The Myth of Playing to Your Handicap and Why it’s Ruining Your Expectations…

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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.

76 79 79 80 81 82 83 83 83 84 84 84 85 85 87 88 88 88 88 90

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, 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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Consistency in Golf…What Does it Really Mean? And 4 Ways to Find It…

Many blue darts on many targets. Consistency and accuracy. You may also like:

The only true consistency in golf is it’s inconsistency…

Most golf coaches and instructors would agree that the #1 request from their players is “to be more consistent”.  This generally comes up during a pre-lesson conversation about what the player wants to improve and what they would like to gain from our time together.  Personally, I used to just say “ok” to the consistency comment and move on.  Honestly, it’s so common that I think it stopped resonating with me because I was hearing it so much. But recently I’ve tried to dig deeper with players and find out what they mean by this coveted consistency.

As a golfer, I assumed that players wanted to be more consistent in the scores they shoot. I mean, the idea is to get the ball in the hole, right?  I know that personally, I’m more satisfied with a good score than anything else in this game, so that must be what all of these other players are talking about.  Just consistently shoot lower scores, no matter what their game looks like.  Not so much…

I’ve found a contingent that is more interested in finding consistency in their ball contact and how their shots look than they are in their score at the end of the day.  That the series of shots consisting of solid-thin-chunk-solid-cut-pull-solid-sort a straight, are what drives them crazy. They’re looking for a swing that’s on auto pilot and requires very little conscious effort to produce shot after shot that is hit in the center of the club and flies straight at the target.  So this leads golfers to the lesson tee with the hope that we can make their swing “more consistent” and finally put an end to this cycle.  That’s where the swing fixes start to come in and players begin to chase the mechanical fix, tip or tweak that will help them reach the promised land.  Honestly, I get it.  It’s more satisfying to strike the ball well than it is to scrape it around, miss fairways and greens and grind away all day trying to make up for missed shots.  The thought of pulling off most of our shots according to plan is intriguing to any golfer.  Is there a way to make that happen though?  Let’s look at what we’ve been doing.

“Repetition is the mother of all skill”

We’ve all heard that line before and it’s true.   But what we need to address is how that’s been perceived in golf.  For most, it’s meant a bucket or two of balls just thinking that if we put in the time at the range we are going to improve.  I won’t argue that some practice is better than none at all, but not all practice is going to produce the results you hope for.  Just hitting balls isn’t going to train your game for success when it counts…on the course.  Why?  Well ball after ball becomes monotonous and your brain becomes disinterested.  Now you actually are on auto-pilot, but not in a good way.  While your intention is to learn and improve, you’re not creating the environment in practice that is going to stimulate your brain and build more skill.  All you’re practicing is how to hit the same shot, the same distance, over and over from a perfect lie and very little learning is taking place.  Imagine if a football team ran the same play in practice over and over for an entire season without going up against a defense.  They would be awesome at running that play.  They’d pull it off flawlessly time and time again.  Now, add in a defense and things would be different.  All of the sudden, they may need to make adjustments based on the way the defenders are aligned, react to the way the defense attacks them and pull off the play under much tougher conditions.  In golf, the defense is everywhere and changes on almost every shot.  It can be in the form of a bad lie in the rough, an uneven lie in the fairway, wind, hazards, rain, an awkward angle, an odd distance, a bad memory or countless other things that pop up on the course.  The way we practice can lead to hitting consistent shots in the face of all of this adversity.  Here’s how.

Play it as it lies…

For some that only get to practice from a mat, this may be more difficult. Thankfully most mats have a wear pattern that produces some inconsistencies in the lie.  So either from the grass or on a mat, knock a ball over and play it from where it ends up. Don’t prop it up on a beautiful grass tee.  You already know you can hit that shot and how often does that happen on the course?  (That’s for those of you that don’t fluff up your ball on the course)  Now you’re challenging yourself to figure out a way to hit a shot from a different condition each time and that’s much closer to what you’ll do on the golf course.

Change up your distances…

How many times do you have a perfect yardage on the course?  Some rounds it feels like we never do.  Prepare for this by changing up the distances you hit your clubs in practice.  If your 7-iron goes 150 yards, try hitting it just past the 150 marker or just in front of it.  Hit it a different yardage on each attempt and you’ll be training for next time you nail a drive down the middle but have that “tweener” yardage that makes a seemingly easy shot more difficult.

