Blake Snow

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8 ways to beat someone at golf

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The phrase, “Golf can be learned in an afternoon,” has never been said. Not once. Ever. For most people, the game truly requires a lifetime to master.

There are some things you can do, however, to tip the scales in your favor when playing an opponent. Some of them are obvious—more helpful reminders than anything. But others less so. Either way, all will have a positive effect on the outcome of your next round.

So after years of research — and by that I really mean a single afternoon of thinking really hard about it — I give you the best eight ways of beating someone at golf:

  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 fabrics 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 weaknesses. That’s what practice is for. So stay away from your weaknesses while competing against someone. As a bonus, correct your weaknesses beforehand by watching instructional videos to improve your swing.
  4. Take pregame 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. To use the “battleground” to your advantage, you need to know it better than your opponent. It’s as true in golf as it is in war.
  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 least amount of strokes. Person with the most points after nine or 18 holes wins—not the person with the fewest total strokes. Not only does match play encourage more aggressive and exhilarating shots, but hitting 12+ on a hole will no longer ruin your round as it does in stroke play, since strokes don’t roll over from hole to hole. Obviously, a superior opponent can and probably will continue to count overall strokes, but they’ll still feel defeated if you can pull off the match play upset. I speak from experience.
  7. 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. Or asking them if they breathe in or out right before they take a key putt. Once upset, they usually play worse. In short, mind games work. Just remember to keep your cool when your opponent plays them on you.
  8. Use anti-slice golf balls (optional). Golf purist will balk at this recommendation. But for the 85 percent of people who never play in USGA-sanctioned tournaments (i.e. recreational players), playing anti-slice golf balls is a sure-fire way to hit more fairways, build confidence, reduce anxiety on the course, and enjoy the game a whole lot more. When that happens, everyone plays better and the competition isn’t so lopsided. Obviously, you could gain even more advantage by playing nonconforming balls behind an opponent’s back. But that’s shady. So level the playing field with slice-equalizing balls, and I’m confident you’ll win more rounds than you would have otherwise.

Blake Snow is fancy writer, bestselling author, and casual duffer from Provo. This story first appeared in KSL.