What have you found to be the most effective way to teach your golfers how to play the game instead of just how to swing the club?

24 Professionals Contributed |
It's easy to get wrapped up in the mechanics of the golf swing. Sometimes, golfers just need to learn how to play better instead of swing better. Here are some helpful ways to play the game instead of just swing the club.

Play the game, in front of you!

At its best, golf is played in front of the golfer, meaning the golfer doesn’t have to think of their swing other than a simple trigger or thought. Playing the game in front of you means you are focused on what you want the ball to do and you have the confidence that you can do that with the swing you have today.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is really difficult to get into that mind set though, especially if you are a 20 handicap…simply thinking about where you want the ball to go won’t work unless you give yourself a large enough area to hit to. In other words, Tiger & DJ & Phil may be able to think about hitting a ball to a particular shelf on a green at Augusta National from 170 yards, but a 20 handicap simply needs that shelf on the green to be part of their much larger target.

Have you ever had a lay-up shot that gave you the comfortable sense that, it just needed to be a decent 5 iron somewhere down there between the trees on the left and the trees on the right, no pressure… then you hit a great shot. You hit a great shot because your target was well within your current ability. Then filled with confidence you decide that this next 9 iron is going right at that pin tucked just over the bunker and proceed to dump it into the bunker. On that 9 iron shot, if you had a target area that was a bit long and towards the fat side of the green though, you would have had more confident in your swing. Rotella says “Cocky swings at a conservative target, works way better than a conservative swing at a cocky target.” Fawcett says every player has a shot pattern or scatter pattern that is usually much wider than they realize, we’d like to think of ourselves as snipers but instead we are shooting scatter guns with a pattern that gets larger the further back we go.

So, here is your challenge!

1. Learn your scatter pattern with each club. It will usually be an elliptical pattern from short right to long left for right handed golfers. It will usually be smallest with the shortest shots and largest with the longer shots.

2. Work to shrink your pattern when you practice.

3. Be honest with yourself when you play. Pick your target so that your worst shots end up ok.

4. Now swing free and have fun.

As you get better at swinging the club, your pattern will shrink and you’ll be able to take a more aggressive line with the same confidence. In the meantime, pick a target that makes sense in order to not feel like you have to hit it perfect to get to your target. When I see golfers start playing golf swing instead of golf, it is always because they have picked a target that creates an un-easy, tension filled golf swing. Now they think they have to give themselves a golf lesson while they play.

Senior Director, Academy Development U.S. Kids Golf, Longleaf Golf & Family Club
"Play the game, in front of you!" @CoachJim_USKGA Click to Tweet

Spend a majority of the time on the course (and practice your short game)

Since GlenArbor is a seasonal club with a winter teaching facility, most of my students time is spent on mechanics in the winter. During the spring, summer and fall the majority of my time with them is spent on the golf course and short game area!

Students need to learn how to navigate different conditions, lies, and circumstances that they would encounter on the golf course. Remember, we coach to make students games better during their day to day rounds. Maintenance should be done as well to keep fundamentals sharp and on point. Try spending more time with your instructor on the golf course and see what it does to your handicap!

Have fun and play well!!

GlenArbor Golf Club
"Spend a majority of the time on the course (and practice your short game)" @roblabritzgolf Click to Tweet

Really want to improve your golf game? Get incredible swing tips delivered to your inbox every week.

Play Golf With Your Pro!

I love to play golf with my students! One of the best experiences any student of the game can have is an on-course lesson with their PGA Professional!

Make it your new year’s resolution to get out on the links with your golf instructor! Book a nine hole lesson, book the tee time and play with your teacher!

You will learn a lot about your teacher’s philosophy by watching him/her play the course alongside you. Listen to the advice you get and try to emulate the tempo you see. You will not only strengthen your skills, but also strengthen your student-teacher relationship.

The Country Club of Virginia
"Play Golf With Your Pro!" Click to Tweet

Focused Practice

The most effective way teach golfers how to play golf is to go on the golf course. Let’s say that is not possible and you only have the practice areas. If that is the case you need to create holes on the range either from a course you play or in your mind. When you pick the hole define where the fairway is, hazards, etc. This will create pressure to execute what you are trying to do. You should be constantly changing your targets, distances, and angles of the shots. This will give you the feel of playing on the course.

As you become a better player, you can keep doing this and incorporate the shape and trajectory of your shots. When you get to the short game you can keep doing this on the range with different distances, heights, and lies if possible. On every shot, you need to go through your whole routine just like you are playing. If you want to make it more challenging, you can make your targets smaller. I would highly suggest keeping score and recording it so you can come back and see if you improve.

Also, a great way to learn how to play and come up with a game plan without stepping on the course is using a course management system like DECADE. DECADE is a great way to learn how to aim and prepare to play a course.

By doing all of these things you are creating focused practice with results and consequences attached just like the golf course. If you can’t get to the course then this is the best way to learn how to play.

