Golf is not a game of perfect. You’ve probably heard that before and if you haven’t, you’ve definitely experienced it.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Not a great thing to be if you want to be a great golfer. Sure, there were guys like Ben Hogan who pursued perfection like no other, but even he had to learn how to handle failure in order to be successful. That probably sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but I think you know what I mean. Failure on the golf course is inevitable.
I remember when I started playing the game of golf, I nearly quit right away because I couldn’t handle the failure. It’s such a tough game, so when you’re starting out, it feels like 95% of your shots are bad. That’s not exactly an enjoyable experience for a perfectionist, so I had to learn to deal with it.
But, to be honest, you don’t have to just learn to block out the bad shots, you can actually use them to your advantage. If you can learn to leverage your bad shots, you can learn to be a successful golfer. Now, obviously we want to avoid as many bad shots as possible, but there are things you can be doing to make sure those don’t derail your round.
What Does It Mean To Manage Your Miss?
First of all, what does it mean to manage your miss? Well, like I said above, we all have miss hits. Even Tiger Woods in his prime missed multiple shots per round. So, managing your misses means you’re not allowing your miss to penalize you more than it should.
If you’ve watched much professional golf in recent years, you’ve probably heard the announcers talk about “strokes gained.” It’s a new statistical category for all types of shots. For example, there’s a stat called “strokes gained driving.” This stat measures how many strokes a player gains or loses to the field on a given shot. Obviously, you won’t be able to measure that in your own round, but you can understand the general idea behind it.
Let’s say you hit your drive in the fairway, but you’re blocked out from approaching the green by a tree that overhangs in front of you. Sure, you hit the fairway, but you’ll have to play away from the green on your second shot. If you were to hit the same fairway, but to the side where you had a clear second shot, you’d have a much better chance of hitting the green in two and making a better score.
After hitting the drive that landed in the fairway, but was blocked out, you might not have even realized at first that the shot was a miss-hit. It might’ve been a good swing and gone where you wanted, but you forgot (or didn’t realize) there was aerial trouble. Regardless, that drive was a miss hit because it added strokes to your score that were unnecessary.
Sure, you could still get up and down for par in that example, but the stats show that you’ll make a lower score by hitting the green than missing it.
Why Is It Important To Manage Your Miss?
A perfect round of golf is impossible, so get that dream out of your head. The more you focus or dwell on the bad, the more you’ll be disappointed. When you step on the first tee, know that something is going to go wrong at some point.
Now, don’t expect it on every shot, but don’t be surprised when it happens. Don’t get mad or down when you make a bogey. Golf isn’t about avoiding mistakes, it’s about managing them.
It’s for this reason, that mistakes will happen, that it’s important to manage your misses. Managing your misses allows you to not get too down on yourself, save strokes, and score better.
How To Manage Your Mis-Hits
Now, let’s talk about how to actually manage your miss hits. The first thing you’ll want to do is know your primary miss. If you’re like most players, there’s a shot pattern that you tend to hit more than others. For me, it’s the fade. I know that most of the time my golf ball is going to start fairly straight, but die a little right. My miss tends to be a slice.
What Is Your Typical Ball Flight?
So, the first thing all golfers need to do is figure out what their natural or typical ball flight is and what happens when you miss it. Typically, your miss hit ball flight is just an over-exaggeration of your typical ball flight. For me, the fade moves a little right and the slice moves far right.
Knowing your typical miss allows you to eliminate half of the golf course. What I mean by that is, you can pretty much guarantee that the ball isn’t going one direction. For me, the ball is not going left. So, as I step up to a shot, I can imagine a line right at my target and just block out everything left of that line.
Eliminate Half The Golf Course
Once you know your miss, which allows you the ability to eliminate half of the golf course, you need to learn how to pick your target. Most amateur golfers don’t think too much about picking a target. They just aim down the middle of the fairway and then directly at the flag. That probably sounds like a fine plan, but it’s actually not the best strategy if you’re trying to manage your misses.
Imagine you’re standing on the tee box of a straight par 4 with out of bounds down the right. Aiming down the center might work out if you actually hit it straight, but if you’re like me and tend to miss a bit right, aiming down the center brings the out of bounds into play. So, managing and playing for your misses on that hole might look like aiming down the left rough.
