May
06

Use your golf confidence and play golf to win like Jack Nicklaus

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Do you play golf to win? What about when you’re having a great round, playing confident golf and you only need a few pars to play under your handicap? Some of my best rounds came when I started scoring badly and just persevered. The further I got into the round, the better I found myself scoring. What’s more, I got into the habit of playing better and better. Sometimes, the improvement grew over the space of several rounds.

When I think about this kind of phenomena, a couple of my early golfing experiences quickly spring to mind. Part way through my first year of golf, I had got my handicap down to 7 and I was playing in one of the club competitions at Brookmans Park Golf Club. Well, I started terribly and it only slowly got better. Starting from the tenth hole, I reached the turn in 48 shots, 13 over par! But by that time, my golf was improving and I was hitting the ball a long way. I started my second nine with two pars then had a run of eagle, par, eagle and I was now flying. I parred the par 3 sixth hole, before eagling the par 5 seventh and parring the eighth. I was on such a high that I really went for the par 3 ninth and birdied that to be back in 29, 7 under par and nineteen shots better than my first nine. I even had my handicap cut!

A few years later and I was playing in an open amateur event, the King George V Cup at Porter’s Park in Hertfordshire. Again I started badly and although I got better as the morning wore on, I scored 91, 20 over par and pretty terrible for a 2-handicapper. The improvement continued through the afternoon and I scored 79 – still not good, but getting better. The next day, I played in the Senior Trophy at Brookmans Park, my home club , and my golf got better and better resulting in a winning score of gross 68, 3 under par and 5 under my handicap.

So what’s there to learn from these examples? Well, at no time in any of these rounds did I have the luxury of defending a good score. I was just focussed on my ever improving game. I have many other examples where I started well, started thinking about my score and then got defensive. I generally went home unhappy on those days despite playing well.

I also remember a passage from my golfing "bible" back then, The Greatest Game of All, My Life in Golf by Jack Nicklaus. Talking about his win at the 1967 US Open at Baltusrol, Jack described how he panicked after bogeying the tenth hole in the final round. He calmed himself down by saying this to himself before going on to win in a US Open record score.

"Here you are, starting to get afraid of winning the Open. You’re leading by 3 strokes with 8 holes to go. You’ve obviously played well or you wouldn’t be in this position. You’re still playing well. You’re doing something you enjoy, so enjoy it".

When we’re scoring well, it’s easy to forget Jack’s simple message and start playing defensively rather than building on your golf confidence. You see it all the time watching those top professionals that aren’t used to winning yet.

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