Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Less Time Makes for Better Golf

I ran a round at DeLa yesterday, in exactly the 1:15 time I was aiming for. The main goal of staying on the fairway was achieved, and the +2 overall score wasn't great, but wasn't horrible for a running round. The score is mostly attributable to the hospitality of the threesome I encountered on the third hole. Sure, I was -1 after my birdie on 3, and -2 after another birdie on hole 5, but that's as low as I got.

Scores aside, though, the one thing that caused me to think in depth was the effect of 'rushing' through a round versus taking ones one with each shot. I know that there is the possibility that running between shots for an entire 28 holes of golf on a hilly course can carry with it the fatigue factor, but I'm discounting that element for now. I'm more interested for the moment with the thought process of analyzing one's lie and shot choices, the time it takes to do that properly, and whether doing it quickly or deliberately produces a better outcome.

I read a book awhile back called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. It explores an innate ability humans possess to make snap decisions subconsciously. It also makes the case that we're often better off going with that first 'gut instinct' instead of following the path of research, reason, and logic. Much can be taken from that book and applied to this discussion, and I think golf (both versions) is a great testing ground to prove this theory correct.

When I'm playing a running round and in a mode where I'm trying to minimize mistakes and score well, there is little time to think about anything except what to do on the next shot and how to do it. Starting at the first tee, I throw, run toward my lie, hastily drop my bag, take my stance, then throw again (or putt). Then I run to the next tee, and do it all over again. I literally do all the mental preparation for the next shot 'on the run'. As far as I can tell, this seems to have no negative affect on my score, and it eliminates the risk of several mistakes that golfers make on the mental side of the game:
  • Overthinking in general can cause us to change our minds when we shouldn't. Think of how many times you've overthought, blown a shot, then exclaimed something like "I should have gone through the window on the right like I wanted to!"
  • The more time you spend thinking about a shot - especially when it's your turn to throw and you're at your lie - the more opportunity random thoughts have to creep into your mind. And whether they're negative impressions (gotta miss that tree), pressure-causing ponderings (I haven't gotten a birdie all day!), or totally unrelated musings (the Giants better not lose again today), thinking about anything other than the execution of the shot at hand will lessen the chance of success
  • When you're at your lie, physically ready to throw, with disc in hand, the quicker you throw the better. Often times, when I see someone spend a good deal longer before a putt than normal, I know they're going to miss even before they throw. I call this stagnation, and I think what happens (aside from what may be going on mentally) is that our bodies are cued up when we get set, and after too much time goes by fatigue and/or stiffness sets in.
So I think I've come up with a pretty good hypothesis- the fact that there is nothing to be gained by taking a long time thinking about a shot, and many possible detrimental affects. Now I have to find a reliable method for speeding up the process even when I'm playing a normal-paced round or tournament. Any ideas?

2 comments:

Conrad said...

About ten years ago when I was training for a marathon, I used to run De La for fun. My best time was 29:30 (marking each lie), when I shot -4 carrying a Cyclone and a mini. That's probably better than I would have shot with my whole bag and all the time I wanted.

Steve said...

I would say that it all depends. It has been awhile since I have read “Blink”, however I think Gladwell says that it takes considerable experience to make the snap decisions. That would suggest experienced players on familiar courses would benefit from playing quickly.

As a counter-example, I am probably an advanced beginner player. If I am facing a relatively open approach shot, I perform better if I play quickly. On the other hand, if I am faced with a tricky anhyser shot, then I really need to take a few minutes to think about angles, power, landing zone, etc. Hopefully, as I gain experience, these shots will be second nature for me as well.

Good topic and thanks for your blog. I have enjoyed reading the entries.