Want to improve your score? Don’t do the ‘don’ts’

We tend to be so focused on what to do out there.

Keep your head down.

Low and slow.

And, especially, have a good short game.

But as the golf season springs into summer, a recent Golf.com interview with pro Jason Dufner reminded me of five basic things you DON’T want to do on the golf course. And, not surprisingly, three of the five involve what happens when you get close to the green.

The first two are obvious:

You can’t make bogeys on par-5s.

You can’t take penalty shots.

Every time I tee it up on a course I haven’t played, the first thing I want to know is what the par-5s are like. There’s always a sense of anticipation when I reach those holes, and not just because of the opportunity to try to heroically reach it in two. I know that I can misfire on the tee shot and still have time to get back in the hole.

The reality for most golfers is that the more shots they’re hitting, the more that can go wrong. Or they try to hit it too far on the par-5, put their tee ball in a terrible position and aren’t able to recover.

Come to think of it, it’s amazing how often both of these first two “don’ts” come into play on par-5s, which tend to have more trouble than most holes. The course designer has to create some reasons to be more conservative, so it’s rare when a long hole doesn’t have water, out of bounds, a tough dogleg, lots of trees and bunkers, or all of the above.

Two of the first things I want to know about my round when I analyze it are what my score was on the par-5s and how many penalty shots I had.

If I was even par or better on the par-5s and didn’t have any penalty shots, chances are it was a pretty good day.

If I didn’t make hay on my best scoring opportunities and threw away some shots with foul balls that went OB or into hazards, I’m probably not too happy with my score.

Where Dufner’s list gets really interesting is his last three “don’ts.” These all are things that any of us can achieve – it’s not just for the big hitters.

No. 3 is: You need to be really good inside 6 feet, maybe even 8 feet.

The fourth one: Never three-putt.

And finally: You can’t make bogeys inside 150 yards.

Nos. 3 and 4 are why anytime I teach someone who’s new to the game, the first place I take them is the practice putting green. They’ve got to learn how to do that first – and they CAN learn how to do it well without having any experience hitting the ball for distance.

Short putts and three-putts have been my forever frustration, especially a three-jack when the first putt was inside 8 feet. There’s nothing worse, mentally, than having an 8-footer for birdie, charging it past the hole and missing the comebacker for par. That can ruin a round.

And I always expect to make par or better when I am in the fairway with a 9-iron or less in my hand and a chance for a green in regulation. That’s golf’s version of a layup. If you get the ball on the green and then don’t violate Nos. 3 or 4, par is yours.

Remember these five “don’ts” the next time you brighten a beautiful day even more by partaking of our great game. If you keep stats, these five categories should have their own columns:

  • Score on par-5s
  • Penalty shots
  • Short putts missed
  • Three-putts
  • Holes that weren’t parred when the shot to the green in regulation was inside 150 yards

You’re aiming for even par on the first one and zero on the other four. If the first total is under par, all the better.

Yes, you’re going to make mistakes, but it’s amazing how trivial they become when you can recover well and take care of business around the green.

And, yes, you certainly want to focus on keeping your swing smooth and in rhythm. But there’s one other thing you want to focus on out there: Don’t do the “don’ts!”

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