One of the hardest skills to teach a competitive golfer is what I call The Sucker PinPrinciple.
A sucker pin is a pin placement that is inviting you to take a dangerous or unnecessary risk. This takes advantage of an aggressive player.
The sucker pin principle rewards the patient golfer while punishing the aggressive. Application of this principle is what separates a talented high school golfer from an all-conference high school golfer.
For most golfers sucker pins are irrelevant because they just aren’t good enough to worry about pin placements. But for competitive golfers on every hole they are not just trying to hit the ball on the green from the fairway or the tee box on a par 3, they are trying to hit the ball to the area of the green where the pin is so that they can try to score. (e.g. birdie the hole)
Sucker pins come mostly into play on a par 3 hole. If the greenskeeper wants to make a hole more difficult, he may place the pin to a comfortable distance, say 150 yards, but place it far to the right of the green near a bunker. The safe and smart play in that situation is to play the ball to the center of the green. But the aggressive player will be tempted to play to the right and flirt with the being in a short-side bunker.
When I coached high school golf I would always say, “Play to the middle of the green, don’t fall for the sucker pin.” In practice this was fine. Players would amuse their coach. But in a match, particularly if they had bogeyed the hole before, they were tempted by the opportunity to get a stroke back. The lure of an easy birdie would be too much, they’d go for it, inevitably miss the green, and bogey another hole.
If you watch golf on TV you will see that professional golfers pick spots on the course where they can be aggressive. But they show respect to certain hole and their pin placement, go for the middle of the green, and pat their caddy on the back as they walk to the next tee box with a par.
Commentators talk about it all the time. “He picks his spots well.” or “He manages the golf course like Seve.”“Golfers are attacking this pin placement today.”
More often than not, the golfer who picks his spots to be aggressive is going to win while the golfer who is overly aggressive is going to take too many risks, pay too many penalties, is going to lose.
If you watched the final 9 holes of The Masters this year you saw a case study in this principle. Tiger Woods climbed up the leaderboard, chose a spot to be aggressive and came up short. Lee Westwood tried to be conservative all day and he was too patient. But Phil Mickelson chose to be aggressive on the 12th hole (I screamed at the TV) and he nailed it and hoisted the green jacket.
The same principle applies in life. Life is full of sucker pin opportunities. Any major transaction in life is doubly full of sucker pins. You may just have to pay a price for your aggressiveness. But if you are patient and pick your spot, you can come out ahead.