If I had to select one thing that drove golf scores up, it wouldn’t be the slice, it wouldn’t be badly fitted clubs, and it wouldn’t be a lack of practice. It would be ego.
We are all so desperate to replicate the Tour pros that we see on TV, we lull ourselves into a mindset that we can achieve more than our current potential allows.
‘bud, you can’t hit a 9 iron 170 yards, so put it back in your bag and take the 7!’
In my time writing for various publications I have played with European Tour players from the men’s and women’s games, and winners of the Ryder Cup. A handful of them have said to me I’m pretty good for my handicap but my course management has cost me shots, what they actually meant was that ‘bud, you can’t hit a 9 iron 170yards, so put it back in your bag and take the 7!’.
The ego works on your golf in myriad ways. I’m going to list a few of the most prevalent ones, starting with the ones that you can fix today, for free.
The most common form of ego golf is taking too little club. What’s interesting is that we can recognise it immediately in others, but rarely in ourselves.
In addition to being the most common form of ego golf, under clubbing is also one of the most damaging to your score. If you were the #1 scrambler on the PGA Tour, missing a green would cost you a shot one out of four times. You’re not, so it’s more likely that it’s costing you a full shot (or more) at least half the time.
Combat ego with information and learn how far each of your clubs actually goes. Then, put that knowledge to work on the golf course.
Taking Too Many Risks
Another problem that’s easy to see in others and hard to see in yourself is taking on 'low probability shots. There’s no faster way to turn an easy bogey into a hard triple than trying to fit a shot between a couple of trees or over a lake.
Use the 80% Rule. If you can’t pull off a shot 80% of the time in practice, don’t play it on the course.
Ignoring the Conditions
Any time that we play golf, we need to recognise the context. How’s the weather? What’s the course like? How am I feeling? These things can have a big impact on our scores if we’re not responsive to them.
The ego golfer ignores feelings of fatigue and sticks with their usual club and shot selections. He’s also likely to think he can just smash the ball through the wind or cold. This leads to missed greens, lost balls, and a lot of frustration.
Recognising the difficulties in a given round doesn’t mean that you give up, it means you need to be smart. If you’re tired, take a little more club and choose higher percentage shots. We tend to find that those people brought up on links golf are better at the mental game because with every round the elements are different; brute force and ignorance doesn’t work, playing clever does.
Playing the Wrong Clubs
Are you playing the clubs that will help you score the best or the clubs that feed your ego? While I think everyone should play the clubs that make them happy, if your goals are score-related, you should play clubs that help you shoot better scores.
There’s a reason that many players at the highest level play cavity-back irons: forgiveness is good for everyone.
Allow a high-quality club fitter to help you choose the best clubs for your game don’t just buy the stock set up from the shelf. Be honest with the fitter about your abilities and goals so they can get you into the equipment that will help you shoot your best scores.
If you’re constantly unhappy on the course because you’re thinking “I can play better than this” your ego is sucking attention away from the game and toward ego preservation (AKA: excuse-making and whining). When you’re looking for things to blame, you’re not thinking about how to get the most out of your abilities.
Use a shot tracking system like Arccos to learn about the realities of your game. If you think you’re a 90s golfer and you consistently shoot in the 100s, you need to adjust your expectations and get to work on your game.