The purpose of a game plan is to help manage expectations and emotions. A player with a game plan will not let mounting pressure force him into bad decisions. He will not compound the mistakes of one hole with angry and impulsive decisions on the next.
If the course is a familiar one, creating a game plan is not terribly difficult. Using a spare scorecard, mark the holes on which bogey would be a good score, and which you can reasonably expect par.
For each par 4 or par 5, note what club you will use off the tee. On the most basic of holes, think about the hole in reverse: First decide the club and distance for your shot into the green, then subtract that from the hole’s total to determine the needed tee shot length.
More problematic holes—doglegs or holes with fairway hazards—require you to think about distance to specific landing zones. If the card offers illustrations of the holes, mark these areas. In addition, for each green note which side is an acceptable miss. That can affect the plan for a landing zone and tee shot.
And in doing all of this, think about what the prevailing wind and known conditions will do to your game.
You can still create a game plan on unfamiliar courses, but it will take a closer analysis of the score card which hopefully has some clear illustrations. You also might check for a yardage book in the clubhouse. I like to buy the yardage books not only for the information, but also as souvenirs.
Stick to the plan unless you run across unexpected yardages or conditions. A game plan will save strokes only if you are able stay focused. Don’t let anger over a double on an easy par three push aside the plan for the next hole. If the original plan on the following tee was to hit a five wood, hit a five wood. Don’t try to get those shots back by making a heroic drive. More often than not, it will turn out badly and you’ll be even further behind.
This tip is an excerpt from The Five Inch Course: Thinking Your Way To Better Golf. The complete book is available in Kindle format at Amazon.com.