By Luke Kerr-Dineen
For years, the formula for success in golf has been relatively straightforward: To play better golf, you have to play more golf. Play different courses, with different people, for different stakes, as often as you can. Do that, and you might be a good golfer at the end of it. "I guess that's when I got labeled a loner," Nick Faldo, the living embodiment of that philosophy, once said. "I didn't have a social life at all. I played golf from dawn to dusk . . . I literally did that in rain or snow."
But could it be that the key to playing better golf actually involves playing less golf? Recent evidence suggests that idea may not be far off.
In a column for the Wall Street Journal
, John Paul Newport indirectly touches on what seems to be an emerging trend (much to the excitement of office golfers everywhere) by describing how colleges in the North lure top golfers to their schools:
"Weather for sure is our biggest obstacle in recruiting against the Southern schools," Illinois men's coach Mike Small said. "But we believe strongly that for certain players with certain mindsets, the atmosphere and the coaching up here is going to help them become better players faster than they would if they went to some place with warm weather."
Practicing in a "static environment," Small believes, is ideal for working on pure technique and building confidence in the winter. "When you go outside, some days it's rainy or windy. The greens are slow one day and fast the next. But indoors you build precision. You know exactly what's you, and what is caused by conditions," he said.
In essence, Small is selling recruits on the idea that it's actually not in their best interest to have access to golf-able weather all year long. That abundance -- be it more access, more resources, or more opportunities to compete -- isn't actually desirable. In fact, you'd be better off avoiding it.
That notion may be a relatively new one to the game of golf, but its one that has been gaining steam nationally.
In his most recent book published in October, David and Goliath
, writer Malcolm Gladwell argues that when favorites face off against underdogs, onlookers tend to overinflate the advantages of the favorite and overlook any potential advantages of the underdog.
He uses the David and Goliath analogy: Goliath was significantly bigger and stronger than David, making him the favorite. David would lose if he tried to play Goliath at his own game, but David won because his disadvantages forced him to be creative and fight differently -- using his sling. Victory, then, was not because of any known advantage, but rather the direct result of his disadvantage.
So is that the reason that the University of Illinois is one of only six teams to have made the NCAA finals six years in a row? That their perceived disadvantage of not being able to play and compete year round is actually a blessing, because it forces them to practice harder, more methodically, and more creatively? By taking time off, these golfers have time to focus on making big changes to their game. Golfers in warmer climates, conversely, are always playing golf, so they don't have that luxury.
And some PGA Tour players look to be adopting a similar strategy. Of those finishing in the Top 10 on the 2013 Money List, five played less than 20 events. Compare that to four in 2012, two in both 2011 and 2010, and one in 2009. Playing and practicing in static environments, in the form of their respective home courses, rather than competing week-in-week-out on the road is increasable preferable. Improvement, it seems, isn't solely dependent on playing more golf.
And office golfers everywhere rejoiced.