Creativity Through Constraints

B.B. King Teaches Golf

In a past life, I was a guitar player, and I read guitar magazines voraciously.  I recently recalled an article that talked about “BB’s Box,” referring to the great B.B. King and the small amount of notes he used to craft his legendary solos.

This is one of the best examples of using constraints to boost creativity.  B.B. had 144 notes at his disposal but limited himself to a handful so that he could focus on playing them to the best of his ability.  This is a lesson that both intermediate and advanced golfers can apply to great effect on the course.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re getting bored in practice or on the course

You want to expand your shot making abilities

You want to improve your strategy and course management

For the Intermediate Player

For purposes of this lesson, you’re an intermediate player if you’re no longer worried about putting the club face on the ball, and you have a certain set of shots you rely on.  You’re not doing much to modify shot shape or trajectory, and your short game leans on a couple shots.  If this description fits you, you can use the idea of constraints to expand your horizons.

Shot Shape

If you typically hit a straight shot with your irons, you can implement the constraint of, “Hit a draw on every shot.”  You can derive two benefits from this.  First, you’ll improve your ability to hit a draw, making you a more versatile player.  Second, you’ll see the strengths and weaknesses of this ball flight.  This will teach you when to use it in the future.


Try playing with the constraint of “Only hit low/high shots.”  Again, you’ll improve your ability to modify trajectory, and you’ll see the benefits of different ball flights.

Club Selection

My favorite constraint is limiting the number of clubs you carry.  This forces maximum creativity because you need to make your clubs go longer or shorter than normal.  Will you choke up?  Swing harder or softer?  Modify trajectory or shot shape?

Short Game

Constraints can be used in the short game too.  Limit yourself to only using one club (SW, PW, etc) within 50 yards of the green.  Make it a real challenge and use only your putter or a mid-iron.  Decide that you’re only going to hit flop shots or only bump-and-runs.

More than in the full swing, constraints in the short game will open your eyes to new possibilities.  Most players – especially at this level – get locked into one club or shot type.  A high end short game depends on versatility and creativity.  You’ll get those attributes through constraints.

For the Advanced Player

If you’re a good player, when you walk up to a golf shot, the number of choices you have is almost limitless.  You can hit any one of fourteen clubs.  You can hit it high or low.  You can play a draw or fade of any size.  You can make a full or partial swing.

For you, constraints will serve a few purposes.  First, you will be relieved of much of the decision making burden.  Golf is a mental sport, and anything you can do to save mental energy is a plus.  When you only have a handful of clubs to choose from or one trajectory to play, golf will be easier.  You may score better with fewer options.

Additionally, as with the intermediate player, constraints will teach you about the strengths and weaknesses of different shot types.  You may be a good player, but perhaps your fade is not as reliable as you thought.  Playing an entire round of left-to-right shots will show you exactly how good it is.  You may surprise yourself and discover that a lower-than-normal ball flight leads to superior accuracy.

Finally, your creativity will be enhanced.  You will play shots that you normally wouldn’t, and you’ll have to figure out how to make them work.  If you’re playing firm greens with only low trajectory shots, where do you need to land the ball to get a GIR?  Not only will you get more creative, you may break some of your biases about what shots work in certain situations.


Whether you’re a 15 handicap or a +2, playing with fewer options is a great way to refresh your view of the game and boost your skill.  Anyone can paint a sunset with 128 crayons; you need skill to do it with 8.

Do you have any ideas for constraints not mentioned here?  Share them in the comments section!

Matt Saternus

One Comment

  1. A very interesting article, Matt. I understand your thoughts, but believe it is better to have a full pallet to work from. Can I hit a draw on your first example? Yes, but I believe a fade would be the better choice since the wind will most likely be coming from the right – off the ocean. Even if a golfer does not have this shot in his arsenal, he or she should practice the shot until it is.
    I enjoy all your articles and I do understand your message – to be as creative as you can with the shots you have, but for me, having a full bag of crayons is the way to go.

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