Opinion & Analysis
5 things I wish I could tell every good new golfer
I’m only 33, but in golf years I’m over the hill. That sounds like bad news, but I’m enjoying it.
As much as I miss the tournaments of my junior and college golf days, I’m loving the social golf I get to play with people my age who are newer to the game. I’m endlessly impressed at how good many of them have gotten in a very short period of time!
It reminds me of when I got into golf in middle school. It seemed like I was noticeably better with every month that went by. I was so excited about how good I could get, but as any good golfer knows, the better you get the harder it is to get better.
Over the course of any round, there are only so many opportunities to offer anything more than pleasantries to your struggling playing partners (at least without being that guy). But I’ve found a few things I’ve offered have consistently resonated.
Before I move into the list, here’s a disclaimer. I’m not an instructor; I’m not a mental coach; I don’t pretend to be. That’s serious work that demands serious study.
But…I do think there’s plenty of room for us over-the-hill golfers to share some of things we learned from our coaches and from our golf experiences that can help fast-improving newbies enjoy their journey and make the most of their time on the course.
Please share your best tips in the comments!
#1: Breaking 80 Is A Big Deal
Breaking 80 is a benchmark for a lot of golfers. That’s a shame because it’s really hard to do.
Look down the leaderboard in many PGA Tour events, and you’re going to find somebody who shot in the 80s. These are guys who can flirt with 59, and they still shoot in the 80s occasionally.
So, if your low round is 75 and you feel like you need to break 80 to “play well,” you’re going to be disappointed after almost every round. That’s a bad deal for a 5-hour investment of your time.
Think of it this way. If you shoot 80, you probably made at least 9 pars. That means you played high-quality golf at least 50 percent of the time!
#2: Remember Your Highlight Reel
When you watch a PGA Tour event on TV, you’re going to see mostly great shots because the coverage is focused on the players that are having one of the best weeks of their season. When you do see a bad shot, it’s either a blip or a shot that was so bad it was newsworthy.
After your round, take some time to remember your highlight reel. Don’t skip over the big drive you hit, the iron shot you stuck close, or your awesome up-and-down.
And don’t stop there. Ask yourself, “What was different on that shot?” You might get a quick answer. That’s great. If not, let it simmer. It will come to you.
The trick is figuring out what worked on those special shots so you can do it again. You need a top-3 or top-5 list of your own favorite tips that you can tap into when things go south (and they will).
#3: Take Range Sessions With A Grain Of Salt
It’s easy to live and die with your last range session. But as you know by now, a good range session does not guarantee a good round, and vice versa.
The range is a place for three things:
- Getting your body ready for golf
- Settling on a shot shape and/or swing thought for the day
- Working on something new
Nos. 1 and 2 are acceptable before a round. No. 3 is best served for after the round or a standalone range session.
The golf course is going to expose the flaws in your game. Period. Embrace all the feedback from all 18 holes. Know that it’s going to make you better. And if you can, take that feedback to your next practice session where you can do something with it.
If you’re expecting a range session before a round to “fix” anything, you’re in for a long day.
Yes, you’re going to be lost from time to time, and that’s OK. Remember what you learned from your highlight reel and use those thoughts to get you through tough times. Those thoughts worked before, so they can work again.
Just don’t rely on anything new to work right away on the course like it does on the range. It does happen, but not often.
#4: Hit All The Shots
So many golfers I play with can only move the ball one direction. They fade, but they don’t draw. They draw, but they don’t fade. You can score that way, but you’ll only see improvement up to a certain point…especially if you’re a fader.
If you’re a fader, you absolutely need to learn how to draw the ball. If you’re a drawer, you need to learn how to fade the ball.
Lessons can help here, but if you’re averse, use your range sessions to experiment. Most golfers have played ping pong or tennis. They can curve the ball without any trouble. So why not golf? I think it comes down to the fact that it’s more acceptable to lose a point in ping pong or tennis than it is to make a triple bogey.
When you’re learning how to shape the ball, start BIG. Hit a 50-yard hook or slice. Try to hit five hooks in a row without double-crossing one. Once you’ve got that down, try alternating hooks and slices…and eventually baby draws and baby fades.
Over time, you’ll understand how to hit these shots without thinking too much about them, and you’re going to need them if you want to break par someday.
Know that you’re not going to screw up your swing learning new shots. If anything, your swing is going to get better because it’s going to have to get more neutral to curve it both ways.
