The Two Types of Successful Golfers and What Type I Am

I watched a David Feherety interview with Phil Mickelson in early 2017 and Phil said something that I had thought for a very long time; “You either have to be incredibly smart or incredibly dumb to be a great golfer”. Many people believe that golf is a game won in the mind over anything else and I agree. There are thousands of people that can hit 300+ yard drives (i’m not one of them), get it up and down from the ball washer (I made my mediocre career on this) and hole putts from all over the show. The different between a journeyman pro and the guys on TV is consistency and being able to do it on any stage.

To do that on any stage I believe you either need to be one of the two golfers that Mickelson described. The first are those players that are robotic in their preparation and thoughts whilst on the golf course; wanting to know the distance down to the half yard, take into account that 1/2mph of wind, the humidity and whether the grass has grown a micrometer since the round started. There have been players like this throughout history, one of the most successful that comes to mind is Bernhard Langer. I was once told a story where he walked into a tour van wanting his hybrid flattening by 1/4 degree. Whilst I don’t think him making this micro change will have been the key to his success, it shows that his attention to detail is something he relies on in order to perform at the highest level.

Compare that with golfers such as Bubba Watson, he relies totally on feel. He has said on multiple occasions that he has never had a lesson and I don’t see him spending hours a week on Trackman working on attack angle and smash factor. After he played “that” shot out of the trees in the 2012 Masters playoff he said “I hit my 52-degree, my gap wedge, hooked it about 40 yards, hit it about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree, and then it started rising — pretty easy.” In situations like those ignorance is bliss. The average golfer and probably the average tour pro would have calculated the pro’s and con’s of trying the shot and logically chipped out and tried to make his par from 100 yards. Bubba didn’t see that, he saw a ridiculous 1/100 shot and went for it. Not overthinking and feeling is what Bubba and many golfers do when they get in the tough or pressure situations. Rather than thinking they react and execute.

Now don’t think that the “thinkers” in the sport don’t pull off ridiculous shots. Phil Mickelson the inspiration behind these ramblings is one of the most knowledgable golfers on the PGA tour. He is known for hitting ridiculously “risky” shots and seems from a far one of those golfers who just feels his way around golf course — this is not the case. Listening to Phil in his interview with Feherty he talks how he puts his success down to his knowledge of how to use the bounce on the club, how this is affected by different grass and the many different factors that affect how the ball is going to react. One of Phil’s most famous “risky” shots, was in the 2010 Masters; he had driven his ball in the right trees of the par 5 onto the pine straw, with about a 4ft window between the trees for his to get through. Many believed the smart play was to chip it out to his favorite yardage and try and make birdie the “proper” way. Phil instead took out a long iron and smashed the ball onto the green about 10ft away. Phil explains in his interview with Feherety that he had worked out that, to go for the green was the percentage play. He describes that when playing off pine straw or a loose surface it is better to play with a club with less loft. Less of a club has chance of coming in contact with the ground meaning there is less chance of a miss-hit shot. If he’d have laid up he would have been on a downslope playing to a front pin, with little chance of controlling the spin; and as mentioned chipping out with loft would have increased the chance of a miss-hit. Mickelson rely’s on his knowledge and precision when the pressure is on; he plans every shot meticulously in order to be successful in any situation.

So where do I fit? I’m an overthinker in every aspect of life, if i’m not sure of something I wont do it, and whilst that allows me to well organized and reliable in certain situations it has been somewhat of a hinderance in my golf game. It has meant that I start thinking ahead too often leading me to put excess amounts of pressure on certain shots and certain golf holes. Every coach I have had has tried to get to stop thinking so much on the golf course, telling me things such as “take it one shot at a time”, or “forget your score, just play the shot”. I physically cannot do this; i know my score, my playing partners score, and I know if I don’t birdie this hole i’ll be going up 0.1. So now that I’m getting back into golf more regularly my plan is to play to my strength rather than try and fix an unfixable weakness. I’m going to attempt to be a lot more Phil than Bubba; planning, being meticulous, knowledgable and think my way to better scores.