The following is excerpted from my eventually forthcoming book, “Why We Golf.” Given the tenor and mood of the markets these days, it felt appropriate.
There’s an old saying on Wall Street that fear and greed move the markets. If you think about it, this is also true about golf. Now this idea is not exactly like the little devil and little angel that perch on a cartoon character’s shoulders when he’s wrestling with an ethical dilemma. It’s more like two devils and between them they explain so much of what goes wrong on the golf course.
First off, you can put all bad shots into one of two buckets; fear shots and greed shots. The four-footer you left short is a fear shot; the five-footer you gunned past the hole, a greed shot. Anything that involves decelerating is a fear shot. Why did you hit the brakes if you weren’t afraid of something? Anything that you pull, from a tee shot to a putt, is a greed shot. You wanted it so badly you jumped on it, didn’t you? I’m inclined to think that all bunker shots are fear shots, with the possible exception of the instances when you’re short-sided and try to flop it up perfectly and delicately only to leave it in the bunker. That’s greed: you wanted the perfect shot didn’t you? Well, guess what, you’re not that good. You should stick to asking for things you deserve. Anytime you wind up with your weight on your back foot, that’s ole devil fear. It’s as if your lower body was backing away from the result before you even knew what happened. Anytime you lunge at it, that’s greed. Anytime you try to hit an impossible shot like punching a four iron between eight trees, that’s pure unadulterated greed. But enough of this inventory of horrors, let’s take a closer look at our little friends.
Ah fear! How dost thou reveal thyself? Let me count the ways. Fear of playing poorly, fear of looking foolish, fear of hitting it fat, fear of hitting it thin, fear of leaving it in the bunker, fear of losing the match, fear of leaving it short, fear of the first tee, fear of the last putt, the list just goes on and on. But just to make the point painfully obvious, let’s look at a phenomenon with which we’re all familiar.
We’ve all experienced having a hole “get inside our heads.” You hit a stretch when the particular shot that hole requires becomes impossible to hit. In some cases the problem is chronic and the stretch of time we’re talking about is roughly equivalent to your tenure as a golfer. For whatever reason, your age, lack of talent, bizarre swing idiosyncrasies, you simply don’t have that shot in your bag. The more annoying instance is when a shot you actually have a chance of hitting starts to elude you. And even worse, this malady is like a turf fungus and migrates from hole to hole over the course of a year. In the spring it could be the approach into number 5 and the shot into the 16th green, but by summer it’s the drive on number 9 and the shot into the 18th green.
Alternatively your nemesis could be not a specific shot but something more situational. In certain respects this is even scarier since it can present itself at any point in the round. One favorite appears to be the approach shot from 30 to 50 yards out. In fact I’ve had playing partners suggest that this shot deserves its own special chapter. “Write about that one, Staley!” they’ll cry out in anguish as another bladed effort skids across the green. I’ve always suspected that this suggestion has less to do with providing editorial guidance and more to do with the hope that public confession will help exorcise the demons.
When you’re having one of these spells, the Chat Room just lights up. In my case, whenever I approach one of these haunted holes or problem shots, there’s something going through my head that reads like the Fox News crawl: “…GOLF INSECURITY LEVEL: RED. PAUL STALEY IS ABOUT TO HIT A SHOT THAT HE HAS SHANKED THE LAST TWO TIMES…”
So what do I do when faced with this kind of threat? I do what any red blooded American does and overreact. I make sure that I come right across the ball with a closed clubface and yank it way left. Now instead of being off in the trees on the right of the 5th fairway, my ball is up in the long fescue grasses above and to the left of the green. I wasn’t going to make that same mistake again. Not me. Of course I wound up in an even bigger mess but still: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.