June 6, 2022 11:59 am

Binary Thinking Trap

One of the biggest mental hurdles I still face in the journey to a plus handicap on the golf course is understanding that I am only as good as I am right now in this moment. It's easy to slip into the mindset that all I have to do is "figure it out." Believing that I can hack the entire game and it will just happen overnight. I find the most dangerous times are when I do something like chip in, make a long putt, or just happen to hit the exact shot shape I visualized. As I have gotten better, I might even hit 2 nearly perfect shots in a row. At this point there's a strong tendency to believe that my ability works in a binary fashion. I call it the binary thinking trap; I either have it or I don't.

This led to some of the harshest feelings of disappointment and frustration when, in the same round of golf, I would follow up chipping in with a drastic slice into someone's backyard. How did I go from the sensation of being one with the hole to having zero control over the golf ball?

When I do step back and gain a realistic perspective on my ability, I sometimes have to shed a layer of embarrassment and forgive myself for slipping into such a flawed mindset. Luckily in golf, we have the handicap system to bring people like me back down to earth.

The handicap system in golf is an extremely helpful and accurate way to grade skill level. If you're entering your scores correctly into the system, the GHIN will spit back out a very accurate quantitative representation of your total ability to score well on the golf course.

My theory is that the system is less perfect on the extremes of skill level. A stud D1 college player might be a +5.2, but not be anywhere near as good as a PGA Tour player who is a +5.5. This difference will be glaringly obvious in a four day tournament. You might see the college player shoot 67, 75, 68, 73, and the PGA Tour pro shoot 67, 68, 68, 70. If both players entered those scores into the GHIN, they would get a very similar result, even tho the Tour pro might be in contention on the weekend and the college player may not make the cut. Conversely, I doubt there's a noticeable difference between a -33 and a -28.

For the rest of us, who live in the +2 to -20 range, the system works very very very very well. If you say you're an -8.6 and you're consistently scoring higher than your buddy who is a -9.5, someone is lying.

I did not keep track of my handicap for all of 2020, even though I started consistently training at the end of 2019. Using many of my old scorecards that I kept from summer of 2020, I believe I was roughly a -14 handicap around June/July 2020. I started using the GHIN app in March of 2021, and it had me down to a -8. As of today (10/10/21) it is a 4.1, and I hit a brief PR of 3.9 a week ago.

My mindset about golf sucked through most of that process. I fell into the binary thinking trap frequently. This thinking spilled over from my days as a pitcher in college. For D3 standards, I was the guy who had good "stuff", and it was all about whether I could "figure it out" or not. I would have a lights out inning, maybe even strikeout the side, and then spend the rest of my outing navigating bases loaded situations. The obvious answer looking back is that the range of type of inning I experienced on the mound was simply how good I was at the time. I was good enough to strikeout the side on occasion, but I also wasn't good enough to avoid leaking runs in the following innings.

Similarly, there is a reality that a PGA Tour player and I might play the same 3 holes 1 under par, but I am way more likely to make double on the next hole because he is simply better than me over a larger sample size. Baseball is heavily statistically driven, but there is no uniform handicap system across all levels. If you're not playing affiliated baseball, then your statistics carry a lot less value. Because of that, I notice binary thinking is extremely prevalent amongst players and coaches in amateur baseball.

I see it commonly when a player throws really hard, or can hit balls to the moon in batting practice, but is actually just not a skilled baseball player. Coaches will really invest their time trying to get this dude to have his aha moment, but it never comes. Meanwhile on the golf course, you might see that same powerful baseball player show off 130 mph of club head speed, and he'll shoot a 115. Nobody would even blink if you said he's not good at golf and needs to practice a ton to get better regardless of how far he can hit the ball.

Luckily, despite not having the best mindset, I have consistently practiced golf for a long enough period of time to see that there is no big aha moment. Just a bunch of little ones that add up. Seeing the process unfold has been therapeutic for me after feeling disappointed as a whole with my baseball career. More importantly, it has made me a much better baseball coach. I never believe a player needs a giant breakthrough. I just know he has to practice.

For those that would like to keep up with my golf journey to a + handicap, we'll keep posting various rounds on our YouTube page like this one: