The great Jack Nicklaus recently offered some simple advice to help average golfers shoot lower scores. There were no swing tips involved, and nothing physical to practice. But one of golf’s great thinkers instead suggested that clearer thinking, and lowering expectations will lead to lower scores.
Nicklaus explained that a 10-handicap golfer should plan on making ten bogeys on the ten hardest holes on the course. In other words, the golfer should actually play the hole for bogey, not par, by avoiding the risky second shot, and always play safe. He reasoned that by playing conservatively, and planning to make a “no sweat” bogey, two positive results might come about.
The first is that more often than you might think, an accurate chip, pitch, or well-stroked putt will lead to an up-and-down par, instead of the planned-for bogey. The second is that by avoiding the risky three-wood to a well-guarded green, or by not trying to thread the needle between trees from the rough, there will be fewer blow-up holes. Take those 7s, 8s, and “others” off the scorecard, and the final number will be lower than usual.
Nicklaus feels that too many weekend golfers, or recreational golfers, try the “hero shots” they see the PGA Tour players pull off every tournament. It’s a great feeling when you can actually pull off a sky-high flop shot, or zip a low runner out of the forest, and it will almost always impress your golf buddies. But because the average golfer doesn’t have the skill or experience of the guys they watch playing for big money every weekend on TV, the odds of success are usually way below 50%. And making matters worse is when the miracle shot fails, quite often the golfer is in a worse position than before, maybe stuck behind a tree, plugged in the sand, in a hazard or out-of-bounds.
So to keep blow-up holes off the scorecard, plan on a dozen bogeys if you are a 12, a half-dozen if your handicap is 6, and if you are an 18, plan to bogey every hole on the course. Chances are excellent that you will par more than a few, and have far fewer doubles on the card.