Can you think back to a time when you played a golf shot that was completely out of character for you? We’ve all done it, but can you also recall a situation where someone else’s behavior, strategy, or club selection, caused you to change your plans for the worse? Whether we compete in a friendly game or a serious tournament round, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Why? Because we don’t play to our identity.
Recently, I was playing a match in Myrtle Beach at the Barefoot Fazio course. The driving range was closed and the fellas agreed to take “breakfast balls” on the first tee. Personally, I am not a mulligan guy and never have been. I’ve always prepared myself mentally to put my full energy into my first shot and live with the result. I have nothing against mulligan guys but that’s not me. So, everyone was taking a breakfast ball on their first shot unless they struck one pure (and most didn’t). My first shot went in the right rough but was in play. Since everyone was taking a mulligan, I did too. I hit it poorly and into a wet fairway bunker. The rule is that if you take a breakfast ball, you must play it. I took two to get out and chopped my way to a 7 on the first hole. My original tee shot was sitting decent about 110 yards from the green – aarrrggg!
I could have avoided this situation and played to my own identity. The key is to have total self-awareness. Understand your capabilities and what you want to do for a given situation. Understand that opponents may try and get in your head – but deny them entry. Understand that you can work this to your advantage as well. A reverse example: Several years back, I was playing a stroke play round in my club championship. The third hole was a 175-yard par-3 that was playing into a freshening breeze. I was hitting second or third in the foursome and made up my mind that it was a 4-iron. I rushed to the tee box, got there first, and pulled a 3-wood and started taking practice swings. I got some strange looks from my fellow competitors, but the first guy took too much club and blew his shot over the green into trouble. I had influenced his behavior because he was paying attention to me rather than his own game. Yes, this works – if you are discrete and don’t overuse it.
Self-awareness is essential. Know what you do well, what weaknesses you should stay away from, and try not to fix those weaknesses on the golf course under pressure. Some folks think they know their strengths and weaknesses, but they don’t. Try this. After a round, review your scorecard and jot down single shots that caused you to have good holes or bad holes. This exercise can be revealing. Last week, I pushed a drive on my par-4, 2nd hole way right. I hit a nice punch with a 5-iron to get back in position about 110 yards from the green. I hit a decent wedge to 25 feet and struggled to two putt for a very lucky bogey. I was frustrated with my poor first putt, but during the post round analysis, I recognized it was the poor drive that had set up the hole. My notes also showed that I struggled on a couple par-fives with long iron layup shots.
I was fortunate enough to make three birdies. My notes included: 50-yard lob wedge, 80-yard sand wedge, 133-yard knock-down 7-iron. An indication that my partial iron shots were working. With this data, I have something to work on in practice, and something to try and lean on in future rounds that may yield better scores.
Admittedly, I am a metrics freak but this small amount of data is easy to capture and can improve your focus and concentration. Give it a try, learn your identity, play and practice to it, and let me know how it goes.