It’s said that golf is a game of a lifetime... because it takes your whole life to become any good at it. But no worries. As a beginner, you just need some basics. Josh Zander, a Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor and two-time California PGA instructor of the year, has some simple tips to get you started. Who knows? You might even make some birdies along the way…
1. Don't fall behind
First time on the course? Your first order of business is to keep up with your playing partners. There’s no way around it. You’re going to whiff some, shank some, slice some, top some. “Don’t worry about the bad shots,” Zander says. “But if you find yourself lagging behind the group, just pick up your ball and move on. You can play terribly and you’ll still get invited back -- as long as you don’t slow everybody down.”
2. Watch your form
People call golf a game, but you should treat it like a sport. Start by adopting an athletic stance. “A slight bend in the knees, a little flex in the hips, weight balanced on the balls of your feet,” Zander says. “When you set up to the ball, you want to feel as if you could resist a slight push from the front or behind.”
3. Use the right club
When you’re just learning the game, don’t practice with a driver or a pitching wedge. One’s too long. The other’s too short. But a seven iron? Now, that’s just right. Practice, practice. “Once you learn to hit the seven-iron,” Zander says, “you’ll have a lot easier time hitting everything else.”
4. Grip the club like you mean it
How you hold the club has a huge influence on how you hit the ball. And while there’s no single “right” way to grip it and rip it, Zander suggests these fundamentals: “If you’re a righty, hold the club in your left hand so that you can see two knuckles, with the V between your thumb and index figure pointing toward your right shoulder. When you put your right hand on the club, your palm should be facing the target. Think of it this way: whichever way your palm is pointing at impact is where the club face will be pointing, too.”
5. Take it slow
You see it all the time, golfers rushing through range sessions, banging ball after ball in rapid succession. Haste makes waste. “If you want to learn to play golf the way it’s actually played, approach the practice session as if you’re playing a round on the course,” Zander says. “With every shot, choose a different club and a different target.” Leave the balls in the bucket, Zander says, rather than dumping them out on the tray. Having to fetch them one by one will help remind you to take your time.
6. Do no harm
Every round of golf causes golf course wear-and-tear, so basic maintenance is a must. Sand your divots, meaning fix the chunks you take out of the course because you... still aren't very good at this. Repair your pitch marks (those would be the tiny craters left behind where the ball lands). “Your goal should be to leave the course in better condition than you found it,” Zander says.
7. Don't listen to just anyone
“Golf is the one sport where everyone is a teacher,” Zander says. Lots of people will try to give you swing tips. Very few of them know what they’re talking about. Find your own golf Yoda -- preferably a certified professional instructor -- and stick with their advice.
8. Beware of flying golf balls
Self-preservation is supposed to be an instinct, but it’s stunning how many people seem to lack it. The way they move about the golf course, wandering aimlessly in front of other players, you’d swear that they were vying for a Darwin award. “It seems pretty obvious to say but you don’t want to be out ahead of another golfer,” Zander says. “When someone else is hitting, stay to the side of them, out of the line of fire, on the non-target side of the ball.”
9. Stop tallying your strokes
Yes, the pro shop has free pencils and scorecards. But keeping track of your shots is a form of self-abuse. “Forget about your score,” Zander says. “That’s for tournament golf. This is recreational golf. It’s a chance to re-create yourself. Go out and enjoy yourself. Relax. Have fun.