8 Beginner Golfer Mistakes... And How To Fix Them!

In this video and article, the head professional at JCB Golf and Country Club John Howells sets out eight beginner golfer mistakes... and how to fix them!

PGA pro John Howells demonstrating 8 beginner golfer mistakes and how to fix them
(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

If you are new to golf, it's really important to avoid some of the common pitfalls that plague even seasoned golfers. Getting a handle on the basics as early as possible will save you a lot of pain in the long run. With that in mind, in the video and article below, the head professional at JCB Golf and Country Club John Howells discusses eight beginner golfer mistakes and how to fix them!

Knowing your distances

Every golfer needs to develop a clear understanding for how far they hit each club in the bag. It's one of the things tour players do that amateurs don't. The mistake that often gets made is that people base their club selection on their longest shot with each club. This will often lead you to come up short. You need to establish more realistic distances for your average shot. 

One way to do that is, if you have access to a practice ground, to hit a series of 10 shots on a calm day with your 9-iron and then walk out onto the practice ground and place your bag roughly in the middle of the bunch of shots. You can then walk back to where you hit from and laser the yardage. Repeat that for each club. If you don’t have access to a practice ground, you can try and do something similar on the course. The key is to take your yardages not from your best shot or worst shot but somewhere in the middle.

Backswing stability

PGA pro John Howells demonstrating a good and bad backswing position

Swaying in the backswing (left) is a recipe for disaster. Instead, work on turning behind the ball (right)

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

The biggest mistake to avoid in the backswing is excessive sway. This is an unnecessary movement that requires a compensation in the downswing otherwise a poor strike is the likely outcome.  A great backswing drill is to place an alignment stick next to your right hip at address (there should be about an inch of separation between your hip and the stick). You should be able to swing to the top without bumping into the stick (picture above, right). This drill provides a clear visual aid to stop you swaying.

Play the percentages 

Golf is often a game of managing mistakes. If you can minimise the damage when you don’t hit the ball exactly where you are aiming, your handicap will quickly improve. A great way to approach this is when you pick your target, imagine the centre circle of a football pitch around that target. If that circle comes into contact with any trouble (sand, water, thick rough), move your aim until it doesn’t. This means that often you are aiming slightly away from the flag or the perfect spot on the fairway. That’s fine - this is the smart way to build a score and to avoid one of the key beginner golfer mistakes.

Mastering impact

When you first start playing golf, one of the big mistakes to avoid is helping the ball into the air by leaning back through impact. This movement causes fat and thin strikes. Instead, what creates the trajectory is a combination of clubhead speed and loft on the clubface. This creates the backspin needed to get the ball into the air. As such, your impact position should look different to your address position. 

PGA pro John Howells demonstrating a drill to improve a golfer's impact position

Notice how John's shoulders and hips are both slightly open, his hands are ahead of the ball and his weight is moving towards the target

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Ideally your shoulders will be slightly open to the target, your hands will be a fraction ahead of the ball and your weight will be moving towards the target. The image above illustrate the point. You can practice this by setting your impact position and then making a half swing from there, looking to recreate your pre-set impact as you strike the ball (the video with this article illustrates exactly how to do it).

Clubface control 

Hitting the golf ball straight is perhaps the hardest element of the game to master. The key is to have control of the clubface. That means taking care to set the perfect golf grip. A great checkpoint is the two ‘v's' between your thumb and forefinger on both hands. They should point towards your right shoulder. If you feel like your grip is good and you are still hitting a slice, try this drill. 

PGA pro John Howells demonstrating how proper wrist angles can help you control the clubface

As well as checking your grip, how you set your wrists at the top of the swing will impact how you control the clubface

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Swing to the top, pause and point the logo on your glove away from the target. Then carry on the swing. This will help you develop an understanding for the adjustments you might need to make to control the clubface during the swing.

Chipping strikes

PGA pro John Howells showing how chipping off a tee can help you strike your chip shots better

Practise chipping off a tee to improve your impact pattern and gain confidence

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

One of the most important parts of any beginner's guide to chipping is finding a consistently good strike. Don't worry about how to spin the golf ball at first as that will happen as a consequence of better contact. 

Often, when golfers start playing, they set the ball too far back in the stance and the club digs through impact causing fat and thin contacts. You can avoid this by moving the ball into the middle of your stance and setting your weight move evenly at address (i.e. not favouring your lead foot). This will help you find a shallower angle of attack using the bounce of the club through impact for a greater margin of error with the strike. Hit some balls off a tee in practice to develop the technique and your confidence.

Bunker strikes

The reason why many golfers struggle from sand is because they fail to open the clubface correctly before hitting the shot. In order open the clubface in golf effectively, you need to turn the club before you establish your grip. This will set the loft and crucially the bounce you need to play the shot correctly. 

PGA pro John Howells demonstrating a drill to improve your bunker play

Put a handful of sand on the ground to work on your bunker play

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

A great drill to improve your bunker play is to take a clump of sand from the bunker and put it on the grass. Just make a swing and practice splashing that sand towards the green. Now do the same thing but put a ball on top and hit it towards the green. This illustrates how much sand to take but also it should help you develop a shallow angle of attack - ideal for bunker play! 

Picking the break

PGA pro John Howells sharing a simple drill to help golfers read putts better

A common amateur mistake is not to allow for enough break when reading a putt

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Learning how to read greens and hole more putts is a crucial skill to develop if you are looking to shoot lower scores. The beginner golfer mistakes to avoid here are not allowing for enough break. Golfers often get caught up either aiming at the hole or at the apex of the curve and this leads them to under-borrow. Try to visualise the roll the putt as a whole and you should be able to pick better start lines (above the apex of the curve) allowing for the right amount of break.

John Howells
Top 50 Coach

Location: JCB Golf & Country Club


John joined the JCB Golf & Country club after spending seven years as the Senior Instructor at the Butch Harmon School of Golf Dubai. His coaching style is very much holistic in nature and TPI physical screenings are an integral part. John is able to identify physical limitations that may affect your swing and he has worked with the likes of Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Steve Webster and Rayhan Thomas.


Biggest influence:

Without a doubt the six years I spent working for Butch Harmon. I worked there from 2012 to 2018 and had the ability to everyday learn from one of the best modern instructors in the world today, Justin Parsons, who was my mentor and boss. We also were very fortunate to meet and learn from Claude Harmon III and Butch. The time spent in Dubai was the most pivotal because being surrounded by excellence was so inspirational for me as an instructor. I was able to frequently watch tour players practicing on site and working with their personal coaches, I was able to shadow coaches such as Sean Foley working with Danny Willet, Alan Thompson working with Tommy Fleetwood. 


Greatest teaching success story: Working with Rayhan Thomas for three years as his putting coach was a pretty special opportunity for me. Seeing him go on to win his first professional tournament at the 2016 Mens Tour Dubai Creek open where he set a world record equalling nine birdies in a row. 


Biggest challenge:

There is a new wave of golfers coming through the Bryson DeChambeau era and I am cautious about how many young golfers will attempt to play the game the same way as he does over the coming 10 years. We could see a lot of young talented golfers fall by the wayside either through injury or not being able to move the same way that Bryson does. I am really supportive of golfers pushing the boundaries of human physical performance so I admire what Bryson has been able to do, however I am apprehensive as to what this might be doing to the way young golfers see the game as a weightlifter/crossed with golfer/crossed with long drive champion.