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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.
When we work with students, we often tell them that we don't expect them to hit the first 20 or 30 balls "better" or even as good as they were before, we just expect them to hit them "differently." Sometimes that "difference" is better, but often it's worse. The difference is often (not always… it depends very much on what the change is…) an insight into how good a golfer can ever expect to be. You see, some golfers are just better at what @david_wedzik and I call "finding the golf ball." Finding the golf ball just means that a golfer has that "something" that lets them hit the ball reasonably solidly even when not making their normal golf swing. For example, if I put the ball six inches closer to a golfer, or on a sidehill lie, or make them grip down five inches on their 7-iron, or completely change their grip… golfers who can find the golf ball will still, far more often than not, be able to hit the ball pretty solidly. You can test yourself by doing some different things. Here are a few tests. Complete them all with your 6-iron: Hit the ball with just your right and just your left hand. Put three balls down about six inches apart and perpendicular to your target line. Address the middle ball normally, then try to hit either the outside or inside ball. Put a ball on top of a pencil (the normal kind, not a golf pencil) and hit it. Put your hands four inches apart on the grip. Make an exaggerated swing where you sway way off the golf ball and move your head a foot back on the backswing. If you can do these things and hit the ball "okay" (you're not looking to hit the ball as well as usual… just on the clubface and occasionally solidly), you have the ability to "find the golf ball." That doesn't guarantee anything, but you are more likely to have a higher ability ceiling. Golf is still an athletic endeavor: hand-eye coordination, muscle control, proprioception, etc. are still important. If you cannot, you can still be a great golfer, but you may need more time and possibly more determination/effort to improve, as changes won't take hold as quickly.
I know we've been talking lately about how setup is "automatic" (or it's not ), but I must say… I fix a lot of setup positions. I don't save out the images from all of my lessons. In fact, only a small percentage of the time do I feel I've done something I want to CC to myself for various reasons. But of those lessons, well, take a look: I'll often tell students: They'll answer "none" or "hardly any" or something like that, and I'll say "Great, you're right! You just have to remember to do it, and know how to do it." I fix a LOT of setup issues.