If you are just starting to learn the game of golf, you probably want to get better as fast as you can.
The great thing about starting something new is that you can see improvement practically overtime you play or practice. If only this could last forever! After a while, you won’t see 1-2 shot improvements each week on average. You might see a one shot difference each month, or even each year. When you get to single and low single digit handicap, you might plateau for a long time, so don’t take your current improvement rate for granted.
In my opinion, one of the smartest things that beginners of any new hobby can do is see what regrets more experienced people have regarding when they were beginners. Researching things like “what I wish I knew when…” and “things that beginners should know” are great places to start.
This is one of those articles. But I think it can provide a lot more value that articles similar to it that you can find on other websites. For one, I’ve compiled this info from personal experience on my path to becoming a scratch golfer in 3 years, as well as from opinions of others that are far more experienced than myself.
This article is all about the most common mistakes that beginners make, and how they can fix them as quickly and easily as possible.
Beginner Mistake #1: Not Playing From the Right Tees
The popular media campaign “Tee it Forward” has been my favorite one of all time. I personally think that a majority of golfers, especially new ones, play from tees that are simply too far back for them.
Here are some reasons that you should tee it forward:
- More enjoyable. More birdies —> more fun, less frustration
- Shorter rounds. Less time holding people up —> will cut some time off your and everyone else’s rounds
- Less balls out of bounds and lost in woods
To make the game more enjoyable, which is the whole point of golf, you should consider leaving their ego at home and playing from shorter tees. At the very least, don’t play from the tips unless you are a single digit handicap, and don’t play from the tees in front of the tips unless you are are below the age of 55. If you are above that age, take advantage and play from the third furthest back tees. You’ve earned the right to that advantage, so don’t actively turn it down.
As a beginner golfer or brand new golfer, I would suggest playing not from the tips, not from the tees in front of the tips, but the next set of tees after that. So the third set of tees from the back tees. Feel free to go even shorter than that if you want, especially if you are playing by yourself. Don’t be embarrassed in the slightest.
I challenge everyone reading this article to do themselves a favor. Take one round, just one round, and play from the front/ladies tees. We did this in high school, and it was very eye opening. It will teach you how to score. It’ll teach you how to become a better wedge player, and it will give you a different perspective of the course you probably play so often. Another thing that it will teach you is how fun birdies are, and you are bound to make some.
Deep down, you are probably a little afraid to do this. You might think someone else will see you. Or you might think you’ll realize that you are not as good as you think you are. To be honest, you probably aren’t, but that is OK!
Solution: my advice to you is to ask yourself if you are truly playing from the correct tees. Don’t get peer pressured by your friend to play from the back tees if you shouldn’t be. Tee it forward, and have a better time on the course.
Beginner Mistake #2: Overestimating Your Club Distances
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played with some of my friends where they constantly are coming up short of the green.
They will hit the ball, think they hit a perfect shot, then the ball falls 10-15 yards short of the pin but right on target. What’s the reason for this? Well, in their head, their 7 iron is their 160 club. They hit their 7 iron that far one time, so it must be their correct average distance! No, wrong.
Your “160 club” should be the club that you hit on average 160 yards, not the club that you hit 160 when you pure the shot to the best of your ability. That will mean that you have it to hit perfectly ever time to actually get it to the hole. You aren’t perfect, so don’t require perfection for a good result.
Deep down, similar to the last problem, the real problem here is the ego. You desperately want to believe that you hit your 7 iron that far on average. Then, your friends will think you are cooler. Or they will think you are stronger. Or they will think you are a better golfer.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The only way you become a better golfer and really impress your friends is when you consistently start shooting lower scores. They don’t care how long you are hitting your clubs, and you shouldn’t either.
Solution: On a day where you have the course to yourself, complete a somewhat in-depth experiment. Make sure you aren’t on a slope or downhill or downwind or anything. Try to do it on a day where the wind is hardly existent. Take different clubs, lots of golf balls, and a rangefinder (if you have access to one) and hit balls. Mark the golf balls with dots on them, or figure out a different way to determine which balls you are hitting.
