How to Get Better at Golf Without Lessons (11 Things I Did)

You want to get better at golf, but you’re not ready for lessons? I get that. 

Here’s the thing… You CAN get better at golf without lessons. I did and I’ll show you exactly what I did.

I’m not anti-lessons. I’m sure you aren’t either.

Lessons can help, for sure (I’ve since had them). But lessons are expensive, they take precious time away from your time on the course.

Plus, there’s a right time for lessons that may not coincide with when you first pick up the game. I’ll explain…

Why I Didn’t Choose to Take Lessons

When I found golf again this past Summer I just wanted to play as much as possible. Each round left me excited for the next.

At first, I was shooting in the 100s and 110s, but I was happy…and ready to just get back out there as soon as I could get another tee time. Golf is a game, after all. The whole point is to play, right?

I knew I needed a lesson though…at some point. But that time wasn’t NOW I kept thinking. I didn’t want to stop down long enough to get a lesson. And frankly, I was pretty cheap. The $100-150 I’d spend for a lesson was at least four rounds of golf at my local course! 

Plus, and this is key, I was getting better by just playing. So I kept putting lessons off.

Lastly, I remember thinking, “I don’t even know what’s wrong yet” enough to go ask someone for help. I enjoy taking things on myself and figuring them out.

Had I gone to a lesson when I first started I would have robbed myself of the joy of that struggle. That sounds weird, but that’s honestly how I felt. 

Maybe you feel the same way?

So if you’re wondering how to get better at golf without lessons, I’ve got some specific, actionable tips here for you.

These are the exact things I did that took me from a 23 handicap index to breaking 90 and becoming a 17 index (a bogey golfer!) in 5 months time.

My Golf Handicap Index (GHIN) history – shows my 5 month progression without lessons.

1. Play as Many Holes as Possible

The #1 thing you can do to better your golf game is to get out there and actually play the game. Play golf.

Go play as much as possible. Play every chance you get.

  • Weekdays,
  • weekends,
  • lunchtime,
  • before work,
  • after work,
  • on vacation, etc.

If you can’t make four-hour rounds work then:

  • play just nine holes. Or,
  • find an executive course,
  • pitch-n-putt, or
  • par 3 course. 

Or, and this is one of my favorites, play a round at the range (i.e. 18 holes in your head using your memory of the course (or a scorecard) and the distance markings on the range).

I do this when I only have an hour and can only go to the range. Put in the headphones and get after it. This is really fun!

If, however, you CAN play 3, 4, 5, or even every day of the week, go for it. You will get better if you just play.

I played 40 rounds in the 5 months I saw my biggest gains.

I still try to play at least 3 times a week.

That’s actually my golf goal for the year. Not a specific handicap index I want to reach. Not a particular course I want to play. My goal is simply to play. This process goal will almost single-handedly ensure my success in golf.

2. Play Different Types of Rounds

You should also strive to play different types of rounds:

  • solo rounds,
  • group outings,
  • competitions,
  • practice rounds,
  • from various tee boxes,
  • at different courses,
  • in different weather conditions, etc.

Testing yourself against a variety of formats and conditions is a key element to making you a better golfer.

So if you’re currently playing once a week with the same friends at the same course from the same tees, then start to mix it up.

One of the surprising things that ended up pushing me to play other courses was the discount golf coupon passbook I purchased from Avid Golfer. I try to play one new course (as a discount) each week.

3. Play with People Better than You

Hook up with a group of golfers that will push you to be better. This works!

When I first started, the guys in my golf group were all hovering around a 10 handicap index. Here I was shooting over 100 per round, just trying to hang on and not completely embarrass myself. 

The group I played with was super friendly, patient, and generous with their wisdom. I would wish a similar group on anyone just starting to get serious about golf. 

And it doesn’t have to be a fixed group of guys either. Mix it up.

Sometimes when I book a tee-time as a single, the course will pair me with someone with good skills. I remember a round where I somehow got paired up with one of the course marshals who just happened to be playing that day. 

