Planning Cuts Strokes From Scores & Golf Handicaps

golf handicapZach Johnston’s Masters win in 2007 is instructive. Three things about the win are especially noteworthy. For weekend golfers it’s a great opportunity to:

  • Learn how to masters a course with pre-round planning
  • See how to conquers daily course conditions during a round
  • Learn how a golfer can chip strokes off his golf handicap without making a major swing change

These are golf lessons we emphasize in our golf instruction sessions daily. They’re also golf lessons we should all learn and internalize.

Playing The Par 5s

One reason Johnson won this tournament is his strategy on the par 5s. In formulating this strategy, he took in the reality of the course’s conditions and made a decision to stay “within himself” at all times. In other words, he opted to pass on “miracle shots.”

In addition, Johnston knew he didn’t hit his long clubs high enough to hold the greens. So he picked out spots where he could lay-up safely. Then used a highly precise wedge game to take him the rest of the way.

Take the 15th hole. It’s the hardest par 5 on Augusta—especially when the pin is in the wrong spot. When placed front left as it was on Saturday, for example, the hole sits on a slope that runs hard toward the pond in the green’s front.

You need to be able to hit the ball incredibly high to even think about going for the hole in two when the hole is place front left. Instead, Johnson saved quite a few strokes on this hole by simply following his plan.

All Sorts Of Bad Places

Johnston’s tee shot were also critical to executing his strategy. He didn’t try to hit the ball longer than 265 yards off the tee. This helped him stay within himself and increased his accuracy.

In addition, he wanted to approach the green from the correct side of the fairway—even if it meant that he would be a little farther away—something he did well throughout the tournament.

While laying up on a hole cuts strokes sometimes, you must be on top of your wedge game to pull this strategy off. Controlling trajectory and backspin is the key when hitting critical wedge shots into the green.

Hitting Low Running Wedge Shots

Throughout the tournament, Johnson was able to hit low running wedge shots on demand. One secret to doing this is to play the ball back in your stance. Moving the ball back pushes your hands 2 inches back from center, which helps you keep the clubface closed.

Also, you can’t let the clubhead pass your hands until later in the downswing. Finishing low with less release and your hands going more around your body dampens the shot’s trajectory.

To hit a high wedge shot, on the other hand, position the ball toward the middle of your stance and let your hands release through the shot. You also need to rotate your hands over and finish higher, like you do when hitting a full iron shot, to boost trajectory.

Johnson approached every par 5 at Augusta National with the same meticulousness he displayed on the 15th hole. His strategy took in his strengths and weaknesses, the course’s conditions, and the cup’s position on the greens.

You can save dozens of strokes by carefully planning how you play a course—just like Johnson did in the 2007 Masters. This in turn produces lower scores and chips strokes off your golf handicap.

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