I suspect that there is, in reality, no such thing as the average golfer. For we are all unique and special in our own ways. Deep down, even the most inconsistent beginner, feels on occasion that he or she is a real golfer. We walk the fairways and swing out willingly in hope of playing good golf and posting a score. It does not always happen for us; indeed, the averages suggest that this occurs only once in every 5 or 6 rounds. If my memory serves me well, the average golfer achieves her or his handicap or better around 20% of the time.
“In any given round, Rainwater says, it is expected that “you’re going to shoot two, four, five strokes higher than your Handicap Index.” You might shoot even higher if you have a poor day. Golfers vary in consistency. Some match their index more often than others. Generally, though, Rainwater says, you can expect to play to your handicap one in every four to five rounds. By our calculations, that gives you a 20- to 25-percent chance of living up to your abilities on the course.
Lee Rainwater, director of handicap education and outreach for the USGA, ”
Playing Average Golf
Many of us find this frustrating, as we long to keep on improving at the game we love to play. I always say that if golf was easy we wouldn’t bother with it. It is the very fact that it is such a challenging sport to play, which drives our obsession with it. Most of us don’t play pool or 8 ball regularly like we play golf, although we may have dabbled with this table based game. There is not the same breadth of experience and variety, as there is in golf.
“Golf is the hardest game in the world. There is no way you can ever get it. Just when you think you do, the game jumps up and puts you in your place.”
Nothing Average About The Game Of Golf
When you talk to older, highly skilled golfers you get some perspective on the game. They will say that we, as golfers, have unrealistic expectations when it comes to our competitive golfing performances. The fact that we only achieve or better our handicap on average once every 5 or 6 rounds tells us something about the game of golf. It is bloody difficult. However, on occasion we do manage to play pretty well and post a score. In fact, sometimes it can appear to be somewhat easy and this messes with our heads. It confuses us because we, then, think that these performances should be occurring more frequently. Our sage like veteran gently shakes his noggin on this matter and points to the statistical evidence. The wise old head says, “nah, sometimes we get a good run through the field and make the best of it, but that doesn’t always happen.” If you objectively think about the geographical size and lay out of a golf course in terms of the number and type of penalty areas that is the first consideration to ponder. Next, the likely inconsistency of the golfer hitting drives and shots over vast distances over an entire round. You end up with a high probability of finding trouble and paying the penalty in strokes over par. A good round is a fortunate one and fortune does not always favour the golfer.
“Golf is the only sport I know of where a player pays for every mistake. A man can muff a serve in tennis, miss a strike in baseball, or throw an incomplete pass in football and still have another chance to square himself. In golf, every swing counts against you.”
- Lloyd Mangrum
The Law Of Averages
“Life is not fair, so why should I make a course that is fair.”
Golf via the golf course can punish the errant golfer. The golf course is designed to do so. The golf course rewards the player who successfully navigates their way around the geography of each hole in the least number of shots. Golf is a lot about seizing your opportunities when they arise. This becomes most important on the green with putter in hand. The short game, as they call it, has a statistical significance in golf when it comes to scoring. The average golfer, unfortunately for him or her, prefers to focus attention on the big hits because they are viewed as more sexy. Getting up and down is what scoring in golf is all about. Making putts is the true name of the game in golf. Long drives are mere icing on the cake. But, boy, those massive strikes can get your heart going and maybe that is why many of us play the game.
“Of all the hazards, fear is the worst.”
Accountants & The Game Of Golf
Here we encounter the anomaly in golf, the disharmony between why we play the game and what it takes to score well. I don’t know about you, but for the longest time, golf grabbed me by the short and curlies due to those all too rare times I absolutely smashed a perfect drive or played a divine iron shot. Watching that small white sphere traverse vast distances and land where I wanted it to, on fairway or green, was a magical experience. I simply wanted more of that. The fact that, at the beginning of my golfing journey, this occurred with a relatively low percentage of frequency in relation to all the stuff-ups and mishits did not faze me. Accountancy was not a career path or subject I studied at school. I just wanted more of the good stuff, of the soaring tee shots down the fairway, and I didn’t count the cost. I suppose I am still paying the price for that today. It is a battle between the inner poet or pirate and the inner bean counter – this lies at the heart of many golfers’ struggle with the game.
Scoring & Golf
I do remember being somewhat shocked that you had to keep your own and your partner’s score when I first started playing club golf. In every other sport I had played an official kept the score. This highlights the paperwork vs athletic performance aspects in the game of golf. You do something with club and ball in golf and immediately have to write down the score. Everything is accountable in golf. It is a Scottish game designed by retired bank managers and accountants; I suspect. A beginner starting out just wants to hit the ball, but she or he is made immediately accountable for the results on the score card. The average golfer learns to despise that score card for the most part. We all admire the integrity of the game of golf and nobody will countenance a golf cheat. Donald J Trump is the prime example of this, I mean who cheats at golf!!! It is a low act and destroys the competition for everyone. The game is bigger than the individual.
“Golf… is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.”
