Don’t Be Like Woody Austin

I have lived in Woody Austin’s hometown of Tampa, Florida for over twenty years — and have had the pleasure of his company on many occasions. So, as you can imagine, I was delighted to watch his performance at last weekend’s PGA Championship. Now, I’m not claiming us as life-long friends – but we have played golf together a number of times and had one seriously competitive New Year’s Eve Ping-Pong battle. Yes, it’s true – a golfer’s idea of a New Year’s Eve blowout may not be as exciting as say – hockey players. But none the less, it was fun. Although, sadly for me, after a 20 – 16 lead, I let him come back for the victory. Oh to have that easy slam back one more time.

Most of the golf I played with Woody happened before he made it to the PGA Tour. It was in the early to mid 90’s – before he relocated with his wife and kids to Kansas. At that time, he was without a doubt the best player I had ever seen. I remember once watching him practice his short game at Babe Zaharias Golf Course (a course where he once shot 57) with amazement. He did something so audacious, that to this day, it’s still imprinted on my mind.

He was working on hitting flop shots over a bunker around the chipping green, when all of a sudden he pulled out his 1-iron. Yes, people still used 1-irons in the 90’s. I was curious about his club choice, as on the other side of the green was a cart barn and a putting green. Plus, there were people practicing on the green, which was less than 40 yards away. I remember thinking, what on earth is he going to do with that club? Well, what he did was rocket balls into the top lip of the bunker and watch them gently trickle down to the hole. It was insanity. If he hit the ball 6 inches higher, people on the putting green would have been playing dodge ball. It is one of the most confident things I have ever seen a golfer do. But that was Woody – supremely confident. As a matter of fact, one of the last times I played with him, he was 9 under par through 10 holes, with an eagle putt on 11, when rain and lightening put a stop to it. Apparently God wasn’t ready for someone to shoot 54.

I followed Woody the day he qualified for the PGA Tour at Grenelefe Resort just outside of Orlando. He was simply flawless and won q-school, which brought on high expectations for his rookie year. And of course, at least in his first year, Woody did not disappoint. He won the 1995 Buick Open on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. Still, even after such a positive start, Woody struggled throughout much of the late 90′s and early 2000′s. He did so for one reason — poor putting.

Ah, poor putting – it’s been the demise of many a great player. But with Woody, it was almost his downfall before getting to the PGA Tour. The stories around Tampa were legendary of what Woody would do after putting poorly. Sometimes he would punch himself in the forehead. Other times he would slap himself so hard in the thigh, bruising would occur. And of course, as most golf fans know, he would occasionally hit himself with a putter over the head.

I believe Woody did, and still does, suffer from a common problem in the game of golf. One we all share to some degree. And one that, if left unchecked, can ruin our enjoyment and rob us of ever reaching our potential. The problem is simply high expectations. Setting too high a standard in this game, unless your name is Tiger Woods, will lead down a road of disappointment.

Let me explain.

You must play to your strengths in this game. Sure, I agree we should work on our weaknesses and strive for balance — but the truth is; we all have things we do naturally well. For example, Jack Nicklaus, the greatest winner in the history of the sport, would rarely shoot for pins. He played this way for a couple reasons. First, he was a very good lag putter. And second, he was not a very good chipper or pitcher of the ball in his prime. Knowing this, he would avoid the problem all together and aim to the fat of the green. He would wait for birdie chances on par fives and on holes with simple to find pins. He was playing to his strength. But more importantly, he was accepting of his weaknesses and okay with his limitations.

Okay, back to Woody. Woody was so good at hitting the golf ball — and I mean scary good — he felt any round over 65 was a disappointment. He would routinely hit 16-18 greens and legitimately have 12 putts a round under 10 feet for birdie. And on days when he felt he wasn’t making his share — he exploded. I get it. I mean, here he was playing flawless golf from tee to green and shooting 68-72. Every time he finished, it was like he had scored the worst score possible. And that feeling, over an extended period of time, will drive a golfer crazy. And it certainly did with Woody. This was undoubtedly the reason it took so long for him to get on Tour – and why he hasn’t been the dominant PGA Tour player his talent warrants. You just can’t play to your potential day in and day out while angry or disappointed. And it got to the point with Woody — that as soon as he missed the first putt he felt he should have made — he was done. He was done mentally, which after a while started infecting the things he did well — striking the ball.