#5 Stop Keeping Score (For A Time)
When I was playing a lot of tournament golf in the 2000s, Dr. Bob Rotella was the mental game guru and he preached “one shot at a time” and “adding up the score at the end.” That’s incredible advice, but if you’re finding it hard to do it might be simpler to just stop keeping score entirely.
As an over-the-hill golfer, I’m never going to be as good as I once was. But I can be as good once as I ever was. That’s from a Toby Keith song, but it applies to golf.
All great golfers plan every shot they hit before they hit it. And then they try to execute that shot exactly the way they planned. Few shots are going to be perfect, but if you don’t know what shot you’re trying to hit you’re almost certainly not going to be able to hit it.
The course is the best place to learn what works, but to learn we have to experiment. That’s why I like skipping the scorecard… at least for a round or two.
Without the pressure of the pencil, you’ll be free to try things you might not have tried before. Like hitting a three-quarter 9 iron instead of muscling a wedge. Or taking a more direct line on a dogleg that could be risky but could pay off if you’re swinging well.
A Final Thought For Every Golfer
Whether you’re new or have been playing golf a long time, it’s easy to get caught up in birdies and bogeys. But as we all know, the scorecard can lie. After all, how many times have you hit two great shots… and made a double. Or two bad shots… and made a birdie.
It’s fairer to ourselves to think of golf as a game of great shots, acceptable shots, and misfires. If you can approach each shot as its own individual challenge, then you’ll know when you did your best and when you didn’t.
Take what you can from the good ones and the bad ones. And if you do this only half the time during each round, you’ll be amazed at how consistent your scores can become, and you’ll probably shoot a few super-low rounds, too.
And more importantly, you’ll probably enjoy the game more.
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Opinion & Analysis
The best bets for the 2023 Scandinavian Mixed
There could hardly be a more distinct difference between two courses holding consecutive events.
Last week, 20-year-old Tom McKibbin pounded his way around the 7500-odd-yards of Green Eagle to break his maiden in impressive fashion, courtesy of this outstanding approach shot to the 72nd hole. Remind you of anyone at that age?
Leading the tournament, 20-year-old rookie @tommckibbin8 hit this incredible shot into 18 to claim is first win on Tour. ?#PEO23 pic.twitter.com/F0Sl3hXo43
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) June 5, 2023
Fast forward not long and the DPWT arrives at Ullna Golf and Country Club for the third renewal of the mixed-gender Scandanavian Mixed.
The welcome initiative sees male and female players on the course at the same time, playing to the same pins. Only movement of the tee boxes distinguishes the challenge, and whilst there is water aplenty at this coastal track, yardages of no more than 7000 and 6500 yards should frighten none of the top lot in each sex.
Genders are one-all at the moment, with Jonathan Caldwell winning the inaugural event thanks to a lacklustre Adrian Otaegui, and the brilliant Linn Grant winning by a country mile last season.
Most will be playing their approach shots from the same distance this week and with neither particularly stretched, this may be the most open of mixed events yet.
Defending champ Linn Grant and fellow home player Madelene Sagstrom look on a different level to the rest of the European ladies this week, but preference is clearly for the 23-year-old winner of eight worldwide events, including her last two in Sweden.
Last season, the Arizona State graduate took a two-shot lead into the final round before an unanswered eight-birdie 64 saw her cross the line nine shots in front of Mark Warren and Henrik Stenson, her nearest female rival being 14 shots behind.
Since that victory, Grant has won two events on the LET, the latest being a warm-up qualifying event for the upcoming Evian Championship, held at the same course and at which she was 8th last year. The Swede is making her mark on the LPGA Tour,
Given the yardage advantage she has off the tee amongst her own sex, the pin-point accuracy of her irons and a no-frills attitude when in contention, this looks no more difficult than last year. If there is a a market on ‘top female player,’ there may be a long queue.
He’s been expensive to follow for win purposes, but Alexander Bjork is another home player that will revel with the emphasis on accuracy.
There isn’t a awful lot to add to last week’s preview (or indeed the previous week’s) which both highlighted just how well the Swede is playing.
- Linn Grant
- Alexander Bjork
Opinion & Analysis
Winning and the endowment effect
A central concept in behavioral economics is the endowment effect. Coined by Richard Thaler at the University of Chicago, the endowment effect describes how people tend to value items they own more highly than they would if they did not belong to them. So how does this relate to sports, or more specifically, to golf? Let me explain.
Golf is hard. Winning is harder. Golf has created a lure where winning major championships is the hardest of all. The problem is that mathematically a win is a win. This means that valuing wins differently is actually an instance of the application of the endowment effect in golf.
