This excerpt from my latest book, The Golfing Self, explains how to plan the way you play a golf hole.
“Think of playing a hole of golf as a team project. At work, you might be on a team of four or five people, organized to plan and complete a project of some kind. Every member of the team has a role which is coordinated with the roles of the other team members, such that their efforts will return a satisfying product. The team in golf consists of yourself and the strokes you plan on playing from where you are, to the hole. All of you are in this together, each playing their role. The relationships between the work of each team member and its desired effect on the outcome of the project, getting the ball in the hole as quickly as possible, are known from the start.
“What you would not do at work is get a general idea of what you wanted to have done, ask someone to do this part of it, and when they’re finished, see what’s left and ask someone else to do another part of it, and so forth, never coordinating the tasks or the team members as a unified group. Playing golf in this way means you hit a shot off the tee, see where it ends up, hit another shot, see where it ends up, and keep doing this until you finally hole out. This is what I call “hit and hope” golf: hitting a series of unconnected shots and expecting good results. It’s not the way to shoot low scores.
“Before you tee off, make a plan for getting the ball in the hole. Expand the Gathering and Deciding phases beyond your tee shot to include every shot you intend to take on this hole. Plan it out in the following fashion. See yourself on the green hitting your approach putt (if you can see the pin from the tee). Next think of the spot in the fairway from where you would want to hit the ball to the green. From the tee, decide what’s the best way to get the ball to that spot in the fairway. We’ll call this the scoring sequence for the hole.
“Now all your team members have been assembled and each one has a job to do. You can move on to the Preparing phase for the shot you’re hitting now. Every shot you’ll be hitting is now part of a planned sequence of the shots that are most likely get the ball into the hole as soon as possible.
“As noted golf coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott say, every shot must have a purpose. That purpose can only be known in light of the shots that follow it. “I’m hitting this shot to here, because next I can hit it to there, from where I can hit it over there, and into the hole.” Feel that each shot is the start of a sequence of shots that gets the ball into the hole, and you have thought through what that sequence is before you hit the shot you have right now. Every shot you plan to hit from here on is, again, part of a project for which you have gathered team members, decided what their roles will be, and of which you are the team leader.
“After you tee off and get to where your tee shot ended up, create a new scoring sequence, from the hole back to the ball. If you’re now playing from somewhere close to where you intended in the original sequence, the new sequence could be a continuation of the original one. Your gathering would be done to take into account any variables that were not apparent from where you first hit the ball.
“Of course, if the ball ended up far away from where you wanted it to, the original scoring sequence must be discarded and a completely new one developed. Adapting on the fly like this is not as simple as it sounds, mainly because it is not always easy to adjust to a new perspective at the same time you’re trying to figure out what to do about it. A moving mind keeps you detached from what might have been, and able to focus clearly on what to do next. It’s easy to make good decisions when every shot works out like we wanted. Better golfers do not let stray shots affect their ability to analyze their options.”