Getting Mental
I had the opportunity this week to spend two days at the annual Summit of The Proponent Group, an organization of the top golf instructors in the world. Being surrounded by 140 of these talents is quite a treat. In a dinner conversation, several of these coaches who work with younger golfers were discussing how to get these kids to think differently ... or just THINK ... on the golf course, and focus on the probabilities of success when they face tough shots. Or any shot for that matter.

The conversation centered around making smart decisions about what you want to do with the golf ball on each shot. What would constitute "great" and also "safe", and assess your probabilities of executing either to satisfaction. In my observation of young golfers, but also many average players, I see them too often attempt the very low odds shot that might produce the desired results, rather than the safer shot that has a much higher probability of leaving the ball in a good spot for the next one.

These coaches were commiserating that they just cannot get these young strong players to really engage their brains before they get over a shot. In competition, all that matters is the cumulative score for the full 18 holes. And it takes a lot of great shots to make up for one poorly-chosen attempt at greatness. Low scores are much easier to manage if you take the doubles and triples off the card.

So, what I'm trying to share with you today is that we all could use an occasional "reality check" for our golf strategy. Based on your handicap, how many real "birdie holes" are out there? I suggest that unless you are a scratch or better, there are none. For an average 15 handicapper, there are only 2-3 par holes ... unless you make a bunch of big numbers, where you have to have more.

That conversation with the coaches yielded the idea of challenging the kids ... and ourselves ... to pick a realistic target score, and then approach each hole as to its contribution to that total. If a kid is trying to break 80, for example, he/she needs to make ten pars and 8 bogies. That's all. No birdies required. None. Zilch.

We all could take a little dose of that advice from very accomplished teachers. What if you approached each hole this weekend a little differently. What if your thought on each tee was something like: "What strategy gives me the best chance at avoiding bogey or double, but a reasonable chance to make par?"

I would like to hear your thoughts on this, please.
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[ comments ]
zli says:
I think this is great advice. I think we (at least myself) from time to time get "deceived" by the par score on each hole and think that's the number we should shoot for, which lead to poor decisions.
11/1/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
I agree and disagree to some extent. I think even for a 12 handicap there are holes that you can stand up on and say "ok this is a birdie/par hole" and not think "ok lets make par and move on." For example hole 1 of a course I play a lot is a 485 yard par 5, no real hazards anywhere (except 1 green side bunker). For me it is easily reachable in 2. I had a streak of 5 straight birdies on this hole back in May & June.

For me to stand on that tee and think "ok this is a par hole" what is my next thought when I crush my tee shot and have 200 yards into a green with no real hazards to worry about? Are you recomending I hit GW, SW from 200 yards or should I pull 4i and go for the green in 2?

Odds are after 2 shots I'm going to be closer to the hole when I pull 4i, than when I pull GW, SW from 200 yards.

So playing by the law of averages my best bet is to go for it in 2 and make this a birdie/par hole. (Birdie with a good drive, par with a poor drive).
11/1/13
 
DougE says:
I agree with the basic premise, though I do believe that there are some holes that can be looked at as realistic birdie opportunities for low-mid cappers. As we age, we (should) get smarter. I usually think about making par or bogey at worst. My goal is to not make double. I see that as the difference between my 8-10 handicap and my buddy's 14. He is 5-10 yds longer off the tee. He hits his irons longer, he putts well. If I have him beat anywhere, it's my short game, which I depend on to help me make par and bogey, and my common sense. I never "go for it" when I know the odds of reaching are slim. I realize that it is better to lay up and use my short game skills for a better chance at par. If I have an unfortunate lie in super thick undergrowth with only a very slim chance and lots of luck to get it out safely, I'll take an unplayable, rather than try to make the miracle shot necessary just to get it to a more playable position. To me, common sense will save you strokes in the long run.
11/1/13
 
GolfSmith7 says:
Most courses are par 72 so ten pars and 8 bogeys doesn't break 80 it equals 80.
11/1/13
 
DoubleDingo says:
For some reason when I play it "Safe" I screw up the shots that I try to play "safe". So I just try to make a good back swing on plane, good transition, down swing on plane and connect with clean contact. If I manage that I am usually pleased with the shot. And I tend to make more pars when I scramble, more birdies from harder parts of the course, and the harder holes I play better than the easy holes. I tend to hit worse shots from a good lie and I cannot figure out why.
11/1/13
 
slimpks1850 says:
Exactly what I was talking about in the "Play for Bogey?" thread...
11/1/13
 
jrbizzle says:
Love this article. Anytime I talk to a golfer who says he/she is trying to "break 90" my response is always - 17 bogeys and one par.

At that skill level (low 90s shooter / ~20 'capper) if you play for bogey, sooner or later you're going to run into a par out of sheer luck. if you're playing for pars, you're going to run into lots of double and triple bogeys. Take the safe route. Try to hit the greens in regulation plus 1, and then make one good putt that day. It ain't hard.
11/1/13
 
GBogey says:
As a mid-handicap 10-11, I don't believe that there are birdie holes at my level (I generally can't reach par 5's in 2), there are just what should be easy pars, medium pars, and hard pars where bogey is just fine. So I never approach a hole with the thought of making birdie, they just happen on those occasions when I have a shot or two that are particularly good. I do try to play each hole the same - what selection of shots leaves me the best chance to get on in regulation, and for the harder more dangerous holes, what gives me the best chance of bogey if I miss.
11/1/13
 
