Have you ever gone to a diner that has a menu as thick as a book? There are more than 100 options, and you're flipping through the pages trying to make a decision, but not confident anything will be that good. How could the cooks possibly execute that many dishes well?
Unfortunately, that's what a lot of golfers' games are like. They are continually adding more and more dishes to their menu, and when it comes time to cook, the flavors fall flat.
(in this brilliant metaphor the dishes are golf shots)
I want to walk you through a few concepts to give you specific examples of what I mean. I'll speak anecdotally about my own game and some other ideas, but my main goal here is to shift your thinking.
I want you to become the restaurant that only has a few dishes, but knows how to make them, and does them well.
I Tried Them All
For the majority of my time as a golfer, I was under the assumption that I had to have a vast arsenal of shots and techniques at my disposal.
Draws, fades, punch shots, flop shots, bump and runs - you know the list.
I never really stopped to analyze my performance trying all these shots, but if I had, I would have noticed I wasn't very good at any of them under pressure. Sure, I could pull them off in the backyard, or at the driving range, but when I only had one chance to get it right, the results fell short.
Looking back, it's one of the main reasons I had more blowup holes and posted double bogeys (or worse).
What I finally understood is that if I simplified things, and started ripping out all of the pages of my menu, I would become a much better golfer.
The One Trick Pony
Recently, I went through a full evaluation at a facility called Golf & Body NYC. I'll be writing up the experience in a separate article, but they put my golf swing through all of the latest tools like Trackman (a popular launch monitor) and GEARS (a CT Scan for your golf swing).
We spoke about the current state of my game, the goals I had, and then I went through a ball striking evaluation.
I make some unorthodox moves in my swing and have a very extreme in-to-out swing path. That became apparent to their lead instructor after seeing my numbers on the launch monitor. We also found out why I am a functional ball striker too.
I asked him what he thought about everything, and his response was, "you're kind of like Mariano Rivera - you've only got one pitch, but you're good at it."
Of course, he was slightly joking, because I'm not nearly as good as a golfer as Mariano Rivera was a pitcher. But it speaks to the notion of simplicity, execution, and results.
Almost every shot I hit on the golf course is going to be a draw. My swing is incapable of moving the ball in any other direction. It is almost impossible for me to hit a fade unless I do something that feels very bizarre.
I have one swing. I don't change it at all in almost any situation. Whether I'm hitting my driver or a 50-yard pitch shot, I'm not trying to do anything all that different.
So why am I a far better golfer now than I was before? I believe it's because I am fully committed to doing one thing rather than partially committed to doing ten. I'm comfortable with what I've got, I mostly know what I can expect, and my head is clearer over the ball because of it.
What am I talking about?
Rather than speaking in generalities, I'd like to go through some specific shots and situations to illustrate what I mean. I'll talk anecdotally about my own game, but I hope that you can find a connection to your game.
Working The Ball In Both Directions
I'm biased, but I don't think recreational golfers need to hit draws or fades on command. The notion that you have to shape your shot based on the fairway or pin placement sounds sexy, but in reality, I believe you're wasting shots if you employ that strategy.
One of the biggest myths out there, and I've fallen victim to it myself at times, is that you'll eliminate one side of the golf course playing a particular shot shape. If you look at most golfers' shot dispersions, they'll miss plenty on both sides of their target no matter what shape of shot they play.
For example, you would assume I would miss almost all of my targets to the left because I draw the ball, but I miss plenty to the right if my clubface is too open an impact. I've measured my game on various shot tracking devices and found that I miss fairways and greens equally to both sides.
My advice is to try and stick with one shot shape as best you can. There are PGA Tour players who have made millions of dollars and won major championships with one shot shape - I think it can work for you too.
I play in windy conditions a lot since I live near the water. I also can't execute one of those cool punch shots you'll see on TV during tournaments.
If you're playing a shot into the wind, spin and trajectory are your enemies.
A nicely executed punch shot will keep the ball low, and also reduce the spin on the ball. Despite being able to play those shots on the practice tee, I've found I tend to strike it heavy or hook the ball too much in an actual round. It requires muscle memory outside of my normal swing, and I don't find that I have enough time to make it work.
So you know what I do to solve this problem? I use more club. If my standard shot called for a 7-iron, I take a 4 or 5-iron, the lower loft on the club will take care of lowering the spin and trajectory on its own.
There is no need for a fancy solution or a different technique. I can reliably get better results overall with what I already have.
Part of the beauty of golf is that there is no right way to play a shot. That's also part of its curse too.
Let's say you are 20 yards short of the green and the pin is in the back. Some would say a true golfing artist would have multiple shots at their disposal - they could bump and run a lower lofted club like 7-iron, or loft a wedge back to the pin.
In theory, neither of these shots is particularly challenging to execute. But I would argue that going through the process of having to choose between several shots will invoke enough doubt in your mind to pull any of them off with regularity.
So I would tell all of you to forget about the fancy wedge shots. You don't need a flop shot. You don't need a one-hop stop wedge.
What you do need is a technique you are comfortable with that can get the ball on the putting surface most of the time (even if it's 20 feet away from the hole). I see so many golfers who can't accomplish this one goal, and it wastes shots. Luckily, they are easier to recoup than tee shots and approach shots.
I can't tell you what that technique is for you. It's possible you might need help from a professional to find it. But what I do want you to think about is simplicity. Get good at one kind of wedge shot, good enough that when you stand over the ball, you're almost certain you will strike the ball cleanly enough to get it on the green. If you can get to that point, I guarantee you that your scores will drop.
This Doesn't Sound Like Fun Though?
Whenever I've tried to give this kind of advice to golfers, I'll inevitably get some backlash. Some will evoke nostalgic feelings about how the game is supposed to be played with style and artistry. It sounds great, but I've been around thousands of golfers at this point, and I haven't come across too many who actually can play that way.
What I do see is plenty of golfers who are paralyzed by fear and complexity when they stand over the ball because they've got so many conflicting thoughts. That's not a fun way to play this game.
It's hard to have it both ways in golf. I know most of you want to find ways to lower your scores; I believe moving towards simplicity is the right path for almost all of you. Feeling the burden of all of your options is not making you a better golfer.
So if you feel like your game is like that diner menu with all of those dishes that aren't going to taste that good, start ripping out the pages. Take a hard look at your game and think about what is working, and what is making you the most comfortable. Move towards that.
It's inevitable that you're going to face situations on the course that make you uncomfortable, that's part of golf. You want to meet those circumstances with what you're the most confident in. You won't be successful every time, but the trick is to get a little bit better at avoiding those big mistakes.