If there’s one thing we’d all like to do, it’s improve our handicap. Golf is the only sport where a single number tells the world how good – or bad – you are. It’s a question of pride. It doesn’t matter what car you’ve got waiting in the club car park, how expensive your clothes are, or how new your clubs are, when you stand on the first tee and your playing partner asks that immortal question “What’s your handicap?”, it feels a lot better to say “plus two” than “golf! Hahaha… No actually it’s 28”.
Being stuck at a certain handicap is demoralising. Surely you should always be getting better? The more you practise, the better you get, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, golf isn’t as simple or as fair as that. Seeing your handicap going up is even more depressing. “How can I be getting worse?!” you ask yourself, driving home in anger after another terrible competition round that will lead to the inevitable 0.1 increase.
It’s refreshing, then, to see ordinary golfers who have shown their handicaps who’s boss. The golfers featured here started at different standards, took different approaches, and had different goals. The one thing they have in common is that they have all improved substantially during the last 12 months.
By looking at what they did and implementing some of it into your game, there’s no reason that you can’t be one of the biggest improvers this year. The cut is out there.
"A £4 app completely transformed my swing"
Kevin Lancaster, Peterborough Milton Golf Club
Old handicap: 18
New handicap: 9.6
After taking up golf and messing around for a while, I decided I really wanted to get better and dedicate myself to improving my swing. I took some lessons from a pro who favoured the ‘stack and tilt’ method, but I really struggled with this. As a result, I developed a reverse-pivot and started swinging over the top. I found it really hard to overcome these traits for several years. Even now, I still have lapses where I fall back into these bad habits.
A few things have contributed to my improvement. I got fitted for a driver for the first time last summer, and that made an instant and dramatic difference to my distance and accuracy off the tee. I took two months off playing in January and February last year to take some lessons with Andrew Hare and practise lots. This helped transform my swing and give me an in-to-out path which cured the high fades and slices I’d always struggled with. I was actually considering packing up golf before this, due to how badly I was playing.
But the biggest thing was an app I downloaded to my iPhone called V1 Golf. Having had the lessons, I now know what I am looking for, and use the app to record and analyse my swing. My pro has given me drills to use when I spot something going awry, so I now feel that any time I spend practising is genuinely making me a better golfer. As a result, I’m more enthused about practising, and now pop to the range most lunchtimes.
Beyond this, I’ve just learnt to not expect so much and try too hard. If I play poorly, so be it. The key for me is staying relaxed and enjoying my golf; this normally leads to better scores without forcing it. I used to get quite tense during competitions, but I now treat them just like any other round. Well, as much as possible!
My highlight so far was a gross 77 in a medal competition. With my old swing and the pressure I used to put on myself in competitions, there is no way I’d have been able to put together a score like that.
My aim now is to achieve a single-figure handicap, as I’m agonisingly close, but I won’t get too hung up on this. I’m just enjoying my golf and looking forward to playing in more competitions.
"I used my scorecard and YouTube to fix my game"
Andrew Crossley, Knott End Golf Club
Old handicap: 17
New handicap: 9.4
I started playing golf about three years ago, worked hard at my game and got my handicap down to 17, but then found that I hit a bit of a plateau. I was struggling with my approach shots to the green, often finishing short or in trouble. As a result, I was shooting over my handicap more often than not.
I had a few lessons with my pro, to identify and fix any bad habits that I had developed. I also changed my clubs, treating myself to a TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 driver and 3-wood, a set of Titleist AP1 irons, and some Vokey SM5 wedges.
I started using my scorecard to track which parts of my game were letting me down. I began marking down whether I hit or missed the fairway and green, and how many putts I took on each hole. Once I’d done this for a few rounds, I started using YouTube lessons to give me things to work on on the practice ground in order to improve the weakest parts of my game.
I also changed my on-course strategy. One of the main things I changed was taking less club off certain tees in order to avoid danger, because I was focused on hitting more fairways. I also took more club into 75 per cent of greens in order to swing easier and with more control.
My new approach helped me put together a strong performance in the Griffin Salver trophy, scoring a pair of 84s in a 36-hole competition, playing off a handicap of 16. Previously I would have really struggled to keep a score going for so long. By President’s Day I was playing off 14 and was two-under after seven holes and finished with a gross 77 to win.
But my favourite moment last year was my first ever eagle, which came on a long par 4. I took more club than the old me would have done, made an easy swing and hit a pure shot over some trees and onto the green. To see the ball hit the green and roll up to the hole and drop in was a great reward for all the hard work I’d been putting in.
"My short game practice paid dividends"
Caroline Cronin, Harrogate Golf Club
Old handicap: 36
New handicap: 13
I played my first full round of golf on holiday in Devon in August 2013 and absolutely loved it. When we got back, I joined Flaxby Golf Club and booked a few lessons. While I was having one of my first lessons, the Yorkshire Ladies County Golf Association were training on the range, and the coach approached me and suggested I join as she saw a lot of promise in my ability.
I carried on my coaching over the winter, both with my own coach and Yorkshire Girls. I have always enjoyed practising, and will happily work on my game throughout the whole year, in all weather. My only problem is that I can be something of a perfectionist, sometimes trying too hard and taking it too seriously. Since becoming part of the Yorkshire Girls Under-14s team I’ve learnt to take a more relaxed approach, which has helped improve my golf and means I’m enjoying it even more than when I first started playing.
I work on all aspects of my game, but pay particular attention to my short game, as I find that the time I spend practising chipping and putting really pays dividends when it comes to my scores on the course.
My highlight so far has been dropping from 22.2 to 12.8 in a fortnight, just from playing in three competitions. I won the Jean Rudgard Memorial Award, given to the Yorkshire Junior with the most improved handicap of the season.
