How To Increase Your Golf I.Q. And Lower Your Scores

Whenever I give a playing lesson to a Tour player or elite amateur, what really strikes me is how well they navigate the golf course and pick the right shots to play, which minimizes mistakes and increases birdie opportunities. A higher “Golf IQ” probably saves them 5-7 shots per round on the average weekend golfer. The good news for you is that playing smarter doesn’t require any physical skill and you can get better at it with each round you play. Here are some ways to increase your golf IQ and lower your scores during your next round.

1. Before your round: Improve Your Golf IQ With A Better Course Strategy

The Tour players I work with are meticulous in their preparation for a tournament round. They will spend time determining a strategy that best fits their game into the golf course. By the time they tee off, they will have figured out their targets and club selection for each hole, and (for the most part) they won’t change that strategy no matter how they are playing. What are your strengths and weaknesses and how will this affect the strategy you choose? Imagine playing each hole backwards from the green to the tee. Where on the green would you like to be putting from? Where you like to play your approach from to give yourself the best angle into the green? Once you’ve figured out the best way to play each hole, write it down and visualize yourself executing this strategy.

2. Know the good and bad miss

Even the best players in the world miss their targets around 1/3 of the time, but they usually miss in the right spots, to still give them a good opportunity to score well. Ben Hogan once said: “Golf is a game of misses. He who misses best, wins”.
Wherever the pin is on the green, they’ll be a good and bad miss for your approaches. A bad miss would be the bunkers or water beside the green or any area where you’d be playing your next shot onto a downhill slope on the green (it’s always easier to play short game shots into the up-slope). A good miss would be an area with little penalty and where you’d be hitting your next shot into the up-slope or flat area on the green. However, once you know the pin locations you can be a bit more specific about where your targets will be, by factoring in how much green you will have to work with from each side (long/short/left/right).

3. Know Your Shot Dispersion

No golfer has ever hit the ball perfectly straight all the time. There is always going to be a dispersion to your shots no matter what level of player you are. The world’s best players know their shot dispersion with each club (you can use either FlightScope or Trackman to find this out), so they know the risk of each shot and how far away from trouble their target should be. E.g. Let’s say you know the directional shot dispersion of your 7 iron is 30 yards. This means (that on average) you’re going to be in a range that is 15 yards left or right of your target. So if the the pin is 5 yards from the left edge of the green, you will want to aim at least 10 yards to the right of the pin to avoid short-siding yourself. If you aim at the pin, you’d have a 33% chance (30/10) of missing the green left. Knowing your shot dispersion is also helpful for figuring out the clubs to play off the tee. I.e. Most fairways are wider and narrower at certain distances, so knowing your driver dispersion could mean a 3 wood is a better option (like in the image below where red and yellow lines show the relative widths of the fairway with driver and 3 wood).

4. Work on Alignment

It’s one thing to be able to pick good targets, but if you can’t get aligned properly to them you’re still going to miss. Alignment is something that doesn’t require any athletic ability, it’s about practice and using good alignment techniques for golf.

5. Tee-box Strategy

Did you know that high Golf IQ players think about where on the tee box they put the ball? Most weekend golfers put it directly between the markers. Better players position the ball on the same side of the tee box as the trouble (so they’re playing away from the trouble), or the side that will widen the fairway given their normal shot-shape. So for a draw player that would be the left side and for a fade player that would be the right side of the tee box.

6. Know what the ball does from different lies

Tour players know how different lies affect the trajectory, carry and release of the shot. Check out this video with Phil Mickelson explaining his shot selection process. This is on a very detailed level, but it gives you an idea of the considerations a Tour player is making before deciding on a shot.

7. Picking the right shot around the greens

Most weekend golfers will automatically reach for their 56 or 60 degree for any shot around the green. Tour players will often choose a less lofted club that gets the ball rolling as quickly as possible (with less spin) such as a 8,9, PW or 52/54 degree. Practicing in a way that helps you control carry and trajectory will help you identify better shots to play that get the ball closer more often.

Every round is an opportunity to learn and become a smarter player. I always have my players review their rounds in ways that will develop Golf IQ. Ask yourself questions such as: How good was my course strategy? How many times was I short-sided around the green? How well did I account for lie and wind? How good was my choice of shot around the greens?

Do this at the end of every round and use the strategies above to become a more experienced, smarter golfer and you’ll save several shots each round.

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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