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When was the last time you came in from a round of golf, shooting four or five strokes higher than expected and said “Huh, that’s fine. Maybe I’ll do better next time.” Well, for those of you out there that are competitive, that truly enjoy this game and love the challenge of trying to improve, it’s likely this rarely, if ever happens. Why? Because you expect to shoot a certain score every time out. And for many, that score is defined by their handicap. As a fellow golfer I can sympathize with lofty expectations, but where we need to look is the basis for your expectations and why typical thinking could lead to consistent disappointment in your scoring.
You Are Not Your Handicap
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard players say “I didn’t play to my handicap”, therefore insinuating that they had a bad round. What does “playing to your handicap” actually mean? Well, if your course handicap is 10, then it means shooting 10 strokes over the course rating. Take a par 70 golf course with a course rating of 71.0. Playing to your handicap means shooting 81. Pretty simple. Now, keep in mind that the USGA Handicap System uses the 10 best scores out of your last 20 to determine your current handicap. Therefore, the scores used to make up your handicap are a picture of your best golf. Not taking into account the times you had “just one of those days” where nothing seemed to work and the hole might as well of been the size of a dime and instead including all of the rounds where you just couldn’t miss and the hole seemed like the size of a manhole cover. Imagine being a salesman and only being evaluated on the best six months of results in the last year. That might be nice, right? But is it a picture of who you truly are as a salesman?
You Are Your Average
With a little more in depth look at your score history, you gain a clearer picture of where your game truly stands. In the real life example below of a 10 handicapper on a course with a rating of 71.0, he has a range of scores from 76 to 90 and an average of 83.85. This player’s score history is very typical of the majority of regular golfers out there. Most will have a spread of 12 to 15 strokes (even greater for many tour players) and have roughly 2/3 of their scores all within 3-5 shots of the average.
Notice that this player has only “played to his handicap” 5 times! However, he has scored average or better 9 times out of the last 20 rounds and a fraction above average (84) 3 additional times. If his expectation is to play to his handicap or better every time out, he’s going to leave the golf course disappointed 75% of the time, wondering how he could have played so poorly. With a better understanding of his average score, he’s more likely to accept an 83 or an 85 as it’s a more realistic expectancy of his game at this point in time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that players shouldn’t intend to play well. Having a clear intention of playing great golf is a fantastic way to begin any round. However, expecting to play our best and not accepting anything less can create a constant sense of frustration and actually keep players from playing to their potential more often. Dr. Rick Jensen, a sports psychologist who has coached multiple mens and women’s tour professionals to major championship victories, categorizes this as a “Focus of Energy” problem in players. This problem is often highlighted by unrealistic expectations leading to anxiety and frustration. Dr. Jensen often points out that “You can only play better than average half the time”, which highlights an important fact. Your average score is the truest picture of your game. Don’t be the player that hides from the facts and instead put together a plan to improve.
Be Realistic and Look for Opportunities
An honest look at your scores can lead to an evaluation of why you’re shooting those numbers and where you have opportunities to shave off some strokes. Start viewing your average as the number you want to lower instead of your course handicap or handicap index. I recommend using a stat tracking program, such as shotbyshot.com, which will prioritize the area(s) where you need to focus in order to improve your average score.
Even if you choose to track your stats on your own, be sure to consider the following:
- All missed fairways are not the same, as just tracking fairways hit or missed can be misleading. Are you driving it three yards into the rough or behind trees and into hazards? If you’re driving it in play just not always in the fairway, then your driver may not be the problem.
- Hitting greens in regulation is critical to scoring, but not the whole picture. Driving the ball in play should give you opportunities to get the ball on the green, but how close are you hitting it to the hole when you have the chance? If your approach shots are too far from the hole, it will lead to more three putts and higher scores.
- We know that having a good short game is a quick recipe to shooting lower scores, but merely tracking up and downs may not provide enough information. Be sure to keep track of how far you’re chipping and pitching the ball from the hole. Leaving yourself 12 feet every time will not lead to consistent saves, however if you’re chipping it to five feet and missing the putts then your short putting needs to take priority.
Most of us can agree that players with negative outlooks on their golf game rarely play up to their potential. Only evaluating yourself based on your best scores, leads to a constant grind to play your very best which we know in golf is not going to happen every time we tee it up. Appreciate your best golf and have a clear intention to play great whenever you play, it will help lead to lower scores. However, be realistic with where you are as a player and use the numbers as a way to evaluate your improvement over time. Work on the areas of your game that will positively influence your scoring and enjoy the process. You’re more likely to walk off the course happy and maybe even with a couple of your friend’s dollars in your pocket.