Gimme Three Strokes:~Not-So-Great Expectations

After spending a few days in Orlando at the PGA Merchandise Show among thousands of new toys and gadgets, I’m ready to hit the golf course as soon as possible. Surely being around the newest drivers, putters and crazy inventions will help lower my handicap naturally, right? Through osmosis?

Probably not.

Unfortunately, the biggest weakness in my game – and what causes my scores to skyrocket on occasion – is poor course management as a result of setting my expectations too high. There is no piece of equipment that can help with an overactive imagination. Well, golf equipment at least.

Having unrealistic playing expectations is a huge no-no for any golfer. Unfortunately, many amateur golfers think they can just shake the rust off their winter golf swing and step on the tee at their local country club and break par. Golf is just like riding a bike, right?

Wrong. Just because you shot 80 in the final round last season doesn’t mean you should expect to do the same right away this year. The same goes for your shot accuracy, distance and consistency. As in the case of muscles or memory, your golf game can atrophy over extended periods of non-use.

Honesty is, once again, the best policy when it comes to setting expectations for your next golf round. As world-renowned instructor Dave Pelz says in an article with Sports Illustrated, if you want to lower your scores and improve your playing skills you have to understand what area of your game needs the most work. That includes the mental game and what you are expecting from yourself during a round.

Answer this question: when you step onto the tee, what is the first thought that enters your mind? OH MY GOD… OK, let’s assume the beer cart girl is nowhere to be seen. You sick puppy, you.

Are you thinking about what club you hit on this same hole the last time you played? If so, you also probably think grabbing the exact same club is a no-brainer. You then blindly step up to the tee with the driver you used to carry that left-hand bunker, not once checking for wind, tee position or any other variables prior to your shot. Next thing you know, you’re laying two in the trap and left with a dumb look on your face.

The first step to lowering your scores can be accomplished without using anything below your neck. Proper course management requires a thorough understanding of what you are capable of when using the tools you brought to the course. No, I’m not including your bottle opener.

A trip to the driving range with a notebook and about two hours of free time is all that is needed to map out the distances on every club you own. Go to the range with the plan that you are there to do work. Your only purpose that day is to hit a few balls with every club in your bag, taking time between each shot to record your shot’s distance. Don’t worry about where the ball is going; simply write down how far it goes by your best estimate. Be sure to monitor the wind and turf conditions as well.

Over time, you will have created a handy-dandy distance profile for each club in your bag. Refer to this notebook the next time you play a full round of golf, paying diligent attention to how far you want to hit each shot. This is important, Ace; pick out a target on the course, estimate the distance to that target then choose a club that will get your ball as close to it as possible based on the information you wrote down.

I have learned that this process is critical to understanding what I am able to do with the golf ball at any moment during my round. Whenever I am faced with a difficult shot over a lake or under a tree – which happens often for me – I have eliminated the guesswork in choosing what club to hit based on the distance I have to achieve.

Pay no mind to the club you are using to reach a certain distance consistently. There is no shame in hitting a 5-iron 165 yards if it means the difference between playing your next shot from the rough or from the green. Let your friends mock you all they want. They’re all drunk anyway.

Playing golf within your natural boundaries can be difficult to accept at first; however, over time you will fine-tune an aspect of this game that the best players in the world have perfected to an art form.