1. Make it personal
If you’re on your home course, says Top 100 Teacher Gary Wiren, keep a record of your personal best score on each hole, and try to break as many of your lows as you can. “You can shoot 105, but if you walk into the clubhouse, grab a beer and drink to that first-ever birdie on 18, that’s happiness,” he says. Bonus: The hole-by-hole approach takes your mind off your overall score, which can in turn save your overall score.
2. Make it fun
Play some games, says mental-game expert Joe Parent, who has worked with Vijay Singh and David Toms. “Bet with your friends on silly things, like up-and-downs from trouble spots,” he says. “Try heroic shots — hit driver off the deck, putt out of bunkers that don’t have lips. Hey, your score is toast, so what have you got to lose? Have fun.”
3. Set attainable goals
There’s nothing wrong with gunning for a number, according to Top 100 Teacher Rick Grayson. “But your score is outside your control. I have my students set attainable goals. Something as simple as ‘I won’t throw any clubs,’ or ‘I’ll tee off only with hybrids on par 4s and par 5s.’ These are things you can control, and when all else is failing, it gives you the satisfaction of accomplishing a mission.”
4. Break glass for swing
If your club feels like an unfolded lawn chair, you still need to get the ball airborne. Break out your emergency swing, says A.J. Bonar, head pro at A.J. Golf School in Carlsbad, Calif. (AJGolf.com). Here’s how. “Swing all your clubs like you’re hitting a wedge,” he says. “Choke down about an inch, place the ball in the middle of your stance, and make sure that your hands are as far ahead of the ball at impact as possible.” Yes, even driver. Bonar says that the hands-forward move promotes the downward strike needed for crisp contact and fixes the common swing flaw of trying to scoop the ball.
5. Take the Haig’s advice
“I knew Walter Hagen,” Wiren says of the late, great 11-time major winner. “He said that going into any round he accepted the fact that he would mis-hit five or six shots. Bad shots are part of the game for all players. Understand it, and don’t beat yourself up over it. Hagen didn’t.”
6. Give yourself a lesson
Pick one area of your game to work on, Parent says. Maybe your half wedges need improving, or your backswing could be shorter. “This gives you a positive to focus on, instead of the negative of your score, and you get on-course training that will serve you down the road.”
7. Remember your best shots
Even uglier-than-your-mother-in-law rounds produce a few good swings. Remember them in detail — how they felt, the flight of the ball. According to Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize-winning psychology professor at Princeton University, focusing on the highlights of a given activity activates “the remembering self” — the part of memory that fondly recalls events that seemed largely unpleasant at the time. Picking two “happy” shots can turn an ugly round into a pleasant memory.
8. Put it in your pocket
Wiren once played a round that began like this: Drove the par-4 green, 3-putt. Reached the par-5 in two, 3-putt. Then? “I shanked a 3-iron into weeds,” he says. “So I said, ‘Forget it — I’m not looking for that ball. I hate looking for balls. Next hole.’ I let it go.” There’s no shame in pocketing your ball — which keeps play moving — and heading to the next tee. “It sure made me happy.”
9. Play like Phil
Not the “I am such an idiot” Phil. Phil the filly. When Lefty was little, he honed his mad-scientist creativity by challenging himself on the course, dropping balls behind trees and bushes or into divots. “These are shots you need in your bag, so master them on off days,” Grayson says. Since there’s no pressure, they’re easier to pull off, and you can call back on the memory another day, and say, “I got this shot!”
10. Avoid going solo
We all need the human connection, so play with friends whenever you can. “Almost everyone feels happier when they’re with other people,” observed sociologist and Flow author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced chick-SENT-me high). But Wiren offers a caveat: “Avoid slow players, guys who make excuses for poor play, and a–holes in general.”