Practice Golf Thinking
The 34th Secret
At the 1959 Masters Tournament, Hogan stated that he was hitting the ball as accurately as he ever had, but was
not doing as well with his "thinking," since he was not playing much tournament golf and had not been practicing
this phase of the game.
A reporter said, "But, Ben, I thought once you learned how to think in tournaments, you always knew how to do
Hogan shook his head and said, "No, you have to practice golf thinking just like you practice shots."
I have often thought the pre-game warm-up, as practiced by the professionals on the circuit, could be improved upon
if it combined both a mental and a physical warm-up. Jones has proffered the advice that one should get his mind on
the game prior to going to the first tee. Hogan has advised practicing golf thinking, but it is presumed that he
was referring to practice rounds. The idea occurred to me recently that probably the most efficient warm-up would
be to play the course in imagination, practicing in succession the very shots a particular course demands. If I
were a Demaret, therefore, or any comparable golfer, preparing to play the Augusta National, I would hit in
practice the type of tee shot which would be required that day on No. 1. As soon as I was satisfied, I would
practice the probable second shot, and so on around the course as far as I cared to go. This would provide a
physical warm-up, give one practice in making a transition from one club to the next in the probable sequence
demanded by the course, come close to duplicating the precise shots that would be demanded, and give one some idea
of his immediate strengths and weaknesses so he can capi¬talize on one and finesse around the other.
Strokes are lost in almost every round played because of poor golf thinking. In my own case this accounts for
one-fourth to one-half of all the strokes I lose during a round. Golfing friends who shoot in the low seventies
estimate they average a loss of three strokes a round because of making mistakes when they "know better."
A rough estimate of the number of strokes lost by failing to think straight about shots in a round—or strokes that
can be saved by good thinking over lackadaisical thinking—are:
75 shooter - 3 strokes
85 " - 5 strokes
90 " - 8 strokes
100 " -12 strokes
Strokes lost because of poor thinking will reveal themselves in:
1. "Jinx shots."
2. Badly judged distances.
3. Strokes lost on poor gambles.
4. Experimental shots.
5. Forgetfulness about how to hit the shot.
6. Hurried shots.
7. Failure to observe the "bite," "roll," or "break" of your opponent's or
partner's ball—particularly on chips and putts—wind, pin position, etc.
8. Unnecessary tension.
9. Unnecessary reliance on the caddy.
There is only one way to remedy "thinking" weaknesses. After each round of play, you must list all the missed
shots attributable to poor thinking. This will alert you to the need of concentration in this area. You will find
that thinking errors tend to repeat themselves, just as mechanical errors of shot execution reoccur.
For instance, on a green where your approach putt runs a good bit past the hole, you will find that you will
generally be long. On holes where your wedge shot will not bite, you will repeatedly run too far.
On holes on which your drive tends to be a smothered hook, you will tend to continue to smother-hook.
After you have determined the source of thinking errors, you must set up a duplicate situation and practice the
shot until the correction has been made. The best way to do this is at the very spot on the course where the error
was made. Often a few shots will be sufficient, since we are supposing that the person actu¬ally has the shot in
his bag. If it is not possible to make the correction on the course, it can be done on the practice grounds by
playing the shot in the imagination.
Here is an instance of how good and bad thinking can affect the golf game of a duffer. It happened in a handicap
Calcutta tournament in which the prizes were substantial. The person who bought the duffer happened to be playing
with him. The duffer had difficulty breaking 100, but as he came into number 17, he was leading the field by 7
strokes. He was some 12 strokes below his usual score because his partner had made him use his putter whenever he
came within 70 yards of the hole! Unfortunately, the duffer was in the trap on 17 and, as his partner was walking
away toward his own ball, he sneaked out his wedge, and flew the ball over the green into the marshes, for a fat 7.
He blew up on the last hole to drop to third place.
The brain acts very much like an electronic computer. First the facts must be fed into it; then it gives directions
to the muscles to produce the answer to a golfing problem. Hogan has always tried to feed as many facts as possible
into his brain prior to making a shot. For years he advocated that this be done between shots prior to reaching the
ball. In effect, this gives one an opportunity to feed more information to the "computer."
Thinking is so important to golf that the person who actively practices thinking will have the advantage. There are
some who are "excited" by thinking and actually play worse when they do it. These people find it useful to play
quickly. Psychologically, however, they are under a handicap.
One way of insuring golf thinking is to get into the habit of first itemizing the factors to be taken into
consideration. When the computer has come out with the answer, execute it without regard to your own or others'
feelings about the matter. Don't let your emotions trick you out of the right answer.
I was witness to such a "trickery" a few days before writing the above. An experienced professional and his amateur
partner were leading the field in a P.G.A. tournament. On the 17th hole, the pro had a six-foot putt for a birdie.
He was in front of the hole, with the grain running from right to left. His partner, a local player who knew the
greens well, told him that the grain was very strong and that he should allow more for it than usual. His decision
was to putt two inches to the right of the hole. At this point the caddy said he should putt it straight. He then
decided to "split the difference." He missed it. It made a difference of $500 in prize money. He said later that he
knew that his original calculations were right, but he had foolishly overridden himself.
The emotions are the deadly enemy of the thinking process, and even an electronic computer can be at the mercy of
them. When Harry Truman and Tom Dewey were running for the presidency, a computer was used to attempt to predict
the results of the election. Political scientists worked for months gathering and feeding to the machine the
information it needed to come up with a prediction. The computer came up with the prophecy that Truman would win.
However, this answer did not fit in with the personal conclusions of the statisticians, with the way other polls
were running, and with the way early returns were pointing. So the operators of the machine, no doubt emotionally
motivated by their desire to prove the value of computers, fed it enough other material to show that Dewey would
win. Truman won.
Don't permit emotions or impulses to override calculations. In otherwise equal competition, the emotional player
has no chance against the cool, calculating one. To become a "calculating one," calculating must be practiced.
Hence it would seem unwise to give up chances for such practice by continually asking the caddy's opinion.