Fun or intense: What's the best way to approach golf?
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Fun or intense: What’s the best way to approach golf?

At the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods admitted he had the wrong mindset for the weekend at Kiawah Island.

“I was too relaxed, and tried to enjoy it, and that's not how I play,” he said. “I play intense and full systems go. That cost me."

So, what did Tiger mean?

There are two types of mentalities when playing golf: a desire to score and a desire to have fun.

A scoring mentality is what most fans really admired about Tiger at his best – his intensity and focus! Speaking with a notable caddy after Tiger won this year at the Memorial Tournament, they said, “Tiger really does have a supreme intensity on every shot that I have ever seen.”

Consider some other very successful players with scoring mentalities.

  • Ben Hogan was known as the “wee-ice man” for his focus and on-course demeanor in which he rarely spoke during competition.
  • Curtis Strange, winner of two US Open’s, was a score type of player who was very intense.

The second type of player approaches the game with a competitive intensity, but enjoys the experience. Certainly, there is a fine line between playing careful and playing carefree, but these players have succeeded while committing to having fun.

  • Lee Trevino broke the ice before the 18-hole playoff for the 1971 U.S. Open by throwing a rubber snake to Jack Nicklaus in 1971.
  • Phil Mickelson is probably the ultimate fist-bumping, high-fiving, grinning player. He has three green jackets and has won a tournament almost every year on the PGA Tour since 1993 (except '99).
  • Rory McIlroy took the advice of teacher Dave Stockton to always smile last week at the PGA Championship. After the first round, he said, “You know, just go out there and have fun and enjoy it and smile.”
  • Luke Guthrie is a rookie enjoying early success on the PGA Tour and Tour. After shooting a 65 at the True South Classic last month, he said, “ I’m just trying to have fun.”
  • Up-and-coming pro Morgan Hoffmann, who qualified for the U.S. Open this year, said after coming off back-to-back top 10 finishes, “I'm just trying to play golf and have fun.”

Either mentality, to score or have fun, works and can be successful, but we should know what type of player we are. These mentalities do not mean we don’t care about score or we only have fun when we play well, but rather what is most important in your mind.

Also, we should not switch our mentalities while we are playing. Consider the example of Andrew Pratt, current head coach of the Tulane University men's golf program.

He had the lead after the third round of the now-defunct Peak-n-Peek Classic on the Tour in 2007. He wound up finishing second. Afterward, he talked about a switch in his mentality for the final round. He wanted to “go out and have fun,” but it backfired because it was in contrast to how he approached his previous three rounds mentality, trying to “commit to shots and stay aggressive.”

When we switch our mentality in the middle of tournament or round, we are not believing in ourselves and not committing to what we think works. Losing confidence can happen very easily, especially when we put too much pressure on ourselves or try to be something or someone we are not.

About the author


Rob Bell

Dr. Rob Bell is the author of Mental Toughness Training for Golf, and AASP certified Sport Psychology consultant. He consults with golfers, athletes, and coaches at all levels helping build and enhance their own mental toughness.

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