Stonebriar Country Club
"Focused Practice" Click to Tweet

Playing the game

The first obvious answer would be playing lessons. However I believe playing lessons are more suited for talking strategy on how to play the hole or a what shot to play.

Learning to play different shots can be achieved on the range. I was taught to focus more on controlling trajectory, low, medium and high, as my first priority. This made it easier to play in windy conditions. Shaping the ball left to right or right to left was a secondary objective. This is how I approach it in teaching as well.

If your facility has a short game area this is a great way to learn how to play the game as well. When can you bring it in low, when do you have to hit it high? Where do you want to leave the ball for your next shot, left of the hole, right of the hole, short of the hole or past the hole. These short game strategies can also help you in your thought process for approach shots as well.

Flagler Golf Academy
"Playing the game" Click to Tweet

Practice Like You Play

Performing well on the course has a lot to do with practicing properly. After you are warmed up, hit balls to exact targets and alternate clubs on each shot like you would do on the course. For example, pretend you are playing a par 4 hole. Choose your driver and hit it to an imaginary fairway. Then hit your choice of iron to an exact green. If you didn’t hit the green then do a pitch shot to an exact spot on the range.

By alternating clubs on the range, you are simulating real-course situations.

"Practice Like You Play" @barrywchurchill Click to Tweet

Take it to the Course

I have always tried to work in on course lessons with all of my students. This past year I offered 9 and 18 hole playing lessons and did more thanks to the pandemic. Over the years, playing lessons have really helped my students understand the why on how to play a golf hole. The when to take a driver or other club off the tee and the wow. The wow is the way their score comes down when they understand why you hit certain shots to areas of the fairway or green.

Standing on the lesson tee is great but when you can put all of the teachings to good use on the course it just makes for better playing students. Better students will play more and have much more fun!!

Rob Elliott Golf Academy
"Take it to the Course" Click to Tweet

On course coaching!

On course coaching! That’s our best practice. Once we have taught basic fundamentals and swing mechanics, I often take my students to the course. Most of the time their high scores are not a result of swing mechanics but club selection, shot choice and execution along with experience. You will have more success in scoring if you have confidence and an outstanding short game. Master chipping, pitching, bunkers and putting and you’ll be surprised how much better your long game becomes once you master your short game!

Also introduced a program for women and juniors to bring them to the course! “Women and Wine program meets each Wednesday from 5pm to 7pm. Start at the range with complimentary glasses of wine and a clinic session on the range. Then we take the ladies to the course for on course training in a non competitive scramble format for 3 holes. Great fun and great practice. We have a similar program for our juniors minus the complimentary glass of wine.

Hope this helps, no better practice than being on the Course!!!

"On course coaching!" Click to Tweet

Building A Better Routine

I find that most golfers fail to have a consistent routine. They fail in having a process oriented mind. They fail to be confident because they have no clue why or how they got over the ball and then pull the trigger with absolute mindlessness.

In order to become a “player” rather than a “hacker”, one needs to buy in to the fact that the game of golf is mostly between the ears. It involves a precise and repeated routine involving intent and strong visualization.

Transfer to the course from the range is difficult for most golfers because they change the way they think and feel once they get over the ball. If they were to understand that at least 80% of the swing happens in the pre-shot routine and the setup, they would trust their swing.
So my players get better when they become process oriented. They build a better routine that they can practice on the range and then transfer to the course because they have practiced the shots through visualization drills. They have hit those shots in their mind so many times that when they get to the real hole it’s as they have been there before. Confidence increases and scores go down.

"Building A Better Routine" Click to Tweet

From the Green Back

When I have someone that wants to improve their scoring ability, lower their handicap, or just shave shots. We start at the green and work our way back. Improving distance control and flight control from inside 100 yards is the best way to help lower your score. The best players in the world work countless hours on their control in the scoring zone (inside 100 yards).

With our competitive players in our academy we do a number of drills over the winter months to help stay sharp where we set targets from inside 100 yards and run tests with proximity. We give each player a certain number of shots and they receive a score based on proximity to the hole for each shot. Much like a small combine.

As an Instructor, the biggest irritation I see in the general public is what people practice and they way they practice. They buy bucket and buckets of range balls, trying to figure out how to hit it straight, when what they need to figure out is how far they hit it and how to hit it so far.

"From the Green Back" @mjasbell Click to Tweet

one-man scramble & worst ball

Once the player has achieved a reasonable level of consistency on the range I explain hitting balls on the range (even if they have progressed away from block practice to variability practice) is different from the the actual playing of shots during a round. The success rate of range versus actual play is usually lower.

To elevate their course play I suggest they take their practice to the course and alternate playing 2 games. The first would be the “one-man scramble” and the second is “worst ball”, using 2 balls. The first game is somewhat self explanatory, the second is playing the worst of the 2 shots continuously until the ball is holed. I explain these 2 games will give them a realistic view of their skill level, and insight into what are the weakest and strongest parts of their game.

