A number of years ago, I was on a media trip to the UK and paired with a couple of other international writers in a team event. The Brit was a pretty decent player while the American struggled with every aspect of his game.
It wasn’t for lack of instruction either. The struggler had tried everything. This poor chap had taken lessons with the best the game had to offer and often written about the experience too, demonstrating that not only did he have a fair understanding of what he’d been taught but he also had mastered some of those skills on the range.
However, no amount of advice or encouragement we offered seemed to have any impact on his ability to get the ball airborne or improve his technique on the course (or help our team). Every club in the bag went about 110 yards. Wedges were to be avoided at all costs. No putt was too short to miss.
We were torn between wanting to put him out of our misery and admiration for his indomitable spirit that not only allowed him to keep going cheerfully but actually profess a love for the game. I would have thrown myself in a pond long before.
After completing the front nine, our British teammate suggested to the American that he only hit his 6-iron for the rest of the game except for putting. Agreeing reluctantly, he immediately started hitting the ball much farther and with a fair degree of accuracy.
We were dumbfounded.
“Why is it that you can hit your 6-iron longer and straighter than before?” asked the Brit.
“Because I know my six iron can’t get to the bunkers or water so I can hit it as hard as I want”, was the answer.
I suspect there’s a deep psychological explanation for that. Maybe we should have called Dr. Bob Rotella but our conclusion was that the absence of fear had allowed him to swing more freely. There’s no doubt he knew how to hit his 6-iron; there was just something preventing him from doing it. It would be nice to say we picked up our socks and won the tournament but as I recall we finished dead last.
Maybe that 6-iron trick should have occurred to me. When I’m struggling, which seems to be most of the time now, I often go to the range with just one club. Usually it’s a 5 or 6-iron. I hit that until I feel I have control over both my swing and the outcome. Most of all, I just try to swing freely, which is when you get your best results.
It makes a lot of sense really. When you watch beginners play or if you can remember your own learning phase, chances are you used just one club until you’d mastered the skill of getting the ball in the air and hitting it fairly straight. No sense in confusing the situation with a lot of other clubs. The same principal can be applied to your game at any level.
One of my favourite games is our annual three club challenge where players have to choose just three clubs to use for a 9-hole match. Most of us will use a fairway metal or hybrid, a mid iron and a short iron – say a 3-hybrid, 6-iron and pitching wedge. Putting is handled with the hybrid or wedge; bunkers are avoided at all costs.
The beauty of using just three clubs is it forces you to think about strategy and hit to certain yardages. If you miss, you’re forced to hit half shots, three quarter shots, knock down shots etc. Most of all, if your strategy is on, you usually hit every shot full out, knowing they will land safely short of any trouble. That freedom to just make a swing is very liberating.
Ironically, my score with three clubs isn’t much different than with all 14 clubs.
The same goes for a short set – usually seven clubs. Learn how to hit different shots and “in between” shots. Can you make a 5-iron and a 7-iron go the same distance? Fewer clubs means fewer decisions.
If you really want to test your abilities or have some fun with your buddies, try the one club challenge. Years ago, our club held a one club tournament and it attracted a very large field. The event was played from the middle tee decks because of some long forced carries but otherwise the course set-up was normal. Typically, players would use a mid iron – something they could hit for distance but also use for short game bump and runs. The winning score was in the low 40’s for nine holes but the really amazing result was that the highest scores weren’t much higher than regular tournaments!
The Rules of Golf allow you fourteen clubs but nothing in the Rules says that you have to use them all. Learning how to hit different shots with fewer clubs will make you a better golfer so that eventually you shouldn’t have any concern about hitting any club.