The Paradox of Choice
Years ago, I read a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. It warned how excessive choices in society (even as simple as buying a pair of jeans) wasn’t making us happier, but causing more stress and anxiety because of unrealistic expectations and something referred to as “decision-making paralysis.”
At the time it was published in 2005, it felt very relevant. Fast forward 15 years, and it seems like the author’s central thesis is even more critical. Either way, I’m not here to guide you in your life decisions, but I want to discuss how the paradox of choice is the root of many golfers’ problems, and offer some insight into what you can do to solve it.
The Beauty of Golf
One of the fascinating parts of golf is that there is no right way to play the game. Everyone’s game can have their unique fingerprint, which ranges from the way they swing the club to even their demeanor on the course.
Every shot presents you with a different decision. Let’s say you were 40 yards from the green; you could choose from as many as 5-6 clubs and technique styles depending on the pin location, wind, and turf conditions. Depending on the player, and their skill level, each of those scenarios could result in success. You can’t say there is one right way to play that shot.
In all my years playing competitively, I’ve seen so many different styles of golfers who could shoot impressive scores. They ranged from looking fundamentally sound to downright bizarre (if you saw the way I swing a club, you would likely classify me as a bit unorthodox).
They all had a common thread, though. Whatever method they chose, and decisions they made, all had a lot of conviction and belief.
Where You Can Get Into Trouble
Unfortunately, one of golf’s great attributes is also one of its biggest challenges. With all of those possibilities, indecision can arise.
You can choose to shape your ball off the tee based on whether the hole is a dogleg right or left. If the wind is blowing in your face, you could alter your technique to try and keep the ball lower with a punch shot. Or your approach shot might be short-sided, and you can attempt a flop shot with your wedge to keep the ball closer to the hole.
If your mind is running through a rolodex of different shots to choose from, it becomes harder to trust your decision. At the last second, you might question if you should have chosen something different. Many of you know the types of results you can expect if you’re consistently ambivalent in the 30 seconds before you hit each shot.
On top of that, almost no golfer has the skill to pull off a myriad of shots with regularity. Even PGA Tour players have learned that to stay competitive and keep their jobs, they have to stick with the techniques they are best at and not try to be good at everything. Why do you think Dustin Johnson plays a fade off the tee regardless of what the hole looks like? Because he knows he can do it all the time and is confident in the repetitiveness of that swing.
The Freedom of Simplicity
If you’re looking to become a better golfer and want to shoot lower scores, you need conviction in your decisions. You don’t get bonus points on your scorecard for style.
Stepping up to your ball with as clear of a mind as possible should be your goal. And that’s why I have gravitated more towards a more straightforward form of golf, and recommend it to anyone else who wants to improve. If you remove most of the choices, you’ll have less of an opportunity to be indecisive. You want to get rid of that paradox as much as possible.
So what does that mean? Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:
- You don’t need to work the ball in both directions.
- Special techniques like punch shots into the wind aren’t necessary; just take more club.
- You can aim at the middle of every green instead of trying to chase pins.
- Having multiple wedge techniques (flop, bump & run, etc.) won’t make you better – choose one and get good at it.
For a long time, I tried to complicate the game, thinking I needed more options. I know many of you feel the same way.
In my opinion, you should go in the opposite direction. Remove the burden of all of these choices. You’ll feel a lot more confident and have more freedom in your game.
I am a 14 handicap senior.. many times I am 200 yards out on a par 4.. I cannot hit the ball 200 yards.. maximum is 160 yards. However I am very good at 100 yards.. my question is from 200 yards out.. hit it 160 and play a 40 yard pitch OR hit from 200 to the 100 yard market and hit my strong game 100 yard shot???
The evidence overwhelmingly points to laying up as close as possible to the hole (unless you are bringing big trouble into play by doing so). It’s a bit of a myth that golfers will get the ball closer to the hole on average from 100 yards (full swing) versus 40 yards. However, there are some outliers if you *really* struggle with intermediate wedge shots from those distances.
Another great article Jon! I dropped my handicap last year from 32 to 21. I took some lessons, made some technique changes and practiced all phases of the game but at least 75% of my improvement came from changing my mental game aproach. I give a lot of credit to your articles and the other resources they led me to.
That’s great to hear Terry! Thanks for reading, and I’m glad I could play a small part in your improvement
Jon, I like the article. I do have one small point of disagreement. I think having the ability to hit multiple shots around the green is beneficial overall. It seems to me that the key to utilizing the multiple shots is knowing when to utilize each and being confident in your choice. For example, with a clean lie and a lot of room to work with, it makes most sense to play a bump and run and get the ball on the turf as soon as possible. There’s no second guessing there. In contrast, with a fluffy lie and a short side pin, it makes most sense to get the ball up in the air quickly to land softly. Around the green beating indecision is about understanding the proper conditions for playing a particular shot and being confident that you know how to evaluate those conditions in order to select the proper shot.
Thanks, Chris – I think those decisions depend on the skill level of each golfer. You could use the exact same technique for either of those shots but simply change out the club (perhaps a 9-iron for bump and run, and LW with the fluffy lie). Where I think a lot of golfers get into trouble around the greens is when they think they need to alter their technique a lot to suit the situation. Anyways, these are just suggestions to get people thinking about their games differently!
Chris Carlson says
Thanks for the article, Jon. This past winter (prior to the “pandemic”), our course did not have pins because of the off-season and if they left them in they would eventually break in the wind or get stolen (sad). But the advantage was that I was forced to aim for the green and not “pin-hunt”, since I couldn’t tell where the hole was. I saw my scores improve in spite of the winter/early spring conditions (non-maintained greens, sloppy fairways). I had read your previous articles about aiming for the green and not the pin, but I always fell to the temptation to go for the pin. Now, I’m a believer in your strategy and will pin-hunt no more (except when I’m a few yards short of the green on my approach, but that’s another facet to work on)! Keep up the good work!
You’re definitely not the first person who reported a reduction in scores when pins were not available to aim at. Nice to hear you see positive results with that strategy!
Great Article. If you golf and like to bet, it has been frustrating that there isn’t a great app to track scores and bets. GOLF BETTOR is the answer. 12 game formats, 90K courses and tees in US and Canada. Easy to use. Download Now with a FREE 60 DAY TRIAL: https://bit.ly/GolfBettor
Matthew Loughton says
Been reading a lot of your content during our lockdown. It’s at least some sort of a fix! Loving it.
I broke 80 for the first time last year July and been playing around a 5 since.
Just before I broke 80 my dad walked a round with me and asked me on the 18th “how many wedges do you have in your bag?” I answered “4”. He quickly replied “… but you can’t hit any of them”. I asked what I can do about it and he suggested picking one and forming a relationship with it. It made a huge difference… Especially around the greens. I learned to make shots. It also took the choice paralysis away as you mentioned. I was more focused on how I’m going to make the ball do what I want with the club in my hand than which club I’m going to choose to make the ball do what I want.
Anyway I just wanted to add that!
Cheers from South Africa!
thanks for sharing, Matt – I think your dad made a great suggestion! Glad you like the site, hopefully you’ll be out playing soon 🙂