Winning in golf creates an inverse normal distribution where winning can be very hard, then easy, and then very hard again. To win, players must evoke the “hot hand”; this is the idea that success breeds success. In golf, the reality is that birdies come in streaks; players typically enjoy a run of birdies over a couple of holes. The goal for every player is to hold this streak for as long as possible. The longer and more often they are able to do this, the more likely a player is to win.
Another question is, how much do players value wins? At the current moment, up to the PGA Jon Rahm sees winning as easier (or less valuable) with his recent win at the Masters and other early season events to accompany his U.S. Open win from 2021. However, that changed at the PGA, when he opened with a round in the mid-70s. All of a sudden the lure of the trophy distracted Rahm. Likewise, we saw both Corey Conners and Hovland hit extremely rare shots into the face of the bunker on Saturday and Sunday. These are shots that do not happen under distribution. In my opinion, the prestige of a major was at the root of these shots.
To overcome the barrier of becoming a champion, players must first understand that winning is not special. Instead, winning is a result of ample skills being applied in duration with the goal of gaining and holding the hot hand. The barrier for most players with enough skill to win, the endowment effect tells us, is that they overvalue winning. Doing so may prevent them from ever getting the hot hand. So maybe, just maybe, the key to winning more is wanting to win less. Easier said than done when one’s livelihood is on the line, but to overvalue a win at one specific tournament, be it the Masters or the two-day member guest, may be doing more harm than good.
Opinion & Analysis
The best bets for the 2023 Porsche European Open
Green Eagle hosts the European Open for the sixth consecutive time, missing only the pandemic year of 2020.
Known for its potential to stretch to 7800 yards, this monster course in Hamburg is able to reduce itself to around 7300, a far less insurmountable proposition that allows the non-bombers to make use of their pin-point iron play.
Of the top 16 players last year (top 10 and ties) nine fell into the top 12 for tee-to-green, split into those that made it off-the-tee (six in the top-12) and those from approach play (total of four players). Go back to 2021 and champion Marcus Armitage won the shortened three-round event with a ranking of 40th off-the-tee, whereas four of the remaining top-10 ranked in single figures for the same asset.
It’s a real mix, and whilst I’m definitely on the side of those that hit it a long way, there are more factors at work here, particularly a solid relationship with the Italian Open, as well as events in the Czech Republic and Dubai, weeks that allow drivers to open up a tad.
Last year’s winner Kalle Samooja has a best of 2023 at the Marco Simone Club, a tournament won by Adrian Meronk, and with a top-10 containing the big-hitters Julien Guerrier, Nicolai Hojgaard and Daniel Van Tonder, with Armitage a couple of shots away in ninth place.
Like Armitage, the Finn also boasts a win in China (although at differing courses) where solid driver Sean Crocker (third) carries a link between the Czech Masters, being runner-up to Johannes Veerman (10th here, eighth Italy), and another bomber Tapio Pulkkanen, whose best effort this year has been at the Ryder Cup venue to be.
Of the 35-year-old Englishman, his only other victory came in the 2018 Foshan Open, where his nearest victims included Alexander Knappe, Mattieu Pavan and Ryan Fox, all constantly there in the lists for top driving, with Bernd Ritthammer (tied runner-up here 2019) in ninth place.
Amidst plenty of Crans and Alfred Dunhill form on various cards, 2022 Italian Open winner Robert Macintyre was the second of three that tied in second place here behind the classy Paul Casey in 2019, as well as tying with Matthias Schwab at Olgiata, Italy, in the same year.
The Austrian, now plying his trade on the other side of the pond, also brings in the third of three players that ran up here, a seventh place at Green Eagle, two top-10 finishes at Albatross and top finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and China.
Current favourites Victor Perez and Rasmus Hojgaard both disappointed last week at the Dutch Open, and whilst that occurred in completely differing circumstances, they give nagging doubts to what would otherwise be solid claims on class alone.
The Frenchman hadn’t recovered from a week away at Oak Hill when missing the cut, but probably should have won here last year when eventually third, and his ball-striking doesn’t quite have the same sound at the moment. On the other side, the Dane star again had a chance to prove best last week, but for the fourth time in nine months, failed to go through with his effort after entering Sunday in the final two groups.
If wanting a player to link up all the chosen comp tracks, then Jordan Smith would be the selection, even at 20/1 or thereabouts. However, having been safely in the draw for the weekend after 12 holes of his second round at Bernardus, the 2017 Green Eagle champ completely lost control of his tee-to-green game, dropping nine shots in his last seven holes. The 30-year-old is made for this place, as his two further top-11 finishes indicate, but last week’s effort needs a large bunker of forgiveness and I’ll instead nail my colours (again) to Alexander Bjork, the man that beat Smith in China in 2018.
