I thought it would be an interesting exercise to walk you through two completely different tournament rounds – one where I dealt with extreme adversity and another where I dealt with a mind-blowing amount of early success. Naturally, their differences will be obvious. But I think it’s more interesting to explore the commonality that helped me deal with both (and can help you too).
To give you a quick background, I was a fairly mediocre junior golfer. I was the captain of a run-of-the-mill high school team and played one Division Three college golf tournament. I had zero competitive pedigree and acted like a borderline psychopath under pressure. Then I didn’t play in a tournament for about 11 years.
After I started Practical Golf and got my handicap low enough, I chose to make a return to competition at a U.S. Open Qualifier. Over the past six years, I’ve played a lot of qualifiers and tournaments. There have been some nice successes, and I’ve been able to play myself into some of the biggest events against top amateurs and professionals in the New York Metro region and hold my own. I now feel comfortable enough to put my game on the line and not let nerves overtake me completely.
More importantly, there have been way more failures that have taught me a lot about handling pressure and what it takes to become a better golfer. While tournament golf isn’t for everyone, I genuinely enjoy the pursuit. But the lows can hit you hard and make you question if you want to keep going.
Additionally, it’s given me an enhanced perspective on this game, and I try to use what I’ve learned to help all of you in your quest to improve. While many of you won’t play in events like these, the pressure you feel can be just as real. So I’m going to let you inside both of these rounds and be very honest about everything that went through my head. I don’t do this often, but it will be worth it if we can learn something from it.
Growing up on Long Island, most golfers aspire to tame Bethpage Black. In reality, it’s much more difficult than anyone can imagine. The course is that hard.
But a few years ago, I did it. In the opening round of the Hebron Championship, I shot a 73, which put me in a tie for 4th place. But as I wrote about, the next day brought me swiftly back to earth. A closing quadruple-bogey ended a disappointing day where I shot an 88 and did a free-fall down the leaderboard.
However, I was undeterred. After missing the tournament for a couple of years due to scheduling conflicts, I was excited to tee it up again at Bethpage Black at the Hebron. My new driver changes have me hitting the ball farther and straighter than ever, so I couldn’t help but feel positive about playing well on a course that demands close to perfection off the tee. Certainly, I wasn’t thinking about quadruple bogeys.
If playing tournament golf has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what version of your game will show up. I smothered a pull-hook on the opening tee into the left fescue – a shot I had not seen much of lately, so it caught me a bit off guard. I was able to advance the ball near the green (albeit buried in the rough) and hit a stellar wedge shot to about 7-feet. But my par putt burned the right edge of the hole, and I started with a bogey.
I noticed that the rough was incredibly thick, even for Bethpage Black standards. So in the back of my head, I knew that if I did miss fairways, it would be improbable I’d be able to advance the ball on the green.
After a bounce-back birdie on the second hole, I got a little pep back in my step. But another pulled drive into a bunker on the 4th had me wondering what was going on with my driver. After another par putt slid by the hole, I stepped up to the 5th tee knowing that I had a closed-face pattern with my driver and needed to adjust (something Adam Young and myself talk about often on the Sweet Spot podcast).
Unfortunately, the adjustment went a little too far, and I hit my drive right on the 5th hole, which is one of the most demanding tee shots on the course. While I was only 140 yards from the hole, and it wasn’t that bad of a miss, the ball was so buried that the best I could do was advance it to a greenside bunker for another bogey.
Things did not improve on the 6th. I pulled another drive into the rough, barely advanced it, and three-putted for a double bogey.
There was a long wait on the 7th tee, and the heat index was approaching 100 degrees. My patience was starting to melt away too. No matter how much I prepared to stay patient, the course was pushing me to the brink quickly.
I sat on the bench on the tee box with a towel draped over my head, trying to collect my thoughts and cool down, but it wasn’t easy. The 7th hole isn’t a piece of cake, but it is the last par 5 on the course that can be reached in two (the 13th would play over 600 yards).
Either way, I was not mentally committed to my tee shot. I made awful contact on the heel of the driver’s face, which turned my draw into a huge slice (thank you, gear effect), and sent it to the one place on the course you absolutely cannot go – the forest.
Frustrated that I couldn’t muster up a bounce-back tee shot, I hastily made a poor decision. I was deep in the woods, and while a sideways punchout was still tricky, I chose to gamble with a more aggressive line, and I lost BIG. The next few shots must have been funny to watch, as I was truly stuck in the trees with no way out.
After clanking my way around the dense forest and eventually holing out, I counted up my strokes.
It was a score I was (unfortunately) familiar with, a quadruple-bogey. I figured my ball should go back to its rightful place, so I tossed it back into the trees in disgust. Mr. Practical Golf did not follow his own advice and was in a deep hole!
It was hot, I was angry, and the wind was starting to kick up with the threat of thunderstorms for the rest of the round. On top of that, I hadn’t actually reached the hardest part of the course. I tried not to focus on my score too much, but being 10 over after seven holes felt like the wheels were truly coming off, and if I didn’t pull it together, the round could be an outright disaster. My confidence that was built up throughout the year was officially starting to wane. Maybe my stretch of great driving was over? Now what?
These are the dark thoughts that a course like this under tournament conditions can bring. Competitive golf can be an island. There’s no equitable stroke control, and your buddies can’t give you a putt. If you make a 14, it goes on the card for everyone to see.
Part of me was hoping for the thunder to arrive and save me the embarrassment from finishing. But I tried to do what I always do – not give up and give each shot the attention it deserves. And as hard as the course was playing, I knew there still was an outside chance I could make the cut. Either way, I’ve hung my hat on routine and grit, and I knew I’d feel like a bit of a fraud if I gave up.
Sometimes you can’t save a round no matter how hard you try. But in this instance, I was able to get things headed back in the right direction.
I drove the ball beautifully for the rest of the round on the most demanding tee shots and missed only one remaining fairway (barely). I was able to find a “feel” that corrected the big left misses. Unfortunately, my putter didn’t behave very well, but playing the remaining 11 holes at 4-over was a fun battle.
