Your goal off the tee, if you’re like a lot of golfers, is to hit the ball as far as you can, anywhere in play. That’s good for some holes, but if the fairway is flanked by water or out-of-bounds—suddenly “anywhere in play” isn't ideal. And sometimes, a good drive puts you 50 yards from the green, leaving an awkward half-shot. Again, whaling away with the driver might not be ideal from a strategy standpoint.
“For me, driving is trying to figure out, 'How do I best take advantage of this hole?' ” Tiger Woods says in Episode 8 of his video series “My Game: Tiger Woods,” produced by GOLFTV and Golf Digest. “So I plan from the green back. How do I get there, and what shot am I going to play in? And that feeds back into what club I’m going to hit off the tee and what swing I’m going to make.”
Granted, that’s easier to say if you have Tiger’s firepower, or a back-up shot you can hit straight as a string, like Tiger’s 3-wood stinger. That said, the courses you’re playing are probably 1,000 yards shorter than the ones on the PGA Tour, so you have a lot of the same decisions to make that Tiger does, just on a smaller scale.
The overarching issue here is course management. Tiger says he accepts that physical mistakes will happen, but he has zero tolerance for bad thinking. “I’ve always felt I should never make a mental mistake. We’re under no time pressure, no one’s trying to rip our heads off—there’s no reason I can’t go without making a mental mistake the rest of my career.”
And Tiger is clear on how mental toughness has always kept him competitive. “I’m not going to out-ball-strike you to death; I’m not going to out-putt you to death; but there’s no reason why I can’t out-think you,” he says. “Course management over the course of my career has allowed me to win as many tournaments as I have.”
These days, it’s easy to get caught up in the 350-yard drives we see on TV, but never forget, good thinking matters more. To watch Tiger’s full episode on the mental game and sign up for the entire 12-part “My Game: Tiger Woods” series, click here (in the U.S., China and Korea) and click here for the rest of the world.