A while ago I wrote a general article about pace of play in golf (click here to read it), speaking mostly in generalities and referring primarily to amateur golf. I provided quite a few tips on what amateurs can do to keep up with a golf course’s recommended pace of play guidelines. I felt somewhat satisfied that I had put my 2 cents out there on the internet and attempted to make a difference.
Then this past Sunday happened. The final group at the Valero Texas Open nearly reached the 5.5 hour mark to complete their round. I can’t possibly watch that circus show and not keep my mouth shut. I’m just not capable. The wind was up, conditions were tough, I get it. It still shouldn’t take 5.5 hours to play golf. Ever.
I’ve heard people defending the pros and their painfully long rounds, making the argument that if you were playing for your livelihood or with a million dollars on the line that it would bog you down a bit too and you’d take longer to read putts and hit shots. Maybe, but I’m not a professional. I’d like to think if I was a professional I’d train myself to stick to my routine even under the pressure of playing for the big bucks, and that routine would not be painfully long.
When you pick up golf books or talk to coaches and psychologists about playing well under pressure, I can almost guarantee you that at some point they will refer to sticking to your routine. Don’t speed up, don’t slow down. Stick to what you practice. I wonder how many pros take 10 practice swings and talk to their caddies for 5 minutes before they pull the trigger in practice.
In what other sport can someone take their sweet time analyzing every little thing, every blade of grass, every element before they execute. Basketball has a shot clock. If there’s a second left on it they’re left with no choice but to toss one up whether they’re ‘perfectly ready’ or not. Before someone serves in tennis, have you ever seen them stop and talk to their coach, double check the wind, and measure the net 3 times to confirm how high it is so they can deliver the perfect serve every time.
Golf is not a game of perfect, and it never will be. Yet it seems as though some professionals are treating it as if it is. Golfers need to start acting more like athletes and less like mathematicians. Quickly analyze, trust it, and pull the trigger.
Johnny Miller has commented on telecasts that he believes professionals these days over analyze everything, particularly when reading putts. He thinks a lot of them would be better off trusting their first instinct and just believing in it. I completely agree with him. However, I don’t think the professionals can take all the blame for their tendency to over analyze every shot or putt. I think certain technologies and coaching methods are playing a big role in leading golfers to think perfection can be attained.
Things like AimPoint technology make it a numbers game on the green, and lead you to believe if you can master their green reading system you’ll “make everything”. It’s all fine and dandy in theory on a computer, I’m sure their math and physics are sound, but unless you’re golfing in a vacuum I can’t wrap my head around how it’s practical for the course where you have grain, wind, ball marks, footprints, maybe rain, and of course, pressure. When you buy into a system that preaches perfection, the result can only be over analyzing every putt rather than trusting your feel, experience, and instincts. You’re trying to play perfectly, which isn’t possible.
You can hit “perfect” putts that still don’t go in. You can hit perfect shots that come up short. Your “first instinct” comes from your sub-conscious mind, based all on your skill, experience, your senses, and what your brain first sees. The longer you take the longer your conscious mind enters into the equation which thinks about pressure, what’s at stake, what could go wrong if you miss, etc. I don’t see how this can possibly be an advantage.
My point is, the mythical pursuit of perfection in golf is making these guys forget that it’s not a game you can ever have full control over. It can be an ugly game that isn’t always fair. Sometimes you hit it well and shoot 74, sometimes you hit it like crap and shoot 68. The bottom line is that it’s a sport, not a university calculus exam where if you calculate everything perfectly you will get 100%. It doesn’t work that way in golf. You can do everything right and get the wrong result. You may not always feel ready, you may have doubts, but that’s the beauty of sport, you gotta suck it up and commit to the shot. You have to find a way to get it in the hole and embrace the fact that it doesn’t always have to be perfect, and that it shouldn’t have to take an eye gouging amount of time.