Looking for a few smart strategies to improve your game this season? Whether you’re a scratch golfer who plays a couple of times a week or a double-digit duffer who can count your rounds in a season on one hand, teaching professional and television personality Debbie Doniger, the Director of Instruction at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, NY shares her expert insight to help you decrease your handicap and increase your enjoyment:
1. Get A Good Grip: The handle of the club should be mainly in the fingers of each hand, as if grasping a steering wheel. Be sure not to put too much force into it. “Most people grip the club way too tightly,” says Doniger. Arms should stay relatively soft, like you are swinging a rope.
2. Take A Solid Stance Weight: should be centered at the set up of a shot. “Then, bend at the hips, not at your waist. Your lower back should be flat,” says Doniger. Your stance will get progressively wider as the club gets longer (so while using a pitching wedge feet will be under the hips, a driver will dictate a wider stance). “When you don’t get to hit a lot of balls or you’re a beginner golfer, a bad setup is very hard to recover from,” says Doniger.
3. Swing Your Hands and Arms First: A golf club has a center of mass, a sweet spot. The goal is to hit that area every single time—and that starts with your hands. “Your hands are your only connection to the golf club. You can learn to hit the ball really well if you understand how your arms and hands should swing to hit the back of the ball, the sweet spot. It is much easier than thinking about turning your hips in a certain way,” says Doniger.
4. Know How Your Club Face Should Feel: If a player is not hitting the ball square, shots will be inconsistent at best. Doniger suggest spraying your club face with Dr. Scholl’s foot spray. “As soon as you hit the ball, it will make an imprint on the club face and it’ll show you where you hit it. Do chips and start playing around with the club face. Close it and open it and watch it go left and right. You’ll become aware of what those orientations feel like.” This is a tip Doniger gives to even advanced players, particularly those struggling with inconsistent drives.
5. Have An Impeccable Short Game On: the same note, while a reliable, strong drive is crucial, it doesn’t matter if a player is Jordan Spieth or a 15 handicap—a good short game can make up for a multitude of sins. Particularly if that player is not driving the ball 300+ yards. “If you can get up and down in two you will absolutely lower your handicap,” says Doniger. If you have a half hour to practice, spend at least 15 minutes in the short game practice area. “Work on five footers, chipping and pitching from 10 to 20 yards,” says Doniger.
6. Commit 100%, But Swing 80%: This is one of Doniger’s favorite tips from her old coach Jim McLean. Commit completely to hitting a target—for instance, aiming at a tree—but then swing freely and with 80 percent effort. Visualize the shot (and if possible, play one you’ve practiced before) but then just swing. “You can overthink things,” says Doniger.
7. Stop Caring What People Think: This is easier said than done—especially for beginners or those playing with a lower handicap group. “To me, it’s like walking into a SoulCycle class with women who have their own bikes and you don’t even know how to set it up. But the people in the class will help you set up the bike and you just spin at your own pace,” says Doniger. Expending mental energy on who is watching and what they’re thinking will only take away from what you should be thinking about—like your posture and stance. “Just know the etiquette, play fast and then nobody will watch or judge,” says Doniger.
8. Let It Go: Whether you’re playing in a member-guest tournament, club championship or at the U.S. Open, bad shots happen. Take a hint from that ever-popular Frozen flick and let it go. “There’s nothing you can do about it. Golf is an imperfect game,” says Doniger. Take a moment to analyze what went wrong—and then move on, says Doniger. “This is where golf mirrors life.”
Meet our Expert
Doniger, a Greenwich native and Director of Instruction at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, NY—a role she’s held for over two decades— regularly teaches her students tips like these, many that she learned from her own longtime mentor, famed coach Jim McLean at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale.
They clearly worked for her, as Doniger was a star at Greenwich High School and at the University of North Carolina. She also has been repeatedly named to Best Teachers lists in Golf Digest and is a media expert, having worked in television as a commentator and expert for Fox Sports, the PGA Tour Live and The Golf Channel.