- PG Wodehouse
Golf Truly Is The Beautiful Game
Golf has an aesthetic element in its makeup. The ability to manoeuvre the golf ball through the sky to a desired target on the grass is pretty special. Most golfers I know are not by nature garrulous poets. They do not spout effusively over well struck shots. But they do appreciate the vision of well-played strokes. You see a four ball partner hit a great shot and you want to be able to do that yourself. Beauty is a part of the game of golf. However, the score card or app has no spot to draw pictures. The pretty shots are a subtext to the mathematical core of the game itself. Number of strokes full stop. This is why the Stoic golfer excels at the game, because getting carried away with artistic exclamations will not get the job done on the score card. We walk the course and can be surrounded by impressive vistas. We traverse the course, which has been artfully designed by a golf course architect. We play golf upon a course diligently maintained by greenkeeping staff and volunteer members. Much of this is backdrop to our journey over nearly 5 hours. On my course, I see kangaroos, large lizards, and a cornucopia of avian life. I appreciate the opportunity to walk among this selection of fauna. It is all part of the rich tapestry of golf; and I am grateful for the weekly experience.
“What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive.”
Wild Beasts & Golfers
Even in this aspect of golf the observant soul can derive a distinction between those of us taking the field. All of these creatures, these beasts of the wild, are intent upon survival and getting enough to eat. Maybe not the kangaroos so much, as they are often in relaxation mode. In my opinion, there is no creature on earth that looks as relaxed as a kangaroo chilling out on the grass. Their form simply oozes leisurely rest like no other. In contrast, the ducks are pecking at the ground for food non-stop. The kookaburras and other flying predators are focused on their next target. All around the walking golfer nature is at the work of survival. We, the average golfers, are playing a game and involved in a recreative pursuit. It is wise to remember this distinction and to respect those around us engaged in survival. Their score card is marked by a full belly or death by starvation.
“My swing is so bad, I look like a caveman killing his lunch.”
“ “The average golfer’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing what he should do.”
Five Lessons, Ben Hogan, p. 97
“To improve your golf the first stage is not necessarily to change your swing, but to learn to do your best swing more often.”
The Golf Handbook for Women, Vivien Saunders, p. 92 “
“A great shot is when you pull it off. A smart shot is when you don’t have the guts to try it.”
“Watching Phil Mickelson play golf is like watching a drunk chasing a balloon near the edge of a cliff.”
Golfing Knowledge & Technique
Can you access the necessary golfing knowledge when required on the course? By that I mean do you know what you need to do in any given moment during your round? In my experience, most of us learn to play particular strokes, like recovery shots, from trying them during a round. We then need to file these away for a rainy day and practice them every so often to keep our hand in. The golfing arsenal is substantial in terms of the number of these kinds of shots that the average golfer may be called upon to play. It pays to bank these skills and to value their place in your repertoire.
Concentrating On Golf
“A leading difficulty with the average player is that he totally misunderstands what is meant by concentration. He may think he is concentrating hard when he is merely worrying.”
Concentration is an interesting word. It means both the focusing of attention and a gathering of things. The average golfer, and I include myself in this labelling, lacks this attentiveness when it really matters on the golf course. Human beings cannot concentrate their focus for too long, we are not made to do this. Our mental energies come in short bursts because our survival depended upon this application of our abilities. The way our senses work reflects this. Our hearing and our vision works in elliptical loops and our brains join the dots to give us the illusion of seamless coverage. On the golf course we use our sight a great deal to play golf. We look down the fairway from off the tee to ascertain the target and the potential danger. The golf course designer utilises optical illusions to trick us via the geography. There are holes where the line of sight to the flag on the green gives the impression of no visible drop off. The golfer may have a GPS device which provides accurate data regarding the exact distance to the flag but the visual to the human eye remains disturbing. It takes great discipline to swing correctly when your human senses are in conflict with what may be required to pull off a shot. Similarly, when the average golfer is presented with a substantial water carry off the tee it can sow seeds of doubt despite measuring devices telling us that we have got the carry covered. Landing areas can appear much smaller than they actually are. There are numerous optical trickeries happening on well designed golf courses. Worry is not a golfer’s friend during a round. Fear is the great killer of swings. Committing to playing a shot and putting on a smooth swing is tough when you are a worried golfer.
Golf & Character
“Golf is the loneliest sport. You’re completely alone with every conceivable opportunity to defeat yourself. Golf brings out your assets and liabilities as a person. The longer you play, the more certain you are that a man’s performance is the outward manifestation of who, in his heart, he really thinks he is.”
- Hale Irwin
One is the loneliest number, according to that god awful song. The average golfer is alone, as we all are in life and death when it comes down to it. Picture this, it is the 18th hole and you have hit a good drive down the fairway. It is a par 4 and you have an iron in your hand. You are surveying the approach shot that you have ahead of you. You want to finish off your round in fine style. You have been in this position many times before. You remember the prior round where you stuffed this up. You, then, reflect on the time you hit it close to the flag. You know what you have to do. No one else but you can get the job done. This is golf. This is what it is really all about. Cometh the moment, cometh the average golfer.
Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of The Stoic Golfer: Finding Inner Peace & Focus On The Fairway and several other titles on golf.