Learning lessons of ‘playing within yourself’
Top local players talk of knowing their limitations, surveying situations
You have probably heard the expression a hundred times or more, often uttered by pro golfers or TV commentators who stress how important it is to “play within yourself.”
I’ve always thought I had an idea of what that meant, but I decided to talk to some real golfers about the subject. I solicited opinions from several who played in the Central Texas Amateur last weekend at Forest Creek. They all said similar things, in slightly different ways:
Mike Allen: “I think it is something like choosing the right club for the situation. It means don’t press and try a shot that you probably can’t pull off. You have to make good mental decisions. Know when to lay up and when to go for it or take a chance.
“There are days when you have to accept what you have and limit your losses. Like today (in the first round of the Central Texas Amateur), I did not play well, and I shot 78, but it easily could have been an 83.”
Grady Bruce: “To me, it means staying out of your own way. By that, I mean know your limitations. Let’s say I’m on a par-5 and I have 250 yards to carry some trouble to get to the green in two. I can do that, but it’s not a high-percentage shot. I have a better chance for birdie, and less chance of trouble, if I lay up and wedge up and make a putt.
“It’s also in a situation when I get off to a bad start, maybe three or four or five over on the front. Don’t try to make it all up in a hurry. You have to limit your losses. Realize that you don’t have your A game that day. Just stay with your usual game and get in the best you can.”
Billy Clagett: “I guess it would mean that you don’t try to pull off a fantastic shot that you may or may not be capable of making. Look at the situation, and play the shot that you are most capable of making.”
Nicholas Cristea: “I’m not a long hitter, so for me it means to work on hitting a lot of fairways and greens and hoping to make a couple of putts here and there. I can’t overpower a course. I have to play smart. So I will play conservative and take my chances when they come.
“That said, in a tournament it can depend on the situation. If it’s the last round and I’m in the lead or near the lead, I’ll play conservative. If it’s the last nine in a tournament and I’m a few shots out, I’ll take more chances. I should have done that this year at the Firecracker.”
Steve Paterson: “There are times when you have a shot that you know you can produce, but the risk might be too great. It’s fine to play smart and conservative like that, but still there are times when you need to be aggressive. You just have to recognize the situation.”
Trey Schroeder: “I think of it as controlling your emotions, and you can’t play good golf if you can’t do that. Also, you have to consider the situation. You have to weigh the odds of pulling off a shot, consider the situation and then make a smart decision.”
One of my favorite stories that fits in this discussion involves Michael Cooper and his record 17-under-par 196 total in winning the 2003 Firecracker Open.
Cooper enjoyed a six-shot lead in the final round when he arrived at the tee for the par-5 12th. His drive landed in the light rough left of the fairway, some 200 yards from the green. To reach the green in two, he would have to hit a slight draw and carry the pond that fronts the 12th green.
Cooper studied the shot for a long time, and finally opted to lay up. He then hit a wedge to the green and two-putted for par. After the victory, I asked him about that decision.
“That just killed me to lay up, but I realized that the only way I was going to lose this tournament was to do something stupid and make a big number,” Cooper said.
“I guess I’m finally old enough to use my head. A few years ago, I would not have given it a second thought. I’d have gone for it automatically.”
The Cooper example might not exactly be “playing within yourself,” but it is definitely playing smart and should be a lesson for all of us.
Billy Clagett, celebrating a birdie putt in the 2008 Firecracker Open, says it’s important to know ‘the shot that you are most capable of making’ when a decision is made on the course.