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The Most Important Shot in Golf

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You step up on the 17th tee. The hole is a 500 yard par 5. You’ve been playing well all day; you’re thinking birdie :)

The hole is a dogleg right, and you’ve been practicing a fade all week.  The head pro showed you a tip that guaranteed you a fade every time. You saw Elk give a great tip online at the Dirt, and you’ve been telling all of your friends about it. All of the pieces of your swing are working together.

After waggling the club head over the ball, you swing away. The ball scoots 12 feet above the fairway, hooking slowly into the trees. Your heart stops. Disappointing? For sure. But you’re about to hit the most important shot in golf.

I’ve found that the most important shot in golf is the shot you hit right after you hit a bad shot. Everyone, from the pros to the weekend warrior, hits shots they wish they could do over. But we all still have a job to do. And that job is to score.

Being able to recover after a bad shot builds an important muscle in your golf arsenal. Your hands are shaking, you wish you could have a mulligan on the last shot, and you doubt yourself as a player. How are you supposed to hit a good shot? It’s tough, but sticking to your routine and choosing to get your head back on straight is the only way out. The golf gods can do little for you in this situation; it’s a choice you’re going to have to make yourself.

Before Bobby Jones ever won any big championships, Jim Barnes told him that the only way Bobby would ever be a championship caliber player is if he could learn to score even when he was playing poorly. I guess he listened…

It took me a while to get through my head that golf really is a game of misses, and that one bad shot on a hole does not ruin your chances at making a good number. Just like one sneeze does not mean you're sick, one bad shot does not mean you’re a bad golfer. The farther away you are from the green, the greater your chance for redemption. So our hero in this case is not completely finished. It is, after all, a par 5…

Reasons for Doubt

Let’s look at two reasons for doubt to creep in under these circumstances:

1. Fear: One of our most basic emotions comes in to play here. If you there's a snake in a bush, and you walk by the bush, only to have the hidden snake hiss at you, you’re probably going to stay away from that bush. Putting the golf club back in your hands is a similar situation. You’re scared that the next shot may be just as bad. This is as nerve racking as it gets. 

It’s important to realize that when a shot is done with, it’s done. You can’t change it, and it certainly should not affect the next shot. Take some deep breaths, play the ball back in your stance a little bit, make some practice swings, and do whatever you have to do to eliminate some of the fear out of the next shot. If you hit this shot well, it sends a very positive message to your golfing mind that you can hit great shots under pressure.

2. Delusions of Grandeur: Any time we’re upset in a round of golf, we usually have a picture in our minds of how the round should have gone. What our score should be. How that shot should have looked. While you may be right, all of those thoughts take our minds out of the moment that prepares us for the most important shot in golf. I would argue the ONLY shot in golf is the next one. Anything else is getting in the way. The fact is that even par rounds can be scraped together, even with a few loose swings. Ask Tiger if he's ever shanked the ball when the pressure is on:

The numbers used for the example above were no accident. In June of 2006, I stepped up to the 17th hole of Rancho Park Golf Course in Los Angeles, Ca. I made the often fatal mistake of adding up my score on the tee box. I was one under. I was playing well but had a chance to do something I had never done before-break par. To make matters worse, I was playing in a tournament with the Rancho Park Men’s Club.

The 17th hole is a par 5 of 500 yards, as I described above. It’s a beautiful hole, reachable in two if you hit the fairway and at least a three shot hole if you don’t. I hooked my ball into the trees on the left, despite the fact that my driver was my favorite club in the bag all day. We had shared some good times together :). In any case, I would have to hit a long iron under the trees, over a hill, and down into the fairway to have a chance at making par. After a few practice swings, I hit the best punch shot of my life. It flew under the branches and landed safely in the fairway, giving me a 7 iron into the green. After making par on 17, I took a deep sigh of relief. 

The 18th was another par 5, this one only measuring 475. The fact that I knew where I stood was very unnerving. It was none other than Arnold Palmer who had made a 12 on this hole during the 35th L.A. Open. Nevertheless, I put that out of my mind, playing the hole in 3 shots and making birdie to close out the round. As I signed my scorecard, I realized Rancho was a par 71. Not only had I shot under par for the first time, but I broke 70 as well.

I came into the clubhouse relieved, and finished the day with even more excitement. My 69 was good enough for solo 1st place in the one day tournament, giving me enough scrip money to buy more ProV1’s, and a lesson I’ll never forget.

Tagged in: zen golf