Knowing what I know now — if I was teaching Woody back then — I would have set scoring average goals. I would have talked to him as the teenage prodigy he was about trying to make a final number. I would have showed him that a stroke average of 70 on the PGA Tour would net him a couple wins a year. I would have showed him that a stroke average of 69 would net him 3-4 wins a year. And as well as he hit the ball, I would have explained to him that — while most averages would get higher in major events — his would stay the same — as his ball striking prowess lended itself to tougher golf courses. I would then have told him to be okay with missed birdie putts. They are just easy pars. And every now and then be okay with running the tables on the green. Don’t expect to do it every day — but when it happens — run with it. Those would be the rounds that turned into 63. And that’s it. Be okay with an easy 69 and the occasional 63. Don’t spend your entire golfing life aggravated about leaving a 63 on the course. And because of that aggravation, turn that easy 69 into a stupid 73. I firmly believe if Woody would have taken that philosophy as a teenager — he would have won 40 times on the PGA Tour by now. He was that good.

Now, how does this relate to you? I know, I know. It sounds like a good problem to have – being disappointed with a round of 70. But everything’s relative. For you, we’ll discuss the degrees in handicap. Almost all of you could lower and play to your handicap just about every round if — you lowered expectations and played to your strength.

Lets say you are a long driver but not too accurate. Play to that strength. Pick the 4-6 holes on the golf course, usually par 5′s will be part of that group, where you can let the driver go. Use it with confidence because there is room. On the other holes, use that length by keeping your driver in the bag. Use 4 irons if needed. Who cares? Just take advantage of the holes you should – and avoid mistakes on the holes you shouldn’t. If you do this, your scoring average will come down. How about a good short game player? Again, play to those strengths. Don’t just, because you have confidence in your wedge, fire at every pin. Use that confidence to play more conservatively. Play your approaches to the fat side of the green. Then, if you miss the green – you’ll have lots of room. Then, with tons of confidence in your wedges – you’ll almost guarantee a par.

Probably the best example of playing to strengths and instilling more confidence is Tiger Woods. If you notice Tiger’s schedule – he plays the same courses year after year – with many examples of him winning the same tournament year after year as well. He avoids the courses he doesn’t like and stocks up on the ones he does. It surprises me how few players follow his lead on this strategy. If Tiger played the courses that didn’t suit him – he wouldn’t win as much – and hence have much less confidence.

So for you – first, determine your strengths. Next, embrace them. Don’t spend countless hours of practice and even more of mental stress fretting over weaknesses. Design game plans around your strengths. There are no rules in place stating you must play each hole a certain way. Or for that matter – a round of golf.

If you do this, you’ll do the one thing that Woody Austin has unfortunately never done – play up to your scoring potential. Good luck!


43 Responses to “Don’t Be Like Woody Austin”

  1. david osborne-king says:

    Thanks for good article,it contains some sound philosophy,of course it is easy to get disappointed with some of one’s shots,but I have found that sticking to the secret moves and not being too ambitious serves me well.
    Regards David

  2. Rob Southey says:

    Such good advice! It all makes sense when you read it like this – in a competition situation one seems to lose sight of the obvious which is that you can’t expect to hit winners from every situation. The harder you try the worse you succeed sometimes.

  3. Tom Ellison says:

    Hey Andy,

    Great article on Woody…..it stands to reason that when you play to your strengths, you are more relaxed, less inclined to focus on technical thoughts and more apt to strike the ball well……..the place to try and overcome shortcomings in the game is on the practice field……..during a round that doesn’t have much “meaning” is where I suppose the transfer process is executed and when a particular “chink in the armor” has been worked out, then relying on it in a pressure game is advised! Keep up the great golf advise!

  4. Bo Brunoson says:

    Hi Andy,

    Your Woody article brought to mind a comment I once got from an experienced golf pro regarding my severe problem with yips at the time. He said: “Yips seem to happen more often to the over ambitious golfer.” I find this very true, and definitely connected to an all too strong focus on scoring. As everyone with a yips experience can tell you, And it’s not treatable with more putting training since the disease only appears on the course! I stuck it out helplessly for 5 years until finally saved by the claw grip.

  5. Nik Mahadi says:

    Hi Andy,

    Very nice article and it makes me feel much better.

    I’ve bought your Magic Moves but still yet applied to it. I will wait if the game still not improve then I’ll go over your magic touch. Don’t worry Andy, I got your magic moves but as per the articles, play as you are….

