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Tactical or practical -- which way to play is the question

While I was watching part of the golf coverage from this past weekend (the WGC - FedEx St. Jude Invitational to be specific), I happened to catch a term one of the announcers came out with and it got me to thinking: what exactly counts as 'tactical' golf these days?

I gave the expression some consideration in the context of my own game and some of the comments that have been levied in my direction so far this season. So, let's begin with a general understanding of what it means to play tactical golf: starting on the first tee and progressing up to your final putt (or chip, if you're lucky) drops on the last hole, you have a plan as to how you want to approach each hole or even each shot.

Let's be honest about one thing -- I would say a good three-quarters of amateur golfers like to think they have a plan when they put the tee in the ground at the start of every round, but by the time shot number two rolls around that plan has likely gone by the wayside. This season has been the first in a long time that I've actually been able to get my game going early in a round and piece together a decent score, so I won't make myself come off sounding like I'm not among the 75 per cent I just referenced.

So yes, when you can come up with a plan and stay relatively close to it for all 18 holes, I would say that's playing tactical golf. On a good day, I can hit my driver about 280 yards and keep it in or close to the fairway to help me set up my next shot. Even on most of the courses I play, the first cut of fairway rough isn't so penal that you can't make a positive shot out of it so I count that as staying on plan.

As I recall, the comment during the PGA coverage came later in the final round and it struck me as a curious time to bring it up. Usually, television networks are focused on whoever is going to win or at least make it close -- so I would think that anyone with that kind of skill also has the mental component to go with it. It seems reasonable to think that if you're in a position to win a PGA tournament, you got there by putting together a plan of attack specifically for the course you're playing.

How does this relate to me? Well, during a post-game snack with the Thinker earlier this season, he described my style of play as 'bomb and gouge' ... I didn't take it as an insult by any means, but I was curious to know why he thought that. He observed that I like to get as much yardage as I can off the tee every time and then would basically try to wedge my ball close enough to the flagstick to give myself an easy par (or better).

While I don't dispute the idea of wanting to take advantage of my length off the tee when I feel the driver is working, I wouldn't say I'm a bomber by any means. In fact, I would say I'm more tactical in that I give myself as many options as I can before I make a call on which shot I should play.

For example, during my trip to Seaforth earlier this year and to Grey Silo in July, there were two distinctly different trains of thought at play. As I said a few paragraphs back, I can usually hit about 280 when I'm going good with the big stick. Using that as a jumping off point, here was my thinking: at Seaforth, there are more trees closer to greens for me to get into trouble and given that it's not a long course to begin with, I don't really need driver on most holes. I think I only pulled it out of the bag three times all day. Using my fairway metal was the better play more often than not because I knew how far I could hit it and I could hit it pretty much within five yards of a particular landing spot.

At Silo, it was a different plan but with a similar vein to it: being a lefty, most of the trouble I was going to find there came on the left of each hole. However, almost every fairway that was suitable for driver was open enough that I could play well out to the right and not have to worry about getting into trouble. And by the third hole of that round, I knew how I was hitting my driver and where I could put it, so that was a no-brainer.

Knowing that there weren't as many trees to get in trouble with played a part in my decisions at Silo, but so did the knowledge of the generous fairways. I altered my plan from Seaforth accordingly, using my prior knowledge of the course to come up with a strategy that served me well that day.

The Thinker and I have a round coming up next weekend, and I'm already working on ideas for that blog. It's at a course I've never played, but I'm already thinking ahead -- they have yardage books, so I'll make sure I pick one up and use it well. The pro did point out there carts have very nice (and accurate) GPS units in their power carts, but I recently decided I'm going to walk more during my golf rounds, so I'll see just how good their yardage books are.

Will it turn out that I'm really a bomber who thinks he's not, or are Thinker and I more alike than he'd like to admit? I'll let you know next time. Until then, bombs away!

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