Set a Plan or Think as You Go?
I recently received an excellent question from a reader. He asked, “Should you make a plan for the entire hole on the tee or think about each shot as it comes?”
While I don’t think this needs to be an either/or situation, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each and lay out a middle path.
Plan Before You Play
In an ideal world, you’d have a concept of how you’re going to play the entire hole before you hit your first shot.
You’d start by thinking about the green and the pin position. What’s the best angle to approach the green from? What angle will eliminate the stroke hazards and give the maximum room for error? Knowing those things will tell you where you want to hit your drive. You can balance that against the hazards and opportunities present from the tee.
When you make a plan, you give yourself three important advantages. First, you won’t be tricked by the way things look or by hidden hazards. Second, you will get maximum value from your good shots. With a solid plan, a good shot should always lead to a good result. Finally, it will lessen the impact of your bad swings.
The downside is that this approach takes a lot of work. You need to know a lot about the hole before you play if you’re going to plan like this. For the recreational golfer, advanced scouting like that may be overkill.
This style also assumes a reasonable level of skill. There’s little sense in making detailed plans if you’re not capable of executing them.
One Shot at a Time
On the other end of the spectrum, you can take every shot as it comes, an approach that has some positives. First, you’re more flexible and less burdened by expectations. Additionally, you can focus on fitting your shot patterns to the hole rather than trying to play to perfect angles. Finally, this requires no advanced scouting: just make your observations, pick a shot, and hit it.
The downsides, however, are significant. You will be susceptible to all the trickery that the architect has brought to the game. You won’t know about the hidden hazards, what lies beyond the dogleg or over the ridge, and what benefits you’ll get from hitting driver instead of 3W. You may hit solid shots and get bad results, such as hitting a long drive that sets up a terrible angle to a pin. Finally, your bad swings can be really costly.
The Best of Both Worlds
Modern technology has made it easy to find a middle ground between flying by the seat of your pants and spending hours scouring aerial maps of the course. The magic device is GPS. Every smart phone is capable of downloading one of the free GPS apps that will give you an overhead view of the hole you’re playing and yardages to any spot on that hole.
Before you tee off, take a moment to survey the hole. Ask two questions: “Where is position A?” and “What must I avoid?” With that information, you can sketch out a plan that will help you avoid the worst trouble and sets you up to benefit from your best strikes.
To give you an example, I’ve posted a picture of Arccos’s GPS view of Bandon Trails. What I recognize right away is that there’s no need to hit driver. I can hit to the widest part of the fairway and set up a great angle with a 200 yard shot. I can also see that the green is wider in the back, and the trouble spots are a bunker middle-right and mounds behind the green.
With a ten second glance at my GPS, I’ve potentially saved myself a couple strokes. If I had hit driver, I might be off or through the fairway. I also know that, on this green, long is wrong.
You don’t need to spend hours with topographical maps to get the benefits of having a plan. A few seconds with a good GPS app can make you a smarter, better golfer.