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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Par and the Weekend Golfer

Sounds like one of those old Love, American Style comedy skits, doesn’t it?

After my suggestion yesterday that the PGA Tour consider turning classic courses into par 67 layouts (in fact, Vince at The One-Eyed Golfer had David Fay declaring Merion a par 63 for the 2013 U.S. Open), based on my contention that par simply doesn’t mean anything anymore, you might wonder what more I could say about it.

Believe it or not, I brought this up because I believe par is ruining the game of most weekend golfers.

For those of you who didn’t check out the comments on that last post, Greg at From the Rough voiced an opinion shared by many golfers: “…the last thing we weekend hacks would want to see is a farther separation between pros and joe's - Par is now 67 for the pros?” And my response was “…almost everybody expects the pros to birdie the par 5s with a two-putt. Doesn't that mean they're already playing a par 68... and we all accept it?”

The question of whether par really means anything or not is at the base of our differing perspectives.

I think one of the best things we weekend golfers can do to improve our games is to forget about par entirely… or at least reduce it to a mere suggestion of what we might expect if we play well. Many definitions of par describe it as the result of ‘perfect play.’ (Which, presumably, means that a birdie is ‘better than perfect’ and an eagle is ‘pretty near godlike.’) But par was always determined somewhat arbitrarily, and no more so than today. When par3s can measure 265 yards, par truly has become meaningless for the weekend golfer.

The fact is, par changes from day-to-day, even on the same hole. Take that narrow 350-yard par 4, with the deep bunker guarding the front and thick rough behind. It may actually be a par3 for me when I’m playing well, the wind is down, and the hole is in an accessible spot on the green; but on a day when my swing is off, the wind is up, and the hole is tucked just over that bunker, 5 might be a great score. Not only that, but your high fade may be better suited to this hole than my low bullet draw.

So what is par for this hole… really?

In the end, the only way to get past unrealistic expectations for your game is to ignore the taunting of that arbitrary concept we call ‘par.’ The Scots played for a long time without any set score for each hole, and you’ll probably score much better if you just try to take the fewest strokes you can on each hole…

Whether that’s 3 strokes or 6.

Your own personal par can be a much more useful aid to your game than the par printed on your scorecard. If you want to improve, your personal par is the one you need to improve; the predetermined number on the scorecard won’t change, no matter how much you work at it.

But you’ll have to break your slavery to that often unrealistic concept of par before you can really get better. Inflexible numbers are tough masters.

And, except in comedy skits or S&M, tough masters and love don’t usually go well together.


  1. Have not seen 'personal par' in a long while. It is a fabulous idea.

    I remember my personal par was seven over regular par. I rarely shot it, but I was not mentally OB after the first dub, either. I used to assign half-strokes to certain holes.

  2. The mental game is really important, maybe more so for weekend golfers than pros. We simply don't get the time to practice, so we need a realistic measure of our abilities even more than they do.

    It always amazes me that personal par is such a foreign concept to most people. You would think teachers and 'mind coaches' would emphasize such a simple concept, since it can help so much.