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I can almost sense the collective cringes of those reading that title. We’ve seen newbies make this claim one week, only to post the next week how much they hate the game. I've certainly been guilty of it, though I’ve since learned my lesson. While most of the time we are talking about the one swing thought or swing adjustment that will carry us to single-digit greatness, other times it’s a can’t miss epiphany on the strategy that will have us navigating around the course like a pro. During yesterday’s round, I arrived at a par 5 that has a wide landing area for the driver. That's the easy part. A decent drive leaves about 270 to the green, but with a very narrow bottle neck about 100 yards from the green created by a fairway bunker and large tree on the left, and golf ball graveyard woods narrowing the gap from the right. My choices were to use a wood to carry the bottleneck, leaving a half swing wedge from where it opens back up, or mid-iron layup in front of the bunker leaving a good angle with a mid-iron to the green. I chose the latter option and it worked out perfectly… I mean I couldn’t have walked up and placed my next two shots any better. An easy uphill 6 iron that stopped short of the bunker leaving me the best angle to the downhill blind green, followed by a full 6 iron that felt good coming off the club and confirmed when I walked over the hill to see the ball resting in the middle of the green. I finished the hole thinking that was easy, I’ll just play it that way next time. Next time occurred an hour and a half later when I played the 9 hole course a second time. An identical second drive set me up for my can’t miss strategy. I addressed the ball with all the confidence in the world and promptly hit a push slice to the right leaving a poor angle to the green. Ok, no big deal. I’ve been hitting fades all day, I thought. I’ll just have to start the ball close to the tree line with a 4 iron and it should come back close to the green. What could go wrong? A minute later I was hitting my approach shot with a pitching wedge after that “can’t miss” 4 iron started 3 yards too far right, hit a tree, dropped straight down and rolled out onto the center of the bottle neck a whopping 80 yards closer to my target. It could have been worse. One of my favorite expressions is the Mike Tyson quote “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. I think it’s profound in that we tend to put all our eggs in one basket with little regard to something going wrong, hoping so hard for the plan to work that we fail to have a contingency plan or even consider an alternate one. Fortunately, poor execution in golf doesn’t result in a right cross to the jaw from Mike Tyson, though we often react as if it’s just as debilitating. When I arrived home, a copy of “Arnie” by Tom Callahan was waiting for me on our table - a gift from my wife. I started reading it this morning and was struck by a quote. “From the Masters on” Arnold said, “I had a philosophy of golf: when you miss a conservative shot, you’re in as much trouble as when you miss a bold one.” Strategy, risk and reward, and execution are things we all love about this game. In my world, almost nothing really bad happens when I employ poor strategy or fail to execute. But somehow, it’s still important that it doesn’t happen. Yesterday, I was pleased that the bad results didn’t bother me. I’ve finally got it! Stay tuned for my next blog entry that asks the question "Should I quit golf?"
From 110 yards out, how many strokes does it take the average scratch golfer to hole out? How about the average PGA Tour player? How close do they hit the first shot in each case? From 35 feet away, how many putts does the average scratch golfer take? The average PGA Tour player? What percentage of the time do they hole the putt? This speaks to Separation Value®, and it speaks to the proper expectations a golfer should have, and it speaks to your mindset and approach on the golf course. I've asked players - average players who aren't necessarily super tuned in to the world of stats - at what range a PGA Tour player is 50/50 to make a putt. I haven't kept track of the specific number, but it's over 30 people and may be over 50… and a surprising trend surfaced: not a single person guessed 8 feet (or less). I had guesses out to twenty feet - by an 11-handicapper - and most guesses fell between 10 and 12 feet. From 12 feet a PGA Tour player makes only about a third of their putts. Yeah, that'd get them into Cooperstown, but it's not an otherwise impressive statistic. I've told this story a few times. I was having my college kids play the forward tees one day (I recommend everyone do this from time to time). The eighth hole was a 460-yard par five from these tees (kind of a brute for women), and a player had hit a good drive and a very solid second shot to 20 feet. He missed the "eagle" putt and tapped in his "birdie." Stomping off the green I said "Hey, what's up?" He replied, "I should have made that putt. I really wanted the eagle there." This blew my mind. Here I had a kid - not in the starting five, mind you - who had played a hole nearly perfectly. Better than the average player on the PGA Tour would play (and score) on the hole. And he's leaving the hole disappointed with his score and upset with his play. The PGA Tour player takes between 2.83 and 3.05 strokes to hole out from 110 yards (depending on whether they're in the fairway or not). They only hit the green from this range about 3/4 of the time. The average scratch golfer takes about 3.1 strokes from that range. From 35 feet, the average PGA Tour player takes just over two strokes (about 2.03). Sure, they hole one about 5% of the time, but they three-putt about 8% of the time. The average scratch golfer's slash line (of sorts) from 35 feet: 2.04/5%/9%. In other words, if you're 110 yards out, and you hit your shot to 20 feet, that's not only an okay shot, it's a good shot, and one that should make you proud. If you miss that 20 footer and tap in for par, take comfort in the knowledge that a PGA Tour player only makes a putt of that length about 15% of the time, and averages 1.87 putts from that distance, and that's on better putting surfaces than you're likely putting on, and with a detailed green map. Golf is Hard®. The hole is really, really small, and even getting the ball into it from 20 feet is pretty difficult. Do yourself a favor: stop beating yourself up for great shots. If you lag a 30-footer up close, don't leave the green angry with your putt, muttering about how you "really wanted that one." Tell yourself you did great, PGA Tour level, and if you keep putting that well they'll drop occasionally. If you hit the green with a wedge from 120 out and have a 30 footer left for birdie, tell yourself it was a good shot. Because it is. Look, to be honest, you'll get creamed off the tee and with the long approach shots. PGA Tour players will wipe the floor with you in those categories. You have enough to feel bad about, if you choose, in those areas of the game. There's no need to beat yourself up for the shots that are actually GOOD shots. Know the stats, and feel better about yourself. If you hit your pitching wedge to 20 feet, pump yourself up a bit. It was a good shot. Maybe even a great shot, depending on your skill level. Take pride in that. Feel good about it. Golf will beat you down often enough… there's little sense in you doing it to yourself when the truth is the opposite.