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Golfers engaging in risky business

BY ROD ENGBLOM | APRIL 21, 2015 5:00 AM

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Risks are a part of golf. Golfers have to choose whether to take a difficult shot or go for the green in a high-stakes situation. And how a golfer manages risks may determine the outcome of the match.

Sometimes, the ability to take risks pays off in close matches, but they can also backfire. In golf, there are always going to be makes, but mistakes can cost a player the match. Because of that, Iowa men’s head golf coach Tyler Stith tends to play it safe.

“Taking on a challenging flag stick can potentially lead to a double bogey or worse,” he said. “It’s not worth the risk when you know hitting 25 feet right of it you still have an opportunity to make birdie, but you have eliminated making 6.”

Sometimes, taking the conservative route in golf will end up yielding a better score rather than taking a risky shot. If a player misses his second shot on a par 5 in an attempt to hit the green in 2, the player may have to settle for par, bogey, or worse depending on how far he missed the second shot. But if the player were to lay up and go for the green in 2 shots rather than 1, the player could easily make par or birdie, saving 1 to 2 strokes.

“Everyone thinks of score in terms of a birdie, I gain 1, a bogey I lose 1,” Stith said. “Well, relative to score yes, but relative to your playing competitors, that’s not true.”

Stith’s conservative strategy revolves around college golf being based on collective team scores rather than professional golf, which emphasizes individual performance.

He said coming back with birdies after shooting a bogey on a hole isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.

“So on a relatively easy par 4, the scoring average for the field would be less than 4, meaning more people are making birdies than bogeys,” Stith said. “So if you take that theory, a birdie does not help you as much as a bogey hurts you because if you make three [birdies], you pick up a half a shot on the field, and if you make five [bogeys], you’re losing one and a half shots on the field.”

This way of looking at scores affects the risk-taking side of the game because it emphasizes reducing the number of bogeys a player makes. This is opposed to compensating for bogeys with birdies on following holes because the individual golfer’s scores are compared with the rest of the field.

That said, there are still players who believe taking risky shots is an essential part of their game.

“I’m a pretty aggressive player,” sophomore Carson Schaake said. “Sometimes, I can be [my] worst enemy, but sometimes, I can’t be. I feel like to be the player that I want to be to be at the top level you have to take some risks sometimes, and you have to be comfortable taking them.”

Because Schaake is a sophomore, he is still maturing as a golfer, and many young golfers tend to be more aggressive in an attempt to beat the field.

The coaches also help the players in making decisions during tournaments when they walk with them, providing advice during play.

“I’m there for reinforcement and building confidence,” assistant coach Dan Holerhaus said. “And if he has any questions, he comes over and asks me.”

This reinforcement will help a player and coach analyze a situation that may be risky helping the player to make the right decision on a shot.

But in the end, risk is still a part of golf.

“I was the same way when I was their age,” Stith said. “So with some of them, I don’t want to take their aggressiveness away, I just want to teach them to know when it’s the right time to do it.

“[I want them to be thinking]: ‘What can I gain here, what do I potentially have to lose by not executing the shot?’ ”


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