When you hit a poor shot and the ball ends up somewhere less than ideal, how well do you recover to make a nett par? Do you take your medicine and take a drop or the sensible route, adding up an extra stroke, or do you try and hit a heroic risky recovery shot? Make the shot and you’re a hero, back in position A and on the PGA Tour highlights reel. Mess it up and the initial error multiplies, it all goes horribly wrong and you’re glad the cameras were never there.
If Rory can do it, so can I
In looking through a few highlights videos from recent PGA Tour events, I was surprised at how much trouble pros manage to get into off the tee and the amazing skills they have in getting back to where they want to be with their next shot to make a good score. Rory’s 3rd shot on the 18th during the final round of the Wells Fargo in May is a prime example. His drive landed deep in long rough down a steep slope to a stream. His caddie encouraged him to take a drop to a better spot to have a chance of decent approach. His 3rd shot was simply amazing. Two putts later, he won the tournament by 1 shot. His first win on tour since 2019.
Missed video cuts
Pros like Rory have the rare ability to regularly hit successful and heroic recovery shots from difficult positions, or at least, appear to have a better chance of a successful outcome. Perhaps the experience of seeing pros on TV make these tricky shots look easy, encourages us to throw caution to the wind and do the same. But then again, those highlights videos aren’t full of pros making their sensible low risk recoveries and taking their medicine. Not so entertaining for the viewer and seldom seen on TV. Rory’s sensible drop to a better lie on the 18th at Wells Fargo got cut from the official PGA Tour highlights video. I rest my case. You can watch what happened on the 18th, but not the drop, by clicking on the thumbnail below.
Image: PGA Tour
What is a scramble anyway? Leaving the Texas type aside, in the pro game it’s a statistic. Generally, if you miss the green in regulation and still get down in a nett par, that’s a scramble. In my game it’s a description of some untidy golf when I’ve got away with a par through sensible shot choices and a bit of luck. Critical for my scrambling is the shot I choose when I get into trouble. If I let ego-feeding thoughts of fantasy hero shots persuade me to take risks, I may forget that I’m just not good enough to get that lucky.
Low risk – good reward
As a recent example, last week, my drive on the par 5 first hole, had good distance but poor direction. It landed 6 inches from a tree trunk a few yards off the fairway. My line to the hole was blocked by 2 feet of bark. I had a few options. Tricky low shot down a narrow gap between a line of trees to get closer to the hole, or a sensible shot of medicine, sideways onto the fairway and reset. A short chip, long iron, a wedge to 10 feet and a single putt later (thanks PuttBANDIT) and a par was on the card. It could have been a lot worse. And a few holes later it was.
The sensible choice
For golfers like us, who get a free shot now and then, it’s the sensible choice of a recovery shot or drop from a wayward tee shot that can be critical in saving par. For long hitting pros with no free shot cushion, it becomes the ability to hit outstanding approach shots, close chipping and single putting that’s key to recovery and scrambling. Their sensible shots sideways don’t get much TV coverage. The excellence of what happens next often does. Is this one reason why we get tempted by high risk hero shots, well beyond our skills and abilities, when trying to save a score? I won’t describe what happened on my 6th hole last week but I chose poorly and ‘card wrecker’ springs to mind.
Stay sensible and play well
Do you go for the hero shot or are you Captain sensible? Tell us about your recovery shot stories in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll mention some of the best in our monthly newsletter.
Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and enthusiastic improver.
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