Measure the balls and see how far they are truly traveling. Preferably hit them to a green so that they aren’t just bouncing and rolling in the fairway. Hit many balls with the same clubs so that you can take their average. Determine your new golf club averages, and write down your new numbers on a sheet of paper or type them in your phone. Update them every so often to adjust for your improvements.
You might have to change your 7 iron from your 170 club (like you thought) to your 160 club (that it truly is on average). That way, you don’t have a demolish a 7 iron from 160 yards to get it there. Instead, you can hit an average 6 iron and get it perfectly pin high.
Beginner Mistake #3: Not Working With a PGA Instructor
If you are new to the game, you have a lot to learn. You really don’t know where to start. You go to the range and hit balls, but you don’t think you are getting much better or improving your technique in any way. Well.. you are right. You need to be working with a PGA professional instructor.
If you are taking the game of golf seriously at all, and you definitely are because you are reading this article, then don’t make this mistake. Get a pro from the very beginning so that you won’t develop bad habits. I was self taught for the first 2 years, and my swing ended up being a huge mess. It took lots of lessons and hundreds of hours of drills and over exaggerations to fix what I was so used to doing in the golf swing.
In hindsight, I should have gotten a pro from the very beginning, because I knew that I was very dedicated to golf from the start.
Solution: Find a good PGA Golf Instructor near you. I wrote a very in-depth, step-by-step guide to finding a golf instructor here, so give it a read if that interests you.
The basic guidelines are that you should ask around, take trial lessons, and eventually commit to the one that you trust the most. Don’t forget that this can be a big investment, so try to find the best coach within your budget.
Beginner Mistake #4: Not Practicing on the Range Correctly
If you are like the majority of all golfers on this planet, you often times find yourself mindlessly hacking balls around at the range.
I challenge you to decide today that you are done doing that. You know in your mind that hitting ball after ball with the same club to the same target makes no sense at all. That’s not how golf works! You would never do that in a real round, so why would we all practice like that? Well, I used to do it too, so I understand. Change how you practice on the range, just once, and you will see why I have never gone back to just banging balls again.
Solution: Read my article on the best methods for how to practice on the range. Next time you go to the range, try one of these different approaches:
- never hit the same club twice in a row
- never hit to the same target twice in a row
- hit a driver/fairway wood, then an iron/hybrid shot, then a wedge, then a pitch shot, then repeat
- use your rangefinder for each shot
- go through a pre shot routine (see here how to build a pre-shot routine today!) before each shot
- play entire golf courses in your head on the range (I call it simulated golf rounds)
When you learn to practice more just like you play, you won’t feel like you can only hit good shots on the range anymore. You know what I am talking about. You think you are hitting it so well on the range, but it’s tough to “carry it to the course”. That’s because you are hitting the same clubs to the same targets again and again on the range. Of course that is going to be easy!
The best method, in my opinion, is the “simulated golf rounds” on the range. This is where you play entire golf courses out on the range. As long as you know the course very well, it is very easy. For example, I start with a nice and easy warm up, and when I am warm, I start my round.
I know the first hole on my home course is a dogleg left par 4. I pick out an imaginary fairway on the range in between two flags. I set up on the range with a driver let it fly. I hit a perfect shot. If I hit a good one on that actual hole, I know I’ll have a pitching wedge left. (Note: if I hit a bad one, left or right, I might have a punch shot to the green).
So, I then find a flag on the range close to that distance. I grab my pitching wedge and hit it. If I miss way left, I try to guess how far I would have to the green. Let’s say I miss my approach shot 30 yards left. I then pick out a short flag, get my lob wedge, and hit a shot about 30 yards away. That hole is now over, and I go to hole #2. I skip putting, as that would be pointless. I try to repeat this for all 18 holes.
The goal of simulated golf rounds is to turn the range into the most course-like environment as you can. This is only for when you aren’t working on swing changes or warming up, by the way.
