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A hacker's guide to lowering your score

May 17, 2009
By B.J. Lisko, Salem News Sports Editor

*Read this article and more in our Monday, May 18 golf guide*

How many times does this happen to you? You're running late for your 10 a.m. tee time. You screech into the parking lot, spilling your coffee all over the new shorts you just bought to replace the jeans you've been playing in an attempt to try to resemble an actual person who plays golf. Hurriedly you pop the trunk and whip on your. Foot Joys that are down to about four spikes on each foot without even tying the laces that have ripped six times are about seven inches total in length counting both feet.

You run into the club house, pay the greens fees, tip the guy who loaded your Adams irons on the cart which you paid entirely too much for on EBay, and run to the first tee where the starter gives you hell for being late and screwing up his whole system. Tip him, too. You grab the big dog out of the bag, whip down one of the brand new Titlest ProV1's you had no business ever trying to hit in the first place, take two maniac practice swings, and then finally address the ball. Your shirt is untucked, the smell of caramel mocha mixed with your Old Spice wafts up into your nose. You look down the fairway and let it rip. Problem is you're not even close to loose, you swung too fast, took your head off the ball, and did more things wrong than Charles Barkley did on his whole golf reality show.

"Gambling is illegal at Bushwood, sir, and I never slice."

Well, at least Judge Smails got somewhat off the tee in "Caddyshack." You dribbled your ProV1 about 30 yards to the right where it's nestled in some bushes. You drop another, take a mulligan, and pull hook the thing four fairways over where you nearly kill a squirrel, a duck, some girl scouts selling cookies door to door, and three other golfers. Let's just leave that one over there.

You end up hacking your first ball out of the quagmire it's settled in. Four more uninspired hacks and you're on the green where you can four-putt your way to a crowd-pleasing 10. You mark an eight on the card, of course, and so begins your golf expedition.

Sound familiar? Well, okay, maybe you didn't kill any squirrels, girl scouts or spill coffee on yourself. But the average golfer in America doesn't break triple digits for 18 holes. The average golfer averages about an 90 on the scorecard, but that's with at least 10 mulligans, six "gimmie putts" that lipped out of the hole that were counted as good, and no penalties assessed for any ball in the water or out of bounds whatsoever. Not to mention this whole business of improving your lie which happens at least 50 times. If you had actually counted all that, your 90 just turned into a 150.

I'm not going to sit on my high horse and preach how great of a golfer I am. But I am one of the few Americans who has played it enough and is decent enough to consistently break 90 at just about any course that's not TPC Sawgrass. Most people reading this are casual golfers or holiday hackers, and that's fine. That's who this article is geared to. If you're already breaking 80 consistently you're probably already doing what I'm about to discuss, but read along anyways, cause you might pick something up, you'll certainly be able to relate because I'm sure most of the people you golf with aren't as good as you, and at the very least, I promise to make you laugh.

Step 1 Getting started

I know it's tough to sleep off the case of Steel Reserve's you put down the night before, but if you've got a tee time booked and you want to actually play halfway decent, it might be a good idea to get a reasonable about of rest, say six or seven hours before teeing it up. That might mean having to miss that "Family Guy" rerun at 2 a.m. and stopping at five or six beers. But if you tee off at nine, get to bed by say, oh, I don't know, midnight. And try actually sleeping this time in lieu of passing out. Trust me, sleep is important, because your tee time is at 9, but you're going to get to the course by a mind shattering 8:30 so you can actually loosen up a bit.

When you get to the course, a small bucket of balls is always a better alternative to embarrassing yourself beyond repair on the first tee. Take a few swings, but don't start with the driver. Start with say something you can actually hit without endangering the lives of everyone on the course, like a 7-iron. Loosen up. Concentrate on making solid contact with the ball. After ten of those, then you can grab the driver. But don't take 40 cuts with that. First off, you've been ambitious enough to get to the course by 8:30, so you won't have time anyways. But even if you did, aside from say the 3-iron, the driver is the club in the bag you're really not going to hit very much for the day. Think about it. Everyone puts so much stock in the driver, and you use it maybe 12-14 times a round. That's it. It's only accounting for a little more than a tenth of what your final score usually is, yet so many people go to the range and over swing like crazy to the point it screws up their rhythm for every other club in the bag. And if you're like me, after about the fourth time you hit the driver so far in the wrong direction Shot Link couldn't even find it, you switch to the 3-wood anyway.

