Do you know who Jackie Burke is?  Jackie Burke!  Dude, f’real?  First off, if you haven’t gone to Secret In The Dirt yet, what have you been waiting for?  Second…he’s the man.  I was reading this and was really struck by this passage…

It is not the average distance you hit a club, but the distance you hit the ball most often. That sounds like the same thing, but I have found though years of harassing poor, unsuspecting amateurs that the “most often” shot is usually five and sometimes as much as 10 yards shorter than the best shot. But the fear of going over the green chides people into being short all day long. Using the most often approach can result in five or more saved shots from not being short, which is a lot better for your score than the one bogey you might make from the career shot that sails over the green.

I like what the great Jackie Burke said to one of his students when he was pondering a club choice. He asked the unsuspecting young star what he could hit over the green. The student responded, “5-iron.”

Burke then responded, “Well then, wouldn’t that make this a 6?”

Just think about that for a second.

Read it again and try to recall rounds of yours in the past where you agonized over a club selection, checked your GPS or fired another shot with your rangefinder, obsessing over a club choice…we all know how this story ends.  Either you try to prove your manliness, not by any real measure of manliness mind you, but by SHOWING THE WORLD that you can hit that 170 yard 8i (my personal favorite) or you get so angry with yourself that you just had to take more club, and instead of putting a smooth swing on it, you SHOW THE WORLD you totally should’ve taken the 8i as you watch your ball sail 10 yards over the green.

Oh don’t even try to bullshit your way around it, I know you’re lying.

…over yourself yet?  Good.

Now I want you to ask yourself a question.  Ask yourself how many greens in regulation you would hit if you didn’t even look at a yardage and thought “well, I know I can blast a 5i over that green, so I’ll just take a 6i.”  Hmm…

There are a few theories in this similar vein, thoughts along the lines of “just aim for the middle of the green” or “imagine there isn’t even a flag there.”  I think Burke’s lil anecdote above has a lot more depth than either of those, because, psychologically, both of those mindsets are, to use a technical term, pretty bitch thinking.  “Oh, I’m OBVIOUSLY not good enough to aim at the flag because I have a vagina and should be using graphite shafted irons, wah wah wah.”


But thinking “ok, I’ll just take one less club than I’d BLAST IT OVER THE GREEN WITH BECAUSE I’M A MAN BAY-BAY and take dead aim because I know I have enough to get there” is thinking positively.  Good feelings.  Good karma.  “Yea, I got enough club, where’s that fucking pin at?”  You’re not telling yourself that shooting at the flag is dangerous or that you’re not good enough to go pin hunting, instead telling yourself you’ve got the club you need, no need to waffle, just fire away.

It sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Maybe a little, sure, but what’s more aggravating…trying to eek every last yard out of a club with a small margin of error only to hit a horrible shot and put yourself in the shit or getting your Freud on and using some “gosh darn, people just like me” stuff to give yourself the confidence that yea, even if you push/pull it, you’ll still be around pin-high and in a good spot to recover.

Go back to those two scenarios I mentioned earlier and put that in the context of course design.

On most holes, you’re ok if you’re pin high and long is rarely going to kill you because a lot of the danger is in front of the green.  Sure, you might have a downhill or sidehill chip or putt, but lets be honest, that’s much better than being in a water hazard or short-siding yourself.  Thinking about just hitting the middle of the green is all fine and dandy, but you’re not target-focused and, subconsciously, you get sloppy because you have the mindset of an asshole teenager being asked to clean his room.  “Imagining there’s no flag” is cool in theory, but, cmon…all you’re doing is pretending you’re not looking at the flag and fucking your aim to hell.

It’s called “subconscious” for a reason…you ain’t thinking about it yo.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t manipulate your own mental processes to massage that subconscious into working in your favor.

Imagine a friend asks you to toss him a beer.  Do you agonize over if you’re going to throw it high and soft or low and fast?  Do you think about releasing at a descending or ascending angle?  Do you think about having an inside-out path? Do you even think?  NO!  You just toss it.

“Oh, I can hit a 5i over that green easy, so I know a 6i is fine.”

You’re not thinking about the club or the wind or the shit in front of the green or anything at all other than “I KNOW I have the club for this green” because you’ve taken care of all that other shit already.  There’s no indecision, and THAT’S the thing that’ll kill an approach shot like nothing else.

Where there’s indecision, there’s tension, awkwardness and hesitation in your swing, almost guaranteed.  Your wrists tense up, your tempo gets quick and you get out of sequence, and that usually leads to fat and thin shots…the real score killers.  These are the shots that either put you in the water or a bad hazard or, even if you’re lucky, in that dreaded 50-80 yard range that even the PGA Tour pros avoid like the plague.  Don’t believe me?  Go to an empty course and see how many times you get down in 3 shots from this range…good luck.

I’m not saying that you don’t need to know how far you hit your clubs or worry about distance, quite the opposite really.  You have to have this shit down solid, make consistent, flush contact, and know how to control your ballflight, no doubt.  What I am saying though, is that by thinking about your approaches like this, you put yourself in a better mindset to hit quality shots.  You know the worst that can happen is a push or pull that’ll still leave you pin high because you have the utmost confidence in the club you’ve pulled.

Ben Hogan once said, “I didn’t know the yardage, I didn’t want to know the yardage. There are too many variables. The wind, the density, how you’re playing that day. I don’t think I could have played by yardage.”  Trust me, Ben Hogan knew his yardages, but what he’s speaking to is the same thing Jackie Burke was getting at above…eliminating indecision and getting yourself to believe that you’ve got the right club in your hands.  The focus isn’t on a yardage or on a shot shape because you’re forcing yourself to focus on the target.

These are heady concepts, but there’s just so much depth in these little metaphorical one-liners that, if you really think about it, and apply that thinking to your own game, that confusing fog starts to lift and the game becomes that much more rewarding.