My home course begins with two tough holes. One is a long par-4 with out of bounds on the left, trees on the right and a massive green that’s a three-putt waiting to happen. The other is a midsize par-3 with a really narrow green that’s elevated between two huge bunkers.
Invariably, I start my round 2 over par … or worse. But time and again, I’ve quickly recovered with a string of pars after that and shot a nice score.
Another course I play regularly starts with a short par-4 and a short par-5. If I don’t get off to at least a par-par start, I’m disappointed because I know that the really difficult holes are Nos. 7 through 9.
What tends to happen is I head to the seventh tee only a couple over par, then struggle on the last three holes of the front side.
So which type of start would you rather have – the early challenges or a chance to ease into the round?
It might seem counter-intuitive, but my vote is for the tough opening holes.
It depends on how you look at it.
I can never look at a hole with a sense of dread. That’s negative thinking, and it just detracts from your enjoyment of our great game.
It doesn’t matter whether I’m playing a short par-4 with no trouble or the most brutal monster I’ve ever seen. My first thought is how I’m going to attack it and, ultimately, conquer it.
It doesn’t always turn out that way, of course. If there’s out of bounds on both sides and the fairway is tight and there are bunkers everywhere and the green is a nightmare, well, even a good shot might not be rewarded.
But there’s only one way to look at a golf shot if you want to hit it correctly, and it can’t depend on whether you’re playing well or falling apart: You focus on where you want to hit it, how you want to shape the shot and where the bail-out zone is.
If the trouble is on the left, you want to play to the center or right. Watch the pros – they do it all the time. If the trouble is short, you want to take enough club. If you can’t go long, then sneak up on the green.
In my mind’s eye, I can “see” every shot I hit in a given round, and I’m truly surprised when the ball doesn’t go where I intended. That’s the fascination of golf – you picture shots and imagine the results.
I’ve read books about this. I’ve watched videos. I’ve played mind games on the range. But there’s nothing like being out on the course and practicing those techniques.
Every time I have a round coming up, I start “seeing” those shots. If it’s my home course, my mind immediately flips to those first two holes, especially that tough tee ball on No. 2 because that shot won’t depend on a good drive. The tee is always in about the same spot, and the only thing that will change about it is the wind and the pin placement.
Then I get out there, and it’s as if I’m living out exactly what I pictured. The trick is for the actual shot to be as effective. It usually isn’t, but that’s OK – that’s what makes golf fascinating.
What is your mental game like? Do you picture good results or bad ones? Do you play in confidence or fear?
Look at it this way: What’s the worst thing that can happen? A bad shot? So what! You’re on the golf course. You’re doing something you love. And you have a chance to make the next shot great – it’s all about executing what you “see.”