The Art Of Scoring When Playing Golf

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This week’s blog is one that I discuss with every client when we play, the art of scoring when playing a round of golf.

Why do I refer to is as an art? Because scoring comes in many forms, sometimes you play the hole perfectly to score well, sometimes you play not so perfect but still get the same score. The fact is you don’t have to play perfectly to score, more like just get it done however you can, pretty or ugly!
Art of scoring playing golf

Let’s start with this looking at a par 4 hole, I’ve taken the 11th from Carnoustie Golf Link which I was very privileged to play a couple of years ago and definitely one of my favourite courses. Look out for my Scottish swing golf trip, the best of The Open venues, this tour will be coming soon for your chance to play this and other Open gems!

For this example I going to reference the general play of an 18 handicap golfer, the distances of certain shots will be relevant for that player. So this is a par 4 which with your handicap allowance you get 5 shots to complete it in. Break this down, that is 3 shots to get to the green and 2 shots to putt it in. If you are taking more than 2 putts on average per green then you need to prioritise this area and improve it ASAP! For one round of 18 holes your putting total should be 34 or lower, no exceptions! Click HERE for a drill to help improve your putting.


Regardless of their standard I like to my clients to consider three strategies when they plan to play a hole. Let’s list these as low, medium and high risk plays.

Plan to play golf
We will start with the low risk play, this would be finding the fairway with a mid lofted club, carry distance 150-160 yards. This play is highlighted as the green arrow in picture #1 above. I am specifically targeting this part of the fairway because it is where it widens, presenting a larger hitting area. Why would this be this be the low risk choice? Well let’s begin with the basic physics and FACTS, the more lofted the club you use the straighter it will go. Why? Because loft produces more back spin and this will REDUCE the curve spin effects your technique may produce. In layman’s terms less slice curve and a straighter flight! You now have approximately 200 yards left to the green and 2 shots to play with to reach it inside your handicap regulation and allowance.

Next option would be the yellow arrow in picture #1, the medium risk play. To lay up short of the first hazard (the left side bunker) distance 170-180 carry. This would be a fairway wood / hybrid club or for the super humans a 6 or 7 iron. Again the physics simply mean you will hit this club straighter than your driver. When you hit the shot it is most likely that your ball flight has a fade spin (curving left to right). Aim the shot at the left bunker and your curve will bring your ball back to the centre the MAJORITY of the time. Even if you hit it straight it will be short of the hazard leaving you approximately 170 yards to go and two shots left to use to reach the green.

Last but not least would be the red arrow and out comes the big dog, the driver! The highest risk of the three options but the most rewarding and therefore the more tempting! You are now aware of the physics and the non negotiable laws?! Opposite to a higher lofted club, the lower loft driver will apply more curve to your ball taking it further offline if your technique is SLIGHTLY off. Off line longer distance shots will obviously bring into play most of the hazards, increasing risk significantly. If struck solidly the driver will carry approximately 200-220 rolling out an additional 10-15 yards if mother nature is kind! This should leave you about 120 left to go and 2 shots to play with. Of course this play if executed well will likely lead to a lower score, however it will also mean more trouble and larger scores if executed poorly. This is because your recovery play if offline is not up to the grade to recover an errant long distance shot.

So the choice is yours, its risk versus reward. Statistically the world’s BEST tour professionals hit 60-70% of fairways with their driver and have the ball striking skills to recover the misses. I would rate your fairway hit rate off of an 18 handicap around 30% with driver, versus +40% with a more loft club in your hands. Would you take that risk? I personally wouldn’t bet on you on the high risk play, however I would bet on you making low and medium risk plays without any hesitation.

Did you know that if your handicap is correct you should only play to it or better 6 times a year?! The handicap system is quite sophisticated and the alterations from play will level themselves out over the course of a year. I hear you say “only 6 times a year!” Indeed, so buckle up, there are going to be a lot of times that you’ll be worse than it. Grit and perseverance is the name of the game, stick at it and make sure you practice or train with purpose.

To ensure you work on the right things, I advise keeping a track of your play in the form of statistics. How many fairways do you hit each round? If you miss your intended target which direction does it go? How many putts (on the green) do you take per round? If you measure it you can manage it and importantly prioritise your practice time. If this sounds like a chore, there are devices that track your stats in play, simple and easy to use. I recommend the Shot Scope device for this and I am giving two away on my YouTube channel, sees below for more details.

On a side note, to maintain an 18 handicap you have to play or practice at least once a week! If that’s your goal, start planning your diary for this season now. If you plan it early, life can then fit around it.

So I talked about having a three shot option strategy for every shot on the course. The high, medium and low risk plays; red, yellow and green on picture 1. I hope this helped you understand how to: (1) gather all the information (2) give yourself choice and (3) risk manage them accordingly. This will help you commit to your choice and not doubt it and dwell negatively. You’ve made the right decision based on facts.
Plan for playing golf

Next up, in picture #2 I have drawn the different coloured curved lines. That is the typical amateur curve (right to left, fade or slice!). So how do you manage this curving ball flight on the course? Do you try to fix it on course or play with it? Time and time again I hear people trying to fix their swing on course. This is a total disaster, why? Playing golf (or performance) is in a totally random environment, every shot is different (distance, lie, club etc etc). There is no chance of mass repetition like on a driving range, making it impossible to change your motion or technique. No top professional player in the world is stepping onto the 1st tee of a tournament with the intention to make a positional swing change, they are simply “golfing” their ball (getting it around the course!). In layman’s terms what does that mean? If your ball is curving right, aim more left or twist the club face in a fraction at address. Yes, it’s that simple! In picture #2 I have illustrated where you should be aiming your tee shot, down the left hand side of the hole (the green line) so the resultant curve brings it back to the middle of the fairway. If you aim down the middle (red line) the curve will take it into the rough! I hope that makes sense.

Last but not least, I always hear clients say how well they played on the front 9 followed by a poor back 9. Or the opposite is just as common, I had a lousy front 9 and then 22 points on the back 9. Why is that? Well often its the case of: an incorrect warm up or lack of, trying too hard, getting ahead of yourself or simply not caring about the outcome. So how can you stay in the present and keep your focus on the hole in play. I suggest breaking your round of 18 holes into 6 lots of 3 holes. See the photo below, note the lines to separate each loop of 3 holes (Thank you Daren for the photo!).
Golfer Position
For an 18 handicap golfer your goal is to play each loop of 3 holes, 3 over par (+3). Play 3 holes, regroup and then go again. Therefore if you have a bad hole, shortly afterwards you have the opportunity to reset and start your next loop of 3. This method should keep you focused in the short 3 hole bursts with a clear task and intention. If you are a lower handicap reduce the amount over par per 3 hole loop accordingly. It’s really simple and extremely effective. Over the years I’ve seen this transform many players. Try it, you might like it! Just make sure you put the big black lines under each loop of 3, visually this is very important to channel your focus.

Don’t forget I am always hand to help and advise, just reach out and ask. If you are not local did you know I also offer online lessons via Whatsapp, the process is explained here – Online lessons with Steve Furlonger

If you enjoy YouTube, why not visit my channel and check out more of my instructional videos, subscribe for your chance to when a Shot Scope V1 – Steve Furlonger Golf Performance.