How to Handle a Gambling Shot
The 37th Secret
All golfers are faced with situations in which they feel a risky shot should be tried.
Assuming that the need for the gambling shot is clear—the so-called "calculated risk"—what then can be done to give
it the best chance of being pulled off?
First, the chances are much better than average if the shot is preceded by what might be called "the surge of
confidence." With this, one experiences an almost overwhelming feeling that a given shot can be made. I have
experienced this myself a number of times in various sports. It is followed by success that defies the law of
averages and seems to approach the impossible.
An Augusta physician tells me that some twenty years ago at the Masters, Gene Sarazen was walking down the 18th
fairway when he and the others noticed a crow on the limb of a tree about 40 yards ahead. The crow was facing the
other way. Quick as a flash, Gene dropped a ball and pulled an iron out of his bag, and before anyone could realize
what had happened there was a flurry of feathers as the ball caught the crow squarely in the seat. Gene must have
had the surge of confidence!
I had a similar experience not too long ago. I was hitting eight iron shots on a practice fairway. To the left of
the green there is a tall forked pine. I pulled a shot that went through the narrow fork. There were several
spectators and one said, "Well, that won't happen again in a thousand years." I had the surge of confidence, and
saying, "Not in a thousand years?" dropped a ball and put it squarely through the fork.
How this feeling develops, I am not sure, but one thing I know. There isn't a trace of anxiety or fear in it. No
extraneous muscles will jerk at the wrong time when this feeling exists, and the ball has the best possible chance
of receiving a maximum effort. At these times, if the gamble is indicated, fire away. You'll probably make it if
the shot is in your bag at all.
If the feeling is not there and the shot still has to be played, be deliberate and think the shot through. Even
though you must gamble, try the shot which has the most chance of success. This eliminates experimental shots. A
well-thought-out shot can inspire confidence, for if you settle down properly to the ball you will suddenly feel
right; right feelings accompany right action. This "feeling right" helps to insure a successful gamble.
There are major and minor gambling shots. One of the minor (although cumulatively important) ones involves the
decision of when one may permit oneself to aim for the flag and when one should aim for the green. As a general
rule, it is best to aim precisely where you wish to go. Your ball has a better statistical chance of going where
you are aiming than to any other spot.
In golf, if the problem is simply a question of "win or lose" there is no option. The pin must be shot for.
However, there are many situations, particularly in medal play, when the question is strictly statistical. Often
the problem can be solved by asking yourself, "Are my chances of gaining a stroke equally as good as my chances of
losing one?" If a four can be made by hitting the green in two on a par five, and if a six will be made by missing
it, nothing will be lost or gained over the long pull by always shooting for it. This, however, presupposes a
knowledge of the pattern of one's shots, since the golfer would need to know if he could hit such a target half the
time. For this reason, it is wise in practice to leave the practice balls on the ground periodically after hitting
them, to obtain some knowledge of how well grouped the balls are around the target. Knowing your normal pattern of
shots, simply place it over the target point, in the mind's eye. Then, if your chances of gaining a stroke are
about the same as those of losing one, shoot for it. This is a general rule that can be applied to many situations,
but would need to be modified at times by other circumstances.
At the Texas Open one year, Ben Hogan was in a trap to the left of the green on a par five. He surveyed the break
of the green, and asked the caddy to hold the flag. He blasted. The ball took a break. The caddy took the flag out
and into the hole went the ball for an eagle. He could not have made it if he had shot for the green in
On those occasions when, because of hazards, one cannot safely shoot at the flag, the target must be an artificial
one in the center of our superimposed pattern, but even in this case aiming should be precise. The ability to aim
can only be developed by aiming.
There are persons who become tense if the target is very precise. Such persons may come up with an abnormal swing
because of anxiety, and hence would do well at the moment to have a less precise target. However, psychologically
we would have to consider this a weakness, and the ambitious golfer would be obliged to work to remove it. A great
danger in the gambling shot is that it tends to set up a state of anxiety. Much depends on the result, and this
preoccupation with the result will generally destroy the golfer's ability to execute the shot. If you are using a
putter in a trap, you are anxious to see if it will run up the bank and are apt to half-top it. If you must shoot
through a narrow opening in trees, you will be tempted to pull your head up prematurely to see where the ball is
going. On a delicate chip, you may not complete the swing. Hence, to insure a higher percentage of success, a
marked effort at self-control is required. Deliberately complete the shot before you examine the results.