Unfortunately, Flaxby has now closed down, so I have moved to Harrogate Golf Club where everyone has been very welcoming. My coach at Flaxby, Neil Moore, has been a great coach and incredibly supportive, but is sadly no longer coaching as he had to move on to another career after the closure.
I like to set myself challenges so there is always something to work towards. I want to at least cut my handicap by half this year and am hoping to apply for the Under-16 England Golf squad this autumn.
"My SkyPro is going to help me break the course record!"
Jonny Pattenden, Kirkbymoorside Golf Club
Old handicap: 10.1
New handicap: 4.9
I have been playing golf for 12 years now, but I’ve made a huge improvement in the last year or so. I think the main thing that has helped has been my improved attitude; I have matured as a person and as a golfer, and this has translated into better scores. I now take each hole as it comes, rather than getting ahead of myself and thinking about the holes to come and my overall score. I think that can ruin a round, if you’re not 100 per cent focused on your next shot.
I also owe a huge amount of thanks to SkyCaddie for producing a product called SkyPro. I bought one halfway through last season and have worked continuously with it ever since. It was £180, so not cheap, but it’s been so worth the money. With it, I am able to get instant feedback on my swing and where I’m going wrong. It has immensely improved my understanding of my swing and I can now break down every aspect of it. I genuinely feel like I’m improving week-by-week using it.
I am hoping to get down to a handicap of one or two this year – scratch would be great! I now represent my club in the East Riding League and find that playing with better players is also really helping my game.
I am going to enter the Yorkshire Amateur this summer and would love to finish inside the top 25. I also want to break the Kirkbymoorside course record, which currently stands at 65 (four-under).
I posted a 67, 68, 70 and 71 last year, so I’m getting close. Obviously it is a very good score to beat, but I believe that I can do it.
"My new warm-up saves me shots every round"
Ben Stanger, East Horton Golf Club
Old handicap: 24
New handicap: 11
I played golf as a junior and young adult and got to a handicap of 18, but then got frustrated with the game and gave up about 12 years ago. I got back into it about a year ago and got a handicap of 24 at East Horton.
This time round, I feel much more focused and dedicated to playing, practising and improving. I used to just play, but now I work on my game on the range and practise putting properly. I haven’t had any lessons, but have managed to learn everything I’ve needed via golf magazines, online videos, and the odd tip from the pro at my club.
One thing that has definitely improved my competition scores and therefore my handicap is that I now always warm-up properly before heading to the first tee. Hitting balls on the range and stroking a good number of putts really helps loosen me up and gives me confidence.
I also have much better equipment now, which I think has made a big difference as the technology has come on so much. I replaced my old Titleist driver, TaylorMade Bubble Burner 3-wood and Mizuno T-Zoid irons with an SLDR driver, Titleist 915 3-wood and hybrid, TaylorMade RocketBladez irons and some Vokey SM5 wedges. I’ve also upgraded my old Ping putter to a Scotty Cameron.
I’ve still got a couple of bits to buy, which I think will give me a perfect set that should see me through a few years. I feel that getting my handicap down by 13 shots in a year has been a really big achievement, so when I have a bad hole, I remind myself how far I’ve come and that stops me letting one poor hole get the better of me.
I’d really like to get down to single figures by the end of this summer, which I think should be achievable. I’m working on becoming more consistent from 100 yards and in as I think I could save quite a few shots per round.
"I've learnt that a bogey is okay sometimes"
Oli Stanway, Kibworth Golf Club
Old handicap: 17
New handicap: 2.3
I started playing golf when I was 10, but didn’t really play much and when I did it was always just for fun. About a year ago, I started taking it much more seriously and putting in the time on the practice ground. I was invited to join The Golf College which has given me access to some fantastic coaching, and I now feel that I can only keep getting better.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is not to take on impossible shots. I used to be trying to make a birdie on every hole, or at least a par even if I was in serious trouble. This would sometimes lead to me hitting a low percentage shot, whereas I now take my medicine and have learnt to accept that sometimes a bogey is a good score. Taking a bogey now and then allows me to stay in the round, whereas in the past it might have ended up as a card-wrecker.
Last year was my best by a mile. I secured five gross victories across club competitions and junior opens around the county. I was also awarded some special achievement awards, including “Most Improved 1st year” at Golf College and “Presidents Putter” at my home club for overall outstanding performance. I also shot my first below-par round and represented the county.
I want to continue playing in as many competitions as possible, as these are what really test me both technically and mentally.
"Finding the right club to join changed me as a golfer"
Rob Taylor, York Golf Club
Old handicap: 20
New handicap: 6
I joined York Golf Club in December 2013 and quickly put three cards in just so I’d be eligible to play in competitions. I didn’t know anyone, and was worried that I’d have to spend some time playing on my own, but everyone at the club was incredibly welcoming and I quickly got to know many of the members. One of them invited me to join a Facebook group called “Strenny Golfers”.
The group was made up of around 50 York GC members and made it easy to find someone to play with, any time and any day of the week. The group included lots of low handicappers, which helped me massively as I was playing with quality golfers, learning from them and trying to keep up with them.
One of the biggest things I learnt was how important it is to find the fairway. I noticed that the good players I was playing with were hitting their second shot from the short grass more often than not, and realised that it was always going to be tough to score well from in the rough – and even more so from the trees! The other thing I’ve managed to do is reduce the number of three-putts I have. I think spending time with good players has naturally helped the quality and tempo of my putting stroke, and I now have the confidence to give it a go if I’m standing over a four footer for par.
Being part of such a welcoming club has made me want to play and practise as much as possible, and the results in my golf have been clear. I won the Strenny Golfers Order of Merit last year, which was a nice reward for some consistently strong performances across the whole season.
My aim now is to get my handicap as low as possible. I’d like to get to five by the end of this season and be a Category One golfer.