My students ask this question repeatedly, regardless of their skill level. Dr. Gary Wiren’s PGA Teaching Manual: The Art and Science of Golf Instruction contains an article by noted PGA Instructor Chuck Cook titled “Strategies for Getting Your Game Under Control.” Mr. Cook offers two basic rules for golfers to follow: Rule 1 – DO NOT TRY TO DO WHAT YOU CANNOT DO, and Rule 2 – DO NOT AIM WHERE A STRAIGHT SHOT WILL HURT YOU.

Under Rule 1, Mr. Cook states that “You see beginning players trying to use clubs they can’t use, intermediate players trying to play shots they can’t hit, and advanced players playing to targets that are totally unreasonable.” If you are a beginner golfer (handicap 24 and above), Mr. Cook suggests learning to use a driving club (preferably a 5-wood) and a playing club (normally a 5-iron), and developing a short game system involving a 7-iron, sand wedge, and a putter. If you are an intermediate player (handicap 12-24), he recommends learning one basic, repeatable shot (your normal shot tendency) and playing it all the way around the golf course. Don’t be tempted to try different shots to fit different situations. If you are an advanced player (handicap 12 and under), Mr. Cook feels you must learn the fundamentals of shotmaking, mastering the different curvatures and trajectories, so you can play them when the situation dictates. Your goal should be to “practice the shots you don’t like and play the shots you do like.”

For Rule 2, Mr. Cook relates that his research shows that most penalty shots come from poor starting direction rather than from the amount of curve of the shot, by a ratio of almost 12 to 1. If you are a beginner golfer, attempt to play to a spot where you can putt the ball onto the green, rather than leave yourself in a position where you have to loft the ball onto the green. For intermediate golfers, pick the biggest target for each shot and favor the side of the target that is farthest from trouble. Advanced players should aim away from trouble and curve the ball toward trouble.

Following Chuck Cook’s Rules 1 and 2 may seem simplistic and possibly even boring, but it will lead to lower, more consistent scores in both your casual rounds and in tournament competition.