    Rgds
    Nik Mahadi

  6. Very good article.

    I’m a 15 handicap who with practice can play to much lower but how many times have we seen our macho friends pull out a 5 iron for the 175 yard shot only to always leave it short, and then blame the wind etc… when short of playing time i play every hole to a ONE OVER par schedule and find two important results: 1) far fewer big mistakes- ie no 7s or 8s and 2) far MORE opportunities for makeable par putts. It seem so obvious and everybody agrees with the principle, but how many times have we played that important round with only a 3 iron off the tee?

    kind regards

  7. Roy says:

    Great article. Since I have received the New 4 Magic Moves I do much better on the practice tee. When I get on the course a few bad shots and I revert back to old bad habits. I am determined to check my strength and weakness and adjust my expectations. Keep the information flowing and I will keep trying. Roy

  8. Ronald V. says:

    Andy, I have enjoyed your tips and articles very much. Woody reminds me of myself sometimes, not that I was ever that talented but I lost my cool many times on the course. Perhaps I expected to much out of myself.
    Anyway playing to your strengths is a great thing to do especially if all your habits are already ingrained. Your new four magic moves have helped. But I still struggle with those weaknesses. Thanks

  9. Darryl Hrin says:

    I’ve been golfing about fifteen years and just about two years ago I realized that since I’m not a long hitter and don’t hit many greens in regulation, my short game was the answer to lowering my handicap.It’s worked and along with your lessons I’ve gone from a 20 down to a 12 handicap. AND patience is a virtue. I keep telling myself that don’t follow a bad shot with another.

  10. Noel says:

    That is a very god advice from Woody Austin. Many thanks for that and all the other articles/advice.

  11. peter from OZ says:

    Andy,since recieving your 4 magic moves I have done a lot of practice at the range,I hit ball after ball straight as a die with the occasional slice ,(which was cronic before),when I get out on the course I put so much pressure on myself with high expectations I transgress back to the way I was.The 1st Tee has a road to the right with trees and guess what I head there no matter what I tell myself,the 3rd hole has a tractor shed to the right of the Tee and guess what bang into that as I did before,same story I tell myself not to head that way,6 th hole par three I got on for one,four putted,non of my playing partners got near the green yet all beat me on that hole.I wont give up this week I have been back out hitting balls again,I agree though the less pressure I put on and relax as though it doesnt matter the better I play.It easier said than done,great stuff in your lessons Andy,

  12. Tina Johnson says:

    Thanks for all the tips – they are excellent & common sense. I really like the one about playing to your strengths. I find I am now playing smarter as my woods are my strength, chipping is my weakness, but I find my putting is a big bonus to me, so if I can get close to the green, do a lag putt in close, it knocks strokes off my game. Thanks again & I am working on getting my handicap lower yet.

  13. Glenn says:

    Great Article Andy. Yes I have the same problem as Woody Austin. But when I work out what my strengths are . . . I will endeavour to follow your advice.

  14. nick says:

    How right you are! I have just come back from a mixed foursome with my wife. We had a great day and ended up with a net 70 – not bad on a tough course (Sherwood Forest). Yet still we expected more, we moaned about the bad or poor shots rather than embracing the good ones. Hopefully we will learn from this and play to our strengths next time.

    Thanks for the advice.

    Regards

    Nick

  15. Flip du Plessis says:

    Hi Andy,
    The course management (play to your strengths) was very good. Exactly what I was preaching to some wonderful young players at our club a while ago. Even the high handicappers have the tendency to forget they have a handicap and then gets angry if they are not able to reach the longer holes in two.
    Please keep reminding all of us about these pitfalls.
    Thanks again for helping me to strike the ball clean and consistently.

  16. Rudi van der Berg says:

    Hi Andy,

    Excellent article on Woody and very helpful. One of our unacknowledged shortfall’s in life I believe is that we cannot be our own coaches. It has to do with the way we look at ourselves and our intentions. Your articles are excellent “come back to reality” checks that one often can miss out on. Thanks for your enthusiasm.

  17. BRUCE says:

    ANDY;
    ENJOY YOUR ARTICLES, I FIND THEM INFORMATIVE ,EASY TO UNDERSTAND.WILL CERTANLY REFER BACK TO THIS ARTICLE WHEN PLAYING MY NEXT ROUND……….GREAT INSIGHT INTO WOODY AUSTIN, WILL BE LOOKING FORWARD TO WATCHING HIM PLAY IN THE NEXT PGA TOURNMANENT. PS ………….SINCE READING YOUR BOOK AND PUTTING IT TO PRACTICE, I HAVE BEEN SHOOTING A LOT OF 41′s PER SIDE, AS OPPOSED TO 43-42, AND HOPEFULLY TO CONSTANTLY BREAK 80 THIS SEASON THANKS……….BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ ON GOLF. BRUCE

  18. robert senay says:

    Andy thank you for this article.

    Yes it reminded to start managing my game around the course instead of only thinking about hitting the ball, often with shoot that I dont execute well.