He dropped so many golf wisdom bombs on me, I could feel my game improving as the round progressed. Every time I read a green now I think of that round with that gentleman. 

Places to find better golfers:

4. Set Goals for Yourself

“If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”

Steve Maraboli

You knew this one would be in here.

This list I’ve put together is all about getting better. Therefore, you need to define “better” for yourself and then set some goals to get there.

Me, I’d like to be a single digit handicapper by the end of the year. I plan to achieve that by playing at least 3 times a week and focusing on improving my weak areas.

Other common golf goals:

  • break 100,
  • break 90,
  • break 85,
  • break 80,
  • shoot par,
  • become a scratch golfer,
  • win a tournament,
  • join a tour.

What’s your goal for the next year? How will you get there?

5. Take the Game Seriously 

If you’re reading this then I know you’re serious about the game and getting better. But are you taking that attitude to the course each and every time you play?

Are you taking it into each shot?

I’m a naturally serious person. However, when I first started playing golf I wouldn’t always take it seriously. Especially as the round started turning bad on me. After a bad shot, I’d rush the next shot or just try to swing hard and smash the ball to make up for the previous shot. This isn’t the way. 

One of my favorite regular playing partners – a single-digit handicapper – once saw me rush a put on a par 3 hole after it had already taken me 4 or 5 strokes to get on the green. He said in the nicest tone possible, “hey, man, take your time…take it seriously.” He was right. I needed to take it seriously and respect the game.

One of my biggest lessons learned in this past year is to respect each shot and give your best effort on each one. Not only are you respecting the game, but you are showing respect for yourself. You’re believing in yourself.

The more you grind over your game and each shot, the better you’ll become. In fact, adopting this mentality is actually required to get better. That’s how great players play. They grind and don’t give in when they make a bad shot, or have a bad hole, or even a bad front nine. They stay in it!

In practical terms, this means: 

  • Preparing for the round by knowing the course and warming up as best you can.
  • Having your equipment in good condition.
  • Taking in as much information as you can before you address the ball.
  • Stopping to think, before you set up to the ball.
  • Having a shot routine you go through, regardless of the situation.
  • Knowing and following the rules of golf – playing the course as you find it, and playing the ball as it lies.
  • Being respectful of the course and your playing partners throughout the round.

6. Focus on the Short Game

If you’ve been around golf for any length of time, then you knew this was coming. You can become a much better golfer simply by improving your game within 100 yards. 

So much focus is on the big parts of the game (fairways, greens in regulation, hitting the driver, etc), but that’s not how you score in golf. You score by getting the ball in the hole. That usually happens with a chip and a few putts. 

The good news is that you can learn to lag putt, chip, and pitch without lessons. And you can get good with your wedges and putter just by practicing yourself. No big swing mechanics to deal with.

The goal here is to eliminate all the 3 putts and to try to become an up-and-down master. Both of those are doable without a coach/instructor.

I improved my own putting by first focusing on lag putting (i.e. long putts that you don’t necessarily expect to make, just get really close). I still practice my lags. It’s the first thing I do when I warm up on the green.

Matt from Golf Sidekick shares some great advice on getting better at putting.

Okay, that’s enough of the on-course tips. Here’s some ways to learn how to get better at golf without lessons from home

7. Video Yourself

If you’re not ready to let a professional look at your swing, then at least look at it yourself. Head to the backyard or range and video yourself hitting the ball from the side and the rear. Watch it in slow motion.

If you don’t want to mess with a camera, just swing in front of a mirror. 

I like to swing in my living room at home. And when the TV is off the reflection is enough to allow me to see myself swinging.

You’ve watched enough golf to know what a good swing looks like. Do you like what you’re seeing in your swing?

Resource: Do these 6 things to record your golf swing perfectly every time

In addition to filming your swing, you could also take your camera out on the course to film yourself playing a few holes (or even a full 18!). Become a golf vlogger!

