Water left? Tee Left. OB right? Tee Right.
Course management is a huge topic that I could talk about for hours on end. It's a major obstacle separating good players from great players (and some great players from the best). Thinking critically on the course about where to place your shots and why is the best step you can take to avoiding big numbers on the card.
My most vivid memory that I have of poor course management (outside of my inumerable own experiences) was from UNO's Invitational Match-Play tournament - maybe 8 or 9 years ago. I was paired alongside the Mavericks' number one player at the time and we battled hard for nearly 3 hours, back and forth. He was a great player with a beautiful golf swing - and it was obvious he had a lot of talent.
I began to notice a change in his decision making after the 6th hole when I made a long birdie putt to go 3-up. This was the turning point in, what was until that point, a fairly competitive match. I could see frustration building with each slam of a club and I knew it was just a matter of time before he threw up a big number or two. The nice thing about match play is that you can post an 8 on one hole and only lose the one point! In my mind, that should make it easier to bounce back after a poor swing or decision... but that wasn't the case.
Arbor Links is great golf course located in Nebraska City - a course with many risk/reward options. Fairways are hugged tight by rolling hills of fescue, large drainage areas, and strategically placed bunkers. Knowing how much to bite off and when to do it is key to scoring well on this track.
We came to a par four, a slight dogleg left with water along the left side that runs all the way up to the green complex. Oh, and the fairway sloped from right to left - toward the water. My tiring competitor was first to putt out on the previous green and stomped off to the next tee to tee off. Now in match play you have the option of recalling a competitors shot if that shot was played out of turn. Fortunately for me, my competitors tee shot was sent sailing left of the fairway, left of the fescue, and into the large pond. I walked up to the tee just in time to see my competitors ball splash (obviously I wasn't going to have him re-tee)
. When I looked down, I saw his tee on the far right side of the box - right next to the tee marker. That was all I need to see to know this match was over. His club selection and choice of teeing area was completely wrong. He was no longer thinking about how to get back in this match. I've been in his situation before.
His error was completely mental at this point. He wasn't thinking course management. Here are a couple of steps he should have taken (and steps that YOU should take) to stay in the match:
1) Survey the hole (ideally from the green back to the tee). See where the hole is cut that day, think about where you would like to play your approach shot from to give yourself the best chance at birdie or par based on the hole location. Once you know where your high-percentage approach shot should be played from, think about what tee shot is needed to put you in that position (hint: it's not always a driver that gives you the best chance for success).
2) Make adjustments based on trouble off the tee. If there is water on the left side of the fairway (as seen in the case above), tee your ball from the left side of the tee box. Playing your tee shot "away" from a hazard gives you a wider angle to keep your ball in play. If there is OB right, tee from the right side of the box. And for those of you who are comfortable working the ball both directions, think about working the ball away from the hazard (at a certain level, it may be more predictable to play a fade/draw than to try and hit a straight ball off the tee).
Course management is a much bigger subject than can be tackled in short blog post. There are not only physical course layout issues to think about, but wind, wet and warm dilemmas, too. Shot shape, club selection, target, all of these things are constantly changing based on our conditions. Selecting where to place your tee is only the tip of the iceberg.
Let's discuss your course management skills over a playing lesson! Contact me today.