Control your flight…

We all have a tendency to curve the ball in one direction or another.  Being able to repeat this and know where the ball will go (and won’t go) is one of the critical factors in playing better golf. Set up imaginary hazards and boundaries during your practice and see how many shots in a row you can hit that avoid the trouble.  Imagine standing on the tee of a par 3 with water on the right and knowing that you can aim left and keep it there? Try it in practice and it can happen on the course!

Go through the process…

When you create a new challenge on each shot in practice (this could be a new target, new club, new shot shape) you’re forcing your brain to go through the process of figuring out a solution to this new “problem”.  If you think about it, this is every shot in every round of golf you’ll play. Commit to creating new challenges more often and then go through the process of selecting the club, shot shape and motion to pull off the shot. This is the form of repetition that actually helps us learn and improve, known as deliberate practice.

As I said earlier, golf is an inconsistent game by nature.  Course design, weather, conditions and almost an infinite number of factors make each shot different with unique challenges every time.  By training and preparing for these challenges, we can make our game tough enough to handle the challenges and produce more consistent results more often. True consistency lies in our ability to adapt and react to situations that arise and still hit the shots we are trying to produce.  There’s a reason why consistency seems so elusive.  It’s because we’re not robots and unfortunately we will never be able to program our golf games to just hit the same shot and make the same swing each and every time.  But with a commitment to training properly, you can develop a game that can withstand the difficulties that arise on the course and hit better quality shots more often.  Try a commitment to the methods detailed above and let me know how you do! or @deankandle.

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Is Fear of Failure Sabotaging Your Golf Improvement?

“Of all the hazards, fear is the worst.”

Sam Snead

frustrated golfer in sand bunker on golf course loosing his temper

The impetus behind came from a new program I started this season at the club called “Golf 180”.  The structure of the program involves a full game assessment for the player, and then we build a custom practice program which encompasses all areas of the game.  They come to any or all of our three supervised practices each week and we coach the players through their practice program.  The results have been great so far, though being honest some found it just wasn’t quite the right program for them and I’m really ok with that.  It’s not for everybody.

The practice exercises we prescribe are meant to be difficult and players don’t always succeed (that’s kind of the point).  After a season of observation, I’ve learned that players that embrace challenge, are ok with failing sometimes and see the benefit of stepping out of their comfort zone have really reaped the rewards of the program.  Mostly more confidence, increased knowledge of their games, an appreciation for the challenge that is golf and lower scores.

Why have some players struggled to find their groove in the program?  The truth is that we’re encouraging them to practice in a way that may produce more failures than successes at times.  Having 10 minutes to complete the challenge of landing five tee shots in a row in a defined fairway can be tough, and sometimes you won’t get it done.  We’re asking players to test themselves and their games for 75 straight minutes instead of hitting their favorite club to the same target while they chat with their buddies.  The fact is…if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying…and if you’re not trying, you’re not learning.

As we all know, golfers prefer to hit the ball well during practice. Duh.  Nobody feels good walking away from a practice session where we hit the ball poorly.  But what if someone told you that you needed to induce some degree of failure if you really want to improve?  Think of your practice now as if you learned to ride a bike with the training wheels on and never took them off.  You’d be pretty good, you’d feel safe and you’d be able to get around.  But as long as the training wheels were on, you’d be stuck in one speed and limited in how far you could ride.  Are you practicing with the training wheels on?

You’re not alone.  Millions of golfers are stuck in the same place.  We’ve been conditioned to believe that better golf is one swing adjustment away and if we just hit more balls, it’ll become automatic and better golf will follow.

Don’t be afraid to test yourself and stretch your ability during practice as I wrote about HERE.  It takes discipline and commitment, but improving the quality of your practice will lead to better results on the course.  You CAN make this game easier, by making your practice tougher.  The next time you go out, be sure to hit to different targets, switch clubs often, and move around to different hitting areas.  Practice like you used to shoot hoops in the driveway.  Remember what that was like?  You’d fire up a long jumper, grab the rebound, lay it in.  Then go back to the foul line and take a shot, etc.  You used a lot of variety during those times.  Why?  Because it would be boring first of all, and secondly there’s more than one shot in basketball!  See…you already know how to practice better, you did it for years in other sports and you can do it in golf.

We’ve made it easy for you.  Get started by signing up for our newsletter and get our FREE “Practice Kick Start Guide” to energize your next practice session and Take Your Game in a New Direction.