Not only would you get to see what your swing is looking like in different scenarios, you’ll get to review how you managed different decisions on the course.

You can get a free video of yourself swinging and a free evaluation with a golf professional through GOLFTEC

I now use GOLFTEC for lessons, but I didn’t always. Initially I just used them for a simple evaluation. That 30 mins gave me enough to move forward at the time.

8. Read About the Approach to Golf

You’ve got a lot of work to do on your head to get better at golf. Being on the course a lot will help with that. But you can fast-track the proper mindset by learning from other players/coaches about how they approach the game.

Some books I would recommend include:

9. Watch Course Management Videos & Vlogs

If you’re like me, you might prefer watching videos vs reading (or listening to) a book. There are plenty of Youtubers now recording themselves playing their rounds. 

Watching these will teach you a ton about playing the game. Again, no swing discussions needed. Just learn to make your way around the course.

If you don’t have better players to play with regularly, this can be a close second. Surround yourself with better golf.

Some of my favorites right now include:

10. Get in Shape & Stretch

It’s no secret. Being in better physical condition will make you a better golfer. 

Eat healthier and find a nice workout away from the course that you can do each week.

I’m not the picture of perfect health. I’m definitely carrying a few extra lbs. However, I do have a couple of things that I try to do health-wise that I believe contribute to better golf.

  1. I workout twice a week with Orangetheory Fitness. It’s a 55 min studio workout with an emphasis on treadmill, rowing, and some weights. I find it’s perfect for keeping my cardio fitness at a nice level and just enough strength training. Most Orangetheory studios will let you try at least one class for free.
  2. I skip the cart and walk one round a week (weather permitting). This is seven miles of walking at my home course! As a bonus, I might play the round fasted.

Of course, diet is 90% of the battle when it comes to your physical health, so make sure you don’t ignore what you’re eating and drinking daily.

Stretching is also key. Stretching the night before or the morning before your rounds with these stretches from the Mayo Clinic are a great start. If you’re an older golfer like me, these are a necessity.

11. Get Some New Gear & Technology

I hesitate to put this one in here because I think we put too much emphasis on equipment in golf. But if you don’t have the right clubs – forgiving clubs – in the bag, then your progress might be impeded.

Invest in:

  • a basic set of forgiving irons (including a hybrid 3 or 4),
  • a trusty 3, 5, or 7 wood that you can hit in the middle of the fairway off the tee,
  • a putter that instills confidence, and
  • eventually a higher degree wedge (56 degree?) so you can start to chip over obstacles.

In addition to gear, technology can help to improve your golf game. For instance, I use the Arccos tracking system. Sensors on your clubs track the shots in your round giving you some fantastic statistical data to review after your rounds – letting you know exactly where you need to improve to reach your goals.

When Should You Get Lessons?

At some point you will want a coach/teacher. You will eventually come to a place where you’ve made all the progress you could make on your own and you could use a hand. You will sense when it’s time. 

For me, that time came around 5 months into my journey. I was on hole 8 of my favorite municipal golf course. I hit my drive into the water (one more time!) and decided I’d had enough of my slice (the last thing holding me back, I thought). After holding back a few tears I walked off the course and booked an appointment for a full lesson with GOLFTEC

It was a great decision. Jake, my coach at GOLFTEC, set me back on the right path and my game has only improved. Now, when I have something in my game that just isn’t working right, I go see Jake. It’s great to have a consistent person in your life to help….someone who isn’t your wife or your golf buddies (they all will eventually tire of hearing your golfing woes).

Final Thoughts on Getting Better at Golf Without Lessons

Golf can take you on a fantastic journey of self-improvement. Part of that journey definitely involves a coach and lessons at some point.

But you need to take ownership of your game and work on it yourself. There’s so much to do – from the short-game to the mental approach to course management. It’s all a part of getting better.

And you can do it! If I did, you certainly can.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about what’s helped me to get better and I hope you can take a couple of things away to go improve your own golf game.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What things are you planning to do (or did you do) to get better at golf without lessons?