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Change Your Thinking to Change Your Score

It is difficult to not mention the extraordinary events of the past few weeks and how they have affected how we go about what were “normal” activities. As many are doing, I am offering a couple of ideas about how to make some good out of bad.

But first, let me share something that I read the other day:

Shooting his age: “I’ve been fortunate in my career to make a little history on the 16th hole at Augusta National. But one day last spring, I stood on that tee box, and I caught myself doing a little scorecard-watching, not scoreboard-watching. Playing a casual round with friends, I found myself four under par and on the cusp of shooting my age, 69, or better at a place that has meant so much to me. I didn’t make history—just made a bad swing and a splash. A double bogey ruined my score but not my day, as I shot 70.

I have changed the important sentence to red text for you to understand where I am going with this. One would think that the greatest golfer of all time (my opinion….) would know better by now. After all, he has won 20 majors (I still count the US Amateurs) and basically everything else AND he still committed the cardinal sin in golf: scorecard-watching.

We’ve all done it. We start thinking about our score instead of just playing each shot, one at a time. Most often, this will “ruin your score” as it did for Jack. Unfortunately for us, it also tends to ruin our day as well.

What Do Statistics Say About Score

First of all, let’s take a quick look at some statistics.

One of the recent articles that I have read about statistics presented some very interesting data. I’ll give a brief summary and then explain how you can use this info when on the course. Basically, the article showed that the difference in score between scratch golfers and players between 5 - 20 handicap is not so much a matter of putting, but rather hitting greens in regulation. If you have kept any statistics of your game in the past, compare your greens in regulation stats to the data in the chart below. Do you find yourself in the handicap bracket that corresponds to your greens in regulation?

These findings reflect very much what data from the PGA Tour shows. In his book “Every Shot Counts”, Mark Broadie looks at the “strokes gained" concept applied to each part of the game on tour using Shotlink data. He looked at “shots gained” for the top 40 pros over an 8-year period and found that 28% of the shots gained were from driving, 40% were in approach shots, 17% was short game, and only 15% was putting.

Basically, 68% of strokes gained were because of the long game (not to imply that you have to hit it long). Only 15% was putting.

Shoot for the Middle of the Green


Of course, this might be easier said than done. However, it might be easier than you think. The first thing to do is to evaluate your strategy. When having a shot into the green, do you aim for the middle or do you aim for the flag? Even from a short distance: that scoring distance. Do you aim for the middle or do you shoot for the flag?

It is no surprise that Jack Nicklaus was known for his course strategy because at an early age he realized that he had the same chance of making a putt from 20 feet as he did from 10 feet. Because of this, he would shoot to the middle of the greens and give himself many chances at birdie. The more often that you putt for birdie, the less you will stress over making them.

Change the Format to Help Change Your Thinking

Try this out the next few times you are out playing. Take advantage of the current state of affairs and change your focus while playing.

We’ve been told not to touch the flagstick. Perhaps even not to putt out at all.

PERFECT! That means DON’T KEEP SCORE. At least don’t keep a “normal score”.

A New Way to Keep Score, Stay Safe AND Lower Your Real Score

I have put together a scoring format that emphasizes several key elements of scoring. I have even created a league format that I was hoping to launch before we got hit by the windstorm of recent events.

Over the next 6 rounds, use this scoring system:

· Green in Regulation = 3 pts

· Green in Regulation + 1 shot = 1 pt.

· One-putt green (no matter what it is for—birdie, par, bogey, double) = 1 point.

I am convinced that what you will discover is that if you start hitting greens in regulation, it is going to be much easier for you to score well. If you miss a tee shot and have to re-center on your second shot, make sure that you hit your third shot to the middle of the green. The new scoring system still gives one point for that. Don’t go pin-seeking to try to “save a par”.

Obviously, you want to have the highest score possible. Play this way against friends and you will really see the benefits in creating a new way of thinking.

What About Putting: Give Yourself Only One Chance to Make It

This may be one of the most important things you could do to become a better putter and a better golfer over all. It is quite complex to describe and merits a blog entry in and of itself, but basically if you know that you have just ONE SHOT AT IT with the putter, your entire mentality shifts. You will start thinking about making putts and stop thinking about missing putts. You will stop “trying to get it close” and you will stop being afraid of three-putting.

This kind of shift in mentality takes a little time but this is precisely the mentality that great putters have: I CAN MAKE IT FROM ANYWHERE. This demands a shift in mentality and not a better putting stroke.

I’ll let Jack himself takes us out….


To me, good putting, particularly under pressure, is much more a matter of mental approach than physical skill.

I was never necessarily a great putter “mechanically,” but, most of the time when I needed to be, I was stronger than average mentally on the greens. For instance, some players, when the vise tightens, will instinctively tell themselves, “Oh, gosh, if I miss this putt I’ll drop back a shot.” My messages to myself were along the lines of “I need this putt to stay ahead, so go ahead and knock it right in.”

You might have the prettiest stroke in the world, but to be a good putter you absolutely have to believe that you’re going to make ’em. And that mentality becomes more critical the more under the gun you are.

I almost always was convinced I was going to make the ones that really mattered.”

Excerpt From

Golf My Way

Jack Nicklaus

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