Think back to how other decisions played out. 

I like the par 3s at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, where I won my second Senior British Open, in 2005. They play at different lengths and in different directions, requiring a variety of clubs. That’s one of the chief ways I design my courses. 

At the 248-yard third hole that year (above), I had to hit long irons and 3-woods. But on the 187-yard, downhill 17th, I won with a soft 8-iron to end a sudden-death playoff with Des Smyth of Ireland. 

To boost my confidence in the playoff, I drew on the experience of playing the hole earlier in the day. In regulation I hit a full 8-iron to the very back of the green—about a foot from death down a steep embankment to the deepest rough on the course. So in the playoff I aimed better and took something off the 8, leaving it short of the hole for a pretty easy par to Des’ bogey. 

The lesson is simple: If you have success in a situation, remember how you achieved it, and try to repeat it. If you fail, remember that, too, and make adjustments. 

Thoughts from Tom 

Speaking of downhill shots, I find it’s more difficult to judge distance going downhill because the ball is in the air longer. My rule with the 8-iron is that the ball will carry 10 yards farther for every 10 yards of drop. By the time I get to the 4-iron, I double that extra distance.