Shooting an 84 was not the score I wanted when I teed it up, but after the disastrous start, I felt proud that I could stay engaged, and more importantly, enjoy myself for the rest of the day. Interestingly, I only missed the cut (40 spots and ties) by three strokes because the course played so difficult that day.
Either way, I stared at the abyss with the club that used to plague my game and came back strong. Even though that day might have been a “failure” in terms of not making the cut, being able to get my driver back on track was important. Even more crucial, I kept my habit of staying engaged where it would have been very easy to give up.
If there’s one thing this game has taught me, especially in competition, you never know what is around the corner. If you abandon good habits when the going gets tough, you’ll decrease your chances that something good is waiting for you.
I want to be careful about preaching perfection, though. I am not perfect at this. None of us are, no matter how committed we are. What I am always striving for is incremental progress. It’s OK to make mistakes – perhaps even important so you can reflect on them to move forward.
No matter what level of golfer you are, it’s more likely that you’ll deal with a round that starts poorly rather than one where you come out of the gates a bit hot, but it does happen.
I find that early success can be just as difficult to deal with as blowups. Instead of being upset about blowing it, you start to worry when the other shoe will drop and if a big mistake will ruin your vision of grandeur.
Several years ago, this happened to me at the U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier. I was candid about the ridiculous thoughts going through my head after making the turn under par.
Well, I recently found myself in a very similar situation – four days after the Bethpage Black “incident.” I was trying to qualify for the 119th Met Amateur championship. It’s one of the most prestigious (and difficult to qualify for) events in the New York Metro region.
Typically, there are only around four spots (and ties) available at each qualifying site. With more than 100 talented golfers vying for those spots, it usually requires a score in red figures to qualify – something I have never done before in competition. The qualifier was at my home course, so there was plenty of comfort. However, sometimes I wonder if the home-course advantage can be a curse because expectations can be a bit high, and you know you have your golf community watching what you will do.
Either way, I teed it up that Monday morning trying to put the thoughts of Bethpage out of my head and trying not to place too much burden on myself.
I opened the round with a very sloppy three-putt for bogey. I tried not to scold myself, knowing that this wasn’t a day where bogeys would jive, and remain patient that there were plenty of opportunities to make it up.
After a nervy search for my tee shot on the third hole, I got out with a par. And then it happened…
I drained a 40-footer on the 4th hole to get back to even. On the 5th hole, I had a 50-footer that broke in two directions. I was hoping to just two-putt for a stress-free par. It went in the center of the cup with perfect speed.
On the 6th hole, I hit perhaps my best drive of the year, setting up an iron into the short-ish par 5. I played more yardage to the back of the green to avoid the cluster of bunkers in front and left myself an 8-footer for birdie—Center of the cup. Three birdies in a row had me at 2 under.
I barely missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 7th hole, and after a miraculous par save on the 8th, I went to the par-3 9th feeling quite good about myself. After a stellar pitching wedge to about 12 feet, I stared down another birdie putt. Dead center of the cup again!
I made the turn at three-under. This was nothing new for me at my course as I usually score well on the front nine, but I had never been that far under par in competition.
It’s hard to control your brain in these situations. If I’m totally honest, I was simulating just about every outcome. I had visions of shooting a 63. Then I thought about how disappointing it would be to make the turn at three-under and then give it back on the back nine to miss my big opportunity. How would I explain that to friends at the course?
In the past, I’d probably scold myself for these thoughts, but I tried to accept them. I reminded myself that I had been in plenty of similar situations like this before. I knew the pressure of having a good start and then blowing it. I also knew what it was like to keep it together.
Either way, I was confident that I’d be OK with either outcome.
The back nine always seems to chip away at my great starts at my course, but I did the same thing after making the quadruple-bogey at Bethpage; I tried to stay focused on each shot and live with each result. I knew my thoughts would wander between positive and negative. So I hummed songs in my head between shots, struck up some conversation with my playing partners, and gave each shot the focus it deserved when it came.
The cumulative experience of the last six years of competition gave me comfort. Looking back, it is an important reminder of just how important it is to go through success and failure in this game and try to learn from each scenario.
I know when you’re playing well that it is a huge mistake to tap the brakes and feel like you have to play defensively. I stuck with my strategy, which relied on hitting driver just about everywhere I could on the back nine. In the past, I might feel the burden of my success and act as the score was something to protect. But there were way too many holes left; the script was only half-written!
Unfortunately, I have some mental demons on the back nine. They were creeping around in the back of my head. But I chose to accept them again and shrug my shoulders at them because they are silly fears that don’t necessarily have to manifest themselves.
I made it to the 16th hole at one under. The stretch from 10 to 15 is not easy, and I played it well. Two three-putts had brought me back to one under. I chose not to check the leaderboard on my phone because it was so early in the day, but I knew since the course was playing relatively easy, I had to remain there to give myself a chance.
The 16th hole is a great risk-reward par 4 that is only about 310 yards. I also seem to screw it up whether I choose to lay back or hit my driver. Everyone has a hole that seems to get in their heads, and it is my nemesis. But I stuck with my guns and hit my driver about 30 yards short of the green in a perfect spot.
The green features a massive false front that will reject any poor wedge shot that makes it to the first 20% of the putting surface. I tried not to think about all the pitch shots I’ve chunked in the past off the tight fairway and confidently pitched the ball to about 10 feet away. My birdie putt barely missed, but I was just as happy with a par.
The 17th hole is only 120 yards but a tiny target. If you hit it on the front 1/3rd of the green, your ball rolls back into deep bunkers well below the hole. If you miss left, right, or long, you are also in big trouble since the green is small. It’s another great hole that rewards a wonderful wedge shot and makes you tremble at the slightest miss. Well, I did what I mostly do and played safely past the hole, trying not to flirt with the false front. I just missed my birdie attempt again, but I was again perfectly content with my stress-free par.
It’s easy to assume that your last hole is the most important of any round that’s going well. But it really isn’t. Every shot you’ve hit up until that point is a series of independent events, no different than what occurs on the last hole. But it is REALLY hard to think that way at the moment.
