Why do some Golfers improve while others are stagnant for years? How is it possible that one Golfer that has been playing for 15 years has been a 21 handicap for 13 of those years and another Golfer that has been playing for 3 ½ years is already down to an 11 handicap. And the kicker is that they practiced just as much, they’re both in good shape, they both want to improve just as much as the other and they both have bought new equipment in the last couple of years.
Why such a difference?
I had some detective work to do to find out why these 2-Golfers are going in opposite directions. Do you know anyone going in the wrong direction with their golf game? And worse than that, not knowing how to stop from going in the opposite direction. So I went out on the golf course with one Golfer at a time to watch them play 1 hole. And what I found was incredibly interesting. They had totally opposite styles of playing.
This is what happened –
I first went out with the 21 handicap to watch him play and before each shot I would ask him some questions about his strategy. On the 1st hole, a 379-yard Par 4 that is pretty straight with a bunker on the left side at about 245 yards and out-of-bounds running all the way down the right side – I asked him – What are you going to do here?
He said “Marc, I’m going to hit my Driver.” So I said where are you aiming? He said “Well down the middle, where else would I aim? That’s where I want the ball to go.” I said “Cool, let’s see a good drive.” So the 21 handicap got up, aimed down the middle and hit a big slice to the right that went about 190-yards and almost went out-of-bounds. So he said “Dang it, I hate this Driver, all I ever do is slice it.”
We get to his golf ball and he had an OK lie about 189-slightly-uphill-yards to the hole with a sand bunker that protects the right-side of the green and a small opening on the left side of the green if he wanted to bounce the ball onto the green. The 21-handicap looks at the pin position chart in the golf cart and says “It’s pin position 3 today, so that means the flag is back right. I’m going to use my 3-iron.” Where are you aiming? “At the green.” Where on the green? “Well that’s a sucker pin placement so I’ll just aim for the middle of the green.”
He hits a really good 3-iron that goes pretty much where he aimed, but it comes up about 5-feet short of the green and lands in the sand bunker. We get up to the golf ball, he takes out his sand wedge, aims for the flag and hits it – the ball, not the flag – and the ball goes screaming over the green. “These sand traps are so inconsistent. I hate them!” He then takes his 8-iron, 9-iron, pitching wedge and putter out of his bag and walks over to his golf ball on the other side of the green. After about 15-seconds of debate with himself over which club to use, he selects his 9-iron and hits a pretty good shot that ends up about 9-feet away from the hole. He then leaves his first putt about 1-foot short and looks at me as he picks up his ball and says “Is that putt good? I always double bogey this hole. It must be muscle memory.”
Just from watching that hole I could tell why he was a 21 handicap, but I could also see how he could cut at least 6-strokes off his game instantly. He hit a pretty solid drive, he hit a really good 3-iron towards the green and he hit a pretty good shot from off the green – but he ended up with a double bogey – hmmm. The worst part of this situation is that he pretty much wasted 3 good golf swings on making a double bogey. So now as I pondered his situation, I wanted to see the 11-handicap play to compare their two styles of play – so I met him on the 1st tee.
The 11 handicap and I are standing on the 1st tee. He takes out his Driver and stares down toward the green in deep thought. I ask him what’s he going to do? He says “Marc, I’m going to hit Driver down the left-side because of three reasons. One is that there’s out-of-bounds down the right and I’ve been fading the ball a little lately and I don’t want to be standing over my tee shot worrying that I might hit one to the right. Two – that sand bunker on my left is basically ornamental. Meaning that even if I aimed at it, I can’t get there unless I hit my best shot ever and even if I do end up in the sand – I rather be there after making the perfect shot rather than aiming down the middle and putting pressure on myself to make the perfect shot so I don’t flirt with the out-of-bounds on the right.”
“I see so many Golfers aiming down the middle that have a tendency to slice the ball, and then get so mad when they do hit one out-of-bounds. Almost as if they think that magically their slice is going to disappear on that tee shot.”
“Also by aiming down the left side, if I do hit a good tee shot, it leaves me a great angle towards the opening on the left side of the green.” So the worst thing that could basically happen to you on this tee shot is that you’ll hit a great Drive and end up in the fairway bunker? “Yea, you can say it like that. And if I do hit that bunker – I’ll only have 134-yards with a great angle to the green. Some people look at fairway bunkers and are scared to hit into them. Well, they aren’t my favorite place to hit out of, but I’d rather be in a fairway bunker as opposed to hitting out of the trees or worse yet, taking penalty strokes for hitting into the water, lost balls or going out-of-bounds. Since I’ve started this style of playing, I’ve cut down the number of lost balls during my round. When I used to aim down the middle in the past, I would lose 3 to 4 balls per round. Now, I might lose 1 if I hit a terrible shot.”
“And even if I make what I would describe as a bad shot, I’m still keeping the golf ball in play!”
