Take a Risk or Play it Safe? The age-old question...
A well-sculpted golf course has been designed to present you with difficult decisions along its 18 holes. It will offer you a shot at glory, but not without the threat of a card-wrecking disaster attached.
The choice of playing it safe or 'going for it' is one of those age-old golf strategy questions that can make or break your round. How do you decide which side you should come down on? Is it based on a gut feeling? Or do you consider each situation on its merits?
We've listed 5 separate occasions when we would err on the side of caution - and 5 others when it's green light time.
When to play it safe:
Medal golf is the truest test of your golfing ability. It can be a daunting prospect for many golfers, not least because there's nowhere to hide. Unlike Match Play or Stableford, you must play each hole to its conclusion.
That means every penalty stroke will hurt, but unnecessary dropped shots will sting a little more.
In medals, try to play percentage golf. If it's a shot you can pull off more times than not, then go for it. Stay within your capabilities, and only hit shots you know you have in the locker.
No warm up
A pre-round warm-up can set you up for a great round, but how many times have you found yourself racing to the first tee with barely a moment to spare?
Now and again, life gets in the way to scupper your best-laid plans. It's important to consider those cold muscles and the fact that you'll need to loosen up over the first few holes.
When you're not at your flexible best, there's a chance you'll throw in a ropey swing or two. It's probably best if you dial it back a little (no swinging out of your shoes) until you've relaxed into your round and started getting nicely through the ball.
Your round can be made all the more challenging by rough weather. Dark rain clouds and howling winds can spell disaster for any hope of posting a decent number, but playing to the conditions can help you eke as much out of your day as possible.
High winds amplify lousy golf shots. If you lose control of your golf ball - which you inevitably will as the wind and rain swirl around you - it's curtains.
Anytime you're playing during a demanding spell of weather, your ability to make good decisions and play the right shot at the right time will be key. Often that will mean avoiding any risky golf shots and playing it safe.
No easy miss bail out area
Bail-out areas are a golfer's best friend. When we're taking on a challenging golf shot, they provide us with a safety net and a margin of error.
The difficulty level skyrockets if you're shooting towards a green where there's no real easy miss. With a wedge or low-mid iron, you might back yourself to find the putting surface (and rightly so), but from further away, have you any real business taking that shot on?
Taking the lay-up option and giving yourself a chance of an up-and-down could help you scramble par. Get the riskier shot wrong, and any number is possible.
A shot you've never practised
Trying that 1 in 1000 shot is a surefire way to get yourself into a whole heap of trouble.
Some golfers think conservative golf is boring golf. Is it a 'boring' play if your shot choice helps you save par? Unless you're left with no alternative, it's generally best to avoid playing a shot you haven't tried in practice.
By all means, go for that miracle shot you've never practised before, but don't be surprised if you're carding a double or worse.
When to go for it:
A pressure-free round with friends
A knock with your buddies can be the perfect arena to try shots you might not take on during a competition round. If the experiment fails, sure you might lose a hole in Match Play, or blank it in Stableford, but there's no major drama.
When you're out there with your pals, take advantage and try some shots you tend to shy away from in a competitive setting. Unless there's money on the line, of course!
You're feeling confident
Confidence is arguably the most powerful force in golf. It comes from a belief in your ability to pull off a shot on demand. Having an ingrained pre-shot routine and being able to visualise the shot you're trying to play helps too.
Improving your on-course self-confidence has the potential to revolutionise your game. Don't second guess yourself if you stand over the ball and feel the required shot is well within your reach. If you're in that frame of mind, commit to the shot and don't look back.
The real skill, though, lies in knowing the difference between confidence and false confidence. Over time you'll be able to gauge when you should listen to that inner belief - and weed out shots you've no business taking on.
Shot you have tried before
If you've pulled off a shot before, chances are you can do it again. Harking back to the confidence point, it helps massively if you have practised the shot and have positive feedback stored in the memory bank.
This positive reinforcement will help you visualise success and increase your chances of putting a good swing on the ball. Any time you're feeling confident over a tricky shot you've played many times before, go ahead and pull the trigger.
No risk of a lost ball
On most holes, you'll be faced with some sort of trouble from the tee or on approach to the green, but if there's no danger lurking ahead - it's all systems go.
As long as you'll be left with some sort of shot - i.e. there's no chance of you feeding the fish, or ending up OB, or being blocked out by a forest of trees - the reward outweighs the risk.
Let it rip.
Must win hole
When a decision is forced upon you, it takes away any self-flagellation if it all goes wrong. If you're one down heading up the last, and it looks pretty nailed on that your opponent will make par, there's no option but to go for the green and try to make a birdie.
You might end up hitting outside your comfort zone, but these death-or-glory shots are the ones where legends are made. Roll the dice, and you might just get it done!
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our tips on how to swing your own swing. You can read it here.