I have been a keen observer of golfers for many years now. I watch them on the range and during their rounds - I'm always paying attention. There is something that has always been fascinating to me about this game, and what it does to people. If there is one truth I have figured out it's this - golfers' intentions and their actions don't match up very well.
That's a pretty broad statement, and I'll define it a bit further for you because you could really apply it to just about any part of someone's life. Here is what I mean:
On the whole I believe almost everyone who plays golf wants to lower their scores. We are all chasing this dream on some level, whether we know it or not. The first question out of most people's mouth when they ask you about your round is, "what did you shoot?" It's just part of the golfing culture to have a number attached to your performance.
While I am painting with a pretty large brush here, I'd say that shooting lower scores is the intent of most golfers. However, I don't believe their actions line up very well with this goal for a number of reasons. In this article I am going to explore how our egos get in the way.
The main point I am trying to make is that we have an unbelievable capability of getting in our own way when it comes to shooting lower scores. Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot with a small pistol, other times it's with an enormous shotgun. Mainly I believe it comes from a disconnect between what we believe we are capable of, and what we actually are capable of. In other words, our golf egos are out of control.
Let's explore some examples...
If you have been a reader of this website for a while you know that I am firmly opposed to golfers mindlessly aiming at pins with their approach shots. It results in more double bogeys than birdies, and I believe it's a flawed strategy. You are just not good enough to be aiming at pins.
I don't say that to insult you, because the truth is that pretty much every golfer on the planet is not good enough to be aiming at pins. Scott Fawcett has become one of the most renowned golfing minds out there when it comes to statistics and strategy. I recently reviewed his DECADE system, which has been taking the NCAA and PGA Tour by storm. After analyzing millions of shots from PGA Tour, Scott realized that pin hunting is just not a smart strategy for elite golfers - I'm talking Division 1 collegiate players and PGA Tour professionals.
The long and short of it is that when you simply aim at a pin on the green, you often bring parts of the course into play that can be extremely penal. If this is not a good strategy for players who are trying to make a living, then you can be sure it's not the right strategy for a golfer looking to break 90.
"But I love to pin hunt, it's more fun!!!"
Great, go aim at all the pins you want - just don't complain when you are missing greens on the short side and making double bogeys. This is where ego and intent come into play.
If you truly want to shoot lower scores, then you just have to accept that there are more efficient ways to do it. You might not consider them fun, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that 100% aggressive play is not going to result in a lower score at the end of the round. Unfortunately in golf we can't have it both ways.
Did you know that when a PGA Tour player is faced with a recovery situation (like being in the trees) they average a bogey 80% of the time?
Let that sink in for a second - the best players in the world are mostly making bogeys when they hit errant tee shots. I'm going to take a wild guess that most of you didn't know that. I certainly didn't for a long time. I believe it is one of the most revealing stats out there.
So why are you trying to thread your 6-iron through that small opening to pull off the hero shot? Because you (and me sometimes) can't help turn off that voice in our head telling us to go for it. I know it is not nearly as fun to take your medicine and punch your ball out into the fairway, but it is almost always the smarter play.
This is another area where I can pretty much guarantee that your scores will drop if you brush your ego aside and play the higher percentage shot.
Again, do you want to have fun or shoot lower scores?
Grip it and Rip It
There is a reason why John Daly continues to be one of the most popular golfers on the planet despite not being a relevant competitor since the 90s. The way he was able to win those two majors was some of the most entertaining golf ever played. He managed to have it both ways - let it rip, and succeed.
Him winning majors is not too similar to your Sunday morning round, but I think there is a small parallel I can draw here.
I see players all the time trying to bash their drivers into tight fairways surrounded by trouble. Guys waiting for a green to clear that is 245 yards away with a water hazard in front of it. Flop shots to a short-sided pin.
You get the point...
The reality is that we can't have it both ways if we want to improve. In the end John Daly couldn't either. This game is terribly humbling, and it will penalize you when you try for too much.
If you are the type of player that is OK with having erratic rounds, and scores that can be 30+ strokes apart from one day to the next then by all means go for it! I am not here to tell you how you should play this game.
However, if you are the kind of golfer that really wants to lower your handicap, and see progress, you can't play the game like that. You have to think your way around the course, and really play within yourself rather than permanently stepping on the gas pedal.
I often tell people that if you watched me shoot a round of even par, or any other player at that level, you would probably not see any fireworks. Pins wouldn't be knocked down, 40-foot birdies wouldn't be dropping left and right. It actually looks quite boring to be honest with you. It is mostly drama free.
It's Mostly Not Your Fault
Golf education is mostly about the mechanics of the swing. When players are learning this game not much attention is paid to the strategy of this game. Golfers have no idea that they are playing way too aggressively for their ability level.
Last year I was playing a round with a friend who was relatively new to the game. I was trying to coach him around the course, and early in the round we were faced with a situation that will illustrate my point.
On a short par four he had hit his tee shot behind some trees. As he was preparing to hit his approach shot I asked him what his target was. He told me he was going to try and hit the ball on the green. If I had given Rory McIlroy 50 balls, I'm not sure he could have landed his ball on the green more than 10 times - the shot was that difficult. However, my friend had no idea that by going for the green he was likely going to seal his fate of making double bogey or worse.
He took my advice, punched out to the fairway and made an easy bogey. We probably saved him 2 shots right there.
I am Giving You a Gift - Take it!!!
The golf industry has gotten in the way of what improvement really looks like. If you followed just two of the strategies I gave you in this article I GUARANTEE you your handicap will drop. Simply aim at the middle of every green, and don't try hero shots when you are in a recovery situation.
Sounds easy, right? It's actually quite hard because it requires a ton of discipline to quiet that voice in your head telling you to go for it. But make no mistake, that can be a winning strategy for almost every single golfer reading this article.
The main thing I want you to come away with is that lowering scores and ego can be opposing concepts.
I truly want all of you to enjoy your time on the course. If you want to go with the more aggressive strategy, and are truly OK that you most likely will not shoot your best scores doing it, then that really is fine. What I do want to do is just make you aware that there is a trade off.
For those who are very serious about becoming a better golfer, I strongly urge you to consider checking your egos and the aggressive play at the door. I can tell you from experience it is very hard to do, but once you start conquering the strategic and mental side of this game, good things will happen for you on the scorecard!