We seem to associate this quality with winning and success, in general. In many cases, it’s a big factor. No risk, no reward. We’ve probably all heard that saying. In business, that attitude is practically a virtue.
In golf, though, it should be used sparingly, because the negative outcome will usually be disaster.
Now, be honest. How many times have you been standing over your ball on a par five, about to hit your second shot, with 220+ yards to the green, over water? And how many times have you taken the shot, knowing that the club you have in your hand will yield that perfect result only a fraction of the time?
Why do we do it? I say “we”, and not “you”, because I’ve done it too. Guilty as charged.
How about those times when you have 160 yards to a tucked pin on a difficult green that’s protected by water or severe bunkers? Do you have the discipline to aim for the middle of the green, take your two putts, and get out of there? Or do you go for it, thinking birdie all the way?
I bet some of you “go for it” types blasted Phil Mickelson in 2006 when his “go for it” attitude brought an end to his hopes for winning a U.S. Open. And I also bet that next time you hit the course you put yourself in similar situations.
I know I have.
The only good reason for it is that subconsciously, we must believe the reward is worth the risk. If you hit your 220 yard shot over water and make the eagle, you’re going to remember it for a long time. If you hit to the tucked pin and have a tap-in birdie, you’re going to remember that shot for a long time. Fall short and it’s just another in a long string of misses.
Sadly, most of the time, we’re going to fall short of success in golf. Golf is a game of misses. We’re going to miss shots probably 99% of the time. The only question is, by how much. Even Ben Hogan said he only hit a few perfect shots per round.
Virtually every shot we strike is mishit to some degree. That 220 yard shot over water? Miss the sweet spot by 1/4 inch and the ball is probably splashing down.
Sometimes, the “go for it” attitude is a powerful tool. Winners know when to go for it. Coming up the 18th hole, down by one, a winner knows that the time has come to go for it. Finishing second is not good enough. The player with a winning attitude will pull out all the stops to try and make birdie. Everyone else would play reserved and try to lock up second place money.
These situations are few and far between, though.
Of course, there’s always the opposite problem. How many of you out there are capable of shooting under par for a given round? I’ve read that, mentally, many players of that ability will get under par and then suddenly start protecting the score, keeping themselves from going really low, even though they have the game. They get under par and then so desperately cling to it that they forget what got them there. That’s kind of the anti-”go for it” attitude.
If we want to shoot better scores and lower our handicaps, we have to discipline ourselves to limit “go for it” episodes to those times when it’s the difference between winning and losing and to those times when the reward is worth the risk.
What I try to do when I’m facing a risky shot is, think what I would recommend another player do in that situation. Better yet, ask yourself what you would do if you were sitting at home thinking about the shot. If the answer is different than what you’re about to try, then you need to rethink your strategy.
Sometimes, going for it is bold strategy. Most of the time, it’s just bad strategy. Learn to tell the difference and you’ll become a better player.