What Has Experience Taught You?

Rickie Fowler LosesMichael Breed, of The Golf Channel, expressed an interesting definition of experience. He said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” Last Sunday, Rickie Fowler got a good dose of experience. Fowler is a seasoned 27-year old professional with six wins world-wide (three on the PGA Tour) and top-5 finishes in all the majors. I’m a Rickie fan and expected him to manage his game better down the stretch, yet what happened on the 17th hole at the TPC of Scottsdale saddened me and will get added to the bone yard of golf “experiences”.Michael Breed

The lesson that has to be learned over and over is that aggressive play under pressure rarely pays off. Rickie last week, Phil Mickelson’s epic collapse at the 2006 US Open, Jean van de Velde at The Open in 1999 at Carnoustie, are just a few examples. It’s fascinating why players don’t learn from those who have gone before them. Maybe the adrenaline release under pressure affects their thinking, but almost always these experiences can be directed to poor course management. In fact, rarely in golf will you get in trouble playing overly-conservative in clutch situations. When Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters, he laid up on every par five and played them 11-under without making a bogey. You may think that’s a whacky strategy for a professional at Augusta, but Zach clearly understood his strengths and limitations, and played to them. Rickie had hit seven drives into the water on #17 at Phoenix in previous rounds! With a two-shot lead why not hit 5-iron-sand wedge and make an easy par or birdie?

Think back to an experience you’ve had. Did you have to experience it to learn or did you learn from someone else’s misfortune? Unfortunately, I’m a hands-on learner and got a lesson on course management under pressure. I was in a club championship match about 20 years ago and standing on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead. This hole has water that stretches fully across the fairway about 320 yards off the tee. I had played the hole hundreds of times but had never hit the water. The day was hot, the wind was blowing hard from behind, and the ground was dry.  My drive trickled into the front bank of the hazard and I had to struggle to make bogey. Fortunately, my nearest competitor made par and I finished one stroke ahead but I will never forget the feeling I had looking at my ball sitting on the mud bank and thinking, “What were you thinking?”

Are you a risk taker under pressure or can you manage your game to your abilities? Please share a similar experience if you have one.

Thanks and play well!

7 thoughts on “What Has Experience Taught You?”

  1. Brian

    I agree that the golf course is a great teacher! It can be our greatest friend and worst nemesis at the same time! I try not to learn the same lesson twice, but sometimes my ego was just too large.

    I think professionals are a different breed, they have such confidence in their game, that they do not let the past dictate the future. Most professionals have a game plan, rightly or wrongly, and try to execute it. In the case of Rickie Fowler, he was being Rickie and that is what the golfing fans want to see!


    1. Jim, you are probably right about Rickie. He has that gambler mentality and when he won THE PLAYERS he finished with four birdies and an eagle in the final six holes. The fans loved that finish and that finish had to make a lasting impression on him. Fast forward to Phoenix and he learned a different type of lesson which will inject some balance and perspective as he goes forward. I think over the years, Phil has learned the same lesson and definitely tuned down the “Phil The Thrill” ride. Thanks for weighing in!


  2. Brian,

    I totally agree with you about Rickie. 5 iron – wedge was the play there given the situation. He’ll hit it in the water maybe 0.1% of the time using those clubs, and he could still make birdie. People stuck up for Rickie saying he couldn’t possibly have anticipated hitting it 360 over the back of the green, but at the same time driver was literally the only club that could maybe do that, and the most likely one that wiould end up left in the water too.

    I think we all have those “what were you thinking!” moments. Especially if our ego and optimism are firing on all cylinders. I think it’s important to differentiate between whether it was shot choice or the execution of the shot to learn from it efficiently.

    Great post!

    1. Josh, great point about the water left. Rickie knew it was there and in play and guys were in it all week. As you mention, he executed his shot of choice perfectly yet chose the wrong shot. If he hits 5-iron, wins by one, and rides off into the sunset, all I remember is that he won. Maybe he can use this experience the next time he’s front running in a big tournament. The good news is that it was just Phoenix, not The Masters.



  3. I wasn’t watching so I don’t know the situation as far as where he was in the tourney. You have to play to situation some times. I don’t mind the play, but it didn’t work out. I feel in my own game I am too conservative due to a wild driver. I know it may be nitpicking, but I know you would appreciate it. Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters.

    1. Jimmy,

      Appreciate the correction.

      Rickie was two shots up with two holes to play and took the driver on #17 which brought the water into play. Most watching were wondering what he was doing.

      On your own game, I can fully appreciate the balancing act you need to go through when your driver isn’t behaving. Sometimes you just need to get the ball in play with whatever club you have. The subject of length vs accuracy with the driver is a whole different subject that we may tackle soon!

      Thanks for the comment!


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