The 18th hole is a reachable par-5 (depending on the wind) that is the finale of the feast-or-famine closing three holes. If you can manage a good tee shot and avoid the bunkers, it leaves you with a manageable second. But a massively sloped green with a false front always seems to create nervy wedge shots at the finish. It’s a great hole that can produce an “easy birdie” or a disaster that leaves you scratching your head at what could have been.
After a great drive, I was just outside of yardage, so I knew I could make it on the green (I believe I was 245 yards). Unfortunately, I did a little second-guessing. I knew the right play was to hit my hybrid as close to the green as possible. In the back of my head, I was worried about the area around the green where they shave the grass even tighter, and it leaves you a grainy wedge shot that’s so easy to chunk.
So I thought about laying a little further back to give myself an intermediate wedge shot of about 60-70 yards, which I am very comfortable with. Then I went back to my original strategy, which I believed was the correct one, and pulled my 3-hybrid (I don’t carry a fairway wood anymore).
Of course, I hit a very thin shot that barely got airborne. Luckily, it scooted down the fairway away from all the trouble, and it did leave me the 70-yard wedge shot I initially wanted. What a funny game this is!
Another interesting twist then occurred. The fairway was still wet from some heavy rain earlier in the week, and I hit my lob wedge a few inches behind the ball. It hit the top of the false front and rolled all the way back down. I went from a routine par (perhaps another birdie) to now having the shot that I initially feared, the into-the-grain uphill wedge!
My instant reaction was a mixture of realizing the irony of these events and fearing that I was blowing it. Either way, I focused myself on the wedge shot and knocked it to about 10 feet.
I could have hemmed and hawed over the putt and spent way more time than usual because I knew that if I missed it, that was likely the end of this little Cinderella story. But I tried to go through my routine the same way I did on the first hole and every other hole that day. It was an uphill right-to-left putt, and I determined my line was half a cup out to the right. I stepped up, hit the putt, and watched it creep into the low side of the hole. Fist pump!
So there it was my first under-par round in competition. I was 90% confident I would make it but nervously watched the scoreboard the rest of the day. And by the afternoon, it was a done deal. I had made my first Met Amateur Championship, easily the biggest accomplishment of my budding competitive career.
That last putt could have easily missed the cup and created an entirely different context to the story because the outcome could have been so different. Had I shot 70, I would’ve missed it by one and probably been a bit disappointed by what occurred on the 18th hole.
But I’ve come to accept that one stroke doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. Your score is the sum total of everything that’s occurred, and I try not to let each situation influence the other because they are all different, independent circumstances. The birdie putts on the 4th and 5th hole had less than a 1% chance of going in, but they both did. That’s just the randomness of this game.
There is only so much you can control in golf, especially when you play competitively. I don’t know when I will lose my confidence, and my swing starts to feel different. I also don’t know when things will click and go on a birdie binge. But I do know that I have to equally accept each scenario and try my best not to let it change my decision-making or how I approach each shot. If anything, going through all of these outcomes under pressure has made me value consistency.
I know I’ll never have the focus of a golfer like Collin Morikawa, and I’ll continue to go through mental rollercoasters. But experiencing the adversity at Bethpage and then a great triumph four days later made me realize that each round had a common thread that I was proud of. Both days started with extremes, and I had to deal with all of the thoughts and emotions brought out in me. I know all of you reading this know exactly what that feels like in the context of your own game.
What I think I’ve learned at this point is that golf is about acceptance and consistency. I have to accept that I can make a quadruple bogey, and it will make me feel embarrassed, angry, and anxious. I also have to accept that at some point, I’m going to have a string of unlikely birdies (obviously, that’s more fun to deal with) – and then have to wrestle with, “wow, how good can this day be???!!!”
More importantly, this kind of wisdom has to be earned in this game. And it’s perhaps one of its biggest challenges. It’s easy for me to write something like this after a good result, but I’ve had so many blunders that I’m confident they will return. And that’s OK. I’ll probably have to go through this process repeatedly but to be honest, that’s what I love about the version of golf I’ve chosen to pursue.
Additionally, it’s easy for many of you to read these words and feel as though the wisdom has been transferred. But I’m confident you will have your struggles too.
Staying in the moment, valuing routine, making smart decisions – these are perhaps the most overused cliches in golf. You’ve heard Tiger say them in plenty of post-round interviews and just about every other all-time great. While most of you are pursuing golf as a recreational endeavor, these words cannot be ignored if you want to get better. They seem so simple that most will overlook them. And that’s exactly why I wanted to share these experiences with you. You need to work on this part of the game, just like your swing.
This is why reflection, analysis, and commitment are words I often repeat on this site. It’s not to say you have to approach the game with the same vigor as an aspiring professional, but they should be part of your toolkit in the pursuit of a better game. Just know that you’re not alone with your crazy thoughts; I will always have them too!
I try to keep track of trends in the golf industry to see what products interest me and review them for the site. Over the past 5+ years, I’ve noted the technological advancements in the electric cart space (also referred to as electric caddies). Years ago, I noticed the early adopters driving massive tanks around the golf course that cost thousands of dollars, had poor battery life, and were an eyesore. Now, elegantly designed carts have much better features, longer battery lives, and don’t cost exorbitant amounts of money.
Since walking the golf course is more popular in regions like the UK and Australia, manufacturers like Motocaddy, MGI, and Stewart have had many successes in those markets. But you rarely saw them in the United States. However, I noticed in 2020, and even more so in 2021, these products are starting to pop up everywhere I go.
I feel like we’re at an inflection point, and the demand is starting to build. There’s no question that the restrictions placed on golf courses last year during the beginning of the Covid outbreak helped fuel demand, but I do think that beyond that, walking habits are starting to change.
I’m all for it because I believe every golfer should walk the course if they can. I believe it’s a far better experience, and the exercise is massively beneficial. For many golfers, having the assistance of motorized carts can make that experience more seamless and less physically demanding (especially for courses with more challenging terrains).
