He could have lost it at any moment.
If you watched any of Michael Thompson’s breakout win at the Honda Classic, you know that things could have gone south at any moment for the 27-year-old. He didn’t strike the ball particularly well, and certainly didn’t lead the field in fairways or greens hit in regulation. He wasn’t the longest player on the first page of the leaderboard, he wasn’t the most accurate with his irons, and he didn’t own the stats when it came to birdies or eagles or hitting par 5s in two.
He was, however, a man who knew the strengths of his own game and played to those strengths throughout the grueling and chilly South Florida weekend.
Thompson’s game is simple. He sometimes misfires with the driver, and his iron play isn’t exceptional, but he knows that he has a masterful short game. So he accentuates what he does best. He doesn’t try to hit towering mid-irons to two feet, or bomb tee shots over bunkers. He plays to spots where he knows he can get the ball up and down.
Throughout the week, when other players were challenging the treacherous Bear Trap, Thompson played away from trouble and relied on his wedges and putter to seal his first PGA Tour win.
That is, without question, one of the greatest lessons the average golfer could ever learn. Unfortunately, few are patient enough to learn it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen amateurs attempt shots they've never hit in their lives and should never try during a round. That is especially true at Teeth of the Dog, the most famous course we have at Casa de Campo.
Pete Dye created a number of visually spectacular holes where the Caribbean is very much in play if you challenge the pins. But the course also provides an open path if you choose to play around the trouble rather than over it. Alas, we have guests who try to hit 200-yard shots in howling crosswinds to pins perched on the sides of cliffs – shots they couldn’t pull off if they stood there all day with a bushel basket of balls.
If those same players would simply play to their strengths, avoiding trouble and letting par or bogey be their friend, they would see their scores plummet. Sure, they wouldn't be able to brag about challenging this hole or that, but they also wouldn’t have to write down as many double and triple bogeys on the card.
Michael Thompson won because he didn’t hit it out of bounds, and he got his ball up and down like a wizard. That was the strength of his game: He knew it, and he played to it.
Your game will improve tremendously if you do likewise.
Dave Pfisterer is the PGA Head Golf Professional at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic