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The Mental Game (Part 3)
Play To Your Strengths

Bob Power

This is how I used to play, see if you recognize it.

On my way to the course, in the back of my mind I was going to have my best round ever. Getting to the course I would sign in and go to the first tee with little or no warm up. I would swing the club a few times, tee up the ball and with butterflies or shaky knees boom, I would shank it in the woods, or slice it bad, or top it about 100 yards. Frustrated I would go find my ball, normally in a bad lie or have to lift it out of the woods if I could find it. Then looking at the green about 250 yards in the distance I would get out the old 3 wood and give it my best (worst) swing. Again I would shank it, top it, slice it or some other terrible shot. By the time I was finished the first hole I was looking at an eight or worse, and thus started another frustrating bad round. I did this over and over again for over two years.

One of the first things I figured out from listening to the pros and experts was that golf was a mind set, and in order to play good golf to have to play smart. That means playing within your strengths. This is part of "good course management". That's right, course management is not just making good shots, it's also playing to the course design and playing to your strengths as well.

Let me give you an example of how I use my strengths now to lower my score. The other day I was playing our number 5 hole, one of the hardest par fours I have played. Not in length, but in design. It's a dog leg left and you need a really good tee shot over trees to the fairway beyond to have any chance of reaching the green in two. That's the way most people would approach it. And if the tee shot is not good most people are thinking bogey. But why?

I hit my tee shot a little right of the trees and landed in the fairway about 220 yards from the green. What would you do? Get out the 3 wood and try for the green? That's what I would have done, even last year. That shot for me, because I rarely play it or practice it, is a very high risk shot. Hitting that shot increases my chance from bogey to double bogey tenfold. I am not mentally prepared to hit that shot with confidence. But I was thinking par all the way though.

My strength in the fairway is PW, 9 Iron, 8 Iron, 7 Iron, 6 Iron, 5 Iron, in that order. Thus the further I am away from the green, the less confidence I have in the shot I am making. (This thought process is an on going learning curve that takes practice and a lot of playing to increase your confidence in making those types of shots) Thinking about the distance I had left, 220 yards I was thinking of getting my ball to PW distance. Since I hit my PW about 130 with confidence I laid up to approximately that distance on my second shot. A short shot for my second, but it got me to my comfort zone. I then hit my PW for my third shot and landed the ball on the green pin high about 6 ft from the pin. I now had a chance at par, something I am sure I would not have had if I had used the 3 wood to try to get me on the green on my second shot.

Yes, I only had one shot at par with one putt but my putting is fairly consistent, since I can practice putting just about anywhere, and I feel confident about my putting. (Hint, practice your putting.)

I missed the putt by an inch and bogied, but I felt good about the way I played the hole, and next time I might par it. Not to mention that a bogey is better than the double or triple I probably would have had with a second higher risk shot to the green.

Remember the goal is not to be on the green in regulation, but rather to finish the hole in the regulation number of shots. No one cares or will ask you how many greens in regulation you had, but when you tell them your great score they will be impressed.

Sure being on the green in regulation helps since you then have 2 putts instead of one to par, but if you are now playing double bogey or triple bogey golf, imagine what eliminating one shot per hole is going to do to your score.

Play with the clubs you have confidence in. Keep the ball in play for better scores.

See related articles:
The Mental Game (Part 1) - Introduction
The Mental Game (Part 2) - Think Your Way To Lower Scores

Bob Power lives in Canada with his wife of 30 years and is an educator in an institution of higher learning. When not playing he is researching the basics of golf and how to teach the simplicity of the game through the "Back To Basics" approach to the game. To ask Bob any questions or to pass on any comment please e-mail him at

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