The three bad ‘lies’ every golfer should know

There are worse things in life than a bad lie in golf, but when commentators, magazine writers, and players speak mistruths and hyperbole regarding my favourite game, I get upset. Some of the things they say are just outright lies, and I’m here to examine three bad lies in golf.

Let’s examine the word ‘more’.  It’s a simple word, easy to pronounce, easy to define, but it can be such a destructive word. And it’s usually nothing more than a mythical island, a big fat lie.

The word ‘more’ is seen and heard everywhere in the golfing vernacular. Sink more putts, hit more pure irons, get more distance, have more control, and make more birdies.

My theory is that more usually leads to less. We amateurs can attest to that, yes? The new $500 driver did not give us more distance; it just left less in our bank account. The putting tutor board purchased did not lead to sinking more putts, in fact the resulting mechanical stroke led to fewer putts made. All the tips read or watched on various media actually invited more thinking and more confusion with less to show on the course. This may not be as true for beginners or passionate practisers, but I’m sticking to my theory.

In the professional game, Luke Donald wasn’t satisfied with being number one in the world, he wanted more driver distance. Luke, have you been on safari in Africa for the past five years? In the early 90’s, Ian Baker Finch won a British Open and was tops in the world but wanted more out of his game; he developed driver yips and has since been confined to the announcer’s booth.

Rory wanted to sink more putts, sought out putting guru Dave Stockton to help, and sorry to tell you Rory, your putting stinks. Even worse is your wedge play. In 2017 you were last on tour from 125 yards. You hired a new teacher to get more but you got less.

Shall I mention Tiger and his fifty swing changes, always wanting more? He ended up with a lot less: money, family, reputation, golf game.

Then there’s Mr. Nicklaus. Good old Jack never got greedy by seeking more. He kept his swing coach forever (until he passed), never desired more with his less than stellar wedge game, was content to play the same boring conservative golf game year after year, and ended up with more majors. Hmmm. Is greed really good?

The second bad lie can be found in bunkers. TV commentators and instructors preach to the masses as if spoken from the pulpit, telling you that the sand shot is one of the easiest in golf, and how it’s preferable to be in the sand than the rough. Uh huh. Lets call this what it is, a big dirty lie.

In thirty years of playing this sport alongside hundreds of players of all levels from beginner to scratch, I have not witnessed more bad shots and round wreckers coming from any other place on the golf course than the bunker. Is there anyone reading this who has NOT thrown his or her ball out of the sand after five or six tries?  I’ve played with good bunker players and witnessed thin shots exiting the sand to an awaiting pond or forest, leading to a tidy triple or worse.

According to those who keep statistics a low single digit handicap plays closer to a twenty handicap in the sand. I believe it. There’s a logical explanation.  Unless you’re a member of a private course with very good bunkers, the sand trap is the least constant entity on the golf course. From hole to hole or course to course the variance in sand conditions can be huge. They are either too hard or soft, medium baked to unraked, moonscaped like, crevices abounding.

There’s another factor. How often do you practice in the sand?  In fact, where in the GTA CAN you practice? Assuming you can find a range with a bunker that has decent sand; do you have the technical knowledge and ability to be good?  Have you ever taken a sand lesson and continued to practice this shot? There are many different lies in the sand to be practiced. Do you know anyone who spends time practicing?  Me neither.

Even at the professional tour level the simplicity of sand play is exaggerated. Its true those guys are good and they don’t struggle like the rest of us, but tour pros get up and down on average 40% of the time compared with 60% from the rough. We’ve all seen pros make poor sand shots, fat shots that stay in the sand, skulls that fly over, and the odd shank.

As stated above sand play is not one of the easiest shots; in fact it’s one of the most difficult. I classify it as another of golf’s bad lies.  (Note:  if you want to practice bunkers, Fairtree range in Markham and Timber Creek in Stouffville have good bunkers. Sometimes you can find a rake!)

Although the golf world abounds in bad lies, space permits only one additional misnomer; that the biggest distance in golf is the six inches between your ears; in other words golf is 90% mental. What a load of bad load. I’d argue it’s closer to 3%. 97% of those poor shots and missed putts are due to poor mechanics.

A mental coach tried to enrol me into his school, insisting that my brain was holding me back. Let me tell you something. I’ve stood over six foot putts scared to death, other times with nary a care in the world.  Some days I’ll have ten swing thoughts in the middle of my stroke, on the next hole I might be thinking of my daughter’s birthday while putting. There was no discernible pattern. Flip a coin. Sometimes the putt went in, sometimes it didn’t. Whether you’re a one index or a twenty, statistically that six foot putt will go in four out of ten times.

If you’re a one cap you’re more likely to have a square face through impact and will probably have read the putt better. That’s because you’re a better golfer, duh. The degree of focus and determination is a very small component. This also applies to the full swing. On Monday your driver can’t miss a fairway even if you tried, on Tuesday you and your driver are headed to divorce court.

The fact is that on certain days our bodies just don’t have it. This is true for every sport. Tired muscles, small blisters, a sore toe, body hormones, poor sleep are factors which will affect our rhythm, tempo and focus, even if we feel fine. One thing is certain, the better your swing and fundamentals are, the higher quality your shots will be, no matter how unfocused or lacking in confidence you feel.  Bob Rotella would disagree but he sells a lot of books.

So these are three of my hated lies in golf, but here are the three truths I play by: I love sand, I’m a mental wreck, and less is more.

David Goodman
David is an overgrown kid still who still believes he can play a decent game of squash and hockey when he’s not on the course or range working on his game. Long gone from the medical industry, David loves studying the social/psychological implications golf has on the lives of its participants.

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