The other day I was listening to the Golf Station on the radio, and they were talking about if instructors were paid by how much they improved the student’s handicap. Pretty interesting concept and conversation. Before I start a lesson, I ask the student if they want a band-aid or surgery. Most of the time surgery is too expensive (time and money-wise) and not necessary for their goals. Most people just want to play well enough so that it’s actually a game.
That’s where strategy comes in. They want to play well enough so that their game actually can use strategy. If you can’t even hit the ball or if every shot is just random and wild – it’s not even a game. There needs to be a certain amount of control of the ball to be able to play golf as a game of strategy and skill.
Strategy is based on a realistic assessment of your skill. Tour Players need to make birdies to make money. They are keeping their foot on the gas all of the time. If most of us played like that, we’d just crash and burn. Scratch players are mostly trying to make pars and only trying to make birdie with a wedge in their hand – and a pretty accessible pin. Too often average players try to play too aggressively. Golf is very much a risk/reward game … and the risks usually out weigh the rewards. Consistency is highly rewarded in golf.
I can’t tell you how many players tell me that they would be good golfers if they were consistent. Wow – that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the game. The random great shot is basically irrelevant. It’s the bad shots that ruin your score. The secret is to have playable bad shots – your mishits have to stay in the park.
Of course some people don’t care about score and just want to hit the random 300 yard drive or the 150 yard wedge. And of course they have every right to do that. But that’s not really playing golf – they can do that at the driving range. The game of golf is about keeping score over 18 holes.
Does being consistent mean having a perfect swing? No. Lee Trevino was probably the most consistent player of all time … definitely not a “perfect” swing. My rule is to not attempt shots that won’t work most of the time. Here’s a classic situation that I see all of the time: A player hits a crummy drive off of hole #1. Then – while upset – he tries to hit a 3 wood out of the rough to make up for the poor drive … which usually is a grounder or a wild shot out of bounds. Thus he winds up making 8 on the first hole (or worse) and is freaked out for the rest of the round. After the crummy drive, he should of hit a 7 iron just to get the ball back in play and get back some confidence hitting the ball … make bogey and move on. I try to survive the first 3 holes … and hope by then I’ve found some feel and rhythm so that I can try some shotmaking the rest of the round.
That’s at the heart of strategy – knowing what you can do.
GM and Head Golf Professional