10 Mistakes Amateur Golfers Make

A selection of on-course errors amateurs make that could be easily avoided

mistakes amateur golfers make
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Golf is one of the most complex sports, and there are an almost infinite number of ways you can screw up on the course. But we amateurs often do ourselves no favours by making fundamental errors that we could avoid with more careful deliberation. If we just stopped to think occasionally we could improve our chances, and maybe those of our playing partners.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that amateur golfers make. Can you relate to any of these?

Reaching for the driver

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland removes the Dog Driver Head Cover as they prepare to tee off on the 1st hole on Day Three of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s a 330-yard par-4 with trouble from about 250 yards onwards. There are bunkers on both sides and the hole narrows to a bottleneck as you approach the green. So why in Old Tom Morris’s name are you pulling a driver out of your bag?

There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you can reach the green and, at your average driving distance there’s about a four-yard strip of fairway. Anything missing that will leave a devilishly difficult shot.

Play an iron or a hybrid 200 yards down the fairway and then ping a straightforward short iron shot in from 130… It’s basic course management. But how many of us find we simply can’t resist the temptation to let the big dog eat, then deeply regret it immediately after making contact?

Going the aerial route

Jordan Spieth (USA) attempts a flop shot up tight from just off the green on 17 during Rd1 of the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club on January 12, 2023 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just short of the putting surface on a tightly mown apron, there’s nothing between you and the green with the pin well onto the putting surface. Phil Mickelson would whip out his 64-degree wedge and slide it under the ball, imparting incredible spin, sending the ball skyward and stopping it neatly by the cup…

“Wouldn’t it look great if I pulled that one off?” Yes it would, but it won’t look so great when you’re wading about in waist-high rough after knifing it at knee height, 40 yards through the back.

Keep it as close to terra firma as possible when playing shots around the green.

Not taking enough club

A golfer hitting an iron shot at Gleneagles

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

This is perhaps the most common mistake made by amateur golfers all over the world: “OK, so 147 to the front. I’ve got a club for that… It’s a perfect 9-iron.”

Yes, but the pin is another 10 yards on, there’s a slight breeze against and you’ve only ever once hit a 9-iron 147 yards and that was on a baked summer's day with a 20mph wind behind.

Try a 6-iron. “No, no, I’ve got this, it’s just right… What the hell? How on earth has that come up short?”

If the average amateur were to take one more club on every iron shot they faced, they’d knock shots off their score. Yes, occasionally they’d fire a bullet through the back but, far more often than not, they’d end up closer to the flag.

Carrying the wrong sticks

A golf bag full of clubs at Essendon GC

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Players who struggle with their long game often carry an array of weapons they have no intention of using. Why have a driver in your bag if you simply can’t, and won’t, hit it? Why the gaggle of fairway woods when the longest thing you’re confident of pulling out is the 4-hybrid.

You have 14 clubs at your disposal and some golfers may only ever end up using 12 or 13 of them… Why not carry an extra hybrid or another wedge? Play to your strengths.

Looking for sympathy

A disgruntled golfer after hitting a bad shot at Essendon GC

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Most golfers feel hard done by most of the time on course. It always seems the golfing gods are conspiring against us, doesn’t it?

“Why is the wind always gusting against when I play a shot?”… “How did the ball roll out that far? I never even considered that penalty area.”… “Why do the putts never drop for me?”

We’ve all heard it; most of us have said it. The point is, your playing partners probably don’t care – they have no sympathy for your perceived ill fortune. They’re far too worried about the bad breaks they feel they’ve suffered on the links that day. 

“How can he be complaining about his bad luck? Hasn’t he been watching how my game’s been going?” No, he hasn’t.

Trying to kill it

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States hits a drive at the 11th hole on day one of the LIV Golf Greenbrier

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You know that hitting a good ball is all about timing. You know that if you swing too fast, you’ll lose your rhythm and the result won’t be pretty. But, with a driver in your hand and a par-5 stretching ahead, the inevitable thought pops into your mind: “This one is going to be a monster!”

Tensing every muscle, you pull the club away from the ball and go full Bryson DeChambeau at it. In a nanosecond the clubhead is back past your left ear and your balance has gone completely. As you come back towards impact, your energy has been spent, all control has gone and the ball sets off at a most unusual angle.

Not playing a provisional ball

A golfer signalling his ball is heading right on a hole at Gleneagles

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

“Where did that one go?”… “Not too sure, it was headed for the thick stuff and I didn’t see it bounce.”… “Ah, I’m sure we’ll get it.”

Seriously! You haven’t seen it down and the rough around this course is so thick that several golfers have lost themselves in it not just their balls.

If in any sort of doubt, play a provisional ball - and remember to inform your playing partners that you're playing a provisional ball too.

Playing the impossible shot

Seve Ballesteros of Spain looks for his ball during The 105th Open Championship held at Royal Birkdale Golf Club from July 7-10,1976.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You’ve hoiked one into impenetrable rough and have been extremely lucky to find it. The problem is, you’d struggle to get it out of that lie using a combine harvester.

This is where the pro golfer would consider his options and look for a better spot, back in a line with the pin where a penalty drop could be taken and a sensible shot played. Bah, such defeatism. Come on, you’re still relatively young and strong; you can get it out of there.

You take an almighty swipe at it and only succeed in burying the ball further into the ground… A couple of further hacks, it’s time to pick up and for your partner to write letters rather than a number on your scorecard.


Scottie Scheffler of the United States plays a shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club on August 20, 2023

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to lining up approach shots, many amateurs forget they don’t quite have the ball-striking capabilities of the best golfers in the world.

When the pin is tucked behind a bunker tight to the right side of the green, with tangly rough just off the putting surface, going straight at the flag is a very risky shot with little margin for error.

Jack Nicklaus famously used to aim for the centre of greens and take his chances. It worked out pretty well for him, so why are you taking dead aim at a sucker pin? Just asking…

Talking to a partner's ball

Brooks Koepka watches as Sahith Theegala signals his driver right at the third hole during the final round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 13, 2022

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Good shot there pal!”… As you watch your ball catch the wind and fly inexorably towards the out-of-bounds, these are not the words you were expecting to hear.

Or, the classic: when your ball is heading towards the heart of the cup following a perfectly struck putt. Six inches short you hear those dreaded words, “Yup, great putt mate.”

The ball also hears this and takes an enormous last minute deviation, it slingshots around the rim and spits itself out at pace, leaving you a nasty three-footer. Cheers for that “mate.”

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?