Play Your Best | Gimme One Thing
March 28, 2019

Be Cool

Fall Of Icarus

Photo by Getty Images/Hulton Archive

There is a statistic tracked on the PGA Tour known as bounce back. It's the percentage of time a player who makes bogey or worse on a hole follows it with a birdie or better on the next. Cool stat, right? In 2018, the best at bouncing back was Dustin Johnson. He did it nearly 30 percent of the time.

Unfortunately, amateur golfers are more apt to have the opposite occur. How many times have you made a birdie on a hole and then carded a double bogey, a 7 or even a snowman on the next? I've got a name for this phenomenon, but I'd rather not repeat it here. Let's just call it the PBFU. If you tend to follow up excellent play with a blow-up hole (or holes!), you might think it's just a coincidence or that you're simply unlucky. But I think it typically happens for one of two reasons.

For some golfers, a birdie alters their personality. They get cocky and try to play the next hole like they've suddenly developed an elevated skill set. They haven't hit a draw off the tee in three years, but now they're aiming like the water on the right isn't a concern. The pin is tucked behind the deepest bunker in the state, but they're taking dead aim.

Other golfers freeze up. A birdie might be such a rare prize that they want to protect it. Their play becomes ultra-cautious. They steer shots, which leads to big misses. They try to lag their putts, but the ball comes up way short. The conservative mind-set also infects better players, especially if the birdie puts them in position to post a good score if only they can “par their way in” or avoid any doubles.

Putting a circle on the scorecard is an achievement any golfer should be proud of, but you have to remember the law of averages if you want to avoid making a mess on the next hole. Remember that a birdie typically represents the top end of your potential. You know those investment-bank commercials with the disclaimer that past performance does not guarantee future results? Remember that after you make a birdie. The shot you're about to hit, and the score you're about to post, are most likely to be average. That's not an insult. It's just math. And if you plan for that, you won't fall victim to playing too cocky or too conservatively. Ask yourself, How would I play this hole if I were coming off a run of several holes where I made my usual scores? Reframing your perspective in this manner is going to let you sidestep the dreaded PBFU.

WITH RON KASPRISKE