Perhaps my best litmus test for any product category is that I really wanted to try out some of the models. For years I’ve used normal pushcarts, and I wondered how much better walking the course would be if I could have a totally hands-free experience, similar to taking a caddy.
So for the past two months, I’ve been testing what many believe is the industry-leading electric caddy, the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE. I have quickly fallen in love with this product and the hands-free experience it provided me on the golf course. I’m not sure I can ever go back! Interestingly, I got tons of questions from golfers who saw me with it on the course. It seemed like many of them had been thinking about electric caddies and doing some research of their own.
In this review, I’ll go over the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE’S main features and try to help you decide if it’s worth your significant investment – $1,499. Throughout the past seven years, I’ve tested many products; this is genuinely one of my favorites.
One thing people should be aware of is that the Motocaddy M7 is not exactly light. It weighs more than 30 pounds with the battery attached, so it’s something to be aware of when taking it in and out of your car. It also is on the larger side, so depending on your trunk, you may or may not have enough room for your golf bag and the M7. It does have a feature that allows the larger wheels to fold in to make it more compact.
Opening and closing the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE is a breeze. You have to lock and unlock two handles, but it takes less than 30 seconds to get it ready for your golf bag.
I did appreciate the large base at the bottom to accommodate different styles of bags. I have a Jones Sports Utility bag and had no issues securing it to the base and the two adjustable bag supports. I’ve found that with other pushcarts and electric caddies, especially with stand bags, they won’t fit properly, and it’s a pain to get them secured. Certainly not the case (at least for my bag).
Motocaddy does have its own modular bag system called EASILOCK™. It locks the lower portion of their own bag into the base unit and only requires securing the top support strap. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to have their bag, but it is a nice feature.
Other than unfolding the M7, securing your bag, and plugging in the battery, there isn’t much else to do to get up and running. It’s a seamless process and was even faster for me than my Clicgear 3.5 pushcart.
In a tournament I played, I found out that the weight distribution in your bag can affect its performance. There was a threat of rain, so I stuffed all kinds of rain gear and extra gloves into one side of my bag. Because the weight was so lopsided, it made the M7 steer slightly in one direction, which they warn of in the instruction manual. So if you do plan on packing tons of water, snacks, and other gear, you should try to make sure it is evenly divided into both sides as much as you can.
The only feature I missed from my Clicgear 3.5 pushcart was extra storage. The Motocaddy M7 REMOTE does not come with any storage compartments or nets. It does have the ability to attach drink holders, and a few other accessories, but I imagine someone could get creative with clipping on a mesh bag, or something similar to have quick access. But for the most part, it wasn’t too big of a nuisance accessing the storage of my golf bag.
I would say about 90% of the time I operated the Motocaddy M7 via the remote. While it took a little getting used to, I found that it became a “passive” part of my round and capitalized on the freedom of walking that I was looking for. It was awesome!
The remote is pretty straightforward to use and quite responsive to whatever steering directions you give it. The range is exceptional as well. On certain holes at my course, I opted to leave the cart in between holes and could easily move it around from as far as 100 yards away without issue.
Here are some videos I shot of the M7 in action, which show just how agile it is while using the remote control:
At first, I was a little extra careful on how long I would watch the caddy travel while steering it to the next tee box as I approached the green. Honing in on an appropriate speed took a little trial and error (usually, I have it set to a 4 or 5). There are nine-speed settings, so however fast or slow you walk on the course, you’ll be able to find a number that works for you. Additionally, I tested it on various hills and slopes, and started to learn what it could and couldn’t handle. However, I found that even if I were going a little too fast downhill, the M7 would automatically adjust its speed to make sure it wasn’t going to tip over.
After a few rounds, I built the remote into my routine. For example, on approach shots, I had a habit of clipping the remote onto the cart (very easy to do) as I approached my bag. As I walked to the green, I would use the remote to park it in an appropriate spot, engage the lock button, and clip it into my back pocket.
The only minor complaint I have is that the locking button could be a little larger; sometimes, I wasn’t sure if I engaged it or not and would have to refer to the color of the light (red or green) to see if the M7 was locked, which would avoid any accidental driving.
Overall, after about four to five rounds, I felt completely comfortable using the remote pretty much all the time. Walking around the course hands-free was amazing and allowed me to engage in my round with a bit more freedom.
More importantly, the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE is a bit of a tank. One worry I had on my course, which is extremely hilly, is that it would tip over. Whether traveling uphill, downhill, or sideways on a slope, I never felt that I was out of control with the M7. The anti-tip wheel on the back will prevent the M7 from falling backward, but to be honest, I never got in a situation where it was ever engaged much.
This does take a little bit of skill with knowing what speeds it can handle, but I would say its main strength is its sturdiness compared to another model I tested.
One of the great features of the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE is that you can seamlessly transition from using the remote to manual mode. There is a small dial on the top of the cart, which you can press to start or stop the cart and rotate to change your speed. Once you engage the manual control, you can steer the cart as you would with a normal pushcart, but without the need to exert any force to keep it moving.
Some golfers might use manual mode more than me, but I found that I would only use it when operating on more extreme terrains or navigating going over a curb or some other kind of obstruction. Either way, you’ll quickly get used to switching between the remote and manual mode as the design is very intuitive.
The Motocaddy M7 does require charging a lithium battery (as well as the remote). The battery itself is straightforward to connect, neatly designed, and turns off rather quickly when not in use. When you take it out of your car, you’ll plug it in and then remove it once your round is over. Another nice feature is that the battery has an IP66 rating so that it can withstand heavier rain.
The thing that worried me the most is that I would be on the course and the battery would run out of charge. Moving the M7 around without the motor running is a bit tedious. The amount of battery life you have left is clearly displayed on the LCD screen. There also is an extra USB port that can charge the remote or other devices like a phone.
In my testing, I walked three 18-hole rounds that were about 4 hours each, and the battery still showed a 50% charge. I didn’t want to press my luck any further, so I decided to recharge at that point. Over time, you can probably expect the battery to lose its charge as all lithium batteries do. Still, Motocaddy does recommend charging at the end of every round to protect its longevity. You can charge rather easily with the battery connected to the cart (perhaps in your garage) or remove it.
