Slow & Steady Isn’t the Only Way to Win at Golf

It’s always surprising when the golf season closes. It seems as if one minute you’re in shorts, and the next thing you’re sporting a toque.

It seems that things happen pretty quickly in all parts of life, except, unfortunately, on a golf course. This blog isn’t about slow play and how to play faster, which has been covered thoroughly elsewhere.

This is about a recent experience that reminded me you can play well—and perhaps even better—by playing fast.

Most golfers take far too long from the time they arrive at the ball until it’s gone.

They dutifully go through a list of things like a pilot before take-off, and then proceed through the requisite twitches, wiggles and waggles until they mercifully pull the trigger.

It’s not only brutal to witness, but it also leads to terrible golf.

As a friend noted as we watched a fellow meticulously adjust the line on his ball on every putt only to three- or four-whack every hole, what part of ‘what’s the definition of insanity’ do folks not get? Slow careful golf equals bad golf.

I know this because I’m guilty. As a recovering perfectionist, I have a tendency to over-prepare for anything. (Including blogs. I rewrite the damn things over and over).

Think of the number of times that, perhaps in disgust, you stepped up to a ball and gave it a whack, and you hit it dead solid perfect.

Consider that Moe Norman, who is regarded as among the greatest ball-strikers in history, was one of the fastest players ever.

I was reminded of this at the recent Ontario University Athletics Golf Championship at Cherry Downs Golf Club in Pickering, Ontario. I was there as head coach of the University of Guelph men’s and women’s golf teams.

Going into the event, there was great concern the last half-dozen groups would not finish because of darkness. Unfortunately, slow play has been a problem in OUA golf for a long while. To expedite play, the players rode in carts, and they were warned that Golf Association of Ontario (GAO) officials would penalize groups that fell behind.

I was standing on the 15th tee when I got a text from Xavier Ayora from our men’s team that his group was on the clock.

When he arrived on the tee, I could tell Xavier was angry and near panic. He’s graduating this year, so this was his last OUA tournament as a Gryphon, and it was his first time playing in the OUA Championship. For Xavier, this was a very big deal.

His group played the par-three 15th relatively quickly, but not quick enough to make a difference to the GAO official overseeing them.

On the 16th tee, the official reminded them they were in serious danger of being penalized a stroke each if they did not catch up to the group ahead. The players started to complain. None of them wanted to hurt their teams, especially in the provincial  championship for Pete’s sake.

Watching this unfold, I couldn’t help myself. “I barked, ‘Guys, never mind the past. Focus on what you have to do—now!’”

In order, each player quickly put their tee in the ground, looked at the target and swung. And each bashed his drive down the fairway powerfully and accurately.

They ran back to their carts, roared out to their shots, ran to their respective balls, swung, ran back to the carts, and finished the par-five hole.

When they ran on the par-four 17th tee, one player said, “My heart is going 190 beats a minute!” After hitting his shot, a player sprinted to his ball.

It was amazing to behold these young men running, swinging and putting with wild looks in their eyes, and picking up and handing clubs to each other like a well-rehearsed dance troupe.

Afterwards, Xavier said: “I witnessed the fastest golf I have ever seen in my life.

“My playing partners and I were sprinting to our carts, hitting our shots as fast as possible and playing out of order, even on putts. Somehow, we all managed to play pretty good golf.

“I made par on every hole playing like that. The experience was something else but at the time I didn’t really feel anything. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get penalized for my score.”

It was incredible. Despite playing as quickly as possible, they all hit solid drives that found fairways, struck irons into greens, and they all made quality putts.

As Xavier witnessed, “I think it is possible to play well while playing fast golf because you have less time to think about negative things.”

Bingo!

As for the threat of a penalty, Sam Coons of McMaster ran on to the 18th tee and was about to start his backswing when I noticed a cart in the middle of the fairway.

They had caught up.

The players exploded with delight, high-fiving each other, laughing and exulting. It was wonderful to witness.

Xavier was our second-lowest score in the tournament with a 75 and contributed to our team’s third-place finish*, which was a great way to wind up his last OUA tournament playing for the University of Guelph.

I’ll bet that in 20 years, he may not remember what he shot, but he’ll tell the story of the fastest five holes he ever played.

(*Xavier has one more tournament to play as a Guelph Gryphon. The team’s third-place finish qualified them for the Canadian University/College Golf Championship next May.)

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

https://oconnorgolf.ca