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 de-briefings. 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 earth-bound 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, then...duck 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.