Strategy for the older golfer

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?

Distance  

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.

Hole_6_15

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.

Personal Experience

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.

 

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How far do you drive the ball?

When someone asks you about your game the answer you give may well depend on who is asking, why the are asking and when they are asking.

Many golfers have a tendency to either exaggerate of downplay their abilities depending on the circumstance.

On the first tee trying to negotiate strokes, golfers tend to downplay their abilities. If asked  at a social function how far you hit your driver and you realize it is highly unlikely that you will ever have to back up your statement you may say ‘oh, around 260- 280’.  The thing is you may have once hit a drive 280, with a 30 mile an hour favoring wind on a dry course with fairways like a parking lot but is that anywhere close to your average.

According to Trackman, at sea level, with no wind and under PGA Tour conditions using a Tour quality ball you need a swing speed of around 105 MPH to hit the ball in the 260-280 Range.  And that presumes you are hitting on the center of the club face with the optimum launch angel and spin rate.

The chart below provides and indication as to what to expect in terms of distance based on club-head speed.

 

b16cd3f5_trackman-driverfittingchart