Aristotle says that for practical reason what comes last in order of execution is first in order of deliberation.  One begins with the end and then through “backward engineering” (as we say) one arrives at something to do, or refrain from doing, here and now.

This summer I realized, finally, that this principle applies also to the playing of golf.  I took lessons for the first time, with a pro name Jon Butler, who is a “short game” expert. (Turns out he is the Short Game Coach for the FCGU Golf Team.)  My mom bought the lessons with a Groupon deal and gave them to me as a gift.  Butler gave me lessons mainly on the lob wedge, sand saves, and putting.  (We spent a little time on driving, but only to identify a problem I was having and address it.)

Importantly: I practiced diligently what Butler showed me.  You cannot improve in golf or anything else from a lesson.  It is necessary to practice well what one has been taught or shown.  By “diligently” I mean: on a regular basis, almost every day, with discipline and concentration, setting goals and keeping track of improvement.  (I also worked on my “mental game,” which Butler emphasizes.  Maybe I’ll post later on that too.)

The result is that what formerly was my best score (low 80s) has now become my worse score–what I shoot when I’m having a very bad day.   If I play well, I shoot around par.

On the course with my good golfing buddy, son Mark.

On the course with my good golfing buddy, son Mark.

But here is the teleological point.  It is often said that the short game, especially putting, is the most important part of golf because it constitutes the largest proportion of strokes: more than half of all one’s shots will typically be chips, pitches, and putts.

This reason is true, but it is not the main reason why the short game is crucial.  It states the “material” cause, as it were, not the “final.”  The short game is crucial because of teleological considerations.  If one’s putting is secure, then — working backwards — one’s chipping and putting become more secure: as it is much easier, and more of a reward, to hit a good short shot, if one pretty much knows that anything within 5 feet will imply a successful putt.  Again, if the short game is secure–and one knows that anything pin-high will likely be an up-and-down–then approach shots can be struck with confidence.  Similarly, if pressure is taken off of approach shots, then pressure is taken off the drive.

That is to say, improvement in golf goes in the direction of green to tee, not tee to green.  The direction of improvement is exactly opposite the direction of play.  This is interesting, somewhat counterintuitive, and a good example of the teleology of human practice.