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How to halve your golf handicap in 6 easy steps

With New Year comes a familiar resolution: this will be the year when you get your head down and really focus on your handicap. But more often than not, reality has a habit of kicking in. The extra time you were going to dedicate to golf gets eaten up by other commitments, and when you do get out, the focus shifts to the round in hand and away from making fundamental improvements.

It’s hard to make changes without looking at your technique. That said, grinding away endlessly at the mechanics probably isn’t the answer - and seldom does much good for morale. Think instead about trying to reach a sweet spot between improved technique and smarter strategy, with the aim of investing your time where it will pay the highest dividends and where you can actually see the results of your efforts.  

With this in mind, here are 6 bite-sized steps to follow…

Alter your driving range sessions to make them count

“Spending extra time at the driving range” may seem like a reasonable suggestion for reducing your handicap - but in reality, it’s not so much the time that matters; it’s what you do with it.

Given that an average round requires you to use a driver possibly no more than 12-14 times, it makes little sense to dedicate the whole session to trying to bounce off the back fence. Instead, after warming up, consider dividing your session between your clubs, moving upwards from a wedge right through to the woods and driver. This means you’re paying attention to all parts of your fairway game and lets you better identify any areas that need special attention.

Build on this in future practice sessions by focusing extra effort on weaker areas. If there’s a bigger problem, consider seeking professional input - or at the very least, pointers from a more experienced player.

Hone your short putt

Trying to achieve as much consistency as you can in the 3 to 4-foot zone helps you in two useful ways. Most obviously, it makes it much more likely that these shorts are ‘in the bag’ – which in itself can have a big impact on your score.

What’s more, knowing that you can sink these sitters with confidence gives you more leeway to get a little more aggressive with longer putts: you can take these on, safe in the knowledge that if you end up a few feet away, you’ll be able to roll it in with a comeback shot.

Don’t over-analyse the mechanics during rounds

There’s a time and place for tinkering with and honing your swing – and it’s not during a round. On the course, you should be aiming for consistency, including a predictable routine where you approach each shot with confidence and commitment. If it’s the mechanics that are on your mind and not the shot, it becomes harder to get into the right mind-set.

Think of your pre-round warm-up as a way of telling you how well you’re swinging on that particular day. If you spot a niggle (a tendency to fade, for instance), use this to inform your aim and club selection on the course. Don’t think about altering your fundamentals during the round; you can work on that later.   

Play away from hazards

A willingness to take greater risks isn’t always the best strategy for improving your handicap. Your attitude to hazards is a case in point. Let’s say you’re within reach of the green, but ‘route one’ is heavily guarded by bunkers and rough. The last couple of months’ work on your technique is paying dividends and you estimate there’s a slightly better than evens’ chance that you’ll miss the hazards. Should you go for it?

The ability to resist the temptation to get drawn into costly situations is just as important to reducing your handicap as developing a better technique. If the price of falling short is going to be at least one or two recovery shots, there’s no shame in going wide to find a safer way through. Remember that just one or two disastrous holes can very easily undo an entire day’s progress.

Give your equipment a health check

Grips that are falling apart, wedge grooves that have worn away to become almost invisible – or even clubs that are simply the wrong size for you: are your tools stopping you from getting better? Wear and tear can creep up gradually, so give your clubs an inspection from time to time to check they’re up to the job – and keep them protected against theft and damage caused by other members, visitors or guests.

Practice in all weathers

How do you avoid carding poor scores in less than ideal conditions? You might want to try being less eager to ditch practice sessions just because the weather isn’t quite to your liking. If you are able to adjust your game both to the weather and to a less than pristine course, you’re less likely to be fazed when you meet those conditions in a competitive environment.

Technique, strategy and thinking carefully about where to focus your efforts: paying attention to all of this makes it more likely that you’ll see real improvements in 2016.