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The Wedge Guy: Realistic expectations

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(Today’s post is one I actually wrote nearly eight years ago, but I’m using it to start a series about “thinking your way to better golf.” I hope you enjoy the next few weeks.)

One of the great regrets of my life is that I missed the fatherhood experience, never having had children of my own. As I get older, I find that I gravitate to the younger folks, and offer my help whenever I can, whether on the golf course, on the water fishing, or just life in general. One of my joys is working with younger kids on their golf. That includes instruction, of course, but what I think is more important for them in the developmental stages is to learn to manage
their expectations. Actually, we all could benefit from that bit of advice.

On Sunday, I had the joy of playing with the 16-year-old son of one of our partners at SCOR Golf. Kyle is a tremendously talented young man who I’ve worked with quite a bit, but he really hasn’t committed himself to golf yet. I’m talking about the kind of commitment that keeps him working hard at it as long as there is daylight. He might not ever get that, and that’s OK, but he hasn’t figured out yet that your expectations can only rise from your achievements, and not from your desires.

On a core level, Kyle has great strength but hasn’t learned to harness it yet. He wants to choose his clubs based on his maximum distance with that club—if everything falls exactly into place. Like most golfers, and especially young ones,
he’s enamored with the power game. When we play, I show him that throttling back and controlling the shot is much more reliable.

What I discovered Sunday is that Kyle has very unrealistic expectations about what a round of golf should really be like. He, like most of us, expects all the shots to be struck solidly and fly like he imagined. So I explained that he hasn’t
earned the right to have such expectations yet. His scores average around 90-95 and his best ever is an 85.

So, here’s my point (finally)

Kyle was off to a good start with three pars and two bogeys in his first five holes. He kind of “fat-pulled” a 4-iron approach on a 200-plus yard par three. His shot left him only 10-15 yards short and left of the green, but he wheeled around, dropped his club and expressed his disgust with the shot. And I got on him about it. “What’s wrong with that? It’s a difficult par-3 with a 20 mph crosswind and you are in good position to get up and down or at least make no worse than bogey on one of the hardest holes on the course.”

I went on to explain that he was only two pars away from tying his best round ever, and if he just played for bogeys – and stay excited—he would probably make twice that many or more. And I seemed to get through to him of the reality
of golf, or his golf at least. He stayed in the moment, with only a little more cajoling from me, and shot an 86—one shot off his best ever! And I MADE him congratulate himself on his accomplishments. Instead of focusing on those few
shots that were bad, and the 2-3 doubles he made, I told him to focus on the good that came out of that round.

So, here’s my point (or points) for managing your expectations, too.

  1. If you are a low single-digit player, you’ll still only hit 2-3 shots a round just like you wanted.
  2. If you play to a 12 or higher, any shot that keeps you in the game isn’t really all that bad.
  3. Regardless of your skill level, there is no such thing as a “birdie hole” when you are standing on the tee. A “birdie hole” can only be claimed when you have executed an approach to makeable putt range.
  4. If you are a 12-15 handicap player, you only need to make 3-6 pars to beat your handicap, as long as you don’t chop up any holes. Bogeys are good scores unless you regularly shoot in the 70s!

So, the next time you are on the golf course, try to set and manage realistic expectations. Your golf will be better for it, and you’ll have a ton more fun.

NOTE: I read a great article this morning by Geoff Ogilvy about the quality of golf being played on the PGA Tour. It reflects what I’ve often said about how the modern tour professional plays the game. Here it is.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. myron miller

    Feb 26, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    I disagree with his idea of a birdie hole. To me, a birdie hole is one that I can reasonably expect if i hit the ball decently have a reasonable chance of birdie. Hell, there are times that I’ve hit miraculus shots that went totally unrealistic distances and hit near the hole eventually for a birdie, where normally I have no chance of getting anywhere near a birdie. My normal chances on some holes, is slightly greater than 0 say 1% (1 in 10,000 or less. But a hole where I can if i do everything ok, have a realistic putt (within 20 feet) at a birdie to me is a birdiable hole (birdie hole). I approach the hole with the idea that I can birdie the hole if I hit each shot reasonably and can reach the green or very close (within 20 yards) in regulation. Those holes that I have zero chance of reaching in regulation (like a par 3 of 200+ yards or a 575 yard par 5.

    His idea of any shot that “keeps you in the game” isn’t bad is unclear. What does this actually mean. say I’m on a 400 yard par 4. If I hit the ball only 100 yards off the tee am I still in the game? It can be in the middle of the fairway but I have zero chance of making par and have to hope to make bogey by hitting the next 3+ shots well. More likely, I’ll make double bogey on this hole. Yet there have been a number of times where I was very happy with the way I hit the ball on the hole and only made the “dreaded double bogey”. Wind screaming at 25+ mph with gusts to 30-40mph and swirling, not in a consistent direction.

  2. Joe

    Feb 25, 2020 at 10:56 pm

    This is something I need to keep in mind too. I’ve found that when I’ve thought positively, I’ve played better.

  3. iutodd

    Feb 25, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    I really enjoy all your articles. This whole concept is something that I have to remind myself of a lot. I’m, oh, an 8-10 handicap and when I play as a single I’m usually the “better” player of whomever I get grouped up with. But that still means on average I’ll miss 9-11 greens a round and about half of my fairways! I try to keep high expectations – but I do have to manage those expectations when shots don’t do what I want them to do. I’m also very time constrained and barely/rarely warm up – in fact I don’t really even know what a proper “warm up” feels like. So I generally start off slow, then I play really well from holes 5-13, then I get tired or lose focus. This leaves out entirely the inclusion or exclusion of beer.

    I played with what had to be a sub-3 handicapper or better late last year – I was mostly blown away by their focus. I play a lot as a single and often I end up making small talk with the twosome I get paired up with and I end up not focusing all that well and subsequently I don’t play that well. It’s also just hard to be that guy who grinds for 45 seconds over every 3 footer when the other two have beers in their hands. This guy, the low single handicapper, was playing his game and focusing on what he needed to do – it was really impressive to see right up close like that.

    I’m not as good as he is – but I aspire to golf like he does. I think managing expectations is totally a part of that because it does break your focus and your confidence and make the game less fun.

  4. Brandon

    Feb 25, 2020 at 11:32 am

    This is good advice except for the part about club selection. Why would you take more club because you are expecting to hit a bad shot? Seems like you are setting yourself up to fail before you even make the swing. I’d rather be short on most approach shots than long anyway.

    • Alex

      Feb 25, 2020 at 3:48 pm

      I dont think you understood the point. What he was saying is that the kid was choosing his club based on max yardage instead of a controlled shot. I.e., hitting a 7i you can take to 175 1 out of 10 shots, instead of taking a smooth 6i to hit the number with an avg shot. I dove down into the low single digits after going off this mentality, taking the stronger club and swinging at ~80% gives way better results than full swings with all clubs.

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Dear golf,

I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.

It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.

On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.

This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.

As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.

I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.

When you are able to return in full, I will be here.

Sincerely,

Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)

 

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