As a golf instructor, watching students improve is what drives me to get better as a teacher. Unfortunately, not all students improve. Why? Because it's hard work, and most average golfers don't set realistic goals -- or any goals -- to help them improve.
Hard work doesn't mean you have to spend endless hours on the driving range, but spending time on the range is a big part of it. Some other reasons why golfers don't improve would include not having the time to commit to the practice or not having the physical ability to get better. But most golfers don't know how to practice with any structure, either. If golf were easy, everyone would be shooting in the 70s or 80s. The truth is that about 50 percent of U.S. golfers don't ever break 100. Hey, not all golfers want to get better, which is OK. Having fun with friends while having a beer and seeing who can finish the round with the five balls they have in their bag is one way to play the game. But I'm assuming if you're reading this, then you're not one of those golfers.
Every day, I see players on the range practicing aimlessly for hours. That type of mindset exists on every practice range around the country. Golfers read the latest Golf Digest or watch the Golf Channel and try to emulate what they just read or watched on TV (that can be a recipe for disaster). The last thing golfers want to feel when they are practicing is embarrassed. The more golfers swing from what's comfortable -- to something new and unfamiliar -- the harder it is to hit the golf ball. Most golfers will abandon what they are working on fairly quickly if they don't see some kind of immediate success. It's human nature, and thus begins the cycle of reverting back to what's comfortable.
If you're having trouble knowing what you need to change in your golf game and you're willing to be a little embarrassed while trying to get better, then setting proper goals are a must. So, what's the magic formula for setting goals to improve? There is certainly more than one.
First, you need time in your daily activities to dedicate yourself to getting better. What are your goals for the summer? If you're an average golfer, they might include being more consistent, lowering your scores, beating your friends, breaking 100.
I would recommend being specific in setting your goals. Lowering a score is probably the No. 1 goal students have. Looking at the big picture of improving consistency in all parts of your game and shooting lower scores can be a bit overwhelming and unrealistic. Make that one of your long-term goals.
In order to have specific goals, you need to know which links are the weakest in your game. Investing in some kind of stat tracker app will help you find your true weaknesses. They probably won't be what you think they are.
Once you find the weakest links in your game, then you can set your specific goals. I like working on things that are easiest to fix and have the quickest impact on lowering a player's score.
For the average golfers, that's going to likely be improving their putting and short game. If your stats tell you that you only hit two greens in regulation and you have 35-40 putts during a round, it would be much more fun to whack balls on the range looking to improve your long game.
But I would recommend setting your goals based around your short game and putting. It's easier to learn a proper chipping, pitching and putting technique than it is to learn how to swing your driver and iron at full speed hoping for improvement. I'm not saying you should abandon trying to improve those full-swing fundamentals, but that's not the quickest road to success in achieving your goals for the summer.
Once you have your goals set, you will need to seek out a credible golf instructor who can help you achieve your goals by improving your swing fundamentals.
Owen is the PGA director of instruction at the Country Club of Maryland in Towson. For more of Owen's golf advice, check out owendawsonpga.com.