I chose to leave the M7 in my trunk and take the battery out to charge. Remembering to charge the battery after your rounds is the only extra downside of using a product like this, but like anything else, if you build it into your routine, it is worth the trouble.
If you’ve done your research on electric caddies, you are probably deciding between the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE and MGI Zip Navigator. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since both are priced the same ($1499) and have almost exactly the same features.
After using each model extensively, I can tell you they are both exceptional products, and golfers will be happy with either. However, if I’m nitpicking, I would choose the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE over the MGI Zip Navigator for two main reasons:
As you can tell, I am a complete convert at this point. I genuinely feel having an “electric caddy” makes walking the golf course more pleasant. Walking without carrying a bag or pushing a cart is amazing. Additionally, the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE seems to be the best all-around product in the category for the price and features.
So I can wholeheartedly recommend this product to you, but of course, the question is, “is it worth spending $1499?”
That’s a bit harder for me to answer. You can easily purchase a regular pushcart for as little as $150 – $200 and get all of the benefits of walking the golf course without the strain of carrying your bag. And for many, this is probably the best option. A product like the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE is a luxury, not a necessity.
For those who might struggle a little physically, even with a pushcart, I would tell you that an electric caddy did save me a ton of energy. My golf course is physically taxing with tons of hills, and even though I’m in good physical condition, I’d rather save that energy for my swing. Not having to push my regular cart up a hill was nice. Especially in the summer months when I’m dealing with excessive heat and humidity.
So I would say if you have the budget, the Motocaddy M7 REMOTE is a great long-term investment. It will enhance your experience on the golf course, and more importantly, I think it will get you walking more. People don’t realize just how beneficial walking the course is for your health, and for someone a little obsessed with exercise and general well-being, I genuinely think this product category can do some real good for people’s lives. Walking the golf course is the way to go!
If you are interested in purchasing the Motocaddy M7 we have a special bundle for Practical Golf readers for $1499 here.
In this article, and accompanying podcast, I’ll explain the most common mistake most golfers make with their approach shot strategy and some simple changes you can make. I’ll provide some statistics as well to make my case. For many of you, it might not be a topic you ever stopped to think about, but your default approach is likely costing you strokes. Let’s get them back!
For a long time, we didn’t quite understand why certain golfers scored better than others. Luckily, Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia University, cleared that up for all of us. After researching millions of shots using his revolutionary strokes-gained statistics (a measurement of relative performance), he came to the following conclusion:
My analysis of millions of golf shots reveals a consistent finding: Approach shots account for the biggest scoring advantage between golfers of every skill level. The best golfers also gain strokes with their driving, short game and putting games, but approach shots are the greatest difference-maker.
As such, if you can improve your strategy with approach shots, you likely stand to gain larger jumps in scoring than any other part of the game.
In our latest podcast episode of The Sweet Spot, Adam Young and I take a deep dive into how to optimize your approach shot targets. I’ll cover many of the concepts we discuss in this article, but I encourage you to listen to the entire episode here.
Unfortunately, most golfers default to aiming at the pin with their approach shots. One of the great myths of golf is that you need to land the ball close to the pin and make birdie putts to lower your handicap. For the most part, choosing a more aggressive target like the pin results in more double bogeys, which is the real culprit of higher scores.
Allow me to build a case that will (hopefully) convince you to stop aiming at pins…
Several years ago, I wrote this article showing shot dispersions from different distances. Many people were surprised to see the results, and it’s exactly why using launch monitors and game-tracking devices can be so powerful – you get a real understanding of your shot patterns.
The truth that every golfer needs to understand is that no player on this planet can land the ball close enough to the pin on average to make it a “profitable” strategy.
The following are average proximity to the pin from various distances by a typical PGA Tour player:
175 – 200 yards: 33 feet
150 – 175 yards: 28 feet
125 – 150 yards: 23 feet
100 – 125 yards: 19.5 feet
As you can see, they cannot land the ball that close to the pin from any distance.
From 100-yards to 110-yards in the fairway, PGA Tour Players hit 26% of their shots inside 10-feet.
The best players in the world hit one out of four inside 10-feet.
Your chances of doing better than that is 0.00%. #ManageYourExpectations
— Lou Stagner (Golf Stat Pro) (@LouStagner) June 7, 2021
Now let’s look at some proximity numbers from normal golfers with different clubs:
As you would expect, these are considerably larger.
Long story short, it’s unreasonable to expect that anyone can keep the ball within a tight window of their target. You have to consider your overall shot patterns when selecting targets with approach shots.
Perhaps the nail in the coffin for pin hunting is putting difficulty.
Let’s say you could outperform a PGA Tour player and land the ball 10 feet from the pin. Take a look at your odds of making putts from that distance:
Even if you could putt like a tour player, your odds are not very good.
In reality, it’s not likely you can land every ball within a 40-foot window of any pin on average with approach shots. And your odds of making those putts are quite minuscule. Sorry to burst your bubble!
Now that you have a more rational understanding of how close you can actually land the ball to the pin and how difficult it is to make putts, I’ll make my last point.
Lowering your handicap is not about making birdies.
Please re-read that statement over and over again, and burn it into your memory. I wish I knew this when I first took up the game!
Perhaps one of the biggest myths about golf is that you need to make more birdies to lower your handicap. I’ve heard golfers tell me before that they average 5-6 birdies a round. I politely nod my head because I know they’re either lying to themselves or me.
PGA Tour players average between 2.5 to 5 birdies per round. A typical tour player will only make about 3.5 to 3.75 birdies per round. Many of those birdies are on par 5s, where they can get on most greens (or close to them) in two shots.
For regular golfers, birdies are more of a pipe dream. Here are birdies per round for different handicap levels:
The real path to a lower handicap is making fewer double bogeys, not making more birdies.
Now that we’ve cleared all that up, I can give you some basic guidelines on picking smarter targets with approach shots.
