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  • Writer's picturePaul Tolley



The majority of Golfers, because of the way they have played and practiced bring with them to the golf course a package of things based on their past experiences. Part of this package is that they are constantly judging. Golfers constantly make judgments about their swing, someone else’s swing, the golf course, the weather, how they are feeling, a particular hole, club, shot, etc, etc, etc. Included in these judgments is how they evaluate their shots. For the purposes of this article, “shots” relates to all shots played by Golfers including full and short shots and putts.

“Golfers are full of judgments about everyone and everything. Evaluations and judgments are being made all the time”

Fred Shoemaker from his book, Extraordinary Golf


Golfers will use at least one (and normally more and possibly all!) of the following factors to evaluate and judge their shots;

Result – Where the ball finishes in relation to our target is a major factor in what judgment is made by the Golfer.

Direction – If the ball does not start on the Golfers intended line then an immediate judgment is made as to the quality of the shot. This is particularly true with short shots (chipping and pitching) irrespective of whether the distance is correct and the ball finishes relatively close to the target.

Distance – If Golfers do not achieve their perceived distances (particularly with a Driver) then again, judgments are made even though there may be some external factors (weather, humidity, ground conditions, etc).

Flight – For some Golfers unless the ball has a draw flight then they become critical. What is relevant is can the ball flight be repeated no matter what it is?; the ball doesn’t know the difference! Is it playable?

Strike – Less than perfect strikes are always criticized even though most shots are not exactly from the sweet spot. This relates closely to what we feel post-shot.

Feeling/Swing/Movement – Sometimes the overall feeling Golfers experience with their swing and movement causes them to make a judgment irrespective of the result.


Unfortunately, for the majority of Golfers how they evaluate their shots is too black and white,too extreme! The shot is either good or bad! If the shot is not perfect then it is considered in some way, bad. If the shot does not comply with or contain all the factors listed above then they find something negative to fix. This is detrimental to the Golfer in two important ways.

Firstly, if Golfers make a judgment as soon as the ball leaves the club, then this reaction (good or bad) is stored in the brains memory. This is a normal brain function and these memories are recalled when Golfers are faced with a similar situation. It is important to realise that every experience/event creates a memory with an emotional association and memories are recalled with their associated physical feelings. All future events will trigger a similar emotional/physical response unless we replace it with something else. In golfing terms this means that for example, if the player has a doubt concerning a particular club or hole that they play, because they have stored bad memories about this situation then the same physical response (bad swing) is likely to reappear. This is why Golfers tend to make errors in the same manner, at the same hole and at the same point in the round. Therefore, the judgment Golfers make about their shots effects what type or memory (good or bad) is stored and later recalled by the brain and the physical movement associated with it.

Secondly, when the shot does not comply with or contain all the factors used to evaluate their shots, Golfers will find something negative to fix. This is as a result of the brain’s natural negative bias. This creates a flow of thoughts resulting in a negative cycle of constantly trying to fix something which is not broken. This obsession of fixing technique takes the Golfer further and further away from where they need to be and places their attention and energy in the wrong place. Rather than staying present, playing the game and performing the task in hand they are now involved in a fight with their swing and themselves. All of those stored bad memories now flood the Golfers mind.


Their reaction – How The Golfer reacts affects their mood and mindset both good and bad

Their mood and mindset – The reaction and the mood it creates affects the type and strength of memory stored.

The memories that they store – The balance of memories (good vs. bad) will affect the confidence and trust of the Golfer

Their confidence/trust – Without confidence and trust the Golfer has doubts and more judgments are made which affects performance.

Their performance – Performance is directly connected to results/score.

Their score - It is what Golfers right on the scorecard!


So, to avoid being caught in this cycle and help manage the situation, I would recommend the following evaluation systems for your shots. Whilst they may be different to your current practice, with time, patience and management you will reap benefits to your game in a number of ways.


Any game of golf for every level of player is always a mixture of shots (relative to their level/handicap). There are many Golfers who demand perfection from every shot, which is a worthy goal if not, somewhat unrealistic. Challenging yourself to be better is necessary but should be attempted in line with some achievable, realistic goals. What is wanted is improvement not necessarily perfection. At the other end of scale, some Golfers too readily accept poor shots and are not concerned enough to seek any improvement. Clearly there is always a balance to be struck and this is a choice for the individual to make.

Therefore, I suggest that you categorize your shots in the following way and always relative to your own game. Shots will either be:

Great - great strike, direction, distance, flight, feeling and great result

Good – good strike, direction, distance, flight, feeling and good result

Good enough – good enough strike, direction, distance, flight, feeling and good enough result

Using this evaluation system is beneficial in a number of ways. It gives you flexibility in how you judge your shots and is not like the extreme black and white system you use now (i.e. good or bad). It allows you to maintain your self-esteem and belief and helps you realise that you do not need to hit perfect shots to play the game and achieve a good score. Any shots outside of these categories can/should be disregarded.

“There were times when I could have won but didn’t. However, I persevered and eventually I learnt you don’t have to hit the ball perfectly to win, you have to manage yourself better”

Tom Watson - Eight time Major Champion

For example, if we look at a series of ten shots, you could have an evaluation of 1 x great, 2 x good and 4 x good enough shots. This would mean that 70% of those shots would cause you no harm and would be playable. You would be hitting more good shots than bad. This is what you would remember and the other 30% that were not so good would not be stored in your memory thereby, increasing the chances in the future of replicating a great/good or good enough shot. This is a much healthier way for you as a Golfer to evaluate your shots whilst maintaining a level of confidence and trust in what you are doing.


The points system works in a similar way to the categorizing system in that it takes the Golfer away from using the extreme black and white system of good or bad. Simply, you will evaluate each shot on a points basis and will receive a point for each of the 6 shot evaluation factors you achieve. So, you get 1 point for strike, direction, distance, flight, feeling and result (maximum 6 points – minimum 0). Again using an example of 10 shots, it is unlikely if you are honest in your evaluations, that you are going to achieve a lot of 6’s or a lot of 0’s (perfect or completely bad). So, the majority of your shots will be grouped in the 2 to 5 categories because this is where most Golfers play the game (E.g. 1 shot x 5 pts, 3 shots x 4pts, 3 shots x 3pts, 3 shots x 2pts). The most important concept behind these systems is to help you appreciate that you do not hit as many bad shots as you think you do. By re-evaluating your shots you will be kinder to yourselves and maintain your confidence, trust and self – belief as a Golfer. In this way you are tipping the scales in your favour!


your reaction – which enables you to maintain your mood and mindset

your mood and mindset – determines what memories are stored and later recalled

your stored memories – will determine whether you are confident and trusting or doubtful

your confidence and trust – will determine how you perform

your performance – will determine your score

your score – will determine how you feel about yourself and your game


1. Don’t be so black and white in your shot evaluation. Shots are not perfect or bad, they are always somewhere in-between!

2. Trying to fix your swing whilst playing will create a negative cycle, your swing is never as broken as you think!

3. Stay neutral to your shots, no reaction if possible!

4. Store the right memories, more good than bad, tip the scales in your favour!

5. Using the different evaluation systems helps do this.

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