The Way You Keep Score Could Be Costing You Strokes

Do you keep your score in your head as you play golf? You know it causes you anxiety which prevents you from doing your best, but you can’t stop doing it. So don’t fight it. Keep your internal score. To maintain your sanity, though, keep it in the right way.

The number you see on the scorecard beside each hole is par. Par is the score we are led to believe we should be trying for, and the standard by which believe we should measure our performance. The United States Golf Association defines par, though, as “the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole” [emphasis added].

Reality check: most recreational golfers are not expert players. Most recreational golfers cannot meet this high standard of play hole after hole after hole. When we try to, and I readily include myself in the category of non-expert golfers, we set expectations that are too high.

Oh, yes, we get pars every so often, and hit shots a professional golfer would be proud of. That’s the allure of golf. We’ll never be able to hit a 90 MPH fastball, but we can sink a 20-foot putt, though we know, deep down, that those tour-quality shots are the exception, not the norm. What we have a hard time with is accepting that tour-quality scoring is not the norm, either.

When we keep score in our head in relation to par, we’re measuring ourselves against a standard that is largely irrelevant to the way we play. All that score tells us is what we already know–that we’re not an expert golfer. That’s a pretty negative message to be giving ourselves when we’re trying to have fun.

If you want to keep score in your head, please do. Trying to prevent yourself from doing it might be the cure that is worse than the disease. Keep your score in relation to a different standard, though. Keep it in relation to bogey–par plus one.

Here’s how to do it. Keep track of how you stand in relation to level fives. Assign a score of five to each hole and subtract strokes when you score below five and add strokes when you score above five. What this does is make a four a birdie, and a three an eagle. Sounds better already, doesn’t it?

Instead of keeping track of how many strokes you’re adding to your score, as you do when you compare yourself to par, keep a mental note of how many strokes you’re taking off your score. That’s a much more positive way to look at it.

Thought number one: “If I don’t get a four on this hole, I have to add an extra stroke to my total score.” Thought number two: “If I get a four on this hole, I can take a stroke off my total score.”

Which one do you like?

Who should keep score like this? Any golfer who doesn’t break 80 on a regular basis should keep their mental tally in relation to level fives. Any golfer who doesn’t break 100 regularly should keep it in relation to level sixes.

Isn’t this just fooling yourself? Maybe, but who cares? You’re fooling yourself in a good way, a way that keeps self-imposed pressure at bay and helps you play your best, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

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