As golfers, we all get older and eventually get to the stage where we can't move it out there as far as we once did. You wake up one morning and a shot that was once a routine pitching wedge is more like a solid eight iron. It can play with your pumpkin. It can also affect your pocket book if you keep getting conned into buying the latest and greatest driver, or those "hot" new irons; trying, usually in vain, to gain a few yards back.
The fact is, however, that sometimes our memories with respect how good, or how long, we used to be are a bit faulty. But, even if the memories are true, and we really did used to be real pistols on the golf course, there's no saying we can't keep playing reasonably good golf, and perhaps even get better than we once were.
I used to be a long hitter. I know that's the oldest story in the book, but I do have a few long drive trophies collecting dust somewhere. But, I've discovered that the positive side of getting shorter off the tee is that I'm now wearing out golf balls instead of losing them. As Harvey Penick said, "The woods are full of long drivers." The "drive for show, putt for dough" saying has stuck because it really is true. Length is an asset. But length won't win you any money if you can't chip and putt. And, as older folk, we generally have more time to work on our chipping and putting than we ever had.
Most pros will tell you that where most average golfers really begin to throw away shots is when they get near the green. It's true. Good golfers find a way to, more often than not, turn three shots into two around the greens. They pitch and chip it close enough from around the greens to regularly save their pars.
When you observe many average golfers, most of them can usually get the ball within fifty yards of the green in regulation--two shots on the par fours. Sure, there are the wild drivers who waste strokes off the tee and have to check themselves for ticks after every round; but most average golfers can do a reasonable job of staying on the golf course. Some aren't long enough to reach the longer par fours. But I think the fifty yard idea applies for most struggling players. If they could only develop a good game from fifty yards and in, they could most likely break 80.
I like to play with just a six iron and a putter sometimes. When you try this, if you are an average player, you may be surprised by the results. Ken and I played a round not that long ago where we agreed we would use nothing stronger than a six iron. I didn't play particularly well, but still shot 81--I actually shot 73 one time playing our "inside nine" twice with just a six iron and a putter.
Ken saw no real difference in his score when just using the six iron off the tee. What this tells me--because I think Ken's experience is quite typical--is that the short game is the biggest factor for the average player in determining how well they score. An advanced player gains benefits from being able to hit it long enough, and well enough, to hit fairways and greens in regulation, and the odd par five in two. But, with the six iron experiment, you generally see that it's really the short game ability that holds back the average player. Losing distance from the tee had little or no affect on Ken's score. He was still frittering away most of his shots around the greens.
Most average players want to hit the ball farther. Way more golfing instruction is geared towards helping average players gain distance than to helping them score. Too bad most golfers don't feel quite as embarrassed about their play around the greens as they do about their perceived lack of distance off the tee. I would really recommend that most players try the six iron challenge. It can be an eye opener.
Fifty yards from the green and in is where the poor players really throw away shots. If you can improve in that area, you'd be surprised at what you might be able to shoot. And it won't cost you a dime.