I imagine that everyone who plays the game of golf would like to improve his or her game. I’m no genius, but I do know that in golf, players are rarely satisfied with everything they’re doing. 

Isn’t it odd, oftentimes when you hit the ball your best, your short game suffers; or when your putting well, you can’t seem to get off the tee? There are those few times when both short game and long game seem to be in good shape, but you just make some dumb decisions on the course. That’s what makes this game so tough. It is hard to get it all together at the same time and also for a prolonged period of time.

Everyone could use help in the game; however, before seeking a golf lesson, really try to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. To me, there are too many people trying to learn the perfect golf swing, instead of learning how to play the game well. 

If you have a slice in your shot and hit it an adequate distance, that’s really not a bad thing at all – you’ve taken out the left side of the course. You’re one of the lucky ones; you know where your ball is going. The same thing applies to a player who hits a hook. What you need to do is learn to aim at a starting point during each shot that will allow enough room for the curvature of your shot. Bubba Watson relies on two of the ugliest shots in the game – a huge slice and a huge hook. If he had to hit the ball straight in order to score well, he would lose his PGA Tour card. Bubba knows how to hit these shots and mostly rely on them by demand. 

My first suggestion is to take ownership over your shot pattern. If you are not confident in what shot is coming up next, take a golf lesson to work on technique. Rather than asking the professional to help you to hit it straight, ask him to help you to hit one predominant shot – fade or draw, whichever one is in your DNA, and learn to love it. 

If your scores suffer due to a bad short game, face the problem before taking a lesson. If the issue is that you don’t hit the ball solid, you may need to get a lesson on technique. If you hit chips and pitches solid but are not getting it close to the hole, start using your imagination. Rather than focusing on the hole when addressing the ball, think about the spot that you want that pitch or chip to land. Give consideration to how far the ball may roll before it comes to rest; then, focus on the landing spot and trust your decision. This may take a bit of practice to determine the ratio of carry to roll, but a little time invested in this with your scoring clubs will quickly pay huge dividends.

In your greenside bunker play, are you hitting solid shots but not getting it close? Do you often leave the ball in the bunker or blade it over the green? You may need some lessons on technique. There are various types of bunker shots that will allow the ball to land softly; some shots make the ball roll; and some shots create a great amount of backspin. For most golfers, I suggest learning how to hit two main bunker shots: the high soft shot for a closely tucked pin and the chunk-and-run. The backspin shot that lands and immediately stops takes a great deal of practice. The high soft shot and chunk-and-run are higher percentage shots.

Golfers mostly want to hit a shot that they don’t naturally have. Players who hit a draw wished that they could hit the fade, and those who fade the ball wish that they hit the draw. 

If possible, schedule a time where a professional could watch you play on the course. He should be able to show you how to get the most out of your fade or draw, simply by showing you how to aim properly or explaining the good and bad aspects of your game from a different perspective. 

Hopefully, the pro you use is or was a very good player at some point and will be capable of teaching you how to be more efficient in a round of golf. And by efficient, I mean not throwing away so many strokes by playing the higher percentage shot rather than the low percentage shots. 

So I suggest you get the most out of your game. Stop guessing, and go to a qualified instructor who is sincerely interested in your growth of the game. If you find someone you trust completely, buy into his instruction. Don’t expect an immediate 10-shots-per-round improvement; be patient with the process. 

When I taught golf for a living, I preferred to have my students commit to at least five lessons. For the best results, these lessons should be taken once a week or once every two weeks, depending on availability.

I love watching people improve their games. After a thousand years playing golf, I know it’s not always about the swing. It could be managing the game around the course or learning a pre-shot routing that allows the players to visualize their shots before they address the ball. Everyone is different. This game is extremely challenging, but there are few better feelings than hitting a great drive; chipping a shot in for a birdie; sinking a double breaking putt on the last hole for the best score of your life; or just whipping the daylights out of your friends. I love them all. 

Enjoy yourself. Invest in some professional help. It could make you almost as happy as winning the lottery. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but you just might love playing more than ever.

If I miss you on the first tee, I hope to see you in the practice area.

~ Dave Jennings is the men’s golf coach at Central Alabama Community College.