Bobby Jones said that he really learned the most from the tournaments he lost, not the ones he won. He spent seven years learning how to be a champion, and endured several beatings along the way. What he essentially learned, and I am paraphrasing here, is that you are never going to be a consistent winner, or even a consistent player, until you learn to adjust your aim. Rather than relying on a series of brilliant shots, or sallies, you have to learn to play within yourself and play the smart shot.
Raymond Floyd called it "playing comfortable." In his book The Elements of Scoring Raymond said that if somehow the field, in terms of golfing or shotmaking skill, could be levelled, and he had to play with our shotmaking skills or vice versa, he would beat the rest of us amateurs every day because he knows how to play the game. He knows how to play within himself, to play the percentages and to use his mind to turn three shots into two.
If there is a golfing IQ, and there is, the great players are not just more skilled than the rest of us, they are a damn sight smarter. They have a much higher golfing IQ. Perhaps IQ is not the right term, because I don't know whether it's possible to change your IQ, but even the dullest of us can learn to score better if we just learn from the beatings this game regularly inflicts upon us.
Bobby Jones talked about watching very good players try to play shots they should have known were impossible. How often do we do just that. I don't know how many potentially good rounds I've ruined by attempting to play a shot that was so low percentage, I'd probably had a better chance of getting hit by a piece of sky lab than pulling it off. Are the majority of us just doomed to repeat the same mistakes or can we actually raise our golfing IQ.
It all begins with an honest appraisal of our abilities. We have to know our limitations and be willing to accept and play within them. We have to accept that sometimes there is such a thing as a good bogey, or double bogey for that matter. Every time we save a shot by playing smart, we need to congratulate ourselves, and every time we take an eight when we could have easily made six had we not tried an impossible shot, let us give ourselves a good kick in the backside.
In reality, most of us have neither the time, nor the inclination to put in the work required to significantly improve our shotmaking ability. But, we can learn to do the best we can with what we've got to work with. Perhaps it isn't very macho or sexy to just chip it out of the trees when there's a three foot round gap forty yards in front of you. Perhaps it isn't cool to take a three wood or even a seven iron to hit your tee shot on a dangerous hole. But if golf is about shooting the lowest score possible, sometimes being a bit modest, or conservative, beats trying to be cool or macho.
We're always going to hit lousy shots, and sometimes we'll do it at the most inopportune moment. That's just part of the game. But we don't have to hit stupid shots, shots that have so little chance of being successful that we end up kicking ourselves, or we certainly should end up kicking ourselves, as we watch the attempt fizzle. We really do need to kick ourselves when we hit dumb shots. Bad shots are okay, but not dumb ones. We shouldn't beat ourselves, which is exactly what we are doing when we hit dumb, low percentage shots; shots we really knew deep down had little or no chance of succeeding.
I know that next time out I'm going to try to play within myself and not try to be a hero. In golf it is much better to be a live dog than a dead lion. Golf isn't about being a hero, it's about having the wisdom and the courage to just keep hitting the ball until it makes that lovely sound as it rattles around in the cup. I'm going to try to raise my golfing IQ.
I can just hear my old father now, saying, "Oh yeah, I'll believe it when I see it."