The “Go For It” Attitude in Golf

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.

Going for it!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.


  1. Greg B. says:

    Good post Mike. I think the situation is the tyhing to consider. The risk/reward of the shot is one thing, but the context of the game os another.

    Many guys have an attitude of, “go big or go home” and that is their joy. Most of these guys are not concerned with game improvement, it’s all about having fun.

    I’ll go for it more often than not. It’s these shots that confirm that I’m getting better. Of course I consider the situation first, what’s on the line? About the only thing that might get me to play conservative is a potential record low round, or the betting situation.

    Continual conservative play will always leave you wondering if you could have made that shot. I think you have to try at least 50% of the time so you know your limitations.

    I’m about to join a local travelling golf league that pays cash so my question will always be, “What do I need to do to win”.


  2. Double Eagle says:

    Greg, I think you pegged the big question: “What do I need to do to win?”

    That holds true on the PGA Tour and all the way down to a weekend rivalry with a sibling or friend and with every competitive round in between. If a player truly considers that question and answers it honestly, then he has a much better shot.

    This also speaks to a complete course management plan. If you didn’t plan on going for it before the round started, then there may be no reason to do it when the time comes. A complete course management plan takes a lot of the guesswork out. You’ll already have decided ahead of time which holes are worth risky plays and which holes should be played conservatively.

  3. Greg B. says:

    I always have a plan. My partners call it my cheat sheet. I use google earth and figure out a course a couple days in advance. I often write 2 pages of notes.

    Of course I wouldn’t have to do so much work if I just broke down and got a skycaddie. In the mean time, a cheat sheet keeps me winning!


  4. Double Eagle says:

    There you go! That’s the kind of dedication to course management that I like to read about.

  5. Mike – I like the logic of your argument, but it sure strips some of the fun away, huh? Of course, if you have consistent performance with power, accuracy and a course management plan – you can begin playing with confidence what others might view as risky. At the end of the day, you are absolutely right in that the only thing that really matter is a lower score.

  6. Double Eagle says:

    I think it depends on what a person is trying to accomplish, Hot Stix. As you said, lower scores are what matter. Ultimately, that means winning, whether it’s against personal goals, against buddies on the weekend, or against Tiger on the PGA Tour. It takes real discipline to keep the big picture in mind when these go for it opportunities present themselves.

  7. George Blast says:

    I wish Garcia had gone for it a bit more on the last day of the Ryder Cup when he was constantly hitting water. That match was the turning point imo. USA deserved to win though.

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