I’ve often said that I can find a way to bogey any hole in the world. The connotation was meant to be decidedly self-deprecating. But after watching the PGA Championship this weekend, I don’t think a bogey is so bad.
Time and again, the pros were faced with shots out of brutal rough and putts on glass-like greens. They constantly had to play the best defense we’ve seen since the 1985 Chicago Bears.
And it reminded me of some simple math: If you never make worse than a bogey, chances are you’re going to break 90 – even on the toughest course. If you can make a bunch of pars and throw in a birdie or two along the way, you’re going to be in the 70s.
Did you notice that we didn’t see many double bogeys despite all the challenges Bethpage Black presented? Sure, there were plenty of bogeys – the champion, Brooks Koepka, couldn’t recall ever making four in a row like that – but the big boys usually hit at least one decent shot to steer clear of a big number.
If that didn’t cure your proclivity to try for unlikely heroics, if it didn’t send you scurrying to the nearest course to work on your short game, nothing will. If you didn’t learn anything from it, you’re doomed to more big numbers.
But it was more than mere strategy.
When Koepka’s drive on the 18th hole nestled into a gnarly downhill lie between the bunkers, it simply took brute strength to get it out of there. That’s not the sort of shot you can practice.
It got me thinking about all the times I have been faced with a similar situation – not in a lie that daunting, but still challenging. Even if I was able to hack the ball out into the fairway, I can recall plenty of times when I failed to get the next shot onto the green and turned a bad start to the hole into a round-ruiner.
You need a good shot to make bogey in that situation because you’re going to have times when you hit what you think is a really good shot and you aren’t rewarded. Look no further than Koepka’s 8-iron on the par-3 14th, which flew the green because the wind suddenly died down.
So I have a suggestion:
The next time you make a double bogey or worse, analyze it shot by shot. Give each shot a grade. I doubt you’ll find many “A” shots in there.
Next, examine your strategy. Was each shot the percentage play? If it wasn’t, think about what you’ll do next time to correct that.
Do that for at least five bad holes. Here’s hoping they’re spread out over several rounds and not bunched into one.
If you can’t find a single thing wrong with how you thought through each shot, I can almost guarantee you’ll notice that your wedge play was lacking, your chipping was sloppy or your putting let you down. Or all three. No wonder instructors recommend spending more time on your 100-yards-and-in game than any other group of shots.
Yes, I realize that few of us can move the ball 300 yards. We hit it crooked way more often than the pros. We certainly have plenty of holes when no amount of strategy or good wedge play will cure an abominable drive or second shot.
But our great game is like no other in that the lowest score wins. We’re like all the others, however, in that good defense will keep the score down.
Learn from the PGA. Accept your bogey when it’s appropriate. Before you know it, you might surprise yourself with some surprising pars — all because you played good defense, just like the ’85 Bears.
It’s subtraction by addition. It’s just plain smart.