I was with the Swede last week based on crossover form, and this week he makes similar appeal being able to back up that Asian form with top finishes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi (see Casey) and Crans (Armitage and shock winner of this event Richard McEvoy). Of that sole victory at Topwin, it has to be of interest that former China Open specialist Alex Levy won the last running of the European Open at Bad Griesbach before finishing second and 13th here, whilst impossible-to-read HaoTong Li, the 2016 Topwin champ, was 18th on his only try around the monster that is Green Eagle.
Last week’s top-30 made it 10 cuts in a row for 2023, with some impressive displays through this first half of the year, including top-20 in Dubai, second in Ras and back-to-back fourth placings at both the Soudal and Italian Opens.
The 32-year-old ranks fifth for overall performance over the last 12 weeks comprising 32nd in total driving, 24th for ball-striking and 12th for putting. He is exploiting his excellent tee-to-green game, and now ranking in third for scrambling, remains one of the rare players that can recover well when missing their target – although at 19th for greens-in-regulation, this isn’t that often.
Bjork has made all four cuts here, with his last three finishes in the mid-20s, but is in probably the best form of his life. With doubts surrounding many of the rivals at the top, his constant barraging of the short stuff should see him challenging over the weekend.
Home favourite Yannik Paul has been well backed from a far-too-big early price, and there is a case for making him still value at 30+, but Jorge Campillo needs forgiving for an awful display from the front last weekend, even if that was an outlier to his otherwise excellent run, that includes a victory and top-10 in Italy.
There seem to be an awful lot of doubts about the top lot in the market (save a mere handful) so take a trip downtown and try nabbing a bit of value prices that will pay nicely should they nab a place.
Whilst Gavin Green would seem to be an obvious place to go, he sits in the range between 50/1 and 100/1, full of untapped talent and players, that have least not had too many chances to put their head in front.
Jordan Smith won on debut here, so it’s not impossible, and whilst Jeong Weon Ko may need another year or two to reach his peak, he is one that appeals as a ‘watch’ for the rest of 2023.
The French-born Korean dominated his home junior scene before taking his time through the Alps and Challenge Tours, eventually settling in during the second half of 2022. From July to September, Ko played 14 times, recording four top five finishes, two further top-10s and a pair of top-20s, those results including a fourth place finish at the Challenge Tour finale.
His rookie season at this level started well with a 30th and fourth place in Africa, and he has since progressed steadily as the DPWT ramped it up a level.
Top-20 finishes in Korea, India and Belgium, where he was in second place at halfway, suggest he should soon be competing on a Sunday, whilst in-between those, a third-round 67 was enough to launch him to inside the top 10 at St. Francis Links.
On the tour-tips.com 12-week tracker, Ko ranks 12th with positions inside the top-30 for all the relevant stats.
15th for distance, 25th for greens, and top-10 for par-5s, he has a bit of Green about him but without the question marks. Whilst he hasn’t won on the professional stage, his second to bomber Daniel Hillier at the Swiss Challenge reads nicely, as does his top-15 at the Di-Data in 2021 when surrounded by longer hitters, and he appears to be of the quality that will leave these results behind in time.
Hillier himself can be fancied, especially after last week’s fifth at the Dutch Open, but I’ll go with the man that beat him by a single shot last week in the shape of Deon Germishuys.
The DPWT rookie has already had a season to remember, leading home fellow South African Wilco Nienaber at U.S Open qualifying at Walton Heath at the beginning of May, and securing his ticket to his first major.
Interestingly, two of the other five qualifying spots were won by Alejandro Del Rey and Matthieu Pavon, all four names being some of the longest drivers on the tour.
That may well have been the boost that pushed the 23-year-old to record his best effort on the DPWT so far, his third at the Dutch Open marking another step up from the 15th in Belgium just two weeks previous, and a top-10 in Japan when just behind Macintyre, Paul, Smith and Campillo.
In what is a fledgling career, this event starts just a few days after the anniversary of his first victory on his home Sunshine Tour where he beat some of the country’s longest hitters to the biggest prize for a non co-sanctioned tournament, before nabbing his DPWT card via a 20th place ranking at the end of the Challenge Tour season.
The three mentioned top-15 finishes have all appeared on his card since the beginning of April, and this rapidly-improving player now has last weekend’s finish fresh in the mind, finishing in front of Meronk et al, despite not being able to buy a putt on Sunday.