GBogey says:
For a long time I was scoring plus or minus a few strokes versus 18 over par. During that time bogey was my par and I would often keep score in my head versus bogey golf, so a par was -1, bogey +1, 2DB +2, birdie -2. It worked pretty well to keep me grounded relative to my ability, which was no where near par golf. Now my goal is to hit 9 over par, so I recently started using the hole handicaps to pace myself - par is par for the 9 easiest holes and bogey is par for the 9 hardest. Can't say that it is working yet, but I just started thinking this way.
11/1/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
My biggest mental problem is thinking I can reach every par 5 in 2. The problem lies in the fact that in general I CAN as long as its <530 yards and I hit 2 very good shots. I need to be more selective on the par 5's I think I should go for. The other ones I should take iron off the tee box and force myself to play it as a 3 shot par 5.
11/1/13
 
Brutus says:
After not being able to play for 10 weeks due to a slightly torn tendon in my elbow I recently returned. Before the injury my game was average. I always went to he course expecting to break 80, but rarely did - I was too focused on scoring. Now that I have returned, I am focused on placing the ball where I want to. I found that my ball striking is better, have better distance and control, more birdies per round, and I am having much more fun. My scoring is so much better. I don't write down my score until after the round. Just seeing a blank scorecard helps me focus on my next shot, not the score on the hole. This past weekend I played the back 9 at 1 over. I had no idea until I finished the round that I played that well. My advice, don't focus on your score, focus on playing the ball to the correct areas on each hole.
11/1/13
 
jpjeffery says:
Good advice, for me I think.

Although right now I'd just like to be able to get my fairway shots off the ground...
11/1/13
 
bkuehn1952 says:
I wonder when a golfer changes from the "Rule of 5's", as I used to think of it, to how many over par one is. For many years I figured if I could average less than 5 a hole I was doing well, and I was. At some point I must have improved enough to change my thinking but I can't recall when. Even today, I still think about the "Rules of 5's" when I am stinking out the place and approaching 90+. Under normal circumstances, however, I think about over/under par now.
11/1/13
 
bkuehn1952 says:
And another thought, it is really hard to shoot 79 on a par 72 course without a birdie or two. One makes a lot of errors during a round of golf. There is little wiggle room in one's goal to card a 79 or less without a birdie or two. A couple doubles and it is almost impossible to shoot enough pars to offset the doubles.
11/1/13
 
jpjeffery says:
@GolfSmith7 "Most courses are par 72..."

Is that true though? I've played 19 courses and only four of those are par 72 compared to four x 71, five x 70, three x 69, 2 x 68 and 1 x 66 (the last is a par 33 nine hole course which I've doubled up, ditto for one of the 70s).
11/1/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
Most 18 hole courses I've played are par 72
11/1/13
 
GBogey says:
If you can pull it off I think that Brutus' advice is pretty good. I know that the first 3 times I broke 80 I was distracted by various things from focusing on my score. I knew I was playing well, but in each case it wasn't until the 18th tee where I stopped and added did I realize I was going to break 80.
11/2/13
 
DougE says:
JP: Par 72 is the norm, at least here in the States. Par 71 and 70 are scattered about, but 72 is the standard. Typically, but not always, the make up includes four par 3s, and four par 5s. My guess is that 65-75% of all championship level courses are par 72. But, that's a guess. Could be more. Doubt it's much less.
11/2/13
 
jpjeffery says:
I'd always assumed that Par 72 was not just the norm but that was how it HAD to be. It was only when I started playing that I discovered neither was true. Maybe the lack of par 72s for me is due to being in London where there's not quite so much space to ensure four par 5s and 10 par 4s...even in the suburbs.
11/2/13
 
onedollarwed says:
The word "mental" might be a bit outdated, and could just as well mean crazy and barking with bats. As far as matters of the mind, which would include imagination, creativity, and ingenuity - which one does really need to play golf - we would have to marry them with consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory. Using these, let's break it down a bit more (and believe me, leaving out matters of the heart and gut: emotions, ego, audacity, risk, etc. does not do justice)
Consciousness - I am conscious, awake, I must play some golf today. But in golf, the consciousness to want to score well, your best, the best, seems in short supply in recreational circles. Most people go out and HOPE to play well, and it basically ends there.
Perception - it's 155, grab the 7-iron. Wait! I don't know how far my clubs go, but I don't know that, plus it's a side-hill lie, uphill into the wind with a soft wind and traps all around. Doesn't matter look at the number and grab the club.
11/6/13
 
onedollarwed says:
Thinking: I think I'll have a drink. I think I can clear that trap. NO! Unk big and strong, thinking bad. OK, if you've become conscious, and are perceiving well, go ahead and think: deliberate, make decisions, solve problems.
Judgement: No more strategical play! Every time I try to play conservatively it backfires! But seriously, the Red Sox started the rally tome come back and beat the Yankees in '04, down three games and behind in the bottom of the ninth, with a walk, a pinch runner, a steal, etc.... not a home run! The manager controls the players - cause every guy thinks he's going to hit a home run.
Memory: Unk only remember good shots. Casinos only have bells and sirens for the winners, not the losers - that's why it always seems like somebody is winning, but it's actually the house which has the odds stacked in its favor. Just watch the trucks of money leaving the casino out the back. When seen from afar, people bring money the casino and leave it there; all the wastes shots we bring to the course!
11/6/13
 
onedollarwed says:
...and memory clouds perception in the form of preconceptions!!! ...which can further hinder our consciousness in the form of bad hypnosis, poor self image, and defeat through learned helplessness!!!
To recap positively:
Consciousness: I live another day, why not play golf! Why not play well!
Perception: I know how far I hit this club, I know how far my safe target is, and I'm not hitting it left.
Thinking: I can get up and down from there, but not from those other places.
Memory: know how to play this hole, I also remember correctly that I only hit that great shot 1 out of 20 times.
Judgement: good sense
And meta-cognitive thinking is the awareness of your own thinking, which can mitigate misconceptions, negative cycles, and anxiety.
I just noticed how close cognac is in the dictionary to cognition; hello neighbor!
11/6/13
 
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