Sorry for the delay folks, but this second part got inexplicably hung up in the pipeline. It’s a cut-and-paste job so there’s really no excuse other than my Why We Golf time having been dedicated of late to the tedious job of proofing (yet again) the text of the book. I also wanted to post something about my most recent experience at my club’s member-guest tournament, but that was too painful a topic to tackle right away. Maybe next time.
So without further ado, here’s our buddy, greed, as discussed in Why We Golf:
Fear gets all the press, but greed is right up there as a cause of our problems out there on the course. Like any great duo, they work well in tandem. You can think of them as the treble and bass of your golf game. Fear is the treble, the high-pitched chatter of anxiety, while greed is the bass, the pulse and underlying structure. That irrepressible urge for more was probably an evolutionary advantage when we were showing the other primates that they were living in our world, but it’s not such a great thing when we’re swinging a golf club. Here are some examples:
Don’t deny it because I know you’ve all done this. This is the scenario. Something is going right. Something is working. Maybe you’re more consistent off the tee, or maybe the putts are dropping. So what happens? The next time out you decide that since things are going so well you’re going to turn it up just a notch. Since you’re so straight off the tee let’s see if you can’t get another fifteen yards on your drive. Since you’re seeing the line so well, let’s be more aggressive with those putts.
And we all know how this turns out don’t we? You get that extra yardage, right into the trees and rough. And that line you’re seeing so well on the greens? Yep, you’re getting an excellent read on those four footers coming back. Now even if you’ve seen this movie before, you can’t stop it from playing on the Not On Demand part of your Mental Golf Cable Package. It’s as if at some subatomic level it is so much in our nature to want more that we can’t help ourselves. I can go out there and tell myself that I don’t want to go back on the rollercoaster and I’m just going to stay inside my game. And yet there I am, coming right over the top as the urge to coax a few more yards out of the ball seems to bubble up from within me.
There’s an other variation on this theme and it’s the potent little cocktail you get from combining a good round with a couple things you picked up on the Golf Channel or read in Golf Digest. You get that tiny burst of confidence and you start thinking that it’s time to just add a couple finishing touches. Oh, so Bobby Jones felt the most important move in the golf swing was the hip turn? Well then let’s make sure we really emphasize that next time out even though your swing was working just fine last time you took it out for a round. Or maybe it’s the super-slow-mo replay of some exceptional player’s swing and you think to yourself, “Oh look at what he’s doing with his right hand as he comes through the ball. I need to start thinking about that.” It’s as if we view our golf swings as coming with an option package: “Oh, that’s nice but does it come with 15 more yards of distance? Can I get it with the Shot Shaper Package thrown in?” We’ve banished fear only to clear the stage so that greed can make its own grand entrance.
Another indicator of greed’s role in the game is our habit of believing that any round could have been better. There are always the putts that could, or rather should, have dropped. When you broke 90 or 100 the first time I bet it didn’t take you long to figure out how that 99 or 89 could have been two strokes lower. In the short time it takes to drive home from my club I can rationalize how almost any round could have been a 79. I’m sure that right after Al Geiberger or David Duval shot their 59’s, they could have recalled at least one more birdie putt that could have gone in.
This mental exercise of adjusting one’s score to reflect what could have been shows how greed seduces us into exploiting a fundamental inaccuracy about scoring in golf. Assigning a specific number to a round conveys a sense of precise measurement of performance that’s really misleading. Obviously how you score on any given day depends primarily on the quality of your game. The better you are the lower the absolute number and the narrower the range of outcomes. Yes, the 86 you shot on Saturday was better than the 88 on Sunday. But both days you were performing within the same range and it was only random events that determined the difference in outcomes. Maybe the greens were a little bumpier on Sunday, or maybe Saturday the ricochet went into the fairway instead of into the woods.
Every time your ball leaves the clubface you’ve launched it into a natural world where all sorts of random stuff happens. We all understand that. Where greed kicks in is that we like to start with our score and work down from there. The blind squirrel events like the snaking 35 footer that found the hole on number 7 is simply something we had coming to us and the putt on number 14 that was just outside the leather and then stayed just outside the hole was something that was taken from us. It’s as if we believe that all the suffering we’ve endured entitles us to some payback.
(Yes, there are players who say things such as “It could have been much worse” after a round. But who likes rational self-effacing people anyway? And besides, have you noticed that nine times out of ten that comment is just a way of prefacing a statement to the effect that “at least I was putting well.” Hey, I don’t remember asking how you were putting.)
Finally, for those of you who may doubt the role of greed in the game, let me pose the following question: What do we call a short putt that is conceded by your opponents? That’s right, a gimme. Gimme, gimme, gimme. I rest my case.