Monday, July 18, 2011
A Conundrum of Confidence
From time to time I get some blog readers asking me what I think of Dr. Bob Rotella’s work. Personally, I’m not that big of a fan. Especially when a person says a golfer should have a ‘conservative strategy’ (Rotella says ‘conservative strategy with a cocky swing’).
Part of me understands some of the things that Rotella preaches. I think having the attitude of ‘I’m going low today!’ is often a poor one. But, there are too many other factors left out of the equation for golfers to perhaps reach their potential and to improve their mental game to shoot lower scores.
Put it this way, you don’t shoot 63 at Oakmont like Johnny Miller did in 1973 with a conservative strategy. In fact, Miller hit EVERY green in regulation that day and his average distance birdie putt was 8 feet long. There is simply no way, at the US Open, that can be a conservative strategy.
However, what I don’t hear much from the PGA and Nationwide Tour players that I’ve talked to over the years is the phrase (and similar phrases) ‘Gotta go low tomorrow!’
The other day I was talking to a buddy of mine about me attempting to qualify for the Florida State Mid-Amateur in September. I told him that if a golfer were to do the following
- 12 Greens in Regulation
- Nothing Over a Bogey
- No 3-Putts
- No Penalty Shots
- Good drives on each of the Par-5's
That alone would almost guarantee them to be the medalist of the qualifier. Technically, one could shoot 78 with those statistics, but they are more likely to shoot below par and in the 60’s. But, going low is a different situation (we’ll say going low is 66 or better).
This year I’ve decided to look at the low rounds on the PGA Tour when they happen and then take a look at the statistics the golfer had during that round. Generally, when a player goes low it is because they have a really good day with their ballstriking. They’ll hit at least 14 greens in regulation and their proximity to the cup is very short. Usually the ballstriking is really good and then they putt pretty well. But sometimes they strike the ball pretty well and just putt out of their mind. Still, it’s typically great ballstriking that allows them to go low.
So obviously, skill is a big part of going low. Not only skill, but getting hot and typically it’s with the full swing more than the putting stroke.
However, I think most of the time there is a lot of ‘getting the stars to align’ as well. Take a look at Nicklaus’ legendary back 9 at The Masters in 1986. He got a favorable pin position on #11 that allowed him to have a chance to birdie the hole. That gave him his 3rd birdie in a row and bolstered some confidence for him. He also got a favorable bounce on #17 green. Had those two things not happened, he could have shot 32 or 33 and never won the tournament.
That’s not taking a single thing away from Nicklaus. But, it’s to show how luck can play a factor in going low and how it can help snowball into building some confidence and then hitting shots like the 2nd shot into #15 and then almost jarring the tee shot on #16.
I think a lot of the elite players understand that there is a critical element about ‘going low’ that is out of their control. They understand that they can hit it and putt it better one day and shoot a higher score than the following day where they don’t hit it or putt it nearly as well. Things like the wind, getting in between clubs, pin positions that fit your eye, getting uphill putts, etc. are all things that are hard or impossible to control and if they just keep to their strategy and routine, then a round where the ‘stars align’ may pop up for them.
In other words, stick to the gameplan because you cannot win the tournament with 1 shot or 1 hole or even 1 round. Just keep yourself in contention when you’re not on fire and the stars are not aligned and then when things start rolling your way, you can suddenly ‘go low.’
I think it’s good to have expectations. I have expectations for myself when I play in the Mid-Am qualifier. I expect myself to be focused on each shot. I expect myself to stick to my strategy. I expect myself to be prepared. And I expect myself to keep myself mentally in the game and not allow myself to ‘lose it’ on 1 shot or 1 round. But, I don’t expect myself to go low or ‘tear up the course.’
Moe Norman probably said it best in ‘I want to shoot course records, I don’t have to shoot course records. If I have a bad day, that’s fine because I’m going to get to play again tomorrow.’ So feel like you want to shoot low scores, but you have no obligation to do so and expect that you will do what you possibly can and have control over.