An interesting thing about the game of golf is the better you are the less risk you tend to take. Of course good players may try to pull off and succeed in making more difficult shots on occasion, but the better the player the higher the chance they can actually achieve their goal, which means they aren’t really attempting something that has a low chance of succeeding. Got that?
Ben Hogan is considered one of the greatest golfers who ever had a chance to play the game. One of his memorable thoughts was the winner is the one with the best misses. Jack Nicklaus was famous for winning by letting the other players mess themselves up. Tommy Armour, another great player and the most successful teacher of his time, used to tell his students to, “Play the shot you have the greatest chance of playing well,” and, “Play the shot that makes the next shot the easiest.”
Every golfer plays better when they know and play within their abilities. Here are some thoughts on how to play much happier golf without having to do anything about your swing or even put more time into practicing.
This advice does assume you have a modicum of a golf game already in hand. You don’t have to be able to score well to take advantage, only be able to make reasonable contact on a semi-regular basis. What you do need to know is what your strengths are and where you tend to have trouble.
One of the biggest disadvantages we have versus the professionals who play the game for a living is the lack of a supremely knowledgeable person who will not only lug our clubs around for us but also give us all the information we need to make a decision, and then even chime-in on the likelihood of said decision turning out in our favour. Caddies are long gone, except at the poshest of places, so you need to be your own. The best caddies have a very strong knowledge of their player’s game and personality, and are strong enough to be able to challenge decisions they feel are not a very high percentage. No one should know your strengths and weaknesses better than you, so you’ve got that going for you. That being said, in my experience, many of you have way too high an opinion of what you are capable of doing. Golf on telly and the marketing machines of club and ball companies haven’t helped.
In order to benefit from this exercise, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. Delusional players have a fool for an advisor. Here are some things you should know about yourself. How far do you hit your driver? In the air and with the roll? Remember this is not how far you want to hit your driver or how far you hit it once when it hit the cart path. Do the math off the tee when you hit your average shot and accept the number.
You need to do the same thing with your other clubs.
Also what percentage of the time can you hit a particular club well? You may be able to hit a 3 wood 180 yards, but how often? Will you cover that 180 yards faster on average if you hit a 7 iron and a pitching wedge? Also keep in mind the happy factor of hitting a solid shot rather than mis-hitting “the proper” club for the job.
If you are playing a difficult hole with a par of 4 would you be better off treating it as a par 5 and accept it will take you three shots to arrive? Hit a club you trust three times rather than whaling away with something that historically will only cause you to say words that make your mother upset. Remember the par of any given hole is what an expert golfer should expect to score on a regular basis. If you can’t realistically break 100 or 90, the par on the card has little relation to your reality.
This is actually a big part of the problem for many of us. If you can’t break 90, raise the par on each hole by one, and by two on the five most difficult holes. It will help relieve some of the pressure we put on ourselves.
If you have trouble getting the ball in the air, particularly with your short game, keep it on the ground
A few other decisions to help raise your odds of success: If you have trouble getting the ball in the air, particularly with your short game, keep it on the ground. Bump and run it with a seven or eight iron, or use your putter whenever possible (see Cam Smith at St. Andrews during The Open Championship). If there is an obstacle between the ball and the hole are you better off going around it? The fastest way to your goal of getting the ball in the hole isn’t always a straight line. You are not being a wuss by taking fewer risks—you are playing to your potential based on the skill set you currently have.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to hit hero shots. If they ever work out they feel great. The problem is if you are trying hero shots and not realizing they are hero shots for you and start to get frustrated and unhappy when you inevitably fail 75 percent-plus of the time. Anything that gives you less than 30 percent chance of success should not surprise nor piss you off when it does not succeed. You may as well get pissed off when you lose money at the casino.
Regardless of what numerous self-help books and your parents may tell you, you are not all capable of being the best. Connor McDavid, Usain Bolt, and Rory have had opportunity advantages that most of us don’t, and they have a genetic advantage that no amount of effort can completely overcome. So what?
You don’t need to be the best to enjoy this game. It can be very rewarding if you successfully hit the shots you are capable of more often. That is something we are physically and mentally capable of doing. We just need a better caddie.
John Piccolo is a golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop. You can find him at Eagle Valley Golf Club or e-mail him at: [email protected]