Place The Blame Of Bad Scores Where It Belongs

…You’ll Play a Better Game with Lower Scores

By Herschel V. Caldwell

Illustration by Hershel CaldwellHow often have you walked off the last green with a bogie or worse thinking that if you had not three-putted from 20 feet, you could have saved a shot.

Let’s see if you can tell which of the following actually caused the bogie.

The tee shot landed in the first cut of rough. The fairways and rough had not been cut when the players hit their shots and the grass under the ball was a little damp from the water system and the grass was yesterday’s height plus a little growth overnight.

You guessed it; the player did not anticipate a “flyer” (resulting in less spin due to grass and moisture between ball and clubface. This usually results in the ball traveling farther than normal) and the ball carried onto the back portion of the green. With less spin on the ball, it bounces through the green and into the rough behind the green. The lie is not that bad but there is not much putting surface to work with between the edge of the green and the pin. The player does notice that the grass is growing away from the green, which means a more difficult chip shot and the green slopes away from the player. The player selects a sandwedge to chip with, making sure to hit a little firmer, not wanting the club to get stuck in the grass growing away from the green. The extra loft will allow the ball to stop quickly, giving the player a good chance for par. However, in an effort to avoid a flubbed shot, the player hits the ball at the bottom of the swing arc instead of the down swing. The ball pops out very well and lands short of the hole, but the lack of spin and the down slope of the green carries the ball about ten feet past the hole. This leaves the player with an uphill putt with a right-to-left break. No big deal hit the putt firmly and don’t worry too much about the speed.

The par putt hit the right edge of the hole and spun out about three feet on the other side of the cup. Feeling nervous and angry at having a tricky three-foot side hill putt for bogey… You guessed it. The putt came up short and sat on the edge of the cup. Easy tap for a double bogie. The player walks off the green cussing his putter.

Where is the blame? A number of reasons could have caused this disaster. Among them are poor course management, poor assessment of shot making ability, over confidence, lack of skill in dealing with miss-shot consequences, attention to playing conditions, ball flight characteristics, club selection and equipment.

Illustration by Hershel CaldwellSince 99 percent of players tend to blame the execution of the last shot for success or failure, let’s begin our investigation there. The three putt from ten feet. Most players don’t realize that even an uphill putt requires close analysis. This one had a left-to-right break. The player failed to consider that as the ball began to break toward the hole it was also level and beginning to turn downhill. Depending on the amount of break, it actually increases in speed, thus catching the right edge and spinning out to the other side nearly three feet away. Shocked at this occurrence, anything might happen on the next putt. Tiger Woods had a similar but even shorter putt on the ninth hole in the 1998 US Open at the Olympia Club. A firm hit proved very costly. His putt careened the upper side of the cup and spun to about eight feet farther away. Walking off the green three putts later may have cost him the momentum necessary to win his second major as a professional.

The putter could have been the problem. But let’s take a look at what set up the putt scenario. There are players who get up-and-down from heavy rough all the time. Chipping when the grass is growing against the direction of the shot need not cause panic. With a minimal commitment to practice trouble shots, this shot can be executed with confidence and skill. The player was unsure of the shot and the results which led to a long putt for par could have been the chief cause of the bogie.

The botched chip shot certainly is a candidate for blame. The player misjudged the approach shot and even though the ball landed on the green, the player made an error in club selection. Had another club been used, perhaps the ball would have held the green making a chip shot totally unnecessary. There is more to this particular approach shot than meets the eye. 1. The player should have exercised great caution when the ball came to rest in the first cut of rough on damp or wet grass. 2. Ball flight and characteristics are greatly altered by these conditions and it is always best to be more safe than sorry. Under some circumstances, and 8-iron will carry as far as a 6-iron and most assuredly a 7-iron. 3. Make absolutely sure that the club you select is completely free of moisture and the grooves are clear of dirt particles. The ball is obviously damp and so is the grass, and if any of these items are on your clubface, you have effectively lost control of ball flight, character and distance.

The approach shot and the player’s “approach” to the shot is certainly in the running for some blame here. Now the fact remains that he missed the fairway with the tee shot, thereby setting up a tricky approach situation. This miss was only a few feet, but a normal approach shot may have allowed the player to make par and maybe even a birdie. One could surmise that the difference in hitting the fairway and a couple of feet off-line was potentially three shots. Wow. The value of hitting fairways has just gone through the ceiling. This player was using one of the new, highly advertised and promoted high-tech drivers. Many of the touring pros have made commercials advertising the accuracy and distance they achieve with this new miracle stick.

Our player has a new 9000D, 8.5 degree loft. The ball flies off the club but the center of the fairway is a rarity with this player. However, the distance is greater than anything the player has ever achieved and many are impressed.

Illustration by Hershel CaldwellWhat the manufacturers and the ads don’t tell you is that most if not all of the better touring pros get their distance from years of coaching and practice. They can skillfully handle a 6, 7, 7.5 and 8 degree loft on the driver. If you are older or an amateur at any level, you should never attempt to hit anything less than nine degrees. Accuracy off the tee diminishes with loft. Conversely, the greater the loft, the greater the accuracy. If you don’t think accuracy is paramount on the tour, count the number of times the better players use a high loft wood or an iron on many par-four holes to assure themselves of an approach shot from the safe confines of the fairway. If our player had selected his equipment based on his ability rather than commercial hype, perhaps the driver loft would be a degree or so higher, giving him the accuracy needed to hit the fairway.

On what part of the game can we lay the blame? The equipment, course management, not considering the playing conditions, poor judgment, better iron play, better short game execution, better putting? Conventional wisdom says that the better players are known by their ability to react to missed shots and to take the most advantage of scoring opportunities. That was true in a time when “shot making” was a treasured addition to the golfer’s bag and most tour players had similar abilities. But today, there seems to be an “all or nothing” attitude in the game. Go for it on every shot. If you make it you’re a hero. If not, try next week because you’ve already lost this week.

There is a traditional school of thought that says if you play defensive golf–that is, always playing safe–you will lose most of your matches to the player who plays offensively. Take risks and go for the reward. I have watched Tiger Woods and many before him employ both to achieve greatness. Recently, his defensive skills came into play as he maneuvered himself around the Old Course at St Andrews for four days without ever hitting into one of the many round killing bunkers. He hit irons, drivers, three-woods, whatever the situation called for in order to be safe. His management of the Old Course was masterful. On the other hand, the golfing world will remember his 215 yard 6-iron shot out of a fairway bunker over water on the last hole at the 2000 Canadian Open to win the tournament. Prudence would have suggested a safe lay-up shot to the left of the green avoiding the water. Since he had a one-shot lead, Wood’s took a chance of pitching close to make a putt to win. At the worst, he would be tied and go on to a playoff win. Wood’s offensive side said you gotta do what you gotta do to guarantee the win. Trouble be dammed, go for the pin. The rest is history.

I’m suggesting that the bogie was caused before the player ever reached the tee box. To become a better player, you must forget about the commercial hype on equipment and go to your local PGA Club Professional. Have them catalog your strengths and weaknesses. Invest in equipment that will work to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Sit down with your computer, professional, library or whatever and learn all you can about course and playing conditions. For example, hot and dry, wet and humid, rain, cold, wind, higher altitudes and sea level. Then learn all you can about course management–how to plan your round, when you can be aggressive and when to play safe.

This might seem like a lot to do for somebody who plays only a couple of times a week or a month, but the game deserves your respect and your temper deserves a break. By doing these things first, I can assure you that the next time you get a bogie or worse, you’ll have no problem in putting the blame where it belongs.

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