As I watched Rory and Jordan side by side on a driving range at this years Abu Dhabi event, it was almost hard to imagine how two very different ball strikers could compete so evenly on the same golf course. However, as we all know striking and scoring are often two very different things, and comparing them can often be dangerous. As I watched Rory swashbuckle his way around the golf course , this seemed to become more and more apparent. As Rory hit amazing shot after amazing shot, Jordan still managed to keep up and never let him out of his sights. After a while it hit me just how good Jordan was at placing his way around the golf course, and controlling where he places his ball with both good and bad shots. Despite his long game being ropey at best throughout the tournament, he was still able to produce a top 5 finish, and stay in contention until the very end, at which point only one place separated Him and McIlroy.
Despite this seemingly obvious gap in their ball striking ability, Jordan’s ability to play the golf course like a game of chess really helped him make up for this shortfall. One of the things that Jordon does better than anyone is playing to the strengths of his game, and not leaving himself in difficult situations to save par when he does miss a green in regulation.
For most golfers this can often be easier said than done. When a golfer approaches a green their only focus tends to be the flag, and furthermore if they to happen upon trouble, more often than not the image that pops into their head is one from the previous night’s PGA tour coverage, where Sergio had hit a “Hail Mary” shot around a tree or where Tiger had made a ludicrous chip in from the back of the 16th at Augusta. These images immediately push them towards the aggressive play instead of playing the percentage shot. They end up attacking the flag and compounding their mistake with another. If you stop and simply think about what’s in front of you, you can often save strokes on the course by simply playing the percentages.
When it comes to applying this logic there are 4 key questions to ask yourself in order to help you choose the correct shot at the correct time:
What Standard of player are you?
This is an important question, simply because your handicap will tell you the “real par” for the hole. If you have a handicap of 18, you are allowed to have 1 extra shot to par on every hole. You are not expected to attack flags and hit par 4’s in 2 shots every time despite what your ego is telling you. Use these shots to remove the pressure when faced with a 200-yard approach over a bunker. For most players the odds are that laying up short of the green and trusting your short game are far more likely to yield a par compared to attacking the flag that requires a long, difficult carry.
What are the odds you can produce a successful result?
If you are faced with a tricky, risky shot, use the 60% rule. The 60% rule refers to your odds of successfully achieving a positive outcome should you take on the aggressive play. If there is a 60% chance of you succeeding, by all means play the aggressive shot. However, if the odds of producing a successful result are stacked heavily against you, and the downside is the potential loss of several shots, take your medicine and play safe. There is no point in throwing your score away over one risky shot. Be patient, and make up for your mistake later in the round.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can be a huge asset when it comes to strategizing your way around a golf course. Take a player who may struggle with relatively close pitch shots (20-40 yards), but is very comfortable from longer distances (60 – 90 yards), it would make no sense laying up as close to a hole as possible as they are playing towards their weaknesses. Ideally that player would attempt to lay up to 70 or 80 yards and play towards their strengths. This will often allow a player to feel more comfortable under pressure, and also allow you to increase your chances of producing lower scores.
What situation are you in?
Having an awareness of the situation, and format are key to making an informed decision on the golf course. For example, if you are on the first hole of a 4 round stroke play tournament, taking on a risky approach shot from a troublesome situation is the last thing you need to do. There will be plenty of time to make up for a poor starting hole, however the last thing you want to do is to be walking to the second tee already several shots over par with an uphill struggle ahead of you.
However, if you are one down on the last hole of an 18-hole match play, where your opponent is in a safe position on the green, you will most certainly have to throw caution to the wind and take on a risky shot. It will be a shot where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.