So the 11 handicap gets behind his golf ball and again surveys the hole. He walks up to the golf ball, aims down the left side and swings. He hits it pretty well, not great, but with a good slice on the ball. The ball lands just right of the center of the fairway and rolls off into the right rough. “Well, I had a feeling that might happen. I’m glad I aimed left.” Isn’t that kind of negative to think that you might slice the ball like that? “Some people might call that negative thinking on my part – but after practicing yesterday and warming up this morning – I call it reality! That’s my ball flight right now and it will be until I can get a chance to work it out on the practice range after the round. But, I’m on the golf course now and this is the worst place to try and work it out. So instead of “Fiddling” with my golf swing today – I’m just going to dance with what I got.”
We get up to his golf ball and he has about 196-uphill-yards to the hole. He surveys the situation and takes out his 6-iron. I look at him and ask – Can you hit your 6-iron that far? 196-yards? That’s a big 6-iron. “I wish! There’s no way I could hit it that far unless I hit a sprinkler head. I hit my 6-iron on average between 155 to 165 yards, depending on how good I hit it. I’m going to again aim down the left side to give myself a good angle to the flag for my 3rd shot. There’s no reason to take out a 3-iron or fairway wood to go after that flag. If I did, I’d be lucky if I ended up on that green 2 out of 10 times. And some Golfers are satisfied with those 2 miracle shots. I’m more worried about where the other 8-shots end up and then struggling from there and making double bogey or worse!”
I’ve seen that happen. Have you?
So he goes behind his ball – takes a rehearsal swing – walks up to his ball – looks down the left side – looks at the ball and swings. He hits an OK shot that doesn’t go very high, but goes straight towards his target down the left side and ends up 41-yards short of the green. I say – You still have 40-yards to go on your third shot. He replies “Well yes, but look at the angle I have. There are no obstacles in front of me, I’ve taken that bunker in front of the green completely out of play – It’s now an Ornamental Bunker and I should easily be on the green on my next shot. If I can get that shot close enough, maybe I can sink a putt for par or at worst, I’ll 2-putt for bogey. And after the tee shot I just hit and this second shot that I completely missed, I won’t be too upset with bogey.”
But don’t you want to try to make Pars? “Well yes, I’d love to make more Pars – but what I’ve found out in my short time of playing golf is that kind of thinking is the downfall of many Golfers that can never break 100 or even 90. They’re always trying to make Pars when you sometimes should accept bogey. It’s like the old Kenny Rogers song the Gambler – ‘You gotta know when to hold em and when to fold em, when to walk away and when to run’ – The average Golfer that struggles is always playing for the Royal Flush and when they don’t get it, they end up with a double or triple bogey that kills their score. I know that even if I’m not hitting the golf ball great on a given day, that if I play smart, I can limit my worst score to bogey and I’m going to have a good round of golf without hitting the golf ball well that day. Most Golfers just keep raising their bets and are continually going bust!”
So he finds his yardage of 41-yards and takes out his sand wedge – stands behind the golf ball and makes his PLAN. “I’m going to hit a medium high shot that’s going to land about 5-steps onto the green and let it roll to the hole.” He gets up next to the golf ball, looks at the target and rehearses his swing. After 2-swings while looking at his target, he says “That’s it, that feels good.” He swings, hits a pretty good shot that lands about 2-steps onto the green and starts to roll towards the hole. It ends up about 9-feet short of the hole. He looks at me and says “Just missed my spot by about 3-steps, but I’m on the green and even though I have yet to hit a shot exactly like I’ve wanted to, I still have a 9-footer for Par.”
He walks to his ball. Then he walks past the hole and then back to his ball. I say – What were you doing, looking at the putt from both sides? He says “Yea, but I was mostly feeling the putt.” He goes behind his ball, lines it up, sets his putter behind the golf ball, looks a little past the hole, looks at the ball and strokes it. The ball just skirts the right edge and goes 1-foot past the hole. “I thought I had it.” He goes up to the golf ball and casually knocks in his 1-foot putt for bogey. “Oh well. Almost had Par, but at least it was a Bogey. It could’ve been a lot worse the way I hit the golf ball on that hole!”
So the 21-handicap makes a double bogey hitting some pretty solid shots and the 11-handicap makes bogey without hitting one solid shot. And the funny thing is this is just one hole of 18. I’m sure this scenario is repeated often throughout the round. What do you think? Was there a difference between how they both approached this hole? Don’t you think that if they approached each hole like this that there would be a continual difference in their scores? Which Golfer does your game most resemble?
If you see a similarity between the 21-handicap’s strategy and your strategy on the golf course – you may want to think about establishing a new PLAN before your next round of golf.
The Monkey blames their golf swing for their bad scores
The Player knows that two Golfers with equally as good golf swings can have different experiences on the golf course because of their PLAN (or lack of)
Go ahead, be a Player!
Marc Solomon – Your Instructor For Life