I included this really cool shot of me hitting the shot as she got me just after impact. This a great image that I think will help you hit more fairways. I hope you enjoy it and feel free to share with your friends and leave a comment below.

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Guru TV – How To Change Your Swing On the Golf Course

One of the most frequent questions that I get as an instructor is,”Guru, How do I get my swing back on track when things go wrong on the golf course.” If I could market that answer I would be a rich man. After studying the best players in the world and watching how they manage their swings while playing, this is the best answer that I could come up with. As you watch the Masters Tournament this week, look out for these Strange looking rehearsal swings and check back with me next week. Leave your Masters pick or any comments below.

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Pre-Shot Routine: A Live Look In with The Guru

This is a custom two day school that I do for James Donnelly, Todd Halpin, Kevin Clark and Chris Caso every year. I thought I would just turn the camera on, let it run and see what came out of it. This is a talk that I give my students in how to get their changes from the lesson tee to the golf course. In part 2, listen for the ball flight question from JD, a very educated golfer asks these questions. Our customers are getting smarter and more educated so you have to be ready. Let me know what you think of this impromptu look at what I do on a daily basis. Here is part 1: 

Here is part 2:

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See you on the lesson tee,


Playing Lessons – Learning how to play the game

Guru Letting It Go

In the midst of some really great weather this past couple of weeks, I have been able to spend some valuable time on the golf course with some of my students. In a typical lesson progression, I will do a 4 lesson series that consists of full swing mechanics to improve their ball striking, time spent on each short game skill and at least an hour putting. After the student starts to improve their skills in each area, I reach for the question, “Guru, what do you suggest we do next?” I promptly encourage the learner to join me for a 2 hour playing lesson. The key to success at my job is to guide my students into taking their changes from the lesson tee and being able to perform them on the golf course. It bothers me when a student leaves me for a few weeks to practice and play and returns with higher scores when I have witnessed the skill improve. There is a clear disconnect in the way they are approaching the process of playing golf. Changes take time and even the best players in the world get caught up in playing “golf swing” instead of playing “golf.” Perfect example is Tiger Woods. As he goes through another major swing change, pay close attention to what he says in his interviews to get an insight on how much trust that he has in his new technique. For example: After his loss in the Match Play event, he was asked how often he had to think about how to “perform” his new movement pattern. His answer was a definite,”I have to think about it on every swing!” This is not a player that is in a place of trust in his skill. Meanwhile…….After shooting 66 last week on Sunday and finishing top 10 for the first time in who knows when, Tiger said,”I made many quality swings today and when I made a bad one, I knew how to rectify it on the next one,” As soon as he can let go of having to think about his changes and starts thinking about scoring you will see his short game and putting come around and the rest of the tour should be very afraid……..Anyway, back to the importance of playing lessons. I actually had two playing lessons today and I am very good at reading body language with my students and how much they are using

INWARD THINKING AS OPPOSED TO TARGET FOCUSED OR OUTWARD THINKING. I study their routine (if they have one) and suggest a few changes to help organize their brains better to play better golf. Here is one example today.

My students routine consisted of 1. standing beside the ball. 2. making two practice swings 3. stepping into the ball with a glare as if it stole something from him, tension building for the longest time. Never looking up and then 4. pulling the trigger

In four different swings, he managed to aim left twice and right twice. Made swings that were not characteristic of what I had witnessed on the range. He was obviously nervous being in front of me and thinking about everything that we had worked on including some Golf Channel tips that he had brought along (he awkwardly admitted as such when I asked) This is where I can really help.

So after witnessing this for two holes, I asked if I could make a few changes. NOT SWING CHANGES, I KNEW THAT THE SKILL WAS THERE…..WE JUST NEEDED TO FIND IT!

Here is what we did: We changed the process of his thinking pattern and the way he approached the ball.

1. We started 3 steps behind the ball where I allowed him to ask 3 questions 1. where is my target…..2. what do I want my ball flight to look like as it flies at my target and 3. what is 1 swing thought that will help my swing propel the ball at the target. I showed him the value of a proper rehearsal swing (50/50) and how that feel can connect to his swing thought. We learned to walk into the ball and aim the clubface and align his body. We established a rule that once we started to walk into the ball, He could only think of target and ball flight.

At first he was very uncomfortable with his new routine but after about 2 more holes he started hitting the prettiest shots that you have ever seen. I asked him what he was thinking about and he replied with a big smile, “Playing Golf!” There is so much value in taking a playing lesson and there is plenty more to share but I will save it for next time. Thanks for reading my post and feel free to leave a comment at the bottom.

Take a playing lesson ………It will be the best time ever spent with your coach. The golf course, Where a coach can be a coach! I wish I could give all my lessons on the golf course! A Coach can dream right.

To schedule a lesson with the guru……please call 704-542-7635 or follow me on twitter

See you on the lesson tee,


A Great Blog Post From James Donnelly: Body Language

I think we can apply this to our golf games and our jobs, whatever you may do. Thanks for the gret post and for the kind shout-out. I know I will be thinking of these swing thoughts as I prepare for some upcoming speeches. Thanks JD.

swing thought”

You’ve probably heard that body language is important when communicating. 

How important?  UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian believes that non-verbal communication accounts for more than 50% of the success of getting your message across.  (To be exact, Mehrabian believes that words account for 7%, tone of voice 38%, and body language accounts for 55% of a listener’s ability to warm up to you or your message.)

There are nearly twenty non-verbal cues that make the difference between bad and great body language for communicators.  However, when I conduct communications training/coaching sessions, I typically don’t share that list at the beginning of a session.

Why?  I’m a golfer. 

What if a golf coach told you:  “Feet still…shoulders start the swing back…hands over your back foot…hinge at your waist…swivel your back to the target…pause at the top…start the downswing with the hips…drop the arms to the inside…strike the ball with a descending blow…rotate the forearms…finish high with all of your weight on the front foot.”  How well do you think you’d swing?

Instead, a good golf coach would give you a swing-thought – a simple key that would enable all the other things to happen.  It might be:  “Swing around your sternum and drop your arms inside.”  (I’m currently working on this one now with the terrific Jason Sutton of the Dana Rader Golf School.)

So, here’s my one body-language swing-thought for anyone addressing a large group of people or conducting a media interview:

“Be a more confident version of yourself, even if you have to fake it.”

With this one tip, I typically find that people begin to naturally address most of the items on the body language checklist.  This list includes:

  • Adopting a more athletic and engaging posture
  • Speaking more deliberately and impactfully
  • Taking time to breathe and think
  • Using your hands to punctuate and illustrate key points
  • Making better eye-contact with the reporter/audience
  • Moderating your vocal speed and volume

 The tip isn’t a magic bullet, but I’d say it has a success rate of about 4 out of 5.  When it doesn’t work, then I’ll begin to address a few of the finer points, or I’ll try to introduce a new swing thought, customized to address a person’s body-language faults.

I hope this tip helps you…almost as much as I hope to begin hitting a consistent draw.

You will JD, I promise…….if it kills me first.

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To schedule a lesson please call 704-542-7635 and I will see you on the lesson tee,


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