May 7, 2020

The Paradox of Choice

Years ago, I read a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. It warned how excessive choices in society (even as simple as buying a pair of jeans) wasn’t making us happier, but causing more stress and anxiety because of unrealistic expectations and something referred to as “decision-making paralysis.”

At the time it was published in 2005, it felt very relevant. Fast forward 15 years, and it seems like the author’s central thesis is even more critical. Either way, I’m not here to guide you in your life decisions, but I want to discuss how the paradox of choice is the root of many golfers’ problems, and offer some insight into what you can do to solve it.

The Beauty of Golf

One of the fascinating parts of golf is that there is no right way to play the game. Everyone’s game can have their unique fingerprint, which ranges from the way they swing the club to even their demeanor on the course.

Every shot presents you with a different decision. Let’s say you were 40 yards from the green; you could choose from as many as 5-6 clubs and technique styles depending on the pin location, wind, and turf conditions. Depending on the player, and their skill level, each of those scenarios could result in success. You can’t say there is one right way to play that shot.

In all my years playing competitively, I’ve seen so many different styles of golfers who could shoot impressive scores. They ranged from looking fundamentally sound to downright bizarre (if you saw the way I swing a club, you would likely classify me as a bit unorthodox).

They all had a common thread, though. Whatever method they chose, and decisions they made, all had a lot of conviction and belief.

Where You Can Get Into Trouble

Unfortunately, one of golf’s great attributes is also one of its biggest challenges. With all of those possibilities, indecision can arise.

You can choose to shape your ball off the tee based on whether the hole is a dogleg right or left. If the wind is blowing in your face, you could alter your technique to try and keep the ball lower with a punch shot. Or your approach shot might be short-sided, and you can attempt a flop shot with your wedge to keep the ball closer to the hole.

If your mind is running through a rolodex of different shots to choose from, it becomes harder to trust your decision. At the last second, you might question if you should have chosen something different. Many of you know the types of results you can expect if you’re consistently ambivalent in the 30 seconds before you hit each shot.

On top of that, almost no golfer has the skill to pull off a myriad of shots with regularity. Even PGA Tour players have learned that to stay competitive and keep their jobs, they have to stick with the techniques they are best at and not try to be good at everything. Why do you think Dustin Johnson plays a fade off the tee regardless of what the hole looks like? Because he knows he can do it all the time and is confident in the repetitiveness of that swing.

The Freedom of Simplicity 

If you’re looking to become a better golfer and want to shoot lower scores, you need conviction in your decisions. You don’t get bonus points on your scorecard for style.

Stepping up to your ball with as clear of a mind as possible should be your goal. And that’s why I have gravitated more towards a more straightforward form of golf, and recommend it to anyone else who wants to improve. If you remove most of the choices, you’ll have less of an opportunity to be indecisive. You want to get rid of that paradox as much as possible.

So what does that mean?  Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

  • You don’t need to work the ball in both directions.
  • Special techniques like punch shots into the wind aren’t necessary; just take more club.
  • You can aim at the middle of every green instead of trying to chase pins.
  • Having multiple wedge techniques (flop, bump & run, etc.) won’t make you better – choose one and get good at it.

For a long time, I tried to complicate the game, thinking I needed more options. I know many of you feel the same way.

In my opinion, you should go in the opposite direction. Remove the burden of all of these choices. You’ll feel a lot more confident and have more freedom in your game.

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