Get your game under 90

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008

It's simple math. A bogey on every hole at a regulation par-72 course means shooting 90. Turn one of those bogeys into par, and it's 89. Do that consistently and you can say you shoot in the 80s. We have some tips if your game is hovering around 90. We've solicited help from Vince Buelk, director of golf at Brooksville Country Club. He is a 1996 graduate of USF and has been a member of the PGA of America since 1998. He was a member of the Gaither High School and USF golf teams and has played on various minitours in Florida. And yes, he can break 90.

Course management

During a round there inevitably will be a few shots that go off line. Balls will end up behind trees or in deep rough. When that happens, Buelk uses the 70 percent rule.

"When faced with a decision of what kind of shot to play on the course, ask yourself this question: 'Can I execute this shot seven out of 10 times?"' he said. "If the answer is no, then don't attempt the shot. A prime example would be trying to advance a ball 200 yards out of rough that is 3 inches deep with a fairway wood instead of just taking a pitching wedge and advancing the ball back into the fairway.

"If you use the 70 percent rule, you'll see the triple and quadruple bogeys go away."

Touch on the green

Three-putts are killers for the bogey golfer. Buelk suggests a drill on the practice green that will help your touch on 20-foot putts, which is about the length a bogey golfer has on the green.

"Distance control on medium-length putts is crucial," Buelk said. "You want to hit every putt hard enough to give it a chance to go in but not so firm that the comeback putt is in doubt."

Here's a drill: Select a 20-foot putt on the practice green and place a golf club 2 feet behind the hole. See how many times in a row you can putt a ball past the front edge of the cup yet short of the club. On subsequent practice sessions, your goal is to beat your personal best. This drill will really improve your feel.

Practice like you play

Buelk said one of the traps golfers fall into is practicing the same shots on the driving range. Hitting a driver or midrange iron 20 straight times isn't necessarily going to translate to the golf course.

"Think about it, when was the last time you hit 20 7-irons in a row while playing on the course? Never," he said. "When practicing on the range, make sure you go through you preshot routine, just like you are on the course. Hit each shot like you would on the course. For example, driver, 9-iron for the first hole, 3-wood, pitching wedge for the second hole, etc. Pay attention to your ball flight and where your misses are going. This will add fun and variety to your practice sessions."

Master the pitch shot

There are going to be challenging pitch shots during a round. Getting up and down on a high percentage of these shots will go a long way to breaking 90.

"The difficulty of pitch shots is that every pitch is a different distance, and you must be able to vary the feel by changing the length and speed of your swing," Buelk said. "So your pitching practice must focus on developing feel in a pressure situation."

Here's a drill: Pick three shots of varying length and difficulty. With 10 balls, alternate shots among those targets, and chart your percentage of acceptable shots. Seventy percent is an acceptable average. As you get to the last few balls, you will learn how to pitch under pressure.

Practice the knockdown

Not every shot is going to be from perfect yardage or into low winds. There are shots from the fairway that are going to take some imagination. Buelk suggests using knockdown shots to shave strokes and get your scores into the 80s.

"Most players know how far they hit a certain club," he said. "But ask them to change a shot's height or if they are at a distance where they are between clubs, and you introduce some doubt. The knockdown shot is a great asset to have when trying to break 90 and is not complicated at all."

Here's how to hit the shot: Choose one more club. For example, if you would normally hit 8-iron, choose a 7-iron. Move the ball back in your stance about 2 inches, grip down on the handle for more control and keep the finish very low. Use the knockdown shot for into-the-wind shots or if you are between clubs.

Next week: How to get your game under 80