"one-man scramble & worst ball" Click to Tweet

RealTime Golfing Situations

My most effective way to teach my students how to play … is by putting them in real time situations throughout the course, wether it’s off the tee, around the green or managing their game in trouble, teach them real situations as well as the fundamentals of golf.

Bradenton Country Club
"RealTime Golfing Situations" Click to Tweet

Man has to know his limitations

I tell students to play within your confidence level. That means understanding the risk vs. reward on your shot selection. You must be able to see it, feel it and trust it in order to think positively and convert.Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan said the game was played between your ears. In competition, never try to hit a shot you haven’t practiced… go to plan “B”.

"Man has to know his limitations" Click to Tweet

Teaching new golfers to play

I start talking about playing the game from the start, during the initial lessons I explain what the clubs are for, tell them how the game is played and how to to keep score along with a few basic rules and some etiquette. Depending on their experience many times I take them to the first tee and show them golfers teeing off, we’ll go the golf shop and show them how to make tee times and explain the scorecard. We’ll do some pitch shots instead of all full shots, we talk about the mental side of the game and I encourage them to take short games lesson to be able to enjoy the game when they start playing.

I tell them I want them to be golfers not just people that practice the golf swing, so I do what I can including recommending courses I think are good for beginners.

Links at Mariners Point
"Teaching new golfers to play" Click to Tweet

On Course Playing Lessons

The game is played on the course. The game is rarely taught on the course, in my observations. Sometimes what your Students/Members/Customers/Golfers want is something they can’t identify, and taking them out to a spot on the course and getting in six holes in an hour can be eye opening for both of us.

I really can’t recommend this enough.

"On Course Playing Lessons" Click to Tweet

Get out and Play

Golf Lessons are great for everyone, but the only way to find out about Golf is to play on the golf course at the right time.

For beginners start out on the fairway about 220 yards out on a PAR 4 fairway and tee the ball up. Do the same on a Par 5 hole and Par tee off from 100 yards out.

For a golfer who has been playing for a while play from the FORWARD tees. I played most of my golf when starting was in the evening time and by myself at times but even then playing with others I played from RIGHT TEEING ground until I improved. If not try to find a near by Par 3 course to play on.

Fox Hollow Golf Club
"Get out and Play" Click to Tweet

On course guidance.

After a certain level of proficiency has been developed swinging the club, it is time for me as an instructor to take my students on the golf course. There I can see if they’re actually making the swing that we’re working on, and how they manage the course. I make very detailed notes when I play nine holes with my students. These act as a guide for what we actually need to work on. Beyond that I recommend that my students do as much on-course practice on their own as possible.

The Rookery At Marco
"On course guidance." Click to Tweet

Playing lessons make a difference

To become a better player, rather than just swinging the club, take a playing lesson. I have observed that a lot of problems on the course occur not because of the swing, but, rather, because of what a player does with it, and the habits they have while making a shot rather than just hitting balls.

The following problems may never show up on the range, but are glaring on the course: Pre-shot routine variations, alignment skills, shot selection/strategy, unrealistic expectations and tempo changes. A playing lesson will help identify those weak spots that seem to hold you back.

Moses Lake Golf Club
"Playing lessons make a difference" @owenmcclaingolf Click to Tweet

Short game, play while practicing and just play

First is to get them to appreciate and work at their short game. Use their imagination and experiment with different short game shots while practicing and on course when playing alone.

Second play holes from the practice tee. Go through their routine and play holes on their course on the practice tee—hit a tee shot, then an iron second and a chip/pitch if they miss the green, then imagine and play another hole.

Third is to just go play. On each shot make a practice swing feeling the shot they want to hit, then go through their routine, focus on the target and not mechanics and hit the shot.

"Short game, play while practicing and just play" Click to Tweet

Situational Awareness

I think that taking students to the course and putting them in a variety of situations – a sort of “modified” playing lesson – where you can talk through the options and then play them out, can be some of the best time spent on the golf course.

PGA Professional
"Situational Awareness" @iacas Click to Tweet

Where am I going?

Golf should be played from the ball forward thinking of where we want the ball to go! Focusing our mind on a ball flight and landing spot helps us swing vs. hit at the ball!

Tsai Hsing Golf Academy
"Where am I going?" Click to Tweet

How to play the game

Simple answer
Get out of the teaching facility and get on the course.

Whispering Pines Golf Club
"How to play the game" Click to Tweet

Chip, Sand, and Putt.......

Get them to fall in love with chipping, sand bunker and putting…

"Chip, Sand, and Putt......." Click to Tweet


Playing lessons combined with creating pressure at the range

Frosty Valley Golf Links

The Professionals in this Roundup

The Backswing Fix

Delivered to Your Inbox

Get swing tips delivered to your inbox every week.