Honing these skill sets will help your golf game


A “skill set” is a distinct combination of abilities for one particular aspect of the game that enables a golfer to perform in a masterful way.

It’s like picking the right target or knowing when to take a risk or play safe. Professional golfers demonstrate proficiency in almost all skill sets, but still they have certain strengths and opportunities to improve. For recreational golfers, there are 10 skill sets essential for playing one’s best golf.

  1. The first skill set is hitting your driver or three wood such that your tee ball is in position for a quality second (or third) shot to the green. It may not be absolutely necessary to get the ball in the closely mown area (the “fairway”), but it is important that it be of proper distance for an approach shot and sitting in the rough or a spot that is hittable.
  2. Next is the critical ability for pitching and chipping to within a few yards of the hole from 30 yards or less to the green, which would leave a putt for par. That means becoming adept using all your wedges, and being able to make a quality shot from all angles and types of lies. This is a skill set that creates good scores, but few high handicap golfers practice. It’s “scrambling.”
  3. Then there is the mental strength to bounce back from an awful hole (double bogey or worse) by recovering to play the next few holes quite well. Of course, that requires you don’t beat yourself up after several poor shots in succession, but simply put mistakes behind you.
  4. Likewise, having the skill to hit a particularly super shot following a terrible previous shot. Maintaining your confidence, despite a few lapses, is crucial for scoring well.
  5. As far as swing skill sets go, a big one is being able to “work” the ball from left-to-right and right-to-left; that generally means hitting a fade or a draw on command. This comes into play especially with your woods and your long irons. It also means having control of your swing through hours and hours of practice. Being able to swing your clubs with deftness under unusual conditions is a challenge, and it takes a mindset to stay patient and stay alert, while having the right clothing and equipment.
  6. Do you wish you had several extra clubs in your bag for certain “in-between” shots? Well, you can add those clubs just by manipulating your swing, your grip and your takeaway. Let’s say you have a shot from 115 yards, and is in-between a pitching wedge and a 9 iron for you. If you know your 9 iron is 120 yards, you can just grip down on the handle, or take a shorter backswing.
  7. Back to the mental side, maintaining your focus and concentration for a 4- to 5-hour round of golf, paying attention to every shot and putt, is a skill set unlike any other. You need acute thinking at all times and emotional balance. The pros work hard on this with their coaches.
  8. Playing golf in nasty conditions, like strong winds, cold air, steady rain and blistering heat, can test a golfer’s tolerance. Players at this year’s Masters were sorely tested by truly miserable weather for Friday and Saturday rounds. Temps dipped to 46 degrees. Fortunately, they had caddies.
  9. Now, we need to add putting to the skill set list. Some golfers are good at long lag putting; some are better at short putts, inside of 10 feet; some are excellent putters from any distance and angle; some are better on fast greens; some favor slower greens. And some simply are not very good putters at all. Putting is a skill set like no other. It’s a game within a game. But that can change quickly with instruction, practice, enhanced confidence and more practice.
  10. Lastly, there’s the combination of awareness and adjustment together with steadiness and vision. Since course, weather and social conditions are always changing, even from minute to minute, we need to be alert to everything, without being distracted, like a hunter who has a family to feed. Being aware is one thing, but it’s more important to adjust to what’s changing.