Bobby Jones once said, that it was easier to learn to use sound judgement than to swing a club like Harry Vardon. He made a great point. Golf is not about how; it's about how many. And that is why we see some guys who regularly beat other fellows who may hit the ball better than they do, or have a prettier swing.
Having a sound swing is one thing--and it's important. But more important is the ability to use good judgement with the swing you possess. Learning to play good golf has less to do with your swing than it does your mind. That's why Raymond Floyd was able to confidently say that were it somehow possible for he and the amateur to have the same ability, he would beat the amateur every time because he knew how to play the game better.
Golfers--myself included-- will generally nod and agree that golf is a game that is played between the ears. But often we fail to act as though we know it. How often don't we find ourselves making the same mental or strategic errors, even playing on our home course--missing shots in the wrong places, failing to take enough club, trying the improbable, if not impossible, shot instead of playing one more sensible or conservative? Many of us never seem to learn. And because we don't learn to use good judgement, we don't improve.
If we could do just two things--things that have nothing to do with our swing--we couldn't help but improve. First, we should only hit a shot we are reasonably confident we are able to hit and we feel ready to hit. There is nothing more discouraging than making a mess of a hole because we went ahead and hit a shot we really knew we couldn't, shouldn't, or just plain weren't ready to hit. Those are the shots I call the "anyway shots." We really know we aren't ready or able to hit them but we go ahead and hit them anyway. Many shots are missed before we even take the club back.
Secondly, we should make an honest appraisal of our rounds in order to learn from our mistakes and recognize any weaknesses in our game. For instance, if we are losing strokes by hitting poor shots with the driver, why not stop hitting the driver until we have it under control? There were occasions when Jack Nicklaus, who was one of the longest, straightest drivers the game has ever seen, stopped hitting driver and used his three wood or one iron if he had hit one or two poor drives. Imagine what Tiger's record might have looked like if he had done the same thing. He might have been unbeatable.
If we really want to improve, we have to not only improve our technique; we have to improve our ability to manage our game. (I'm writing this almost as a note to myself, because I'm as guilty as the next guy when it comes to making the same dumb mistakes.) We will all hit some stinkers--maybe even more stinkers than good shots. It happens to the best players some days. But nothing can be more disheartening than hitting a stinker only because we didn't use our head, or we weren't really ready to hit the shot and went ahead and hit it anyway. There is nothing that cheeses me off more than hitting one of those "anyway shots." I knew I wasn't set up properly, or wasn't really comfortable with the shot, but I hit the damned thing anyway.
The best players all hit poor shots and sometimes make mental errors. But they don't make mental errors over and over again like many amateurs--not the guys who are winning the money.