By Anthony Procopis, GolfWRX Contributor
Dear fellow golf maniacs, can you shoot 10 shots better than your handicap?
Well, whether you currently can or can’t is not the point. I believe that if you are firing and you have the right mental tools to cope with going low –- whether you are an 80-shooter going for a 70 or a 90-shooter going for an 80 — your best score right now, your potential, is 10 shots better than your handicap.
This rule applies if you have been playing golf consistently for five years or more, it does not obviously apply to beginners who may have a 15- or 20-shot improvement as a possibility.
I have thought about this quite a bit over the years and was jolted into thinking about it more after a crazy round of golf eight weeks ago. On that day I shot a personal best score of a 7-under par 65 playing off a one handicap.
Was that my best? Well as a score, it was, but did I get the most out of the round, did a squeeze every last shot out of the round?
No I didn’t.
Here is the short story:
Our front nine is two shots easier than our longer back nine holes (total yardage is 6,100 meters or 6,700 yards; par 72). On this day I found myself 5-under par through six holes (had a first with five-birdies in-a-row from No. 2 to 6) and had a flat, straight birdie putt on No. 8 from 12 feet. I promptly missed wide by a half foot and long by three feet; a truly disgraceful attempt.
Now, because I’m somewhat of a putter-ologist, I thought quickly about this miss. I looked at what emotions I was feeling and how free I was when I putted the ball. I concluded, I was pumped and tried way too hard on this putt.
This is one of the ironies of golf and life — to get what you want, to achieve something you want, you must focus, but then let go. It is a constant battle; this is the battle I faced on this day — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Some might call this paradoxical intention; to obtain joy and happiness, you don’t go around trying to get this, you construct a meaningful life, doing constructive, enriching activities and you experience joy and happiness along the way, you don’t force it.
The honest review of the sad events on the eighth green set me up to make a better putt on No. 9 and a perfect 30-footer (it was a little rude) on No. 10 to go to six better.
I held my nerve on a 10-footer on No. 12 (giving-in to the only thing that gets you through high pressure situations -– your putting-routine) to go to seven and before I could think about the whole situation (this was a good thing), I had knocked an 8-iron on the par-3 13th to two feet.
I nervously prodded the ball into the hole to go 8-under through 13 holes. (I felt very nervous and shaky on all 10 of my short-putts under 10 feet, but it does mean I can’t or didn’t make them all –- I did).
I had never been past six. Unfortunately we had a 470 yard par-4 up next, three other strong par-4s and a 200-yard par-3.
To cut a long story short, I went bogie, birdie, bogie, par and par to finish at 7-under.
Could I have gone 10 better than my handicap?
Absolutely; I simply missed long irons on Nos. 14 and 16 which resulted in bogies (I kept making two- to five-footers all the way home).
If I had hit those long irons on the green or even just off and made pars (and of course I could have had made one), I would have finished with a 9-under 63. Of course, the whole experience of ascending to rarefied air puts you in a stronger position for when the door into the zone is opened for you next time.
The mechanics of going low
Well, you are going to need to be putting really well, hit your irons well, chip and pitch well and hit some straight drives (and don’t forget those pesky long irons).
But let’s say you are doing all of the above well and you having a day out; you will feel mounting pressure, and it will come down to how well you can monitor yourself, how well you can control your emotions, how well you can stick to the same number of waggles and the same number of looks at the hole, how well you can harness the coiled energy at the top of your backswing to let the club drop into the slot on the downswing.
A lot of club golfers who are ill equipped shun these situations. They choke, and maybe worse they never analyze what happens to them under pressure — what went wrong and how they can learn how to handle the situation when it next arises.
Why? Well, you must be honest; you must be able to admit weaknesses before you can grow. That’s tough for some people and it takes effort.
Everyone blows a good round now and then, that is not the issue. The issue is what that round motivates you to do about finishing off the round better next time, and thereby growing as a golfer and being in a better place to go 10 better when you have a day out next time.