While most traditional golf statistics have been replaced by more informative, nuanced measurements like strokes gained, I still believe greens in regulation is a stat that golfers should focus on.
GIR is one of the greatest predictors of scoring success, and as you can see, it’s directly correlated with handicap levels.
If you want to play your best golf, your number one goal should be getting the ball on the putting surface with your approach shots, or at least leaving yourself a manageable wedge shot when you do miss the green.
In other words, this is a part of the game where a conservative strategy will lower your scores in the long run. The goal is to rack up boring pars, easy bogeys, and eliminate doubles (or worse). And yes, you can sprinkle a few birdies here and there.
In our podcast episode, Adam Young mentioned a powerful exercise that every golfer should go through with their approach shots. Adam states that he loves his players to measure their shot results relative to where they aimed.
Ultimately, the goal is to start distinguishing between bad shots and bad targets.
Overall, this will help you figure out how to optimize your targets with approach shots. Often, players will notice that they miss many targets short, and by taking more club, they will hit more greens in regulation. Or you might realize that you have a left-bias miss and can use that data on the course.
Several years ago, I wrote this article. It suggests that for most players, aiming at the center of the green, and using the yardage to the back of the green to plan your club selection, will lower most golfers’ scores in the long run.
Since then, I’ve received countless messages from readers who have seen significant reductions in their handicaps using this strategy. The reason is threefold:
The back/center strategy will work very well for most golfers of a beginner or intermediate skill level. However, if you are a more advanced player, you can get more nuanced with your approach shot targets.
As I mentioned earlier, you can take your own shot distribution data and customize your targets.
Some general principles, like aiming away from big trouble, can help you adjust aim points on each hole. If you are looking for a systematic way to do this, I would strongly recommend taking a look at DECADE or DECADE Foundations.
This will require a little more planning ahead and thinking on the course. You have to be comfortable enough to take in a lot of information (yardage, slope, pin position, wind direction, areas surrounding green) and make decisions quickly. Because of this, I often only tell people to deviate from a more basic strategy if they have the skill level and time commitment to make it worth it.
I continually revisit approach shot strategy because I know this can transform many of your games. Additionally, it’s a topic that is very easy to understand but requires a lot of discipline to stick with on the course. Therefore, I feel I need to remind all of you (and myself) of its importance.
To recap a few of the key concepts of the article and podcast:
My final plea is to be patient. Becoming a smart course manager means you are stacking odds in your favor over the long run. You’ll be tempted to use short-term results as your measurement of success, but you have to look at your performance more broadly (think months, not weeks or singular rounds). I can guarantee lower scores if you follow some of this advice and commit to using it over the long haul.
Throughout the last 25 years, I’m confident that I have either made or witnessed every mistake imaginable in golf – especially in the mental game. When it comes to your attitude on the golf course, it is critical to strike a balance and avoid extremes. While this might sound generic and simple, I can guarantee that getting this right (or at least improving) will be part of your keys to getting better at this game. Every golfer on this planet could use help in this department.
Recently, I sent out this tweet, and we can use this as my “thesis statement” for this article:
The best golf is played when you exist in the space between caring too much, or not at all. This is *hard* to do
You can’t “live and die” at the result of every shot. But at the same time, you need to be engaged enough to control your emotions and approach each shot analytically
— Jon Sherman (@practicalgolf) May 6, 2021
Finding the happy medium between caring too much and not enough might look different for all of you. We each bring our own personalities to the game. However, I know that tipping in either direction too heavily does not work out in the long run.
As usual, I’ll try to provide tangible examples of what I mean because I’m sure at this point you’re wondering, “what the hell is he talking about??!!”
All of you know this by now, but 18 holes (or even 9) is a long time. Each round of golf usually has different acts. They can even be as dramatic as some of your favorite movies. There is heartbreak, hubris, triumph, and even redemption.
If I had to pinpoint one of my biggest flaws as a golfer, I reacted too heavily based on the result of each shot.
An errant drive might send me into a panic – all of a sudden, I’m walking faster and worrying about what my next mistake might be. Conversely, an early birdie might have had me “peacocking” a bit too much and wondering just how well I was going to score that day.
I now know that you cannot become a better golfer if you are constantly in this state. If there were some device to measure your reactions, you would want to go from this:
As always, I want to remind you that there is no such thing as perfection. We are humans, and it’s impossible to control our emotions completely.
There are still rounds where I am a little more erratic, but I know I’m doing it far less than I used to. Additionally, after being around a bunch of top-level players, I can tell you that they are more likely to be even-keeled in this department as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a desire to mentally check out when things get tough.
I used to play a very unproductive game against myself. Let’s say the first 5 holes were a disaster; I might say to myself, “oh, just forget about this round.” And then, all of a sudden, after 4 good holes, I might say, “wait, I’m going to play this one out and see what happens.”
Unfortunately, golf doesn’t work this way (in the context of becoming a better player, of course). There are ample opportunities to bail out or say to yourself, “I don’t care at all what happens.” Often, I find golfers do this as a defense mechanism. We’re scared to find out just how badly we might score if we keep trying after a rough patch. Sometimes it feels like we are staring into the abyss (yes, this game can make us feel that way).
This extreme doesn’t work either. If you are going back and forth between caring and not caring, there is no opportunity to grow as a player. Of course, we care how we play!
I’m constantly saying words like routine, consistency, and system on this site because they are important. Golf is a game that requires long periods of focus and emotional control, which is perhaps one of its greatest challenges. Now I don’t expect you to operate at the level of a PGA Tour pro, but there are usually opportunities for most players to make adjustments relative to their experience in the game.
Here comes the part of the article where I give you the simple answer. It will sound too easy to be true, but the big concepts are easy to understand but difficult to put into practice, as with most things in golf consistently.
I keep finding different ways to say the same thing, but that’s what coaches generally need to do to change behaviors.
Existing in the space between not caring and caring too much, generally can be achieved by committing to the following process on the course.
If you can commit to going through a similar process before each shot, you will become a better golfer no matter what is going on.
