How To Avoid The Most-Missed Shots In Golf
The 38th Secret
An excellent rule to follow during serious play is never to hit an experimental shot. Of all the shots missed by
golfers, this is probably the most costly.
Shots that vary from the norm are generally those during which something new is being tried; or they may be
modifications of normal shots. For instance, on number 8 of the Augusta National, one contender on one occasion,
and another contender on two occasions, pulled their tee shots close to the woods on the left. From this position,
to hit the green on this par five, both would have had to hit hooked second shots. On each of the three occasions
the shots were pulled too far to the left, ruining chances for crucial birdie fours and producing bogies instead.
Even the mildly experimental shot is dangerous. Here are a few of the reasons:
1. The experimental shot has its own "bugs" with which you are not familiar, and therefore
would not be as safe as one in which the "bugs" could be taken into consideration.
2. The experimental shot requires considerable concentration. This additional focus of
attention is very apt to cause the player to ignore management or other factors such as wind, breaks, etc. The
experimental shot will actually be a form of distraction.
3. The shot cannot be hit with confidence and, even if the experimental stroke is actually
an improvement on one's old method, there will be an element of anxiety that will generally do more than neutralize
any theoretical advantages.
As we see, the experimental or non-standard shot adds variables and hence should be a shot of last resort only.
What can we do if our shots suddenly begin to sour during a round? If we continue to experiment, further flaws may
develop. The safest method of correction is to assume that some experimental technique has crept into our game.
Very often we can recall exactly when we began trying this different thing. Whether we can recall the cause or not,
it is a good idea to revert to whatever form was used just prior to our having trouble.
If the flaw is not prominent, it is best to allow for the error for the time being. Jones did this in a crucial
round of a tournament that he went on to win. He had developed a noticeable fade. He simply allowed for it and
corrected it later.
The overcoming of one's urge to experiment during a round is a difficult thing and few can accomplish it
completely. If one does, he will eliminate many otherwise unexplained misses. Another large group of shots consists
of those that are missed because you have been unnerved by your own or someone else's shot. One of the very best
practical psychological suggestions to be made by any player on this subject was that of Walter Hagen. This
champion was justifiably famous for his competitive spirit and was unfazed by missed shots. In the 30's I saw him
play in an exhibition match at Gainesville, Florida. On a course he had not previously seen, he shot a 72. On at
least four holes he made pars after great recoveries from missed shots.
Hagen's suggestion was that even a good golfer should assume that he will make some errors in every round. This
attitude is an excellent antidote for golfing panic and, for that matter, for anxiety or fear in general. In the
treatment of psychological ailments, the probing process is generally emotionally painful. Often patients will wish
to avoid appointments. This problem does not come up as frequently if the patients are told in advance that many
sessions will not be pleasant. Another problem is that progress is seldom continuous. A patient has many relapses,
but when he is told in advance that they will occur, he will take them in his stride. Physicians have found that,
in painful examinations, pain is withstood much better by the patient if he knows it is coming.
Forewarning, then, is excellent for aborting anxiety. An equally good variation of Hagen's method can be used in
match play. It is best to assume that your opponent will halve or win some holes with very fine or even lucky
shots. This will prevent you from being unnerved and you will not react by missing shots.
Always, when any shot is missed, the immediate psychological task is to retain a positive attitude. Let us take the
case of your missed drive which winds up some 150 yards from the tee. This can be recovered by going for the green
if it is reachable. However, on many holes this cannot be done. Suppose we proceed to hit toward the hole and then
survey conditions. You are now a very short shot from the green. As a matter of fact, if you were at this spot in
"one" rather than "two," more than 100 yards ahead of your opponents, you would expect your chances of getting a
birdie to be very good. With this attitude it is much easier to get the ball close for an actual par than to brood
about the fact that you have already lost one stroke. I think it was Middlecoíf who pointed out that on holes of
equal difficulty, one known as a hard par 4 and the other as any easy par 5, more fours will be made on the par 5
than on the par 4. This coincides with my own experience, and illustrates the effect of attitudes on one's
Positive thinking or realistic optimism can be developed for every conceivable golfing situation. If it is
practiced conscientiously at every opportunity, you will have reserve psychological forces ready to come to your
rescue whenever the going is rough. If you do not practice it you can get into the habit of being overwhelmed by a
poor shot or an unlucky one. If you are overwhelmed, you have become so because you have not practiced the art of
realistic optimism—that is, optimism based on the favorable elements of a situation.