That's No Excuse You're not inconsistent, my friend. You're no good

May 17, 1998

On at least 737 occasions over the last few years,
high-handicapping friends of my high-handicapping self have
analyzed their high-handicap games this way: "My main problem is
inconsistency." Or they'll say, "If I was more consistent, see,
I'd be so much better." I've never challenged the inconsistency
excuse because 1) I have my own litany of stupid
rationalizations for poor play, and 2) like all golfers, I'm not
really listening to what someone is saying about his own game as
much as I'm waiting for him to finish so I can start talking
about my own game. But I am here now, once and for all, to
proclaim that I will no longer accept inconsistency in postround
debriefings. Almost anything else will be tolerated, up to and
including sweaty grips, allergies and germinating fungi in golf
shoes. But inconsistency is gone. Dead.

Saying you don't score better because you are inconsistent is
like saying you're not rich because you don't have enough money.
It says nothing. Good golfers can stop reading here because they
already know this, but mediocre players and duffers need to be
clued in: Inconsistency isn't a cause, it's an effect. It's part
of the whole package. You're not bad because you're
inconsistent; you're inconsistent because you're bad.
Inconsistency is a part--a major part--of the definition of bad.

It's easy to understand this inconsistency mantra. For a
mediocre golfer, who doesn't have David Leadbetter or some other
Stephen Hawking in a straw hat analyzing his swing plane,
figuring out exactly where you went wrong is simply too
difficult. Inconsistency is right there, accessible, part of our
sports lexicon, a catchall that seems to carry credibility. Good
basketball teams can get "inconsistent play at the center
position" just as good baseball teams can get "inconsistent
starting pitching." I accept those. I will even accept some
specific claims of inconsistency in golf, such as, "I would've
had an 83, but my putting was inconsistent." It's O.K. to be an
inconsistent putter because, if you listen to the pros, no one
on the face of the earth has ever been a consistent one.

Another reason there is so much talk of inconsistency is that
the gods of golf are far more seductive than the gods in most
other sports. The gods of, say, basketball do not suddenly let
earthbound mortals elevate 40 inches off the ground for a slam
dunk. But the gods of golf allow bad golfers to go three, four,
five holes (all right, maybe three) playing like pros. Driver,
seven-iron to the green, two putts. I'm Lehman. Eight-iron to 20
feet, near-birdie putt, tap-in par. I'm Duval. Drive,
three-wood, nine-iron to 10 feet, birdie putt. Praise the Lord,
I'm Tiger! But, hook off the tee, shanked
three-iron, six-iron over the green, pitch back, three putts,
triple bogey. You're you again, and you'll probably keep being
you for the rest of the round.

What happened? Inconsistency, you say? Nonsense. What happened
was that you returned to being you, and you didn't have it in
you to play 18 holes the way you played those three. In fact,
it's a good thing you aren't consistent. Otherwise, you would
play the entire round as if you were using a shepherd's crook
instead of a club, and you would never get the welcome, albeit
illusory, respite of those three spectacular holes.

At my favorite course in New Jersey, Seaview Country Club, in
Absecon, I've parred every hole at various times. But that
doesn't mean I can expect to shoot 71 or that I'm entitled to
proclaim myself inconsistent when I don't. Mediocre golfers par
a few holes, maybe get a birdie or two, and then they return to
form. Maybe their swing devolves to its normal--i.e.,
grotesque--state. Maybe they begin pressing. Maybe they start
overthinking. Maybe they stop concentrating.

Whatever it is, I don't want to hear inconsistency. Being
inconsistent, I'd wager, is the No. 2 reason presented for poor
play, right behind "I don't get out enough." Not getting out
enough, though, will still be accepted at the 19th hole. Not
getting out enough can cause you to be inconsistent. I know
that's what's wrong with my game.

TWO COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ERIC PALMA [Drawing of golfer swinging club; golf ball caroming into pond]

Inconsistency is the No. 2 reason for poor play, right behind "I
don't get out enough."

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)