Do You Learn From Your Golfing Mistakes?

Golf is a complicated game. Almost every shot is different from any other you have hit before. At best, you take your knowledge and experience and bring them all together as they bear on the shot you are about to hit. Or do you?

Earlier this summer, I hit a drive, just a beautiful one, split the fairway at the greatest distance I can expect to get out of a driver. 110 yards to the pin. Pitching wedge. Except after I had taken my practice swing and stood up to the ball, I noticed for the first time that the lie was slightly sidehill, with the ball below my feet.

Not to worry. But I should have. I had to take an easier swing at the ball in order not to lose my balance. Easier swing, less distance, and the ball fell into a bunker in front of the green.

I know that when on a sidehill lie you have to take more club because you will be swinging more easily, but I didn’t do it. Mistake. A great drive ruined. And the shot with the pitching wedge was a great one, too. Just that it should have been hit with a 9-iron rather than the PW.

So yesterday I drove through the fairway on a sharp dogleg and was hitting uphill into the green from atop a mound, with the ball below my feet. Uphill, plus one club. Ball below my feet, plus one club. From about 130 yards I had my 150-yard iron in my hands. The ball ended up ten feet short of the hole and I canned the putt. Lesson learned.

There are lessons to be learned within the same round, too. Did you play for a particular amount of break on the first hole and were wildly off? Adjust your read on the next few greens at least because the greens are behaving differently than they look. Adjust the next time you putt — don’t believe your lying eyes.

Or maybe you didn’t hit the first two irons the same distance that you usually do. Adjust. Take one more club until it starts hurting you (odds are it won’t).

Remembering is a big part of learning from your mistakes. Hypothetical. You hit your ball to a spot about 20 yards from the green where three weeks ago you tried to hit on with a sand wedge and the ball didn’t release when it hit the green. You might try bumping the ball on with an 8-iron, if you remembered that earlier shot. Do you remember these things?

Back when I had lots of spare time, I read those funny Zen books. One of them mentioned a guy who was famous not for never making a mistake, but for never making the same mistake twice. I have to admit it usually takes me two times through. 1. “Well, I’m not going to do that again.” 2. “You dope! You knew that was the wrong thing to do from there.” 3. “OK, not that way, this way.”

I’m a big believer that every recreational golfer could lower his or her score by 5 percent if they would only (1) think, and (2) remember and learn from the past. This post has been a word to the wise about the second one.


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