Strategy is one of the topics that fascinates me most about golf because it combines multiple disciplines - expectation management, mental discipline, and numerical analysis. I also love course management (another word for strategy) because it's a way for golfers of all levels to lower their scores without changing their swing. Almost all players have something to gain by sharpening up their decision-making skills.
As someone who has spent a little time in casinos, I happen to see tons of parallels between golf and gambling. Many of the forces working against you in blackjack or roulette are also preventing you from shooting your lowest scores. In this article, I'll explain why the two are so related, and how you can stop becoming the gambler and be more like the casino as it pertains to your golf game.
Golfers Are Mostly Gamblers
In my twenties, my friends and I loved to head to casinos. We'd often joke that the best feeling was when you first got on the floor because the night was filled with so many possibilities. But we all knew the pit in your stomach all too well when the house took all of your money.
One memory in particular always stands out. A friend of mine, who is probably one of the smartest guys I know, walked to the blackjack table with an envelope stacked with $2,000 and an ironclad strategy. Thirty minutes later it was all gone. His experience is probably quite similar to many of yours - when things started going badly his betting became more erratic and emotional. Before he knew it, all of his chips were gone.
The great philosopher Mike Tyson sums it up in one of his most famous quotes, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
The interesting thing about gamblers and golfers is that they behave almost exactly the same way when adversity first strikes. How many of you head to the course with optimism for how your round will turn out? More importantly, how many of you know how easy it is to abandon your strategy when things start off poorly?
Casinos always win in the long run because the games they design have odds that are stacked against gamblers even if they play with perfect strategy. On top of that, their real edge is how irrational people become when they start losing. While golf isn't exactly the same, many players stack the odds against themselves with their decision making and inability to control their emotions. The gambler mentality makes a challenging game that much more difficult.
I know this vicious cycle all too well, and one of my main goals with Practical Golf is to help you avoid it as much as possible.
Becoming the House
The good news is that you can stack the odds in your favor and start becoming more like a casino in your golf game. You might "lose money" here and there, but in the long run, you'll be happy with the results.
If you want to become a better golfer and be more like the house, then two things need to occur as it pertains to strategy:
- You need to understand the rules
- You need to have more discipline
Here's where the casino metaphor starts to diverge a bit. Blackjack dealers have a clear set of rules of how they are going to play the game. If they deviate, hundreds of cameras above their heads will know immediately, and they will lose their jobs. Their task is quite simple (other than having to sit through thousands of people losing money).
Golfers have a more complex chore because they are never taught how to play the game optimally from a strategic perspective. Additionally, each shot is a new set of circumstances, and it will challenge them to not only select the optimal strategy but have the discipline to do it. The inner gambler is always lurking, telling you to go for it, when perhaps in that situation it's best to play the smart shot.
What's even more difficult, is that there are so many myths out there as to what is considered conservative or aggressive, and what is the right decision. The more I learn, the more I think those terms are less helpful. Fortunately, modern golf statistics have helped clarify what the right choices are in many scenarios if you want to give yourself the best chance at posting the lowest score.
For example, I was always under the impression that hitting driver on most holes was inherently an aggressive move, and would often retreat to safer clubs thinking it would help keep my scores lower. However, my mind changed quite a bit on that topic thanks to the work of people like Mark Broadie.
How Do You Do It?
If you are interested in playing golf less like a gambler, and more like the casino, then learning the proper rules is the first step. Thankfully, it's not all that complicated. The challenging part will be having the discipline to stick with the plan during your rounds.
Over the years, I've written a lot about strategy on this site. At the end of this article, I'll share a list of cornerstone articles that I think will point you in the right direction on how to choose the right clubs and targets in various situations on the course.
If you're interested in having a more comprehensive learning experience, then I would direct you to a friend of mine, Scott Fawcett. He is one of the top minds in the emerging field of golf statistics, and his DECADE system is used by many elite amateurs and tour players. Recently, he introduced DECADE Foundations, which is geared more towards recreational players. Many readers have gone through the program and given me positive feedback, which is not surprising because the material is that good.
If you're interested in a sneak peek, you can watch the video below. Also, if you purchase through this link you can get a $25 discount.
In addition, here is a list of articles that I think can help you make better decisions during your rounds. If you stick to the plan, I can pretty much guarantee you that your scores will drop. I've gotten countless emails from readers telling me their handicaps have lowered significantly by following just a few of these rules. The best part is that you don't need to be perfect either; you just need to form a habit of making better decisions more often.