A lot of what Deon is doing on the course reminds me of compatriot Dean Burmester, who had a terrific record at the Di-Data at Farncourt, something being repeated by the younger man (20th and 7th). Now signed by LIV, Burmy also had a solid record at Albatross and in Italy, where a best of fifth place should have been higher at the bizarre Chervo track, biased towards long-hitters but won by a demon putter instead.
I’m tempted by the names Tom Mckibbin, nowhere near a finished article and keen to attack this course, flusher Dan Bradbury, and bomber Marcus Helligkilde (still not convinced he is absolutely one-hundred percent), but they may only make the top-10/20 bets.
Kalle Samooja should go well in his bid to defend his crown, but I’m taking fellow Finn Tapio Pulkkanen to improve on his 18th here last year with the chance to again make his length count.
Having won both the Nordic League (2015) and the Challenge Tour Order of Merit (2017), the be-hatted one was always going to be a player to look out for and, in truth, it hasn’t really happened.
However, his case lies with the best of his efforts, all of which combine to believe that should organisers stretch this course to over 7500-yards at any point, then he is one of a few that could handle the layout.
Silver and bronze at the Czech Masters, Pulkkanen thrived on the open layout of the Dunhill Links, finishing top-10 twice since 2019. Add those to a second (Hainan) and 14th in China, top-20 finishes in Dubai and Himmerland, as well as good finishes at the classier BMW at Wentworth and he just needs to show something to make appeal at one of only half-a-dozen tracks that he could be fancied around.
The 33-year-old led in Chervo in 2019 before showing he enjoys Italy with his best-of-the-season 16th at the Marco Simone at the beginning of May, where he should have done better, having been in the top five for all the first three rounds.
By no means one to place maximum faith in, he is similar to the likes of Veerman and Joakim Lagergren in that they suit certain types of tracks, and they are the only ones they could be backed at. This one, Green Eagle, together with Pulkkanen, seems like one of those times.
- Alexander Bjork
- Dean Germishuys
- JW Ko
- Tapio Pulkkanen
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Jul 20, 2022 at 1:48 pm
Great article. 33 isn’t over the hill tho you’re literally just getting started!! You can play into your 90s if you’re healthy. Think young feel young stay young!!
Jul 19, 2022 at 12:30 pm
This is one of the better articles recently. No he said she said arguments from twitter. The other writers should take note
Jul 20, 2022 at 10:28 am
That’s very kind of you. More to come!
Jul 19, 2022 at 7:33 am
Good article Zak, you make great points. I’ll add one more: find a coach you trust and enjoy. The young player/coach relationship is more important than many people realize. These kids need to get away from parental obsession and work objectively with someone who makes the game fun while directing their golf development. Thanks for the thoughts.
Jul 19, 2022 at 10:26 am
Right on, Dennis. There’s obviously more free instruction content than ever before. It can benefit a player who understands his/her game. But to me, the only way to dramatically improve is to work under a coach who can help you feel and understand things in a way that can only happen in person and be there for you when things go awry.
I’m still working on turning the club down and keeping my right shoulder back on the downswing. Someone really smart showed me that!
Jul 18, 2022 at 11:45 pm
Disagree with #4. Jim Furyk and Bruce Lietzke proved that you can play one-way golf.
Jul 19, 2022 at 7:04 am
You make a great point. Those guys (and Vijay and Kenny Perry, too) we’re kings of a consistent shot shape. But when they needed to hook it or slice it around a tree, they definitely could.
It’s always great to have that weapon in your bag… even if you don’t need it. That’s what I was hoping to get across.
Jul 19, 2022 at 2:40 pm
It’s going to depend on what level you’re talking about. 99% of rec golfers have no business trying to shape a shot. Their goal should be to try to hit the center of the clubface so the ball goes the distance they expect within 10 yards. Hard to get into much trouble hitting the ball pin-high all day long.
But I would add one to the list: Stop getting so angry. As they say “you’re not good enough to be mad”. It sucks for you and it sucks for the other people in your group.
One of the 917 driver selections
Jul 18, 2022 at 7:52 pm
Great to see you at the top of articles Zak. I cant say I remember the last time, so if you’re back, welcome! If not, hello! I was part of the Titleist 917 event in Carlsbad and will always cherish the generosity. Take care!
Jul 19, 2022 at 7:06 am
What an event that was! I miss putting paper to pen for GolfWRX, and I so much appreciate the opportunity. More to come!