Jack Nicklaus. 1960’s and 70’s. Nick Faldo. 1980’s and 90’s. Tiger Woods. 1990’s and 00’s. Forty Major Championship victories. These are the greatest players of their generation, characterised by their ability to win the biggest tournaments under the greatest of pressure.
These three superstars of the game share many attributes but perhaps the most important and perhaps underrated is their ability to ‘get the job done’ when they are in contention. The skill to front run and hold firm whilst others buckle has won many a Major Championship.
In this blog, we will hear from the players themselves on the keys to manage their game around the course – and to win. At the same time, we will summarise the key points that can be transferred to help golfers to victory at all levels of the game.
‘Playing percentage golf demands the ability to consistently fade or draw the ball. Which shape a golfer chooses must depend on his strength and his natural swing tendencies.
I have preferred to flight the ball left to right virtually since I started golf – growing up I wanted to do it Hogan’s way. I think that I can honestly say that I did not depart from my basic policy of fading the ball between 1953, when I was thirteen and 1963. Through that period I won two US Amateurs, the US Open and finished third on the Money List.
In early 1963, I developed a hip issue that slowed down my hip action through the ball. For the first time in my life I was obliged to play with a right to left draw. I won the Masters that year – its youngest winner ever’
The lesson here is that if Nicklaus had continued to stick with his previously successful fade strategy, the hip ailment would of prevented him from becoming the worlds most successful golfer. Nicklaus adapted his game to changing circumstances – and so should you.
Game your Game – Know your tendencies and play within them.
Faldo gives a wonderful insight into what he learnt from Nicklaus:
‘Playing in the San Diego Open at Torrey Pines in 1982, I found myself in the company of a rampant Jack Nicklaus and big-hitting Andy Bean. Between them, they ripped the course apart. Nicklaus returned a glorious 64, Bean took 68.
Later that afternoon I found myself analyzing Jack’s round. I had been treated to a rare display of perfect ball-striking. Wherever the pin was placed, Jack’s iron shots tore off for the middle of the green before leaning one way or the other to seek out the flag.
He never looked like missing a green. On the odd occasion he caught one of his iron shots flush, he would finish up in the heart of the green, leaving a 20 foot birdie putt instead of the usual 5 footer’.
You may not have the ball striking skills of Jack or Nick, but this is even more reason to give yourself as wide a margin of error as possible.
Take Dead Aim – for the middle of the green
On his Driving strategy, Faldo borrowed another lesson, this time from Ben Hogan,
‘For Hogan, the key to good golf was placing the tee-ball on a chosen spot in the fairway. A drive was not measured in yards, but analyzed in terms of position. If a hole featured a dog-leg and the left side of the fairway offered the best angle for a look at the flag, that’s where he expected his ball to finish. Every shot was a personal challenge.
Hogan had identified one of the keys to low scoring – think not in terms of how far but how accurately you place your ball in the fairway. That’s not defensive golf, it’s smart golf.’
So many average golfers automatically reach for the Driver on every Par 4 or 5. Be like Faldo. Play smart.
Aim for a specific spot on the fairway to give yourself the easiest approach.
Tiger was born to golf. From an early age, his dad instilled the discipline and toughness required of a Champion. Tiger takes up the story:
‘When I was 3-years old, Pop explained to me that the starting point of every shot is behind the ball. That you must visualize the shot and access all of the potential problems, then commit to the shot that you want to hit. I did not realize it at the time, but my most important lesson in course management began with Pop’s insistence that I have a preshot routine.
I must have looked pretty regimented as I went through my routine in my very first Junior Tournament that day, but I didn’t care. I felt comfortable. Well I shot 120 but I won’.
Develop a simple pre-shot routine and stick with it
Things do not always go to plan, but this should not stop you from winning. Tiger explains his approach:
‘I always try to be prepared for the unexpected, like those times when I have to rely on my creativity and imagination to pull me out of a tight spot. That’s one of the reasons I love links golf so much. You get to use every ounce of your creativity. For example, 200 yard 9-irons and 100 foot putts are not uncommon’.
Practice from a variety of lies so that unexpected situations do not throw you in a tournament.
Finally, we come full circle and a lesson that Woods took from Jack Nicklaus:
‘I adopted my preround practice routine from Nicklaus. I always use the same six clubs, working my way up from the sand wedge to the Driver. The last club I hit is the one I intend to use on my first shot of the day.
My purpose is not to work on my swing. My purpose is to establish my rhythm. That’s when I’m on’.
Learn and stick to a pre-round practice regime that allows you to establish your best rhythm for the day.
Golf My Way (1974) by Jack Nicklaus (with Ken Bowden)
Faldo – A Swing for Life (1995) by Nick Faldo (with Richard Simmons)
Tiger Woods – How I Play Golf (2001) by Tiger Woods (with the editors of Golf Digest)