Your best golfing skills versus your worst

Dear golfer,

This post might seem a little controversial so I’ll do my best to explain myself. It also might not be for everyone, but it is something worth considering in my opinion.

I realised some time ago that improvement in golf is not always obvious, that to make significant progress can be difficult because the path to do so can be counter intuitive – sometimes you have to do things that go against what is considered normal and correct.

A few weeks ago I was giving a presentation to a golf team. I was speaking about the importance of automating your golf game, and in particular doing this in the pressure of competition.

I think the presentation went well and the group were happy with my strategies and ideas. I caused a bit of a ruffle when I suggested that golfers would do better if they stopped trying to improve their golfing weaknesses and just focus on the skills they’re good at. Let me explain more…

My putting used to cause me so much grief. I would practice it everyday and spend hours working on my stroke and my putting technique. I was so desperate to improve my putting that I even installed a putting contraption at home to groove my stroke in my spare time. The problem was that the more I practiced the worse I got. Putting became such an issue that I would worry about it while driving to the course, between shots and even when I was playing another shot. I was obsessed with putting and it was destroying my entire game.

To be honest I became fed up with this. I came to the realisation that I was never going to be the world’s best putter, so I stopped trying to be. I automated my funky little stroke and stopped worrying about it. To my surprise I started putting better. I had given up on trying to do something that was not realistic for me and my game improved as a result. My swing became freer (because I was not worried about leaving myself long putts) and I started enjoying the game more. By leaving my worst skill alone (putting) I was able to make improvement and focus on the areas of the game that I was good at.

Today I rarely practice my putting. My putting skill is more than adequate and I feel I am continually improving at it. I’m not sure where I would be today if I’d continued on my search for perfection – but I doubt that I’d have the confident and enjoyable golf game that I own today.

I see the same problem with other golfers each day. A common example is a golfer that wants to hit the ball further. He literally destroys his swing and game by searching for a few extra metres. Better off in my opinion to forget about hitting it further and keep using his reliable and consistent swing to get the ball into play.

The same goes for the golfer who spends years trying to cure his slice. His determination to lose the slice becomes obsessive and he ruins his game in the process. If this golfer would forget about his slice (learn to play with it) I’m sure he would reduce the severity of his slice quite naturally and still have a great game that can give him years of enjoyment.

Or how about the golfer who struggles with chipping. Should she spend (waste) loads of time developing a chipping technique? Or would she be better using her putter to get the ball somewhere onto the green? I’m sure she would play better and save herself plenty of frustration.

In recent times the worst part of my game has been pitching. There are days when I feel uncomfortable with these small shots and lack confidence. It’s a little embarrassing at times but I’ve learned to deal with it. I have long stopped trying to hit all of these pitch shots into the hole. Some days I play for the middle of the green and settle for a par. If I sink the long putt it is a bonus. I don’t try and hit the miracle shot when I don’t feel comfortable. I might not make as many birdies as someone who is a great pitcher, but I have severly reduced the amount of times I make bogey (or worse) from these positions. I can make up for this deficiency by making a good putt or with superior ball striking.

I have also become good at not leaving myself those tricky pitch shots that cause me grief. I manage my game so that I minimise the number of these shots I face when I play. This is something Jack Nicklaus was so good at. For me (and Nicklaus from what I’ve read) I prefer a full shot with my 9 iron than a half shot with a lob wedge.

I don’t expect every golfer to give up on trying to improve their golfing weaknesses, but it is something you should consider if you’ve tried everything else. My belief is that we have one (maybe two) areas of the game we are good at. We should focus on these and become excellent at them. It’s possible to build a great game around good driving, iron play or putting. I think trying to be good at everything is not realistic – focus on the things you’re good at and find fun and don’t worry about the rest. You will save yourself time, energy and years of frustration.

Let me know your thoughts.

Good golfing,

Cameron Strachan

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