By: Chris Billingsley
Consider this scenario;
You push your tee ball right of the fairway and it settles down in the rough amidst a small grove of trees. You are 160 yards from the flag, but your path is completely blocked by the massive trunk of a tree. It's blocking your view, so much so, that you can't hardly see the green itself. Running all the way from your ball to the right side of the green is a small pond. To the left; a large bunker. With the flag placed on the front left corner of the green, a miss left would leave you short sided (meaning the flag is tight to the side you have to chip from), a miss right is wet. You do have the option of a relatively simple punch out to the fairway to the left of you, but you'll have to get up and down from 150 yards to save par.
So what are you going to do?
You options are:
1. You could go left of the tree, taking a line that starts out over the water and try to draw/hook it on to the green.
2. You could go left of the tree, towards the bunker and hit a low fade.
3. You could pitch out and try to get up and down from the fairway.
Make your choice now... it's okay, I'll wait.
Sitting comfortably in our lazy boys most of us make the right choice. Punch out to the fairway. We know this to be the right play for 99% of golfers. Heck, even the vast majority of players who make a living playing this game would make this choice. But for some reason, when we are faced with a scenario like this, we choose any option but the smart one.
This is not a fictional scenario, this was a dilemma I faced during our regular men's night round. Granted, this was on the back nine (and only the front 9 counts for men's night) and by the time this scenario presented itself, we were embroiled in a 3 man best ball on the back and both of my partners were in good position.
So I recklessly went with option 2. Try to hit a low fade around the tree and try to get it to chase up to the front of the green. I am a 2 handicap, and have ON OCCASION, hit a low fade with the five iron I was trying to use here. But this is a very difficult shot - especially for an amateur. It's a shot that was way above my pay grade, and one I had no business trying. The margin of success was so small that the only way this worked out in my favor was if I got extremely lucky. The problem with this decision centers around all the bad things that could happen if I didn't execute it perfectly.
So I know you're all dying to know what happened.
As you may suspect, I missed the green left...so far left in fact that I even missed the green side bunker. The ball careened across the cart path settling in a collection area to the left of the green. About 20 yards away. Now I'm faced with an up and down over a bunker to a tight flag with a green that runs away. With my emotions simmering, I lumbered towards my ball, grumbling to myself about how dumb a decision that was. Wouldn't I have been better to hit a shot from the middle of the fairway? Now, I'm no mathematician, but I can guess that as a 2 handicap, the probability of me making par from a perfect lie in the middle of the fairway is more likely than doing it with this delicate shot I had before me.
Just to muddy the waters a little, and give something to those who agree with my decision, I managed to hit a brilliant flop shot to about 20 feet, leaving myself an 20 foot uphill putt to save par.
Which I missed. :(
Regardless, my point is that the shot I had to pull off to have even the slightest chance at par was infinitely more difficult than the shot from the fairway would have been. And more difficult than the shot from behind the tree.
Whether I made par or not is neither here nor there. Even if I managed to make par here, chances are the next time I took the risky shot, it would not pan out. The point I'm trying to make is that I was steaming mad when I left that green. I put myself in a bad position off the tee, and instead of "taking my medicine" and taking the relatively simple shot, I put myself through a roller coaster of mental and physical emotions and then made it worse by getting upset because I made bogey. Truth be told, it could have been a double or worse. Much worse.
But what did I really expect? That I'd hit a perfect low fade, from a tough lie, from behind a tree, that ran a perfect distance and trundled on to the green giving me a decent look at birdie?
Of course I did.
And therein lies the problem, and the subject of my next post. The unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves are actually robbing us of our true potential.
Many of you may be quick to point out that I could have still made bogey or worse from the fairway...and you're right. Happens all the time. But we'd be in a much less stressful state mentally and physically and more likely to bounce back on the next hole if we took a much less stressful route. We'd make better swings and overall put our body through less stress.
Instead, we go to the next hole tight; with negative thoughts wreaking havoc on our psyche and confidence. Not surprisingly, we make a poor swing/decision on our next shot, and suddenly our round has gotten away from us.
While this round meant nothing, and maybe in a tournament round of individual stroke play, I'd punch out. Maybe I'd think I need to "do something". Time will tell the answer. In my experience, the old adage of "You play how you practice" is usually correct. And if I did it today, chances are good I'll do it when it means something too. And chances are really good I won't be able to get such a delicate flop to 20 feet.
So the next time you are faced with a shot that is making you cringe, listen to your body. It's not the right decision. Find the stress free way to get back in to position, and give yourself a chance to get up and down from the fairway.
You may not make your par, but you will certainly be in a better state of mind on the next tee.
To better golf,
P.S Keep you eye out for my next article about how our our unrealistic expectations can ruin our games.