This took me a really long time to understand, but each shot you hit truly is an independent event. All shots in aggregate influence your eventual score, but I find it’s best to approach each one as a new, different circumstance. It will help you make better strategic decisions, and more importantly, help compartmentalize your emotions. Again, muccccccchhhhhh easier said than done! I don’t get this right all of the time.
So when you hit an errant drive into the trees, and you’re still fuming over your mistake, that shot is over and done with. Your new task is to make the best decision possible with the current shot and not let the prior event influence that decision, which with many players, is trying to hit a hero shot to make up for the mistake.
If you can commit to this philosophy and consciously work on it, I guarantee plenty of good things will happen in your golf game, and it won’t just be your score dropping. You’ll also have a healthier relationship with golf and likely derive more satisfaction out of the game.
This is a guest post by Sean Denning from the Par Machine
After playing the game for more than 20 years, I finally became a scratch golfer in 2020! My handicap had been in the low single digits for about 15 of those years, but I could never seem to get it all the way down to zero. One of the biggest changes I made, and I think a major factor in my improvement, was using data to make a plan, track my progress, and make adjustments to my practice.
I don’t want to give the impression that data is solely responsible for getting my handicap to scratch. I also worked with a coach on my swing and putting, and I put quite a bit of effort into improving my mental game. But I’ve done that before. I’ve taken lessons and practiced a lot and still didn’t get all the way to scratch. Eventually, I became frustrated and thought maybe I just wasn’t talented enough.
Last year was different. Here’s how data helped me become a scratch golfer.
I’m married, have two young kids (one born in the summer of 2020!), and work full-time as a structural engineer. I don’t have an abundance of free time for golf. In fact, I wasn’t sure I should be spending any time on golf.
I hadn’t played well in 2019. My handicap got above 4, and the few tournaments I managed to play had not gone well. I decided I didn’t want to continue taking time away from my family to play mediocre golf. My options were to get better or quit, and I love golf too much to quit.
So I picked a familiar goal – something I had written down as an objective for many past seasons but never achieved – scratch golf. I gave myself 12 months to lower my handicap from 3.3 to 0.0 or better. I knew I would need a plan to use my limited time efficiently.
I started in September 2019 by reviewing my statistics from that season: greens in regulation, fairways hit, and putts per hole. I could get a decent idea of my weaknesses by comparing numbers to past seasons and averages for scratch and pro golfers.
My basic statistics from 2019 and the first ten rounds of 2020 vs. scratch and pro golfers:
All parts of my game needed work. I was hitting 44% of greens, 44% of fairways, had a 30% scrambling rate (percentage of par saves after missing a green), and needed almost 32 putts per round. I knew hitting greens in regulation has a strong correlation to score, and I was pretty sure my short game was holding me back.
I made two sub-goals for the 2020 season: hit 60% of greens in regulation and save par 50% of the time when I missed the green. Those numbers would roughly match GIR and scrambling rates for average scratch golfers. I wasn’t too concerned about hitting fairways, and I thought my putting statistics would work themselves out if I improved my chipping.
Armed with a basic understanding of what I needed to work on, I got started.
The Reader’s Digest version of my off-season would go something like this.
Out of an abundance of caution during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t play my first round until May 20th. By the end of June, I had gotten ten rounds in. I was making some progress with ball-striking (GIR and FIR were up to 50% and 51%, respectively), but I seemed to have made practically no improvement on my short game (scrambling at 33%), and my average putts per round had risen to slightly over 32. My handicap had gone up to 3.8, and I was a little concerned.
I wanted to make sure I was doing absolutely everything I could to achieve my goal of a scratch handicap. I wondered if I might be missing something by not using strokes gained analysis.
The general idea of strokes gained analysis is this: instead of judging performance by tracking summary statistics which may or may not correlate to score, track position/distance from the hole of every single shot and calculate if the golfer gained or lost strokes on each shot versus the desired comparison group. It’s then possible to calculate how many strokes were gained or lost during a round to the comparison group in areas such as driving, approach shots, and putting.
A database of golfer performance from various distances and lies (tee, fairway, rough, etc.) is required to make these calculations. There are various products and apps available to do it.
I decided to try Golfmetrics by Mark Broadie and was impressed with the detailed output. It gave me summaries of strokes gained/lost to an average scratch golfer on drives, approach shots, short game, and putting, as well as detailed breakdowns in each category.
Now I could see exactly how much I needed to improve in each area to play scratch golf. I was losing strokes in these areas:
I made some important conclusions from these numbers. Although my scrambling rate of 33% was well below the 52% average for a scratch golfer, Golfmetrics showed I was only losing three-quarters of a shot per round on short game shots inside 60 yards. And the 51% of greens I hit in regulation was well below my 60% goal, but my approach play was actually slightly better than scratch. I could have easily spent the rest of my practice time on my short game and irons and probably come up well short of achieving a scratch handicap. I needed to rethink my practice.
I realized I needed more practice. Two sessions per week weren’t going to cut it when I needed to improve so many areas with only three and a half more months to hit scratch. So in the last two weeks of June, I started putting in four practice sessions each week (only about 45 minutes each) on top of playing 27 holes.
I spent those practice sessions focusing on the areas where strokes gained analysis showed I was losing the most strokes.
By the middle of July, I could tell those practice sessions had a significant positive impact on my game. A comparison of my strokes gained analysis from the six rounds I played in July showed drastic improvements in the areas I was working on.
Even though my handicap didn’t reflect it yet, my scores and strokes gained analysis showed I had started playing like a scratch golfer. After a short layoff from golf for our new baby (thankfully, I was also able to take a few weeks off work), I continued practicing, and I kept playing well. It didn’t take long for my new playing ability to show up in my handicap.
My handicap dropped steadily from July to October, at last breaking 0.0 with a score of 71 on October 17th! I had missed my 12-month deadline by about two weeks, but the weather held up just long enough for me to cross the finish line. I was finally a scratch golfer!
Now I’m working toward getting even better than scratch, and you can bet I’m using data to do it.
