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Learning Golf- The Seven Foundations

Foundation 5: Course Management

by Dr. Ron Cruickshank

In recent golf history there is not a more compelling case for thoughtful course management then the 1999 British Open misfortune of Frenchman Jean Van de Velde.  He had played the tough Scottish Carnoustie course brilliantly all week, coming into the 487 Par 4 hole 18th hole of the fabled tournament with a three shot lead.  In professional golf, this is considered a near insurmountable lead and his fellow competitors were already packing up in anticipation of making their flights. All he needed to do was make a six and the most sought after prize in golf was his.

However, it was not to be.  One writer summed up his fall this way.

“Despite a three-shot lead, Van de Velde chose to use his driver off the tee, and proceeded to drive the ball to the right of the burn and was lucky to find land. Rather than laying up and hitting the green with his third, Van de Velde decided to go for the green with his second shot. His shot drifted right, ricocheted backwards off the railings of the grandstands by the side of the green, landed on top of the stone wall of the Barry Burn and then bounced fifty yards backwards into knee-deep rough.

On his third shot, Van de Velde’s club got tangled in the rough on his downswing, and his ball flew into the Barry Burn. He removed his shoes and socks and gingerly stepped through shin-deep water as he debated whether to try to hit his ball out of the Barry Burn, which guards the 18th green. Ultimately, he took a drop and proceeded to hit his fifth shot into the greenside bunker. Van de Velde blasted to within six feet from the hole, and made the putt for a triple-bogey seven, dropping him into a three-way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. Lawrie would eventually triumph in the playoff.”

As a golfer this was painful to watch and no one that saw it on TV will ever forget it.  One can argue his choices forever.  It is unquestionable that his decisions under pressure cost him the most coveted Championship in the world.  In fact, a few years later Van De Velde returned to this hole and using ONLY a putter he made a score of six.

Few will ever experience such sporting drama in our lifetimes. However, we all face course management issues EVERY single time we play.  Bad course management can put you in the rough, the trees, water, and sand. An incorrect decision can leave you on the wrong side of the green with an impossible chance of making a par.  It is a critical part of scoring.  Even if you are a great ball striker, poor course management will cost you strokes.

Course management is the entire compilation of decisions you make about how to navigate your way around a golf course. Below are some tips to consider when you play a golf course.

  1. Play from the proper tees. If you can’t drive the ball consistently over 240 yards off the tee, play from forward tees.  If you are left with a 190+ yard approach shot on every hole you will be struggling all day. Think about it. The average Par 4 hole is 400 yards today. If you hit the ball 220 yards then you are left with a 180+ yard shot  Not only is this no fun, it is not the way the golf course was designed to be played and enjoyed.  Leave your ego in the parking lot and play according to your true skill level.
  2. Assess the course prior to playing. Look at the score card and see what kind of shots will be called for. Many courses today have detailed course books that will recommend a strategy for each hole. Have a game plan. Even if you can’t follow it on every hole, at least have a plan that gives you a chance.
  3. Know your distances. In addition to playing from tee’s too long for their game, this is the biggest course management mistake we see. The average golfer doesn’t know how far s/he hits every club in the bag. In fact, studies have shown that poorer golfers consistently over estimate how far they can hit the ball.  This leads to constant mis-clubbing, bad choices and poor scoring.
  4. Gain advantage using technology. We recommend one of the new GPS devices. Garmin makes a GPS watch called the S2 that will measure your distances while simultaneously showing you the carry distances and hazards in front of you. Informed choices are always better on a golf course.
  5. Use the hole-backward approach. Think about playing the hole backwards. Ask yourself. “Where do I want to land the ball on the green?”  Based on that, think about where you would want to be on the fairway to give you the best chance of achieving that.  This will then inform your club selection off the tee.   Think about this for each hole and you might make some different choices.
  6. Avoid hero shots- they seldom work out. There is a time to be bold and time to be conservative on a golf course. Just ask Jean Van de Velde. If you are in deep rough and have a 180 yard carry over water to the green then accept your situation and hack out with a wedge to a distance and lie you can then safely carry. Don’t compound one error with another.  Avoid the double or triple bogey and move on.

Golf is not that complex a game if you plan your way around the course. This is part of the fun and yields great reward when thoughtfully done. If you wish to become good at the game, simply adopt these Foundations as a roadmap to your learning process. It will guide your introduction to golf and you will soon begin to improve.

In the meantime, remember golf is a wonderful game. Learn the fundamentals and the game will return you a lifetime of benefits.

The Seven Foundations of Learning Golf: An Overview

Foundation 1 Become a Consistent Ball Striker

Foundation 2 Perfect your Short Game

Foundation 3 Become a Good Putter

Foundation 4 Have Clubs that FIT your body, swing and game

Foundation 5 Become Confident at Course Management Skills

Foundation 6 Practice with Purpose

Foundation 7 Learn to Manage Your Mind and Emotions on the Course

About the Author:  Ronald Cruickshank, PhD. – The writer is President and Director of Golf Instruction at Future of Golf Academy. Their headquarters are at Luhuitou Golf Course Driving Range, 2nd Floor, Sanya.  He can be reached at ronc@futureofgolf.cn or by Cell Phone at 185-6669-5713