50 Greatest Golf Tips

Author John Richardson anticipates Northern Irish success at the Ryder Cup and offers some choice advice for golfers hoping to improve their stats

With Rory McIlroy riding high as world number one and both he and Graeme McDowell having automatically qualified for the Ryder Cup, it’s clear that Northern Irish golf continues to punch heavily above its weight in world terms.

There is no doubt that much of the momentum that has helped our golfers believe they could compete at the very highest level came through Darren Clarke’s early successes and ability to take on Tiger Woods at his peak powers and win.  

So much of golf is based on intangible factors like belief, and with the 2014 Ryder Cup having begun we’ll see that again. Ian Poulter is a superb example of someone who can rustle up some magic when playing in this type of competition. And who can forget Clarke’s astonishing performance in 2006 just weeks after the loss of his wife. 

For the average golfer there is a lot to learn too. Sometimes all you have to do is change your mindset and believe you can shoot that low round on the big days.  

I’m not a professional golfer, I’ve never played in a Ryder Cup and sadly I haven’t joined the ranks of those Northern Irish golfers who have bagged a major or two. What I am is an average amateur golfer who managed to make a very un-average improvement to my golf in a relatively short period of time.

During that time I came pretty close to trying every golf tip out there and had varying levels of success. These days, after a relatively long career owning my own businesses, I operate as a business consultant to a very large range of enterprises.

So, as both a golfer and a business consultant, I’m obsessed with finding tips, techniques, strategies or ideas that actually work. Tips that the average golfer can use. Not a Rory, Darren, Graeme or Padraig, but a time-starved, cash-limited and possibly creaky-backed golfer like the rest of us.

A few years ago I embarked on a challenge that, for better or worse, was deemed impossible by the golfing community at every level. When asked about my chances, Ryder Cup legend Sam Torrance told me to ‘dream on’, and Darren Clarke suggested that three years was the shortest possible timeline for what I was attempting to do.

When I ventured into the Wild West of the internet golf forums to post about my challenge I encountered everything from friendly scepticism to extreme and hilariously personal abuse. The challenge was pretty simple. My aim was to change from being a golfer who couldn’t break par to being one who could shoot a level par round or better within a year, while holding down a 50-hour-a-week job.

I had a full 365 days to take my control round of 103 down to 71 or better. I decided to attempt this at the Blackwood Golf Centre, my local course in Bangor, County Down, in large part because it was a 6,300-yard, par 71 course, with an additional, and challenging, par 3 course and a high-quality driving range. 

During that year I hit over 70,000 golf balls in practice, watched dozens of DVDs, YouTube posts and old videos, read over 60 books (and countless magazine articles) on golf improvement, and had some great, albeit brief, conversations with some truly great golfers.

I picked up some exceptional tips and these had a substantial and quantifiable effect on my progress. To cut a very long story short, after some epic highs and multiple humiliating lows, I eventually managed, 362 days after I had started, to shoot a 70 at Blackwood – one under par

The full story of my challenge can be found in my book Dream On: One Hacker’s Challenge to Break Par in a Year from Blackstaff Press. Sam Torrance may have doubted my ability to shoot a par round but he certainly provided me with a great title for the book!

But perhaps of more interest to you is what I’ve done with my golf subsequently. Golf is a sport that gets under your skin so, since I finished the challenge, I have continued to study the ways that golfers improve. I set up a business called the Break Par Blueprint, which has now worked with more than 3,000 golfers to help them produce tangible and rapid improvement.

I have also had the opportunity to speak to some of the best coaches and players in the world and whilst this has been a wonderful journey it has also made me realise just how confusing and conflicting golfing advice can be.

Golfers, like the rest of mankind, are obsessed with immediate gratification and the promise of instant results. We have a tendency to believe that Ben Hogan really did find the ‘secret’ and barely a year passes without some new book purporting to have discovered it, whilst conveniently explaining that all previous discoveries were wrong.

My new book, 50 Greatest Golf Tips, is different in that it brings together the very best tips that I have discovered – tips that can help you to make real progress. It’s about sorting the wheat from the chaff and showing what has really worked, not just for me, but also for the many golfers I have worked with, spoken to, played with and read about.

I’m taking about looking at all the aspects of your golf game, considering the way they interact, and then coming up with a plan for improvement. In a very few cases, you may just need a few excellent tips or drills but very often what you think you need to improve is not what is necessary for long-term improvement.

There will always be different opinions on what will fix different problems. I once played a round of golf with the editor of one of the largest golf magazines in the world and he talked about how most editions of the magazine contained conflicting advice from different coaches or players. Rather than attempting to persuade the contributors to alter their tips, they positioned them as far apart in the magazine as possible in the hope that readers wouldn’t notice!

So the point really is that you should take the tips in 50 Greatest Golf Tips, however good they may be, within the context of the fact that they can be occasionally conflicting and must ideally be part of a structured long-term golf improvement process.

The above is an extract from John Richardson's latest book, 50 Greatest Golf Tips, published by Blackstaff Press. Photographs are provided courtesy of John Baucher.