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Bob Ross, a 14-handicapper is 240 yards out from a par five after his tee shot. There are some greenside bunkers, from which the player is average for his handicap level, and little other trouble except way to the right and left where the usual group of trees and bushes separate holes on this lovely golf course. He chooses to hit his three-wood, which normally travels about 220, and promptly slices the bejeezus out of it into the happy trees. Was this a failure of strategy? Or execution? We can't say. Not without more information. If we knew that Bob normally hits his 3W 180-220 yards within an area about 40 or 45 yards wide, we can say that his strategy was fine. He simply failed to execute as he normally does. If, on the other hand, he normally hits his 3W poorly from the fairway, and only really hits it well when he can tee it up a little, then it was a failure to plan or strategize properly. Perhaps, if this golfer has a hybrid that he hits well, or a 7-wood, that would have been the better strategic choice that follows "The Rule" from LSW. Like the old "I'd be a much better player with a better mental game" excuse, golfers are quick to blame strategy when their execution is actually what deserves the blame. I concocted this chart relatively quickly to describe what I see from players: As you can see, pros have almost no execution mistakes (they double-cross themselves or fat a wedge now and then, but they're good, so they don't do it very often). They also make strategic mistakes infrequently - they're good at shooting low scores, after all - but they do still make them. On the high end of the handicap range, the execution errors start to vastly outnumber the strategic errors. Yet think back to Bob. Most likely, most of Bob's 3-woods match the first description: they go 180-220 yards into an area 40-50 yards wide. Had he pulled that shot off, he'd have been fine. He failed to execute. Yet far too often, average golfers blame their strategy. Why? I think for the same reason that they're often quick to blame "their mental game" or some other distraction like "Oh, I rushed that one" or something. Again, why? Because it's easier. Strategy is something you can change in an instant, which requires no actual work. It softens the blow and feeds the ego. It's much easier to think to yourself "I could have made birdie there if I'd just chosen differently." But be real with yourself: if you're not breaking 80 or 90, your execution mistakes vastly outnumber your strategic mistakes. You're not making bogeys and doubles because you're choosing poorly, you're simply not hitting good shots, and you can't shave 50% of the strokes off your handicap just by making better choices. Yet golfers love to seek the quick fix. They love to think that a big improvement is just around the corner, whether it's by buying a new driver or putter, taking a few quick-fix type lessons, reading a tip in Golf Digest, or, often, by flipping a magical switch so that every decision they make is the perfect one every time. It's not like that. Good golf, and improving at golf, takes work, and that work should be directed toward hitting better golf shots. I've added a poll to the article. I chose 1-2 shots. On a 35-footer downhill, Nicklaus would advise the player to hit the putt softly and look to cozy it up by the hole… but the average golfer already thinks that type of thing. They're not going out there ramming those putts (on purpose, anyway). Nicklaus can say "hit the middle of this green from 150 yards out," but the average golfer isn't trying to chunk it into the front right bunker… and he'll do that with Nicklaus advising him all the same. If Nicklaus was allowed to watch the golfer play ten or twenty rounds, the number could go up to 3, 4, even 5… but that's about the limit.
