I watch lots of golfers play this crazy game, and one of the most common mistakes I see is the almost trance-like approach to the game most take, especially when they play the same course often. I can assure you that if you will engage your mind at a higher level . . . analyze holes and specific shots and explore the alternatives . . . you will cut strokes from your score. Here are some examples.
1. I recently joined a very nice club, with an opening par five of only 495 yards. Well, a great drive can put the average good player in position to go for the green from 210-225, but there is water on the left, bunkers on the right, the green slopes to the water, and is very firm and fast. Like the other guys I play with, I began playing this hole with a driver off the tee, then a 6- or 7-iron to lay up just short. Then I realized this puts the bunker in play off the tee, and the water in play on the second. Then it leaves you with a 30-50 yard pitch into a firm green. So, as an experiment, I started hitting 4-wood off the tee, which cannot reach the bunker (and the fairway is wider there), then a 4- or 5-iron to the 100-yard mark, again where the fairway is wider. That leaves me a full gap or sand wedge to the hole, which I can spin better. I’m making more birdies than before and almost never an opening bogey. I drew some strange looks when I started doing this, but now several others guys are doing the same thing. THINK! There are several ways to approach each hole – which one gives you the best odds for par or bogey, least chance of a big number.
2. We have very firm greens, and when the pin is cut close to the front, especially downwind, you often cannot stop the ball anywhere close. So everyone just complains and keeps trying. I woke up to the fact that an iron shot hit intentionally to be short of the green would often jump up onto the green, but at the very least left me an easy uphill chip to the flag, usually from inside of 30’. On this course that beats the heck out of a long putt from the back of the green. THINK! Your best approach shot is not always at the flag or even the green.
3. Our 10th hole is a bear. It’s a dogleg right, with a prevailing left to right wind. It’s the #1 handicap hole. Anything right off the tee is dead but there’s a bunker dead away on the left that is also big trouble. It took a while, but I finally realized that a 4-wood or “bunted” driver off the tee would not get to the bunker, and while it leaves me 175-185 from the green, at least I’m usually in the fairway. This elevated green is hard to hit anyway, and behind it is dead, so I find that this approach let’s me hit a draw 4- or 5-iron into the green, with my goal always to hit it short or skip it up onto the surface. I average about 4.5 on this hole now, and rarely make a double, which on the number 1 handicap hole, is totally acceptable to me. THINK! Even for a low-handicap golfer, they are all not “par” holes, and you guys that play to double digits, there are plenty of holes that are “good bogey holes” out there.
Let me know your own stories of engaging your brain to lower your scores.