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Variability In Your Scores And How To Minimize It

Justin Thomas, 18th Hole, The Open Championship

It has happened to all of us — a great round one day followed by a horrible round, many stokes worse the next.  Is that normal?


In this post I’ll explain that you are in good company when it comes to variability in scoring, why it is the norm, and what you can do to avoid it as best possible and still have an enjoyable round.

First, you should understand that every golfer, even the best, confronts tremendous variability in their play and scoring.  The one constant in golf is variability.

In the first round on a sunny day with little wind in The Open Championship last week, Justin Thomas made a 9 on the 18th hole and shot his highest score ever as a professional, an 11-over par 82.  Just four days before he’d shot a 1-under par 69 in the final round of the Scottish Open.  Thomas has won a major and 15 times on tour. He used to be ranked #1 in the world.  That same day amateur Christo Lamprecht fired 66 to take the lead in The Open, and blew up to a 79 the next day.  Variability is the norm for female pros, too.  Some quick research I did revealed that in the 2008 Mastercard Classic, Ji Youn Oh shot 67 in the second round and 79 the next day to finish 4th.

Variability is the title of the second chapter in Be A Player, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott’s book, which I recommend to help you understand how to play better and be happier on the course.  You’ll find it helpful whether you play only recreational rounds or in tournaments.

In the book, they explain how studies show humans simply cannot perfectly replicate physical action.  The reason: “Our survival depends on it.  Predators never get to catch and kill in exactly the same way under exactly the same conditions”.  That means your swing (and hence your scores) will vary one day to the next.  “The pervasive belief that we can repeat our (golf) swings is wrong; science tells us our brains will never allow this to happen,” they write.  Embrace that truth.  Pia and Lynn have coached many of the best PGA and LPGA players ever, including the GOAT Annika, and they have been ranked as some of the Best Teachers in America by Golf Digest.  Yes, practice shots with which you struggle.  Get clubs that fit you.  Realize that practice and gear can only help so much.

The way to address variability, which your day’s stress and mood can affect, lies equally in your mindset.  Having a positive mindset is key.

You know this will be a hurdle for most of us.  We all get down on ourselves.  As well, we have all heard friends say they are not “any good at golf” or explain just before or over a shot what they cannot do or are afraid of on the golf course.   Few do the opposite, but really, that’s what is necessary.

Nilsson and Marriott suggest several strategies to cultivate a positive mindset.  Here are some:

  1. Stay Present-Focused: Focus on the present moment during each shot and avoid dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future outcomes.  They have a system for this explained in the book– Think Box versus Play Box.
  2. Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative self-talk with positive and encouraging affirmations.  Encourage yourself and believe in your abilities, even in challenging situations.
  3. Visualization: Use visualization techniques to imagine successful shots and positive outcomes.  This helps build confidence and familiarity with successful execution.
  4. Celebrate Successes: Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, regardless of how small they may seem. Celebrating progress boosts confidence and motivation.
  5. Learn from Mistakes: View mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures. Analyze what went wrong, and use that knowledge to make adjustments and improvements.  Ask your pro to show you how to do something with which you are struggling.

By implementing these strategies, you will be on your way to developing a positive mindset that embraces helps you a void the frustration variability can lead to. Instead you can enhance your mental resilience, confidence, and overall enjoyment of the game.

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