How To Measure Success in Golf

What are Phil’s standards for success?

In Putting Out of Your Mind, Dr. Bob Rotella says that to judge yourself a success on the putting green, you should measure by how often you were mentally prepared when you struck your putts, and not whether the ball went in the hole.  He adds that once you’ve struck a putt, everything else is out of your control.  Makes sense, and I love this process oriented approach, but let’s face it, most amateurs and probably most professionals are more results oriented than we’d like to admit.

While reading the aforementioned book, I tried out the methods during a round at a local muni.  It was if someone else had possession of my body while I was putting.  It worked great, but the total process oriented approach was very hard to maintain.  For a short period, I even managed to not think about my score during a few rounds, but couldn’t keep it up.

Getting immersed in the process works.  It’s a good idea and is worth the effort.  So, how do you measure success or failure?  Can a 30-handicap player stand on a tee box with a 200 yard carry over water, and hit three straight into the drink, but feel if they put a good swing on each, and think nothing is wrong?  That’s a “Tin Cup” moment and should feel wrong because the player failed to know their limitations and move up a set of tees.  I try to follow Rotella’s mantra and think one shot at a time, but ultimately golf is a game where we keep score.  We win or lose against opponents, or post some number in a stroke play event or round.  As a 5-handicap for the last umpteenth years, when I’m not thinking in process mode, I’m measuring myself by score.  Typically:

Good day – 74 strokes or below

Average day – 75-77

Substandard – 78 and above

The 30-handicap may look at their round differently:

Good day – broke 100

Average day – broke 110

Substandard – lost all their golf balls

We do measure ourselves largely by score and that’s okay.  Recently I overcame this tendency – albeit briefly.  I played a round in the dead of February while working on a swing change.  I told myself I didn’t care what I shot and I was just going to focus on the swing change.  I shot 83 and took like 39 putts, but I left the course very satisfied because I hit 10 greens in regulation and saw good progress with the swing change.  I don’t think this model can sustain over time, but it was nice as I was able to treat the round like a NFL team approaches a pre-season game – totally about the process.  Ultimately, it will come back to score.

So what would success look like for Phil Mickelson?

Good day – Won The Masters

Average day – Finished 2nd

Substandard – Out of the top 10

I know Phil has been working on a swing change and is keen to battle test this at Augusta, (more on that coming in our Masters preview), but at the end of the day does that really matter to him?  Nope; it’s about winning.

How do you measure success?  Process or results, and BE HONEST!

Play well.


12 thoughts on “How To Measure Success in Golf”

  1. Brian

    Great post. I believe that many of us use our score as a bench mark for rating our round. I am fit into that category of measuring my round by my score….most of the time. As a low handicapper, I am a bit less restrictive. Anything in the 70s is acceptable; anything I the 80s is not. (I have not shot in the 90s in years). Inside of that, I go by feel also. A 77 one day is very acceptable and a 77 on another is absolutely not! There are many variables and they do change from round to round. Thanks for making me think and examining my expectations.


    1. Jim, the variables have less of an impact on how you measure yourself the more you play. You may shoot 79 in the wind and rain and think “great round” and go out the next day in the sunshine and shoot 72. The fact that you can play often enough greatly mitigates the swings. The guy who plays twice per month doesn’t have that luxury. They’re just stuck with the score they shot.



        1. Jim, what a fascinating perspective! Just think if you’d have doubled the first hole and played the last 17 in 1-under. Same score; totally different feeling.



        2. Brian

          Exactly, I would have been over the moon about the round. I would have considered that a fantastic comeback and very happy with my score. Golf is so funny; wait maybe its us!


        3. Jim, at the end of the day, the first hole matters the same as the 18th, or the 4th or 9th, or whatever. As players, how do we force ourselves to think that way and not put inordinate pressure on ourselves to overemphasize the last hole? Answer: stay in process mode!



  2. I’m a much higher handicap than you and The Grateful Golfer but I have gone from a 34 (a few years ago) to a 21 handicap. The real reason I wanted to get my score down was so golf would be more fun! And so when I am on the course I just want to play. All my process work is during practice or lessons with my pro. My goal this year, break 90 (hopefully consistently).

    1. You have a great perspective and are right to just go play on the golf course. Congrats are in order for dropping your handicap so significantly. Enjoy the continuing journey of improvement!


  3. Brian,

    I definitely love the concepts of Dr. Rotella. It can be difficult to achieve a level of acceptance with results in golf and be happy with them as long as we were mentally prepared and did all we could. At the end of the day we all want to shoot the lowest score possible. I think when I manage to get in that mindset, I don’t necessarily deem any result a success, but it helps keep me in a more positive mindset going forward to keep working towards results that I feel are successful. Does that make sense? haha


    1. Josh, makes absolute sense. You must be able to separate effort from results but trust that if the effort and prep is correct, the results will follow. The problem is that you can’t often expect immediate results and we amateur players don’t have the time necessary to dedicate to continual improvement. Simple but very complex!



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