The phrase, “Golf can be learned in an afternoon,” has never been uttered. Not once. Ever. Unless you’re pro, the game really does require a lifetime to master.
Nevertheless, there are some things you can do to tip the scales in your favor while playing more experienced opponents. Some of them are obvious—more helpful reminders than anything. But others less so. Either way, both will have a positive effect on the outcome of your next round.
Behold, I give you the top 8 tips in beating your dad at golf, someone better, or anyone just hoping to play above themselves:
1. Look like a winner. It’s been scientifically proven that humans perform better when they dress up. This applies as much to office productivity as it does to shaving strokes off your golf game. Obviously, a spiffy new polo and slacks can only do so much to help. But if you look like a scrub, chances are you’ll play like one. So freshen up your wardrobe. Reach for moisture wicking fabric instead of cotton. And look good doing it.
2. Clean your gear. I got caught without a club towel a few years ago on a wet day. I did my best to clean my clubs with the fairway, but that never really works. The next time I played I forgot my towel a second time and my wedge grooves were filthy. Not only did this affect club performance, I let it mess with my head and had a bad day. So wipe down your clubs — all your gear really, including spikes—before playing. And never forget your towel.
3. Know your weaknesses. Playing against someone is not the time to overcome your weakness. That’s what practice is for. So stay away from your weakness while playing your old man or superior opponent. As a bonus, correct your weaknesses before hand by watching instructional videos.
4. Take pre-game practice shots. By that I mean arrive early for range and putting greens. A lot of recreational golfers do this. But a lot of them don’t, especially when it comes to greens practice. So one up your competition by arriving at least 30 minutes early to ease into your shots and putts. This really works in helping you settle into your swing before it counts.
5. Know the course. This can be done in one of two ways: 1) Agree to a course you play more often than your opponent. 2) Read online course reviews beforehand to identify tricky shots and proven strategies for each hole. Call it home court advantage. Like any effective wartime strategy, to use the “battleground” to your advantage, you need to know it better than your opponent does. This is especially true in golf.
6. Change the rules. By that I mean play match play instead of stroke. I’ve made a winning “career” of this tactic. Instead of playing the more traditional stroke scoring, award a point to the person who cups a given hole in the fewest amount of strokes. Person with the most points after nine or 18 wins—not the person with the fewest total strokes. Not only does match play encourage more aggressive and exhilarating shots, hitting 12+ on a hole will no longer ruin your mental game like it would before, since the strokes won’t roll over. Obviously, a superior opponent can and probably will continue to count strokes, but they’ll still feel defeated if you can pull off the match play upset. I speak from experience.
7. Play a Polara golf ball. People perform better when they’re having fun. And having played Polara balls for over a year, I can confidently say as a non-tournament player that golf is a lot more fun now. My longtime golf partner, who also shares my affinity for recreational golf, also made the switch. Granted, letting your opponent in on the secret minimizes the advantage of the ball. And no, I don’t endorse playing Polara’s self correcting golf ball behind someone’s back, at least for more than a couple of holes without telling them (wink, wink). But playing a Polara ball is a sure-fire way of reducing golf-induced stress, which affects even the best of them, leaving your free to play better than you otherwise would have.
8. Win the mental game. The best competitors use their mouth to gain an advantage. You should do the same when the occasion warrants. Obviously you don’t want to be annoying. But things like downplaying a brilliant shot you just made can rub your opponent the wrong way. Once upset, they usually play worse. Another tip from a Polara Facebook friend added this: “Right before they putt, ask if they breathe in or out while putting. That’s all they’ll be thinking about after that.” In short, mind games work. Just remember to keep your cool when your opponent plays them on you.