    Again thank you,

    Robert

  19. peter says:

    Great ideas! Unfortunately, I haven’t worked out what my strengths are – I am usually: a straight (albeit very short) driver, a straight, shortish but inconsistent fairway woodsman, a very erratic (and short) medium/long iron player (!!!), a frequent topper/shanker of chips and wedge shots and a very hot and cold putter. Don’t even mention sand wedge shots! I obviously can’t use the driver for everything, but it seems to be the only club that works more than 60% of the time! I may well have to take out a second mortgage to pay for the pro’s time!

    I am 61 and returned to golf 2.5 years ago after a 25 year hiatus – maybe I should have taken up carpet bowls instead!

  20. Pete says:

    I got, play to my strengths. I am very good chiping with the 5 or 6…and when some coomplain about it, I try other clubs and screw up…back to the chippers I like!

  21. lee says:

    I am very hard on myself, however from now on,when i am playing the game, i will try to think back to this wounderful message

  22. Allan Bell says:

    An extremely good and beneficial article. It’s another reminder that playing smart is just as important as a good golf swing. I intend to put it into practice during my next game.

  23. Mike Workman says:

    What a great article about Woody. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. I can relate first hand and will remember this article every time I step into the tee box.

  24. Jerry Lindell says:

    This was a fantastic article. Absolutely great reading and advice. Thanks Andy.. :mrgreen:

  25. Fred Evors says:

    Yep, this sounds just like. Being a disabled Vietman vet, (helicopter pilot) I have lots of swing problems due to back and hips. I can still hit the long ball and have no problem using a 3 wood or my #4 hbred off the tee. The things that gets me the most upset is missing 2nd shots or approching the green. I general get in a funk and stat missing short pusts or sculling my chips or duffing short pitches. I couldn’t play golf for 17 years due to my injures, But all my friends tell me I am a head case. I am a fan of Woody and have cringed with him when he missed a shot or short put. I love you lessons and will be practicing them all winter on my indoor mat and artificial putting green. Than you so much for you help Andy. I hope you and yours will have a fantastic 2008

  26. Dave Northover says:

    Hi Andy, Many thanks for all the articles that keep me glued to the computer for too many hours when I should be working or practising!
    I can relate to the Woody Austin article completely, getting very frustrated on occasions when a really good drive is followed by a less than perfect 2nd shot or a duff chip from off the green that turns a good hole into a forgettable one. When I bite the bullet and play to my strengths I start to produce reasonable golf rounds and very occaisonally excellent ones! You may be pleased to know that the 4 New Magic Moves are finally starting to work with my handicap dropping a stroke since receiving the e-book so keep up the good advice and many thanks – Dave

  27. Edward says:

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks a lot… Very good article and very helpful for my mental game too.
    The first video you put up was “fantastic”. I am eagerly waiting for remaining three…
    Your ” four magic moves” have improved my game “tremendously”… Thanks again for all the useful info you keep giving us… Good work, Andy.. Wish you a Good Holiday Season and a Merry X’mas..

    .

  28. Bob Mansfield says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article about Woody Austin.
    I am 80% a social golfer who likes to help fellow senior golf members t my club when they are having an off day. This used to affect my own performance until I was advised that there was nothing wrong with being a social golfer if I learned to “turn off” when approaching my own shot or putt.
    This I now do and my game has improved immensely.
    I am not long off the tee and have now structured my game to accept long par 4`s as par 5`s and play that way.I get more pars playing that way.
    Also I never get angry when my putting is off.It always returns another day.

  29. Dave Fulton says:

    Hi Andy,

    I found that I could relate very well to the article on Woody Austin. I’m guilty of punishing myself on the course. I play once a week, if I’m lucky, and play with single figure handicappers (I’m 18). I find that I put myself under pressure by becoming frustrated that I don’t hit as long and accurate as my mates but on the other side of the coin I am competitive and would rather play with them than people worse than myself.

    I know I need to relax and play to my strengths which is the short game and putting. My driving is my weakest part of the game (totally inconsistent) and this puts the rest of my game under pressure. The trouble is, it goes against the grain to take irons off the tee for accuracy.

    I guess I’ve still a lot to learn about personal and course management!!

    Dave

  30. Len Rideout says:

    Andy, Thanks for yet another insight into the golfing mind and how it sometimes lets us down. Since receiving the Secrets of golf my game has improved and I am slowly getting back to playing satisfying rounds of golf to my handicap which at the present time is 19. I have been as low as 16 but at 74 years of age I am quite happy to play to my current h’cap. If I do manage to get cut then that will of course be a bonus. Concentrating for 18 holes is probably the difficult area for older people but at the moment I am trying desperately to play a better back nine than the front and this does help. If I succeed then I am guaranteed a reasonable return on the day. My best rounds since receiving the instruction has been two 68′s a 69 and 72. My last game was a stablelford game 31 points and 31 putts. I didn’t win anything but it was a satisfactory game.