Sean Denning is a structural engineer with a wife, two young kids, a full-time job, and a burning desire to get better at golf. Follow his plans and analytical approach to use his limited time to play scratch (and better) golf at parmachine.com
If you listen to the Sweet Spot podcast, you’ll often hear a common theme from myself or Adam Young. I value simplicity, removing variables, and functionality above all else in golf.
Too often, we complicate things. There are many reasons why, but much of it has to do with mismanaged expectations and trying to be too perfect at a game that doesn’t require anything close to perfection to have success. A lot of it has to do with all of the ideas thrown at golfers by the industry. I can assure you, more is not better.
That’s why I believe every golfer needs to create some simple system for themselves. I’ll try to clarify what I mean by “system” in this article, but most of it has to do with your strategy, the kinds of shots you play on the course, and a general approach to the game.
The great thing about golf is that everyone’s system can look different. Golfers fall victim to looking at other players’ games and thinking that the grass is greener and trying to emulate bits and pieces of what they like. I even hear it at the pro level. But your game should be as unique as your fingerprint if you want your best chance of success, which also looks different for each golfer.
When most people look at Bryson DeChambeau’s game, there is a myriad of responses. Some think his approach is blasphemy to the honored traditions of golf. Others see it as brilliant and want to copy what he is doing the best they can.
I see a golfer who has created a unique system for himself, and because he is 100% invested in his own approach, he sees tremendous success. Of course, that is coupled with a tireless work ethic and tremendous talent. But there are some things to glean from his approach.
Now, I would never tell anyone to copy what he is doing. Playing single-length irons, using oversized grips, building a golf swing around one of the most complex books on the golf swing ever written, and leaving no stone unturned in analytics would likely destroy another golfer’s game. But all of this suits his personality and learning style; it seems like there is no other way he could approach golf.
Bryson’s game is the most extreme version of a system we’ve ever seen, but it is a system. I’d love for all of you to have a far simpler version and some of the same commitment. Because that’s what a lot of golf is about, being confident and committed to what you’re doing on the course.
Every article I write on this site is a starting point. I can’t account for where all of you are in terms of your experience and skill level. So I’ll give you some ideas on what I consider part of a system that any golfer can adopt. Usually, I try not to talk about my own game too much, but I want to give you some anecdotal references that will help illustrate my point.
I am a bit of a one-trick pony on the golf course. Outside of 100 yards, I’m pretty much trying to do the same thing on every shot. I don’t try to shape the ball in both directions (it’s always a draw). I don’t try to alter my trajectory too much (I can do that with club selection). For the most part, I’m stepping up to the ball with the same intention. Even with wedge play, I feel as though I’m not trying to vary too much from a stock technique or feel.
My golf swing isn’t all that pretty either. I bet if you showed it to 20 different instructors, not many of them could guess my current handicap (it’s +0.4). But what I do have is belief in what I’m doing.
For the most part, I can manage my swing because I’m not introducing that many variables. If something goes awry, I usually know the issue because there aren’t too many moving parts. Now I can’t always fix it completely, but it allows me to plug the holes on the “leaky boat” a little more effectively. Conversely, if I had a swing that was constantly in flux, it would be much harder for me to manage because I really couldn’t understand what needed to be fixed.
I’d love for more golfers to go in this direction rather than thinking they need to complicate things by adding different shots and swing thoughts.
To me, that’s a system.
Every golfer needs to find their own version of the golf swing. If you need help, get lessons. But my philosophy is that you should aspire to get as proficient as possible with one version of that swing and keep it as basic as possible on the course.
For most of my golf life, I’ve been a below-average putter relative to my skill level in other parts of the game. It’s largely because I had no process or system. From month to month, I would change my stroke, grip technique, alignment, or just about anything to feel better about where things were going. However, over the long run, I never saw much improvement.
I’m sure many of you can relate to that process with just about any part of your game. It’s a vicious cycle we all get trapped in.
There are three main skills in putting – speed control, face control (can you start the ball on your intended line), and green reading.
For the most part, my speed control was always pretty good, which I consider the most important element of putting. However, my ability to read putts properly and start the ball on my intended line was somewhat dreadful.
So I created my own little system, and over the past few years, I’ve seen dramatically better results. So much so that I actually believe I’m a good putter now. Here’s a quick summary of what I did (but realize this isn’t a blueprint for your own putting woes):
This process can be applied to any element of the game. I also went through something similar with intermediate wedge shots, and my driver – both used to terrify me. But the common theme is that I took a weakness, identified the flaw, and tried to create a system that would give me confidence moving forward. What I was doing beforehand was taking shots in the dark at a fix and not genuinely addresses the root cause.
Perhaps the most important part of the game to have a system is with strategy and how you pick your targets on the course.
I’ve spoken at length about how I feel that targets on approach shots should be fairly straightforward for most golfers. Aside from convincing yourself that the pin is not usually your target, I’ve often referred to this simple strategy. When you know exactly where you should be aiming before you step up to the ball and confident that it’s the smart decision, it will help free your mind up a bit so you can execute.
Tee shots can be a bit more nuanced, and I’ve changed my mind on them quite a bit over the years.
I’m now taking a “driver first” mentality and making sure I am aimed away from the big trouble. Where it makes sense, I will take shorter clubs off the tee. The best system I have seen on effectively picking targets off the tee is either the DECADE Elite or DECADE Foundations.
Perhaps the most unique of all systems is how you approach the game mentally. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach because we all bring so many different personalities to the game. However, having a way to calm your emotions, going through a repeatable pre-shot routine, and your general attitude on the course is crucial.
While there are plenty of resources on the mental game, I think it requires a bit of introspection and figuring out your own unique way. But if you do want some help, some resources I trust are Kent Osborne and David MacKenzie.
Now comes the harder part. I’d like you to think about your golf game and think about what processes or systems you can add to it. It could be as minimal as putting or a general overhaul of your entire approach to golf. Either way, I believe when you use this mindset rather than a haphazard approach to the game, good things can happen for you!