Good golfers don't always hit good shots. But good golfers often have a knack for getting out of trouble. The other day I faced a shot that could have resulted in bogey or worse for many players, yet I was able to save a relatively easy par. I didn't do this by pulling off some impossible shot, but I did have the knowledge, ability, and foresight to pull off a shot that many would tell you "pitch out to the fairway and wedge on to try to save your par." Here's the shot on GAME GOLF: http://www.gamegolf.com/player/iacas/round/1883025?shot_id=114887180&hole_id=35139599. As you can see, I came to the ninth at one under par, and pulled my tee shot just a hair, where it caught a slope and rolled to the bottom. It looks like this: What did it look like from where I was standing? The yellow line marks the approximate location of the flag (which was pretty far back-right on the green), and the red - the center of the biggest window - is marked on the overhead map. It's near the parking lot (which is OB), the cart path, a bunker, a big slope to the right of the green… just bad stuff in general. I had roughly 120 yards to the flag, or 114 to the center of the green. The tree on the right edge of the photo is the first tree in that direction. Many "game planners" would tell you to hit a shot in that direction, leaving a 120-yard wedge or something to a green for a potential par putt. After all, the window is too small, and you can't guarantee you'll pull it off, right? Bah. What did I do? I hooded a 9I. aiming it at the left-center of the opening (clubface is the majority of the ball's start line, but it isn't 100%), with my feet out to the right. I played the ball back in my stance, took a 2/3-ish swing, and played a fairly big draw for a 115-yard shot that landed on the front of the green and bounced and rolled up to the middle of the green, from where I had a relatively straightforward two-putt. It was the best option available to me. I figured, best case, I do what I did: hit the green and have a putt. I actually clipped a low leaf on the tree in pulling off my shot, but even if I had clipped a little more, I'd have been fine. Worst case, my ball gets to the top of the hill. Average case: I'm in an nGIR situation, pitching or chipping for birdie. I'd never practiced this particular shot before. I'm sure I've goofed around on the range hitting big hooks, or hitting low shots, or some combination, but I've never set up this scenario specifically and tried to do it. I just figured that getting near or on the green was WAY better than pitching back to the fairway, and that I had the skills to pull it off. What about you? What would you do? Let's say you're not comfortable hitting a 30-yard draw with a 2/3 9I from a not great lie. Maybe you think you should just wedge out to the right? You should almost never wedge out to the right. There are other options, still utilizing that window. Could you grip well down on a 5-iron and punch something up the hill? So long as you get past the trees 15-20 yards in front of you, and stop short of the bunker, the resulting shot is going to be easier than wedging out to the right. No hook required - just punch something through the window. If you can turn it over a little, great. Do that. But don't just wedge back to the fairway. Don't give up the 50-100 yard advantage. Even advancing the ball 30 yards makes your next shot easier. The lesson here? Trouble shots are an SV② skill mainly because they're rare. They have a high "S-Value," for LSW owners, but a low "O-Value." The high "S-Value" means that when you're in a trouble shot situation, you can save a stroke or two, right then and there. Now, I'm not going to give you some formula to figure out what shot you should attempt. I can't generalize that, and I understand that there are sometimes shots you try in a fun round that you wouldn't try in a tournament (FWIW, this is one I'd absolutely have tried in a tournament). It's on you to weight the risks (minimal, IMO for me, here) versus the rewards (quite big here). If the risks outweigh the rewards, and you've weighted both properly, go for it. Otherwise, evaluate the next most risky shot (maybe that punched 5I back to the fairway but though the same window). And, now and then, with your last five balls on the range, hit some trouble shots. Punch a hybrid and see what it does. Hook an 8I. Chip a 5I 80 yards just to see if you can do it. SV② doesn't mean never practice it… it just means don't spend much time on it.
My men's golf team won the AMCC Championship this past weekend with a two-day score of 637 (keeping the best four out of five scores). That works out to 79.625 on a fairly difficult layout at Avalon Lakes Golf & Country Club. ALGCC is a Pete Dye course that, like many Pete Dye courses, is very target-golf oriented. Dye seems to love to use visual trickery to goad players into going for more than they can handle. Sure, it rewards the long drive into the very narrow alley way between water and bunkers, but it punishes a slight miss more heavily than the reward of being 20 yards closer to the green for the approach shot. So, my guys worked their butts off during the practice round(s) to learn a few things: How far was it to the various hazards and things.What lines should they take off the tee that kept them short of those kinds of things.Which side of the hole do you favor with your second shot, even if you're going for the green.How did the greens react to shots:From around the greens.From the fairway.From the rough.That's all we did. We didn't keep a score. We didn't talk about which pins to attack, or which holes to attack. In our minds, every hole presented the same opportunity: a chance to get a Green in Regulation (GIR is King, after all) and a chance to make a two-putt par. Occasionally they'd hit one close (even if aiming for the center of the green), and occasionally they'd reach a par five in two, and sometimes they'd make a longer putt for a birdie. When they were out of position, I stressed getting an nGIR and playing to give themselves a reasonable par putt. Sometimes reasonable was 30 feet. Other times it was four or five. I don't think that my team necessarily hit the ball too much better than the other players on the other top two or three teams. I got to see a fair amount of their players, and they hit a lot of good shots, too. They certainly weren't 21 strokes worse (nearly three shots per player per round), or worse - the winning margin the men created for themselves. I think it came down to the GamePlan, and that is the only credit I'll take in helping them win their fifth straight AMCC Championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA finals in May (in Rochester, NY).