Armchair Golf Pro: Wilson’s Hero Shot at Sony Open

The Armchair Golf Pro writes about PGA Tour events each week. Like you he is watching from his comfy armchair, enjoying the competition and drama, but also pulling lessons and observations you can use to your advantage on the golf course to help you play better golf.

HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 16:  Mark Wilson reacts...

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Mark Wilson won the Sony Open with a remarkable display of consistency. Due to weather the final two rounds were all played on Sunday, and Wilson’s scorecard does not show a single bogey. How do you play 36 holes without a bogey?

Three things for consistency: A navigation plan for how to play the golf course that minimized risk and maximized opportunities; a consistent pre-shot routine that set him up in the best position to succeed each time; and good strategic decision-making. These are all good lessons for us to remember.

But the main lesson I took away from Wilson’s play was good decision making and avoiding the hero shot.

On the 8th hole, a 459-yard par 4, Wilson got a little quick in his transition and hooked his drive into the trees left, narrowly avoiding a water hazard. Now, the TV didn’t show us his alternatives from that position, so we don’t quite know exactly what he faced. It looked like there may have been a narrow opening where he could have advanced his ball toward the hole, maybe even a chance to play a low hook and try to run it on the green. But instead Wilson pitched out sideways to the middle of the fairway, leaving himself 156 yards to the hole.

To me it was notable as much for what he didn’t do as for the way he made his par. He didn’t try for the hero shot. He didn’t try to make up for his initial mistake off the tee with a spectacular shot from a difficult position. That would have been a low-odds shot, and could have resulted in double-bogey or worse. He didn’t even try to advance the ball as close to the hole as possible – another common strategic thinking error.

Instead, he put himself in the best position he could in the middle of the fairway with a good angle to the pin. Then he made his hero shot. He hit his approach shot to 4 feet and made what I call a “Pro” par. A smart par.

There are lots of ways to make par, and shooting lower scores doesn’t necessarily mean always trying to get the ball as close to the green as possible. And it doesn’t mean gambling on shots with low odds of success.

Strategic Golf Shot Choices

Strategic Shot Choices

I made a Pro par in a tournament a while back. Like Wilson I hit my tee shot left. I was next to a water hazard, 165 yards out, with an awkward stance. To get the ball on the green I would have had to hook the ball around trees and then run it up between two sand traps. I thought about going for it, because I have that shot and I can hit it if I need to. But not every time, and certainly not from an awkward stance.

Instead I elected to pitch out to my favorite wedge distance (78 yards with a 3/4 sand wedge), to a position on the right side of the fairway that would give me the best angle to the pin. I calculated how far I needed to pitch out to get to that distance and took a club that would safely get me there. I hit my spot on the button, knocked my approach shot to 4 feet, and made my par.

I don’t remember what I shot that day or much else about the round. But that moment stands out for me because I exercised clear thinking and made a good strategic decision. And now I use that moment to remind myself that there are always options, and good scores come from good decision making. Wilson brought it home again.

The next time you play, keep this in mind: forget the Hero shots when you are in trouble. Get it into play first, then you can put your best move on it.

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2 Responses

  1. Jim Merwin says:

    I have never thought of a shot I did not try to make as a “Hero shot” but from now on I will. I will try to pass up unrealistic shots where failure brings big numbers into play and opt instead for the safer shot in hopes I can hit my approach shot close enough to save a decent score, perhaps even a “Pro Par.”

    I love the Five Keys to Distance. In fact, I sat down to read it a few weeks ago at 11:00 PM and did not put it down until I finished at 2:30 AM and then I was so jacked up, I had trouble getting to sleep. I am confident your insights and methods will restore the distance to my game that mysteriously disappeared about 18 months ago and which has driven me to try every golf tip I could find — all to no avail. Thank you!

    I have another question about the downswing. I do not see in The Five Keys to Distance where you mention the role of the head or the shoulders during the downswing. I assume the head remains still and roughly over your right knee while your shoulders remain “back to the target” until your club is approaching contact. Right?

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Jim,
      Glad you liked the post on avoiding the “hero” shot when the odds are stacked against you. If you make a mistake, don’t compound it with another mistake. That is what leads to doubles and triples. Save the hero shot for when the odds are stacked in your favor.
      As for your question regarding the head and shoulders on the downswing, my feeling is that the down swing starts from the ground up. The legs and hips should carry the shoulders around through impact to the finish. If you focus too much on your shoulders you’ll forget your legs, and if they don’t move you’ll wind up with an “over-the-top” swing. A quick note on head position: When I am hitting driver my head goes back about two inches. Every other club is slightly less until I get to my sand wedge, where my head doesn’t move at all. Physiologically your head has to move back with the driver in order to get the weight shift you need for the power and speed you want. But with a sand wedge it is not about power – just accuracy. Thanks for the question!