Let me know how you make out… @deankandle or leave a comment.

Taking Your Golf Game From the Range to the Course…and Why It’s Not Happening

Tee-sign and a Driving Range-sign at a golf course.

“But I hit the ball great on the range yesterday…I don’t know what happened!”

Does this sound like a familiar statement?  For some it’s become a mantra.  Always wondering why that practice session that led to so much hope and optimism didn’t translate to a great or even good round.  Let’s take a look at how that practice session typically goes.

You cut out of work on a Friday afternoon to get to the range and hit some balls.  It seems perfect, you have a match the next morning and if you can just fine tune your swing the day before it has to lead to good results…right?  You go through the bag, starting with your wedges and finally make your way to the driver after about 40 minutes of repetitions.  You’ve loosened up and are finding the center of the club face pretty consistently.  Maybe even that magazine or YouTube tip you saw is “working”.  You wrap up after hitting one more drive on the sweat spot.  And there it is…everyone else is playing for second tomorrow!

So why wouldn’t a session like this one translate when we get on the course?  The science behind how we learn makes it pretty clear.  If we want to perform our best, we need to make practice more like the actual game.  The traditional practice session in golf is so far from a reflection of what happens on the course, that it’s no wonder players can’t take it from the range to the course.  The constant “ball-beating” to the same target with one club while you attempt to develop “muscle memory” (what is that?) works well if our goal is to be the best at hitting a 7 iron to the same target from a perfect lie after 45 attempts.  But if you want to perform well on the course where no two shots are the same (unless you’re hitting a provisional and we don’t want that to happen anyway) you need to need to transform your practice methods.

Here’s a quick guide to improve your practice:


The studies (Shea and Morgan, 1979) show that hitting the same shot to the same target may increase your level of performing that task in the short-term, but will not help you learn that skill in the long term.  For you, that means that trying to change your swing pattern by only hitting the same club to the same target will not translate to better shots on the course as easily as you hope it will.  Force yourself to hit different shots with different clubs to different targets after every ball.  Put yourself in situations where you have to evaluate, prepare and perform a different shot each time and you will be training your brain to react to the variables involved in each different shot on the course.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I can’t tell you how many people I see hitting shots on the range from the same stall every time they practice.   For right to left players, they love the far left spot.  They can aim out to the right and draw (or hook) it back to the middle of the range almost every time.  But what happens when the next time they’re standing on a teeing ground where the hole goes left to right?  Break up your practice session by moving around the range and changing up your environment.  By changing the approaches you take to hit to a target, you’re testing your ability to readjust and from shot to shot and will gain more confidence when faced with an “awkward angle” on the course.   In addition, if you’re a person that enjoys practicing by yourself, then go to the busiest part of the range and practice with people around you.  This will help you get accustomed to playing golf in front of others and teach you to handle those internal pressures.

Space Out Your Practice in Each Area of Your Game

How many times do we decide to just work on one or two clubs in our bag or just one area of our game because it’s costing us strokes?  Common sense says, if it’s hurting your game then go figure it out!  However, the science tells us that practicing multiple skill areas (driving, short game, putting, etc.) and then coming back to it later, will properly challenge your ability to recall and perform the skill.  If you need to work on your driver, break up your practice session by hitting tee shots in the beginning and then head to the putting green.  After a while, go back to the range and hit tee shots again and see if you can hit the shots you’re looking for.  Think of it as a test for your game and you’ll be training your brain for the challenges of the golf course.

“Gamify” and Embrace Mistakes!

We’re trained as golfers to “avoid the big mistake” and minimize our errors for lower scores.  This, however, doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes in our practice!    As John Wooded said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”  Challenge yourself in practice to hit a certain number of shots in a row at a target, make x number of putts before you can leave, try curving shots in both directions even if you’ve never done that before!  Use your mistakes as an opportunity to evaluate, learn and grow. When we practice with this mentality, not only does it lead to better results, it makes it more fun!  It’s easy to create simple games and challenges that will put some pressure into your practice.  Adding this component is the only way to train your brain and body to respond to what’s ahead on the golf course.

Sign up for our Practice Kick Start Guide for some awesome and effective games to add to your practice.

Implementing these four elements into your practice can lead to immediate improvements in consistency on the golf course.  Put more effort into making your practice mirror the golf course and you will be training yourself for success when it counts!  Leave us a comment below on how you’re practicing and let us know what working.

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