Golf is a game of constant striving for improvement. In my almost daily visits to the local Golf Dome, I frequently walk down the hitting line and talk to golfers, primarily older golfers, and with very few exceptions when asked what they are ‘working on’, the answers range from: hitting it longer, hitting it straighter, hitting it more solidly, to getting more spin on the wedges. They all have something in common, they are trying to improve some aspect of their game.
What does improvement look like for older golfers?
Golfers are preoccupied with how far they hit the ball, especially off the tee with a driver.
There is no arguing that distance is an important aspect of the game. In the minds of many (especially younger players) distance is the most important aspect of the game.
However, distance alone is not all you need if your goal is to lower your scores or maintain your current scoring level.
As golfers get older, distance decreases more so for some than others. The question then becomes, how do you maintain a level of play (your handicap) as you get older and the distance inevitably decreases?
Here are some suggestions.
Learn to hit it straighter
Let’s say for the sake of argument you are facing a long par 4, dogleg left. For those of you who have played Bridges visualize the 6th hole.
In order to have a reasonable chance of hitting the green in regulation you will need to hit a drive either down the center or favouring the left side of the fairway just past the dogleg. If you hit to the left you will either be in the trees or blocked out by the trees in terms of a clear shot at the green. If you hit it to the right you may have a clear shot at the green but from 230 to 240 yards out. If you hit it down the middle you may still have a 200 yard shot, but it is a clear shot into the green and you have a chance.
There are many situations we all face on the golf course where if we hit it straight we give ourselves a chance at par or bogey at worst, even on longer difficult holes.
Leave your approach shots in the right place
We hear this every week even on the PGA tour, ‘he (or she) missed it in the ‘right spot’. If hitting the green in a particular situation is not realistic for you, make sure that your ‘miss’ is to a position where you set yourself up for a good approach shot. If a green has bunkers on both sides (and you are not a great bunker player) leave your miss short, setting yourself up for a makeable chip and putt for par. If there are severe slopes on one side of the green make sure your approach shot favours the side where there is a flat landing area.
Learn how to chip and putt
Drives and long approach shots require both distance and precision that may be a challenge for older golfers. There is, however, no reason why the older golfer cannot learn to pitch, chip and putt like the pros. It does not require strength and agility, it is something we can all learn. Yet, when we watch amateurs like us practicing and getting ready to play what do we do? We head to the driving range and hit drivers.
As our distance decreases with age our biggest return on investment (in terms of practice time) comes from improving our short game.
I’ve watched many older golfers and many who are in their early 80’s hit their drives around 200 yards down the middle, hit their approach shot just short of the green, and chip and one or 2 putt for par or bogie. At the end of the day these players frequently shoot their age. The reason, they are never in trouble.
In October of 2006 I had an acute ascending aortic dissection while playing the 5th hole at the Wildewood Club.
Following 3 surgeries and excellent medical care I recovered and was out on the links on opening day the following year. There was a difference however. I had lost a tremendous amount of swing speed and 40-50 yards off the tee.
With practice and exercise I was able to recover around 20 yards of that. My handicap however soared and I realized I would need to learn to play a new game that was shorter and more precise.
I concentrated on my short game and within a year or so my handicap returned to its previous level and now more than 10 years later I’ve managed to maintain my handicap at the 2006 level, thanks to an improved short game.