I get asked a lot of golf questions: Greatest ever? Favorite course? Best clubs?
One of my favorites to answer that throws people off is: What’s the hardest shot?
Physically, there are a few that stick out to me.
The 50-yard bunker shot is brutal.
A super tight-lie chip to an elevated green with a forced-carry component is always tough for me.
And I’ll go with the well-struck punch shot that controls spin into the wind.
Each of those answers would be appropriate and accepted in a conversation. But sometimes I’ll change the angle just a bit with this answer: The “next shot” is the toughest shot.
That’s right, the next shot.
Because while all golf shots can be difficult physically, I don’t think there’s anything harder than the mental test golfers are subjected to before each shot.
We’ve all done it. It’s self-inflicted. And it’s 100-percent within our own minds.
I don’t know if there’s common term for it. One that I use sometimes isn’t quite Vindicator-suitable. So let’s just go with “mind punched.” For me, I used to “mind punch” myself in tournaments with tee shots that didn’t suit my eye.
I remember playing in the Ohio Amateur final in Cincinnati one year. The 12th hole was a short par-4 with OB right and water all the way down the left. For some reason, that tee shot just didn’t suit me. Even worse, I walked past that hole while playing an earlier hole in the round. So starting on No. 8, I’d start mind punching myself over that upcoming shot.
That’s an example of a future shot creating mental issues for me during a portion of a round.
But how about the “next shot?”
Well, I’m sure we’ve all done this: You’re standing over an approach shot into the green ... comfortable distance ... good club in hand ... feeling good and then, a last-second thought: “Just don’t miss it to the right and leave that awful chip shot.”
But let’s keep going and say you actually do miss that shot to the right. Now you have a solid two minutes to yell at yourself (inside your own mind hopefully).
“Anywhere but here and you’d have a shot at birdie or easy par at worst.”
“Middle of the fairway and missed it in the only place you didn’t want to be.”
And the worst: “The only shot I didn’t want to have to hit next!”
Those thoughts all affect the upcoming chip shot. You better believe the resulting double-bogey that should have been a par or birdie will affect the tee shot on the next hole. And on and on this mental game goes.
I can’t tell you how many times after a round of golf I was able to look back and pinpoint a specific shot, good or bad, that had a multi-hole effect on my final score.
Dr. Bob Rotella wrote a series of books addressing the mental aspects of the game. Being able to stay “in the moment” and take “one shot at a time” is certainly something the pros on TV work very hard at every time they play.
But most of the rest of us struggle keeping our thoughts in check during those few moments in between shots when your mind wanders and strange thoughts pop up.
“Don’t miss it left. ... Anywhere but short. ... Accelerate!”
“Don’t dip. ... Keep your head down! ... Come on, turn! ... Why did I hit it here?”
Yes, that next shot is always the hardest.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.