What's your Par?
"The toughest opponent of all is Old Man Par. He's a patient soul who never shoots a birdie and never incurs a bogey. And if you would travel the long road with him, you must be patient, too." A quote from Bobby Jones. Par is the standard score that an expert player should aspire to on any given hole, but is that the score you should judge yourself in your golf quest?
As Bobby Jones rightfully states, Old Man Par is the toughest opponent. The best players in the world are judged in relationship to par, but to win on the PGA Tour you must sometimes shot 20 under par. That's five under each day or a 67 average on a par 72 course. So when a Rory McIlroy goes out to play, he is looking at 68 or better as his benchmark. It might be lower for an easier scoring course like they play in Palm Desert, California, but much higher when playing a US or British Open course. Each player according to their ability and skill level should have a yardstick to measure their results.
I had the good fortune to work as the teaching professional at The Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado for Dow Finsterwald. During that time I got to play a lot of golf with Dow. He was a wonderful player. His best golf was played in the late 50"s and 60's with him winning the 1958 PGA Championship and 10 other PGA Tour events. He was known for his consistent conservative play. Par was his target score. He wanted to hit the fairway, so his drives were straight but not long. His second shots were hit to the middle of the green, almost never at the pin. When he got a wedge in his hand he became more aggressive. Otherwise, it was a shot to the middle of the green. Dow made 117 straight cuts, which was a record until first Jack Nicklaus and then Tiger Woods eclipsed this mark. Par made a lot of money in those years. Had he been more aggressive like his best friend Arnold Palmer, he might have won more, but that was not his strategy or temperament.
Conditions change from day to day and therefore your target score should be adjusted. When I won the Nevada Senior Open, I basically won the tournament on the first day. The tournament was played in Mesquite, NV on the Oasis and Casa Blanca golf courses. We played Oasis first and Casa Blanca the next two days. The weather was as bad as it could be with us still being able to play. Temperature was a high of 40 degrees and wind steady at 20 to 25 miles an hour with gusts up to 40 mph. Oasis is an up and down course going through canyons that require straight shots. The wind was blowing the ball all over the place. Seeing the conditions, a realistic score was anything under 80. I played some of the "par" fours as par fives and hit low punch shots to just stay in the fairway. A bogie was OK in those conditions. I remember hitting a four iron hard on the 150 yard 4th hole and having a full 8 iron for my third shot into the par four 18th hole. I shot 74, which I consider one of my best competitive rounds. I had a big lead over my main competitors. One shot a 79, but most of the real good players shot 84 or worse. Par that day was 82. I closed the tournament out in true Finsterwald fashion. Fairways and to the middle of the greens. I think I won by three or four.
If your goal is to shoot as low as possible, should you be aiming at every flag? Would you be better off twenty yards less in the fairway or risk being closer in a bunker for your second shot? In Jack Nicklaus's prime he would lay up on par fives to 80 to 100 yards for a full wedge, if he couldn't reach the green in two. On the professional tours, when you hit the ball in the rough the difficulty of the hole increases ¼ to ½ strokes harder. For an amateur that number goes up to a full shot.
Old Man Par is a tough opponent, but if you set realistic goals and standards he can be had. Remember it is not the number of great shots, but the quality of your poor shots. Play to your strengths; put it in the fairway and the middle of the green and your opponent will be conquered.