From the Tips
I am pretty lucky to play as much golf as I do. My wife, God bless her, realized long ago that it’s a passion of mine and very rarely protests me getting out. Generally, my teenage son is my playing partner as he is aspiring to become a highly competitive high school player. His love for golf is infectious even to the already damned. So far so good for a freshman making the varsity squad starting every match this season. Typically, we play from the regular men’s tees as those are where high school players tee it up. In my years of playing, I have found that the men’s tees are appropriate for players that tend to shoot 80s to low 90s. No hard evidence to back this assertion, just my observation over the years. Even if you shoot in the 70s consistently, it’s still going to be an adequate challenge at most tracks. So why is it at least every other time I hit the links as a single I pair up with someone wanting to play from the tips?
A little background for this semi-rant. So when I started taking the game seriously, my preference was to play from the tees that best reflected my ability. Locally, at least in metro Atlanta, public courses have 3 to 4 sets of tees in most cases. Something along the lines of Red/Green (front tees, women, children and seniors), White (seniors, higher handicap, stronger women), Blue (men’s tees), Gold or Black….the tips or championship tees. My intuition told me to learn and hone my game from the White tees. When I say learning from the White tees, I mean learning to play the game, shooting respectable scores. Even when in mixed company with “better” players, I would still play from those tees. Why succumb to ego? A goal I set for myself was to break 80 and then I could move back. Not just breaking 80 once, but several times establishing confidence as a player. Mission accomplished and I made the jump back to the Blues, much better for the experience. Goal set again, 80 was the number. Astonishingly, that happened second round out. Then it became routine, at least at the tracks I normally played. Still, I felt I wasn’t ready to play from back there….the tips, so the goal was modified to breaking par. That took much longer to do. Like the other thresholds, it took time to break through and come in under par. Still, I was hesitant to move on back. Maybe, I was adding meaning to playing from the back tees, like others were watching, expecting to see a “player”. I made the jump with a buddy of mine who played on some of the mini tours. He’s one of those guys you aspire to be as a player. Dude can straight swing a club and he can certainly roll the rock. He said, “we are playing from back here….let’s go”. The state of my game was altered on the first tee, almost like starting over, not quite though, but I was uncomfortable for sure. Pulled my drive left, came home with a triple on the first. Doubled the second, 5 over through 2. Settled down after that and played golf, the “extra meaning” eased away from my mind as I became immersed in turning this round positive. Ended up shooting 81 that day. I learned to feel good to play from any set of tees, see the shot and hit it. Now confident, I will mix it up at my main course, Bradshaw Farms, and play from the Blues and the Golds differing the challenge from round to round. Bradshaw isn’t a long course overall, so to get some good work in with my driver I have to play from the tips. Typically, I am hitting a lot of my second shots from familiar positions or a little bit closer hitting with the driver. Not true for everyone, I know plenty of guys that can break the driver out from the Blues, conversely, I’ve met a few guys that still have to keep the driver in the bag playing Golds….I don’t like those guys. Nothing wrong with either case, we all have different strengths.
The question remains, why guys feel the need to play from back there, if their actual level of play doesn’t merit the additional difficulty? This happened to me again the other day. A young guy, college kid, rolls up as a single. I was about to tee off from the blue tees, planning on working on a couple of things, not too concerned with score. Glad to get out is all. The starter, who I’m friendly with, asked me if I’d mind pairing up. Gorgeous weather out, spring is very near, why not enjoy some company for a quick 9. After introductions, he informs me that he’s playing from the Golds, which is fine by me, but I’m immediately a little wary. I walk back to my cart, retrieve my driver as he’s teeing it up. His pre shot routine is solid taking aim. He gives it a good poke but it hooks wildly, initially I thought it was in the hazard. A short left hook. First swing of the day, happens to all of us, I’m less guilty of this in the spring and summer when daylight is abundant, but I too am coming out with no range time. I hit a good drive playing a little cut to the left side of the fairway. The kid puts down another egg on the tee, reloading….”two off the first, right? ”…I nod in the affirmative. Smokes one down the right side, now I am feeling a little better about the prospects of this round. Unfortunately, that “second” drive was the highlight of the first 4 holes. I think he lost 4 or 5 balls over the next 4 holes. Not saying the kid didn’t have some skills, it could have been rust, he told me he hadn’t played in a few weeks. Crazy bad starts or a run of truly awful play are just part of golf. Accepting the good rounds with the bad run of holes, keeps us humble, at least I should hope. I just think that sometimes we are predisposed to play from a certain tee based on our ego. Which on the surface is pretty dumb. Why play from the back if you can’t consistently put the ball in the fairway? Why play from all the way back there if you aren’t comfortable hitting longer irons into greens? If you can’t knock chips up near the hole to get it up and down with some regularity, why are we obsessed from taking on the full golf course? What does the “tips” buy you at some courses…..220 yard par 3s!…..yessir, may I have another. Haven’t found a soul yet that loves stepping to one of those, especially when you have water involved. Sigh.
The Play it Forward campaign has merit. I like the message centered around making the game fun, not about where you play from. My son’s golf instructor (Denise Killeen…man she’s good), because I know better than to try and teach him, insist that her students play from the front tees at least once or twice a month. Why? So they can learn to score, make some birdies. Great advice even for us grown ups if you ask me. I have a theory that birdies can breed like rabbits if you let them. The more you make, the more they seem to come in bunches. Playing from the front tees takes the “moment” out of making a birdie. If you are consistent, you may get 7 or 8 good looks at birdies from the front tees. Develops the ability to make a birdie and not get all worked up about what it means. I can remember par feeling like that, you’d have 2 lone pars in a sea of 18 holes. Those par putts had meaning, kind of like a birdie. Felt good holding the tee with something less than a bogey, you earned it. Start making those pars and then all of the sudden you start making 5 pars in a round. Then 10, next thing you know you pulled 15 pars out of your butt. Making par becomes an expectation, no longer an event. Not suggesting birdies will breed like pars, but 4 and 5 birdies a round will certainly make you feel like a better player. If nothing else, gives you something to talk about over a beer in the clubhouse. Still waiting to get to 5 birdies in a round by the way….but it’s a goal this spring.
To end this little rant, my suggestion for any player is to consistently challenge yourself on the course. After all, that’s part of the allure in playing the game of golf, a never ending series of challenges. Tailor the challenge to your personal level of play and the rewards can be tenfold. You’ll push to get better, you will improve faster, and I believe ultimately want to play more in turn helping to grow the game. Besides, who among us derives pleasure losing 10 balls in route to shooting a 105 from the tips?