101 Golf Secrets

Golf Secrets 37 - 39: Playing the Game

Golf Digest

I might appear placid on the exterior in the heat of a sudden-death playoff, but I'm just as nervous as the next guy—and just as nervous as you might be if you find yourself in a playoff for a club or state event. The difference is, I've been there many times. I know how to channel that nervous energy so it enhances my performance, not destroy any shot at success. I never think about winning or losing. I just try to execute the next shot.

I also stick to my pre-shot routine. That helps me relieve tension by concentrating on the familiar. If my concentration is broken, I start over and follow my pre-shot routine to the letter. Playoff pressure makes you speed up and get out of your natural rhythm. Following a pre-shot routine negates that.

I've had my share of luck in amassing a 14-2 playoff record as a professional. You need a good bounce here or a good break there. I like to think I put myself in position—sometimes by playing conservatively, other times by being aggressive and applying pressure to my opponent.

I employ a lot of match-play strategy in playoffs. For example, depending on the situation I might use a 3-wood or 2-iron off the tee to ensure I'll be hitting the first approach shot. If I can get one in there close, there's immediate pressure for my opponent to match my shot.

The key is never taking yourself out of the hole by being too aggressive when it's not warranted.


Be ready to hit when it's your turn . . . cut down on pointless practice swings . . . let faster groups behind you play through . . . keep up with the group in front . . . quick! . . . if you've whacked it eight times and the green is still a distant mirage, pick the ball up . . . leave your bag in an expeditious place beside the green . . . faster! . . . no plumb-bobbing or reading putts from four sides—just hit it . . . clear the green as soon as you're done . . . don't dawdle! No need to overdo the speed thing, but really, we don't have all day. This is your chance to move, breathe, get some exercise, be alive. Save the savoring for the food, wine and conversation afterward.



Because of my love for the Chicago Cubs and all of those who wore the uniform, I was elated last year when Ryne Sandberg was elected into the Hall of Fame. He said so many memorable things during his acceptance speech, but the line I remember most was, "If you played the game the right way, played the game for the team, good things would happen."

Change a word or two and it applies to golf. If you play golf the right way, good things happen.
The right way simply means by the rules. You don't roll the ball in the fairway or rough, ground your club in the bunker, mark your ball on the green and then set your ball down three inches in front of your marker. You don't say you had an 8 when you had a 9. You don't do any of those things whether you're playing in a foursome or by yourself because plain and simple, it's cheating. Harvey Penick said, "Golf is a gentleman's game, and a true gentleman has integrity."

During a Celebrity Players Tour event Al Del Greco asked Pierre Larouche to mark his ball on the green one to the left. Al putted, missed and walked off the green as the others putted out and left, leaving Pierre alone. Pierre made his putt and on the next tee realized he didn't move the mark back, so he called it on himself and lost the tournament by one shot.

I was playing in a big- money game years ago, and my friend Frankie Avalon hit his second shot over the green and down a deep slope. I couldn't see him, and moments later his ball came flying up on the green about eight feet from the cup. I said, "Great shot, Frankie, make this putt and it'll be a helluva par." He said, "Naw, I'm actually lying four. I whiffed a shot." The only one who saw it was Frankie, but that was enough.


Images from top: Gabe Palacio; J.D. Cuban; Courtesy of Tom Dreesen