Beginner Mistake #5: Not Practicing Your Short Game Enough
If you truly want to become a better golfer as quickly as possible, an hour on the chipping and putting green is going to be way more beneficial than an hour of range practice.
Becoming a better golfer is all about scoring. You don’t score by being the best driver around. You score by being the best putter and having the best short game.
Solution: Instead of paying $5 per range bag, consider the more frugal and helpful option of short game practice. Hit chips to different targets and from different angles. Practice getting out of bunkers on the first try. Practicing hitting pitch shots over bunkers and keeping them on the green.
A good short game will make your bad days manageable. You can hit the ball terribly, but still score ok and have a great time.
To be clear, a good long game is still very important. It’s great to have a good short game, but you will be screwed if you are playing from the woods or hitting balls OB all the time. However, your short game is really where you can separate yourself more and have a higher potential one day down the round. As a beginner now, I know you just want to keep pounding balls on the range. However, just know how important your wedges and putters are, as the majority of your golf shots on the course will be hit with them. Yes, read that again. Let it sink in.
Beginner Mistake #6: Forever Expecting Straight-Line Improvement
As a beginner, you could very well be getting better each time you play. It won’t last forever though, and it won’t be straight line of improvement.
After a year of playing golf consistently, you might have an entire month where you can’t score even close to your best scores that you’ve shot in the past. That’s how golf is. Your golf game can feel great for a while, and then feel like crap for a month.
The GREAT thing, though, is that when you get out of that 1 month rut, you tend you be a much better golfer. Therefore, when you are struggling and considering hanging up your clubs for good, just remember this. Remember that you are going to be better when you push through this hard time. Times like these are when a lot of people quit and never end up getting better as a result. That’s why there are not many single digit handicaps. People play a lot, get discouraged, and quit before truly getting good.
Also, just know that once you get better and shoot in the 80’s, you won’t keep improving your average score at the rate that you have been. If that were true, you’d have guys shooting in the 50’s all the time! True golf veterans will tell you that they have good years when their scoring averages go down .25 of a shot in a year. That’s a lot of work for one year!
Solution: My reason for saying all of this is so that you don’t take your current improvement for granted. Be happy with the development of your game so far, and try to keep it going the best you can. Just set your expectations at a good level from the start.
Beginner Mistake #7: Focusing Too Much on How Far You Hit The Ball, Not Enough on Accuracy and Strategy
If you are like most beginner golfers, you would rather be able to hit it 300 yards then be able to hit 75% of fairways. The focus on distance is driven purely by ego. The extra 10 yards or so that you might gain from swinging as hard as you can will likely result in a huge decrease in the number of fairways that you hit.
Another example would be on a par 5. Let’s say the hole is a straight away par five, 500 yards. You hit your drive 230 yards. You have 270 yards left. You take your three wood because that’s what you always do; you want to end up as close to the flag as possible. You hit a bad shot, and end up hitting it in the hazard. You then have to drop a ball, but you hit it fat and it goes in the bunker. You then hit the bunker shot far over the green. You then chip the ball on the green and 2 putt from there. You just made a triple bogey. Why? It all started because you chose your three wood as a lay up shot, instead of a simple 7 iron. The 7 iron could have gotten you 150 yards closer to the flag, leaving you with 120 yards left to the green.
What layup shot you hit depends on the following:
- the hole layout: you want to avoid all bunkers and hazards at all costs, so pick your club appropriately
- you typically want to aim to the widest part of the fairway, as this will increase your margin for error
- you want to leave yourself a distance that you enjoy: if you like hitting the ball from 100-120 yards, try to hit your approach shot within that area from the green
Solution: Swing at 90% and try to play par 5’s (and all other holes for that matter) smarter to widen the margin for error. Try to work more on hitting fairways, as opposed to hitting the ball an extra 10 yards. The extra 10 yards won’t help you that much. You are still going to have roughly the same distance to the flag, and you’d rather be playing from the fairway than the rough or hazard.