Also published on the Golf Monthly Website
Even the very best golfers have a weakness, or weaker element, in their games. For Tiger and Phil it’s the erratic driver, for Westwood it’s chipping, for Ernie and Sergio it’s the putter, Luke isn’t quite long enough and Rory isn’t quite old enough. These guys are as near to perfection as damn-it, but as old Dr Bob so rightly put it, “golf is not a game of perfect.”
I’m not quite so close to achieving perfection, but I do have something in common with the top players – I too have a weakness in my game. The problem is, though, that the weakest part of my game is variable. I find it very difficult to work on my weakness because I’m not sure what it’s going to be from one day to the next.
My traditional failing is around the greens. The thought of a delicate pitch from a difficult lie gives me palpitations. If I miss a green, I’m terrified all the way up to the putting surface. My feeble brain will race through every potential nightmare scenario, considering all possible escape routes.
Here’s the typical thought process: From a distance I’ll think, “maybe I’ll still get the putter on it;” then closer in, “perhaps a wee dink with the 3-wood to lift it over the collar of rough;” 40-yards out, “well, ok that bunker might get in the way slightly, perhaps a bump and run over the very edge;” then for the hideous last few yards, “oh my god no, I’m going to have to try and flop it over!”
Cue: heavy breathing, negative thinking that would impress a convention of goths, a tentative reach for the sand-wedge, some mild shaking, a couple of reasonable practice swings, a long pause with the club behind the ball, my inner monologue pleading, “do I really have to do this?”
Then: a long backswing, a very quick transfer to the downswing followed by a deceleration akin to a fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier, a slow dub into the ground, the divot gently lifting the ball a few feet into the air before it drops softly into the bunker and plugs… Phew, thank goodness that’s over with.
Well yes, that pretty much summarises by usual weakness. But, believe it or not, through much of the winter and the early part of this season my chipping and pitching was quite reasonable. My weakness during that time was my long game – I was losing a lot of drives right and producing the occasional snapper to the left. I was actually salvaging quite a few rounds through having a strangely decent short game.
I’ve been working rather hard on re-finding my long game in recent weeks and, after quite a few investigative trips to the driving range, numerous wrong-turns and dead ends, I’ve got it under control. For the last couple of rounds I’ve been hitting the ball nice and straight. Excellent.
Obviously, my chipping has completely gone again though… Aaarrggghhh!
The problem is nearly 100% mental of course. The brain finds a way to make the body fail so performance remains at a level the brain is comfortable with. It doesn’t want to over-achieve, it wants to stay in the comfort zone of mediocrity. The body doesn’t care, it’s capable of doing great things if given the right direction, but its boss is a fickle so and so.
Don’t worry though, I’ve just read a tip on pitching from Ben Hogan where he suggests keeping your right elbow tucked in towards your right hip. It feels pretty awkward but a few attempts on the carpet produced promising results. This could be it! … Yeah, right.