Why the course isn't your main opponent when playing golf

Golf Tips

Decide the best way to play a hole and then create golf shots, writes The Lost Art of Putting co-author Karl Morris

Who of the current list of top players do you really like to watch playing golf?

Rory McIlroy in full flow is a sight to behold – letting the driver rip and smashing the ball prodigious distances.

Justin Rose seems to be able to plot his way around the course better than most and his level of consistency over the past few years has been extraordinary.

It was wonderful at The Open to see Tiger Woods hit the front again and his recent second place in the PGA Championship gave a strong hint he may be close again to some of his former glory.

For me though, I love to watch Bubba Watson play the game of golf. From a mental game perspective, his creativity out on the course is extraordinary.

To see him standing on a tee and bending a tee shot from right to left or from left to right in huge parabolic arcs is just a joy.

I would love to see inside the screen of Bubba’s mind and see just what he sees when he looks at a hole and decides what shot he is going to use from his vast armoury to get to the hole in the least possible strokes.

He supposedly has never had a golf lesson, which may or may not be true, but he certainly plays the game with a unique and refreshing freedom.

He is playing golf as the authentic Bubba as opposed to trying to be someone else.

Not for one minute am I saying everyone should try to emulate Watson as this would be equally as inauthentic as trying to swing exactly like Adam Scott or Tommy Fleetwood.

Bubba Watson WITB

As I have said many times before both in articles and on my podcast, this game is not about finding THE way to play but more about uncovering YOUR way to play.

When I ask young players I work with, “Who is your opponent?”, they often say, “The course”, and whilst I tell them it is close it isn’t, for me, the right answer.

When you play golf your opponent is the course designer. The person who designed your course has an objective in that he or she wants you to drop shots and not make pars or birdies.

Otherwise, all courses would have no bunkers, no rough, no trees or water. All of the hazards have been put in place by the designer to coax you into making mistakes.

However, when you see the course designer as your opponent you begin to look at the game very differently.

You begin to really look at the holes on your course and see what he or she is trying to get you to do. Once you look at it this way you can then begin to get creative.

If you approach every hole with a view to answering the question, ‘How do I beat the course designer here?’, you then can formulate your own unique plan to navigate your way around the golf course.

How do you beat the course designer? You decide the best way for you to play a certain hole and then you create golf shots.

Just like Bubba does in a very extreme way, you decide personally relative to your own game and your own ability how you are best going to navigate the ball from point A to point B.

When you think of the game this way you take back ownership of your game. You follow the beat of your own drum.

If you think that the best way to beat the course designer on this particular hole with your particular game is to hit a 5-iron off the tee then go ahead and do it.

If you have the tightest tee shot in the world where everyone plays safe but the best club in your bag is a driver and you can thread it through the eye of a needle then go with your play and not just how you ‘should’ play the hole.

Become fascinated by the course and the designer and then become absorbed in creating the best shot for you to play in this moment to execute your own plan.

Be prepared to experiment, be prepared to fail, but above all, reconnect with the lost art of creativity and stop trying to be a perfect robot that you will probably never be.

The Lost Art of Putting

The Lost Art of Putting, by Karl Morris and Gary Nicol and featuring a foreword from 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, is available in hardback and for Kindle from Amazon in the UK and US.

You can also follow The Lost Art of Putting on Twitter and Facebook.

About the authors

Gary Nicol turned professional in 1988. Since then, he has travelled the world coaching golfers of all standards from weekend players to tour tour pros including Ryder Cup stars, Olympians, and major champions. Gary is a certified TrackMan Master and Mind Factor coach and is based at Archerfield on Scotland’s Golf Coast. You can visit Gary’s website and follow him on Twitter.

Karl Morris has been involved in performance coaching for more than 30 years. In that time he has worked with multiple major champions in golf, Ashes-winning captains in cricket, as well as Premier League and international footballers. His passion has always been to make mental game coaching both practical and applicable. You can visit Karl’s website and follow him on Twitter.

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