The 1 mental mistake recreational golfers make way too often

golfer breaks golf club over his knee

A word of advice? Don't try the hero shot.

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Welcome to Play Smart, a regular game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Golf is an inherently mental game. While the physical intricacies of the sport may be a challenge, there is no greater feat than conquering the mental game. As Bobby Jones once famously said, “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course — the distance between your ears.”

Sometimes, controlling the emotions that happen on the five-inch course between your ears is harder than controlling your shots on the course. When things start going sideways with your game, keeping your head in the game can be a real challenge.

Making bad swings is forgivable — even the pros make bad swings from time to time — but making bad decisions may be the easiest way to cut strokes off your score. Especially when it comes to playing shots that are outside their capabilities.

“I always see amateurs try to hit shots they haven’t practiced,” Kevin Sprecher said at the GOLF Top 100 Teacher Retreat. “They’re going and trying to execute a shot they’re not confident in. And that usually leads to failure when it comes to trying to execute something you don’t really know how to do.”

It might be fun to try to hit the shots the pros play, but more often than not, it’ll end in disaster for the average joes. Instead, play within yourself and only hit shots that you’ve practiced before.

“Stick to the things you practice,” Sprecher says. “Even if it means using a little less club and knocking it up short of the green and then chipping on — don’t try to hit the hero shot.”

As long as you can keep big numbers off the card, your scores should be okay. And a great place to start in that endeavor is by avoiding hero shots.

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at