  31. gabriel says:

    Hello Andy,

    I have to say that thanks for your counselling, in 4 movements and others tips. My handicap went from 8 to 4 and I’m feeling great and more confident to play. I hope in my 6th golf season next year I’ll be near scratch.

    Many thanks again,

    Gabriel

  32. Robyn Schuts says:

    Hi Andy
    The tips and stories you provide really help me get my head around the game of golf…….golf really is the biggest brain teaser of all time!
    If you look at all the different people who play i.e elderly, very young, even peolple with physical disabilities, you can see the game comes down to the mental ability.
    You have helped me make smart decisions on the course that otherwise would have been far too ambitious or plain stupid.
    The game would not be interesting if we didn’t end up in some challenging situations and had to think our way out of them.

  33. Budd says:

    Another great tip Andy.
    thanks and keep up the good work.

  34. Pat Whelton says:

    THANKS Andy for all the info , i hope Woody wins alot more competitons ,.its never too late in golf . kind regards pat

  35. brian duguid says:

    Hi Andy.
    I do look forward to getting these tips from you. As a relatively new player every new thing gets stored and put into practice when the opportunity appears. And also important is I get the feeling that some one that I have never met actually cares about my game.
    Many thanks
    Brian

  36. Bob Deets says:

    Thanks Andy for the Woody Austin story, I’m taking it to heart. I have used the strategy of playing to my strengths with limited success. After reading your article, I gave it a lot of thought. I applied the strategy on some holes and completely forgot it on others. I never thought of an ‘overall’ strategy that would keep me on track to do the best I can. This will be part of my golf game from now on.

  37. Peter Killick says:

    I enjoyed greatly the article on playing to one’s strengths which is not something that I do very often. A friend often asks me jokingly if I am remain optimistic about my golf swing and I must confess that as I approach 70 years of age I do not. In a recent medal round I shot a net 74 and realised subsequently that chipping and putting had accounted for well over 50 shots in my round. I had been deluding myself that the diminishing length of my drives and approach shots was solely responsible for my increasing handicap. This is clearly not the full picture. After reading your article I have promised myself great concentration on chipping and putting practice. Watch this space!

  38. Ted Exley says:

    What a great article by George.

    After having spinal trouble for years and now having had a knee replacement, I have lost lots of length on Tee and longer shots. So, I have concentrated on more accuracy on pitches and shots under 150 yards, which keeps me in touch with the longer, younger players. I have learnt how to use a Lob Wedge and I have also gone back to the good old Scottish type approach shots, which none of the younger men seem to play. I have also taken into use the Belly Putter and I work very hard on taking no more than two puts on each green. It is surprising how this is keeping my scoring reasonable

    I am enjoying myself without worrying about the level of my handicap, as I can see that I will never return to my previous best.

    Just another point. I have noticed over the last year or two just how many miserable golfers there are about ! They are concentrating so hard on their golf that they have no time for any pleasantries and they do not seem to be aware of anything else on the course… and, if they have a bad round…wow. watch out for naughty swear words

  39. Hassanali says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thank you for all your advices.You are surely right not to have high expectation in this game. I have also learnt not to use the same club as my playing patner because we have different stenghs. I have really improved my game a lot since I started to implement what I read through your book. I have some how started to play as well as my playing partners.

    Well done Andy and thank you.

    Hassanali Rashid

  40. John Holter says:

    Andy and friends,
    Once again, too many rules! Look, we are apostles of the 4 moves to strike the ball as compared to the complicated instructions from the archbishops of classic golf. Woody is just a poor soul that keeps looking beyond simplicity and hoping. Success in anything comes from simply doing it – not expecting it. Golf is the next best physical experience to yoga I have ever practiced. If one is not simple one can not experience bliss. The secret is to find the simplest way up the mountain. Good job Andy
    John

  41. David Marquez says:

    good stuff Andy…..thank you for everything….my game is improving …I’m practicing smarter and having more fun than ever…David

  42. Brian Dickenson says:

    An excellent bunch of articles, very well put together.
    Regards
    B. Dickenson

  43. jerome salyers says:

    Andy,

    Enjoy your comments on golf. This one on playing to strengths was very good. I purchased your “4 Magic Moves” and it has helped my game. The first video was especially useful. My query is when can we expect the other 3? Some of us are picture-oriented and they truly do substitute for 1000 words.

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