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Should You Know Your Golf Score While You Play?

On this blog I will talk about watching leaderboards and knowing where you stand and knowing your golf score during a round. Is it good, bad, should you avoid it at all costs or would it be helpful to know?

Alright we’ve got a good question from long time listener of the podcast, Debra. She says:

How to not look at your score when you must look at your score! In her last amateur tournament, Rose Zhang (LPGA) didn’t want to know where she was in the tournament, but the announcers said it was in her best interest to know where she was in her match because it might change how she played the remaining holes. In my case, I realize I’m playing lights out and knowing where I stand can throw me off. But you can’t NOT look. Can’t “unsee” it.

This is a great question that I know we can all relate to. How do you avoid looking at or knowing your score?

But before we get into answering that question, she mentioned how the announcers said it would be in Rose Zhang’s best interest to know where she was in her match. First off, don’t automatically trust everything you hear an announcer say on a tv broadcast. An announcer’s number one job is to make an entertaining product. So this should call into question everything they say, or at least make you stop and think what they’re saying might have ulterior motives. They sound genuine, and at times they might be. But if your job was to be entertaining, then you’re probably going to say things for dramatic effect. Drama and artificial importance keep the viewer glued, which means more people will see their commercials. That’s what it comes down to. I trust Rose Zhang’s golf mentality much more than a golf commentator’s tv mentality.

So back to Debra’s question of how to avoid looking at your score. To answer her question directly, I honestly don't think there's a great way to avoid knowing your score, thinking about your score, keeping a running tally in your head about your score. That's like saying I'm going to avoid thinking about dinner tonight. Actively choosing to not think about dinner is probably going to make you think about dinner. So trying and forcing and controlling your mind into not thinking about score will most likely backfire on you.

You could be like me and have a terrible memory and have zero clue of where you’re at during a round. That short memory can definitely be a blessing (although my wife would beg to differ). I could get to the end of a tournament round and have literally no clue what I shot. That could be a combo of my short memory, but also something I put a lot of work into was being fully focused on my shot by shot process, pre shot routine, and taking stats after the shot. So this helped me not even really care what I was at on the day, it just didn’t interest me as much as going through a good process on each shot. I didn’t just wake up one day with that process mentality. That mentality was cultivated over time with a heavy emphasis on just getting better as a golfer. I knew I wasn’t good enough, and I knew I needed to get better to reach my goals, so caring more about the process and less about my score at any given moment was a natural byproduct.

But generally speaking, if you’re like most golfers I talk to in coaching sessions and you have a memory that can keep track of where you’re at in relation to par, then there’s no real way to avoid those thoughts. Trying not to will backfire on you.

So unfortunately, Debra, I don't have a good answer for how to completely avoid knowing your score.

I think it’s possible to avoid knowing where you stand on the leaderboard though, like in her example about Rose Zhang. If the only way to know where you stand is by seeing a physical leaderboard or looking at your phone then those things can be avoided.

But the idea of knowing your score throwing you off, that’s the underlying thing here, and it's what I think is most important to address, so let's get into it.

You're playing golf, and you're playing well, so you're trying not to hear or think about where you're at. You're trying to avoid knowing your score because you think knowing it will throw you off and make you lose your good mojo and cause you to blow your good round.

I’d argue that trying to avoid looking at a scoreboard or your scorecard or even just the thought of your score is an unhelpful way to go through your round. This assumes that knowing your score or where you stand is inherently bad. But I don't think it is.

In my view, this is less the fault of the score or the leaderboard, and more the fault of the person’s psychology and relationship with the thoughts they experience.

Let’s dissect the “it’s bad to know your score” idea. It probably started something like this:

You were playing well then you found out what you were at and it made you nervous. Because you were nervous (which is a completely normal human emotion in response to something happening that you care about) you felt the uncomfortable symptoms that come with nerves. And maybe because you were uncomfortable you hit a bad shot. And because you hit a bad shot you now have the negative feedback loop that says you need to try harder to play well or you're going to blow this good round you have going. This doubling down rarely helps, so you most likely make more guidey swings and limp your way into a less than stellar score.

So you've just gone through this progression: playing well, then knowing where you stand, then feeling uncomfortable, then hitting a bad shot, then shooting a worse score. So it’s pretty understandable to make a linear association between finding out where you stand to shooting a bad score.

But something we have to understand is just because you draw this conclusion doesn’t make it true. A lot happened between finding out where you stand and shooting a bad score. The very first encounter with the thought about score is a good place to start.

Ask yourself this, when a thought about where you stand or what you're at on the day pops in your head, did you intentionally think it? Most likely not. The thought just arrived in your mind unsolicited. But then the choice to go with the thought is much more within your control.

That feeling of discomfort or nerves when you find out where you stand is completely normal. But when we retract from it or wish we didn’t feel it or try to ignore it is when we develop the unhealthy relationship with our own thoughts.

When you think you’re allergic to knowing your score, then you create a sense of avoidance. And that avoidance often translates to fearing a certain thought. So now you're using your mental energy and focus trying not to think a certain thing instead of letting an uncomfortable thought be there and playing golf.

So yeah if you hate that uncomfortable feeling that comes with knowing your score, then yeah of course you’re going to respond poorly and not play the next shot or holes or the rest of the round in the present.

So what can you do? If you know seeing your score makes you play worse, I'd try to come to terms with the idea that you probably just think knowing your score makes you play worse. Realize that you’re not actually allergic to knowing your score.

Knowing your score is simply just another thought, just like a random thought about dinner tonight or that email you have to send. Just because you think it and it makes you feel a certain way doesn't mean you have to follow it or give it any weight.

So the way out of this isn’t to avoid knowing your score. As much as that feels like the answer, that avoidance causes more problems than it solves.

The answer is this: embrace your thoughts as just thoughts. When you see where you're at on the day, respond with openness and curiosity, rather than an allergic reaction. Know that the discomfort that comes along with knowing your score is normal. And the less you fight it, the more you normalize it over time. Until eventually you can look at your score or keep a running tally and it doesn’t have to hurt your game, and can even be helpful.


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