In a recent golf match, I astounded my opponent by deliberately aiming my second shot on a par-four hole toward a sand trap to the right of the green. My drive had been short and I wasn't certain I could carry a small lake on the direct line to the green. I also knew that the trap had hard, crusty sand and no lip.
The result was that I used a putter out of the trap and got within three feet of the hole and made the par.
Way to scramble, right?
George Peper would have considered the shot to the sand trap the smartest and most strategic one to make under the circumstances. And, according to Peper, strategy is what scrambling is all about.
Peper's "Scrambling Golf" may be the most important golf-instruction book in years. Peper correctly presumes that most serious golfers, even of moderate ability, have come close to attaining the maximum of their potential in skills with whatever grip, stance and swing they have developed. He contends that the place where most golfers have untapped potential is in their heads.
It is planning out the correct shots for each hole and by using the most providential avenue of escape from trouble that most of us can rescue pars or, at worst, bogeys out of potential disaster.
Peper, associate editor of Golf magazine, says the first step in becoming a successful scrambler is as basic as the wisdom of Socrates: Know thyself. Be honest in appraising what you can do well on a golf course and where you get in trouble, as all golfers do, you can make a reasonable judgement as to the method of escape.
Imagination is a key to Peper's instruction. He tells us to take the time to analyze a troublesome shots are not always the best. He covers all the trick shots: between-the-legs punch shots, caroms off walls and trees, lines shots into banks of elevated greens. Some need practice, some just an agile mind.
He focuses on uphill, downhill and sidehill lies, playing in the wind, playing in the rain, playing in extreme heat and cold. Peper explains assorted chip and cut shots; he tells us how to read greens, when to expect them to be fast or slow and when they are most likely to take breaks.
Finally he implores us to be realistic in our goals: Know which holes we should be striving for par on and on which we should set a personal par of bogey. He recommends playing holes backward in the mind. In other words, in order to be close to the pin, determine the spot on the fairway from which it would be easiest to make an approach. That spot, then, should be the goal from the tee.
It all sounds elementary, and it is. It all sounds like something you've heard before, and you probably have. But in most golf-instruction books written by pros who are showing off how much they know about the perfect swing, the potential of the mind in improving the golf game is brushed off with a few random paragraphs.
Peper shows us that even if we might never swing the perfect swing of Tom Weiskopf, we can learn to think out a round like Lee Trevino, the consummate scrambler.
That should be enough not only to cut a few strokes from the scorecard but to give us the satisfaction of making pars where our opponent deemed it impossible.
And when our opponent fumes into the 19th hole muttering, "that blankety-blank scrambler," we can smile the satisfied smile of a "blankety-blank strategist."
They are really the samething.