Playing best-ball (or whatever you call the format where each man hits a ball off the tee, and then each following shot is played from the preferred ball position by the players until the ball is in the hole), we shot a 6 under par 64, with no bogeys, and a fistful of missed birdie chances that had me nearly spitting with disgust as we finished the round.
The tournament leaders in the clubhouse were at 61 when we left the club, which was what annoyed me, as we really could have gone into the high 50′s with better putting (it’s funny how missing 6-8 footers can really raise your blood-pressure when you expect to make them) and a better strategy off the tee.
The strategy I talk about is to have simply had me not using Driver on most of the par-4 holes, and to have picked the club that would have gotten my ball at or around the 100 yard marker to take advantage of the fact that S and I are pretty handy with our wedges from the fairway.
With a 5-wood, rescue club or hybrid iron off the tee, I could have easily put my ball in that area on most holes, as S was trying to do with his Driver.
What we did instead was have S hit his tee shot to get us on the fairway around 230-260 yards out (he hits a very straight ball, though not very long at 62 years of age with a conventional swing), and then once we were in play, have me bomb the driver, which usually had me well within 100 yards, or even very close to the hole by hitting right over the dog legs if there was no water danger, or just going right at the holes that were 320-360 yards.
It wasn’t a bad strategy on a course that wasn’t very long, as we did make birdie on 1/3 of the holes and didn’t make any bogeys, but by playing my tee ball nearly every hole, we were now forced to rely on half-shots and pitches, usually out of short rough (you can’t really pick and choose a landing area with any degree of accuracy when you’re cutting corners and don’t really know the actual distance to a landing spot near the green).
We realized in hindsight that we would have been much better off with full shots from 90-140 yards where we could attack the pin without having to manufacture short-game magic.
There was more than one hole where a 30-60 yard shot to the hole was flubbed with a skulled wedge or fat shot or just a bad distance, where we worked harder than we should have had to just to salvage a par.
In the fairway with wedges, or even in the second cut at a wedge distance, based on how we did when that was the actual shot, we could have had a decent birdie chance on just about every hole.
Other than giving people watching the “Wow Factor,” there’s really no point in bombing a blind tee shot over a 390 yard dogleg, as I did on one hole, and then having a half-wedge shot to a front pin out of a side-hill lie in the second cut having overshot the fairway landing- especially after picking up S’s tee shot lying nicely in the fairway between the white and red stakes. We got greedy for short yardage, and it hurt our score.
It taught me a powerful lesson as well that I stubbornly refused to learn when I was playing the course where S and I met back in ’09.
Back then I used to say, having hit a ball into penalty areas by missing the line or hitting it too far, that I could simply hit irons off the tees and have a fairway wedge or short iron shot to nearly every green, and only have to use the driver on the par-5 holes and the reachable holes without hazards near the green. But I never did it, so in love with the big drive was I. I was always looking for the new “longest drive” when I should have realized after 350 yards that 350 yards was not only long enough, it was too long if not hit on the right line. I spent that summer chasing smoke instead of the best scores using course management and strategy.
Now, having played a round in best-ball and having walked away with a score I couldn’t dream of shooting on my own the way I’m used to playing, I have learned my lesson.
Strategy and course management, more than ball-striking, is what separates the weekend players from the elite players, with putting and a solid short game also factoring in.
When you play a hole backwards, as S and I did the last couple of holes, by determining what side of the fairway would give us the best wedge or short iron shot to the green for a good putt, and then hitting at that spot from the tee, the game becomes almost ridiculously easy to make no worse than par, and makes birdie a real possibility just about every time.
That’s how you score low, much more easily than bombing and hoping for a great pitch to get you where a full wedge shot would likely get you, if not even closer if it’s a tricky pin where even a good pitch has no chance unless perfectly stuck.
I’m going to keep loving my driver, and I’m still going to pound it on the range, but it’s time to put the pride on the shelf, and start playing for the smart shot from the fairway rather than the hero bomb-and-pitch that will get you in a jam as many times as it work out.
Shooting 6 under, and having that be just about the worst score you could have shot, whatever the format, will change the way you look at playing the game.
I was actually expecting and drooling for birdie on every hole, knowing that playing with S, a solid but shorter player, would keep us in play whatever tee shot I hit. And that we’d get multiple chances to the green, and more than one putt at the hole. It put me in a mindset I’ve never been in before, going from “I hope I par this hole and maybe birdie” to “how low can we go?”
To think that I’d be disappointed in a combined effort shooting 6 under was a revelation to me.
Note: I know that this is painfully obvious to most people who play decent golf, but I am still in the learning stages of how to actually play golf. Those who have been with my blogs over the years know that I played golf for only a very short period, about three years starting in my mid-20′s.
And, while I managed by some miracle to break 80 in that time, that I walked away from golf in frustration over trying to learn a proper swing. After years away, I returned to the range to figure it out, and that means that I am still in the learning stages of what it takes to play good golf and go low.
This past weekend was an eye-opener, and I finally saw the light and realized what will take me from where I am now going really low on the scorecard- stop worshipping the long bomb, keep it in play and go for the easy shots, full swings from the fairway at distances I can dial in on the range.