You read a lot about gut instinct in business. Many of today's most successful entrepreneurs depend on their gut instinct when they're faced with crucial decisions.
But these are not unwise, uniformed decisions. The best execs have all the data presented to them by very smart people, and THEN they go with their gut.
Same thing on the golf course. Make sure you have all the information you can get... the correct yardage, the precise target, the wind conditions and anything else that might affect your shot. Then pull out a club and go with it. Forget about all the second guessing.
Here's the thing. If you're second guessing the club you have in your hand, that means you're thinking. Your brain is still working. And if your brain is working a million miles a minute when you're trying to swing, your body will never comply. So it really doesn't matter what club you have in your hand. You're not going to execute the shot worth a darn.
Indecision is the kiss of death. When you're indecisive you're thinking way too much about the outcome of the shot and all the possible calamities that will befall you if your decision is wrong. That's not a good train of thought.
Before you play the shot you gotta quit thinking about the choice of clubs and start visualizing the ball flying at the target. If you find yourself second guessing a club decision, step away for a minute. Take time to regroup. Forget about it. Go back to the first club you pulled out - your gut instinct - go through your normal pre-shot routine, and then swing the club agressively.
And here's a good rule of thumb that will help you make a confident choice the first time. When you're making that club decision, always err on the safe side, away from the trouble. If the trouble is right of the green, aim left. If it's a sucker pin set right in the front of a false-fronted green, favor the longer club that will fly it well over the pin. It's like when you're laying up on a short par 4. What you need is an aggressive swing, for the conservative play.
But let's talk a little more about the information you need to make a good, gut decision. These days, yardages are almost always marked on every other sprinkler head, so that's not a problem. (Don't forget, those yardages are measured to the middle of the green.) But what about the target? Seems like a no brainer, right? Wrong. It's more complicated than you might think.
For instance, it's easy to forget about the target when you're standing on the tee of a long par-5. It's a long way away. Most people just want to "get it out there somewhere in the fairway." Forget about it! What you need is a very specific target, even for those long, bomber tee shots. Pick a very specific target in the fairway, or a point off in the distance. Then, as Harvey Penick used to say, take dead aim. Zero in on that spot, and focus all your effort on putting the ball right there. Not somewhere.
On approach shots the target becomes much more clear. Everybody wants to aim right at the flag, no matter what. Sorry, but in most cases, the target is NOT the flagstick. Forget about it.
When you see a hole location that's tucked way in the back of a green, what's your first instinct? Take more club, right? Get it back there. Don't leave it short. But on the green 50 feet short is way better than hitting it just a little bit long and leaving yourself a delicate chip off a downhill lie to a pin that's cut painfully close to the back fringe. It's impossible.
Unless you're a tour pro, you shouldn't focus on hitting at the flagstick. It's a lousy target because it seldom leaves you enough room for natural error. Aim at the middle of the green and you'll be surprised how many times you end up close to the hole. Just by chance. And if one does snuggle up close, don't tell anybody that you were aiming somewhere else.
You want proof? Have your local pro put on a tournament with no flagsticks at all, and see how well you play. My partner, PGA Pro Andy Heinly, has done it many times with the men's club, and every time the scoring average is significantly lower than the events played with flagsticks.
If you want to play to your handicap, you need to accept the fact that you're not going to hit perfect shots very often. So play the percentages. Play to the middle of the green more often. And practice your putting so you can convert those all-important two-putts. Otherwise, your safe play into the green will be for not.
Wind speed and direction is are also important factors when it comes to choosing a club. In fact, wind causes more second-guessing than anything.
The first thing you need is a good gauge of how strong the wind is, Not in weatherman terms, but in golf terms. It doesn't help to know that winds are 10-15 knots. The question is, how many extra clubs are you going to need?
So before the round, go to the driving range, take out your 100-yard club and try to determine how far the ball carries into the wind, and with the wind. Then take your 150 yard club and do the same. (That's not always easy due to the location of the practice range, but do the best you can.) You might find that you can hit your sand wedge 35 yards further than normal downwind, so make a mental note.
Keep it simple though. Either it's a one club wind, at two-club wind, a three-club wind, or very rarely, a four-club wind. And remember this rule of thumb: A headwind affects the ball more than a tailwind. So a three-club head wind is a two-club tail wind. Make sense?
Tom Watson was one of the greatest players of all time in the wind. He seemed to shine when the elements became a major factor, especially at The British Open. Watson said the key to hitting good shots in the wind is solid contact. Well, duh. That's the key to any good shot, it's just harder to come by when the wind's blowing your hat off in the middle of your back swing. "Gusty wind tends to produce gusty swings," Watson said.
The tendency, when you're hitting into the wind, is to swing harder than normal. Problem is, that's just the opposite of what you should do. Instead, take plenty of extra club, choke up an inch, and then take a good, 3/4 swing. That will produce the solid contact that Watson prescribes, and will produce a lower shot.
So the next time you find yourself vacillating between two clubs, just forget-about it and go with your first instinct. Chances are, your gut won't let you down.