Got an ego? You bet you do, and be thankful, because without one you probably would have given up this game long ago for a less humiliating pursuit. But you've stuck with it, partly because you love the feeling of being a hero, of facing challenges and pulling off difficult shots -- and sometimes even shocking yourself.
But your ego can take you down as quickly as it lifts you up. Golfers have a knack for remembering the hero shots they've pulled off before recalling the failures that more frequently result. This keeps your spirits up, for sure, but it also creates an unrealistic mindset. In other words, if you make decisions based on the best you can play, rather than how you usually play, you're setting yourself up for disaster. No one can reproduce their best shots on command, and yet many golfers seriously expect to. That's the ego flexing its muscle.
The key to keeping your ego in check is recognizing when it might cloud your thinking, and then being ready to deal with it. Sometimes all you need is a little time, the chance to say, "What on Earth am I about to do?" Other times you need a stronger cue, something to remind you that your track record doesn't support the shot you want to hit.
So, before you conclude that you don't need a lecture on making decisions -- an ego trip in itself -- read through the scenarios that follow. Think objectively about how they apply to you, and when you inevitably realize that your ego does get in your way, maybe you'll come to your senses.
Always Hitting Driver
To most golfers, the tee shot means a big lash with the driver. Regardless of the hole, they grab the big stick and let 'er rip, often sending the ball into trouble. The reason for this choice is part ego, part carelessness.
First, understand that nobody will snicker at you if you leave the driver in the bag; the pros do it all the time. And you don't need every yard you can muster off the tee. Take short par fours (under 350 yards): A good drive may set up an awkward half-wedge, a tough shot even the pros try to avoid.
Sometimes the shape of the hole or the location of hazards likewise makes the driver a stupid play. Consider the 10th at Augusta: With the addition of rough, many pros at this year's Masters hit 3-wood off the tee to avoid the long grass and catch a big bounce off the downslope. You may have similar holes on your course where a fairway wood may end up going as far as your driver, and the added control is a bonus. Point is, use your driver prudently; you'll hit more fairways.
The Miracle Shot
You spray your tee ball into the trees, and rather than punching out, your creative instincts get the better of you. You picture a low draw around a tree trunk that becomes a high fade and drops on the green some 200 yards away. You've never hit that shot before -- heck, you've probably never tried it -- but somehow you think it makes sense.
This is a classic ego mistake. You're overestimating your talent level. Actually, anger over the bad tee shot is what starts the process. Anger makes you choose the risky recovery shot and ego makes you believe you can execute it. The best way to talk yourself out of this kind of play is to recognize how foolish it is.
I like to have players assign a probability to recovery shots. Based on the lie, intervening obstacles, and the shot shape required (e.g., a low hook), estimate what percentage of the time you think you could execute it successfully. If you calculate that the standard punch-out is 80 percent and the low hook between two trees is 10 percent, you have your answer. To take this a step further, I have players verbalize their thinking. When they hear themselves talk out their options, they're more likely to go with the percentages.
If you like to "get cute" with your short game, meaning you play the high lob when the chip-and-run would do, or you try all the pro shots you see on television, you need to cut down on the fancy stuff. These shots are impressive when you pull them off, but when you don't, you're throwing away strokes.
To get yourself more interested in the low-glitz, high-percentage shots, remember that golf is a game of numbers -- low score wins. You probably never practice the finesse shots, yet you routinely attempt them on the course. Instead, resign yourself to a conservative approach around the greens. Select the high-percentage play that puts the putter in your hands for the next shot, even if you're left with a 12- or 15-footer. Getting your ball on the green is priority number one. You'll give yourself a roll at it and take 6 or 7 out of the picture.
Broadly speaking, this category covers all ego mistakes. But specifically, golfers have unrealistic views about how far they can hit shots and which way they can curve them. The draw is considered by many to be the better player's shot, so some golfers spend their entire careers trying to hit it. And when there's trouble on the right, say good-bye. As for distance, everyone knows that swinging harder rarely has a positive effect on direction.
It all starts on the first tee, where golfers elect to play from too far back. My experience tells me that most American men will only play one set up from the deepest tee. Do yourself a favor and play at a length where you can hit a variety of clubs into the greens -- a couple of woods, a bunch of mid-irons, and at least a few short irons. You'll enjoy the game more.
As for controlling shot shape, you simply need a reality check. If you can only draw your 5-iron two out of 10 times on the range, don't try it on the course. Assume your chances are quite a bit lower on "live" shots, where you get only one chance. Hit the shots you can, not the ones you'd like to.