Now that you're at least somewhat loose, and you've made decent contact a few times, hopefully you're ready to go.

Just doing this, and this alone, will knock off at least a handful of strokes on your score. Even if you double or even triple bogey the first hole, it's a heck of a lot better than posting double digits, and you've already saved yourself at least three shots.

2. Club selection

Quit trying to be Tiger Woods. Seriously. According to every pro golfer I have ever interviewed, the biggest mistake amateur golfers make is not hitting enough club. You can't hit a 7-iron 180 yards so stop trying! Whatever club you take out of your bag from the fairway, put it back, and club up one. If you jack the ball over the green, then go back to what you were hitting. But chances are the 7-iron you hit came up 25 yards short of what you needed. So go with the 6-iron, or even a five, and give the shot a chance to go somewhere near the hole. Quit trying to impress your friends. They aren't impressed and are tired of your crap and are about to push you into the nearest pond for being a jerk.

"Well, looks like I got about 150 left. I think I'm gonna try a soft nine." If you're gonna hit a soft nine, get the wedge out of the bag, too, because you're going to need it to make up the last 35 yards you've got left to the hole. If you're not breaking 100, there are reasons for this, and this is likely one of them. Club up!

3. Around the greens

The only club I've seen people butcher worse than the driver is the pitching wedge. No less than a million times have I seen men and women completely duff the hell out of that thing. They'll stand over a shot for what seems like an eternity, take at least 30 lovely practice swings with perfect tempo, only to hack at their ball like their chopping down a tree. Take your club straight back and straight through. Have the same tempo the entire swing. If you fluff or duff a lot of wedges, chances are you slowed down following through or didn't follow through at all. Always follow through your chip shots no matter how close to the hole you are. Not following through increases the probability you're about to send a screamer at one of your playing partners standing on the opposite side of the hole, or duff it six inches, then get mad, swing harder and then send a Titlest toward someone's head. You've already ticked them off by not clubbing up enough. Try no to take them out with one of your horrid chips. Then they really will push you in the pond.

On the greens

Putting is miserable. It's the one aspect of the round sure to go terrible if everything else is going right. Already having a bad day? Well, the greens are likely to make it worse.

If you have time before the round after mangling drives on the range, drop a few balls on the practice green to get the feel of things. Of course, everyone knows that the practice green in no way resembles the speed of any green you'll find on the actual course, ever. But again, it's all about rhythm and getting a feel before you start. If you don't have time to hit the practice green (should've went two less on the Steel Reserve's), once you get to the first green, drop a few balls in an area no one has hit, pick a spot out and putt toward it. It will make your first putts a whole lot less painful.

Once you've gotten into the round, you're sure to face at least a half dozen dreaded three footers. Three foot putts are the bane of my existence, and are almost always the reason I fail to break 80. But, having missed so many in my lifetime, I am fortunate enough now to at least know what the problem is. Not that I can do anything about it myself, but maybe you can.

Here's a tip that actually helped me a bit. When you're lining up a three-footer, make sure your club head is facing the hole. Sound obvious? It's not. If you're missing a lot of these, your putter head is often angled a little high or low of the cup, hence so many lip-outs.

Another tip that will help tremendously is to not look at your ball. You heard that right. Don't look at your ball. Once you've lined up your putt, pick a spot about four inches in front of your ball and focus on that. Now hit your putt. If you're aiming at a spot that's in line and closer to the hole, it's actually pretty amazing how often the putt drops. Keep your head still on this one and you shouldn't have much of a problem.

Have fun

Obviously, this was a light-hearted look at ways to knock a few strokes off your score without having to cheat to do it. Most of this seems fairly obvious, but what's the definition of insanity again? Repeating the same patterns over and over again with the same result. Well golf is an insane game, but the key is to find the right patterns to repeat. Then instead of just being insane you can be insanely good. And your friends, the course, the other players, the greens keepers, your family, your husband, your wife, the squirrels, the ducks, and don't forget the girl scouts, will appreciate it immensely. Happy hacking!

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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