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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 MiddlecoĆ­f 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 shot-making ability.
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.