Similarly, imagine an approach shot with a pin that’s tucked on the right side of a large green with bunkers protecting it on the same side. Some greens can be 30 yards (or more) wide. So, you might not even think to aim at the left side of the green and just go right at the pin, but again, that brings in a missed green or knocking it in the bunker. Both situations that would hurt your overall score.
Instead, take your typical miss into account and try to make sure your ball finishes on the left side of the green. You might have a long putt, but that still gives you a better chance of making par than short-siding yourself in the right rough.
Mentally Play The Hole Backwards
The next thing you can do to manage your miss hits is play the hole backwards in your brain. On every tee box, picture your ball on the green.
Where do you want the ball to be? Maybe it’s a two-tiered green or has a lot of breaks. Whatever the situation, figure out where you want your ball to be on the green to give you a chance at birdie, but definitely a par.
Then, after that, where does your ball need to be before that in order to give yourself the best chance to land the ball in the right spot on the green. Like the example at the beginning about the tree overhanging the fairway, you’d realize those little nuances and try to avoid them.
Playing the hole backwards in your mind is a course management and strategy tool that you can combine with knowing your miss to plan out our route to the green. Simply knowing your miss and playing the odds will make this whole process significantly easier.
Divide The Fairway By 3
What I like to do is divide the fairway and green into three sections; left, middle, and right. That way, I can picture which section of each area I want my ball to be in. But it’s not only about the fairway and green, it’s also about what hazards, penalty areas, cuts of grass, and out of bounds surround those sections. If you typically miss a shot right, but there is an out of bounds right, you really need to pay special attention to that shot.
This is where tee placement comes into play. Nowhere else on the golf course can you chose where you hit your ball from other than the tee box. Don’t just stick your peg in the ground at the most convenient place. Use a good tee box strategy. Think about where you want to hit your ball from based on the strategy you’ve created in your mind and your typical miss. A good general rule of thumb is to tee off on the side of trouble. So, if there’s water right, tee off on the right side of the tee box. This allows you to play to a wider angle on the left. Again, though, consider your miss and where the danger is compared to your bad shots.
Recovering from a Miss
Now, we’ve spent a lot of time so far talking about how to play for your miss hits. That’s more on the strategy side of things. It’s about preparing and limiting mistakes before they happen, but that’s not always going to happen.
There’s also going to be times where you play for your slice and, instead, pull hook it the opposite direction. Those things happen too. You also have to learn how to manage your mistakes after they happen.
So, once a mistake has been made, when you’ve knocked a ball in the water, or trees, or out of bounds, it’s all about the recovery shot. A mistake has been made and you’ve added strokes to your score. That’s over and done with and there’s nothing you can do about it anymore. The key is to not let things snowball into even more strokes added to your score. Bogies will happen, but double bogies (or more) should not.
Regain Your Composure
How many times have you, or your playing partner, hit a ball into the trees and taken 2-3 shots to get back to where you should’ve been in the first place? Typically, those things happen because we let a bad shot fluster us and think that we have to make up the lost shot all at once. Don’t believe that lie.
The key to managing your mistakes after they happen is knowing when to press and try to make up the shot and when to take your medicine and move on, looking for another opportunity to save a shot.
Typically, once a mistake has been made, you want to look for a shot that you feel the most confident in hitting. Rarely do you want to hit a shot from the trees that you think you could pull off 1 out of 10 times, or even 1 out of 5.
Find the shot that, when you stand over the ball, you feel good about executing properly. If you’re able to do that, I think you’ll be surprised how often you hit a successful shot. Confidence is half the battle in the game of golf and once you’ve hit a bad shot, your confidence is typically lower, so you want to raise it by pulling off a shot, no matter how difficult.
The Bottom Line
Next time your stand on the first tee of a golf course, take a deep breath and relax because you don’t have to be perfect. All you have to do is know your flaws and play for them. Mistakes are going to happen and that’s ok. Don’t let those bad shots or holes get to you. Forget about them and move on. The game is meant to be fun.