By Bob E. Jones

We can all figure out that if we hit good golf shots time after time, we will turn in good scores. That doesn’t tell us much, though, because there are so many kinds of shots we need to hit. In order to improve we have to focus our efforts on the shots that really make a difference in our score.

We’ll break this down into two parts: the good shots to hit, and the bad shots to avoid. First, the good shots.

You have heard about the importance of short game and putting, but believe, me, if you take extra strokes getting the ball up to the green, being a wizard around the green won’t help that much. The best way to lower your score is to get to the green as quickly as you can. You don’t have to get on the green, even the pros miss about six greens every round, but you have to get up to the green — green-high.

The second good shot is the approach putt. Many golfers who start to hit greens in regulation find their putting stats suffering. It’s because now they’re faced with first putts that are much longer than they’re used to having when they entered the green with a chip or pitch. Being able to leave a tap-in from 30 feet is a critical skill, and is the best way to avoid 3-putt greens.

Sand. Can you get out? Just get out and on the green, not being concerned about getting the ball close? That’s a good shot. For recreational golfers, sand saves are accidental without volumes of practice.

Medium-length putts. If you can sink a putt in the 5- to 10-foot range, you have stolen a stroke.

Now for the bad shots you want to avoid, and quite frankly, are not that hard to avoid.

Losing strokes off the tee. This includes shots hit out-of-bounds, into water, lost balls, and balls hit into places where you have to hit a recovery shot back to fairway to continue playing. Avoid these errors by using a club off the tee you can control. If you can’t control your driver, leave it home.

Getting down in 4 from under 60 yards. This can be a combination of things, but normally it’s missing the green with your first short shot and not hitting your second short shot close enough to get down in one putt. Just hit the ball on the green. It’s a big target. Don’t get fancy about where the pin is. Get the ball on the green so you can start putting.

Taking three shots from less than 40 feet. This includes putts from 40 feet and chips from 40 feet. Recreational golfers have a lot of short shots like this. Taking three strokes is giving away one.

Sand. Shots that stay in the bunker or launch themselves across the green ar no-nos. If the line to the pin means you have to carry thirty feet of bunker and fringe to get to the green, but facing in a different direction means it’s only ten feet to the green, pick option number two.

Putting. Three-putt greens from 25 feet and closer. Missing putts under three feet. Wasted strokes, both of them.

You don’t have to hit perfect shots to make a good score. You only have to hit decent shots that keep the ball in play and advancing toward the hole. Notice that all the good shots we talked about do that, and all the bad shots we talked about don’t do that well or at all.

Knowing what the good shots are guides your practice. Knowing what the bad shots are guides your play. Both are keys to good scoring.

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