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Set meaningful goals for golfing success

By Mr. Peter Mattsson, Dr. Paul Schempp

Successful performers in any endeavor share one common approach to getting better: They set and achieve realistic, meaningful goals.

Simply swinging a golf club or banging balls time and again does not guarantee improvement in performance. Merely repeating a performance is not practice. To perfect a skill, you must practice with a purpose, or a goal.

Setting practice goals and planning improvement begins with selecting the skills that will make the biggest difference in your performance. Later in this step, we will discuss how you might go about identifying such skills, but for now it is enough to realize that improvement begins with the setting of a goal. Good practice goals are both meaningful and achievable.

A meaningful practice goal is one that you believe will lead you to increased success. You want to spend most of your practice time working on goals that will lower your scores. For example, you may feel that you cannot stroke the ball with consistent contact to find the fairway, so you set a goal of developing an efficient, repetitive swing.

Full swings account for 35 to 40 percent of the strokes in a round, while the other 60 to 65 percent are partial swings or putts. If you want to make a difference in your game, for every three hours of practice you should devote two hours to the short game. But when you go to most practice facilities, where do you see the majority of golfers? Banging away at the full swing. If that is what you enjoy doing with your practice time, fine. But don’t think that your game is going to dramatically improve if you never make it to the short game.

When determining meaningful goals, it is important to have an accurate assessment of your skills prioritized in terms of your success on a golf course. For example, you may not be a particularly good bunker player and still score reasonably well because you don’t have to hit that shot very often in a round. However, if your putting is suspect, you should make it a priority because no one finds success in golf without finding success in putting. Becoming a better putter is a meaningful goal for almost every player.

Making your goals achievable means you are able to reach them. Consider two things when identifying achievable goals. First, the goal must be realistic given your ability and physical conditioning. While we would all like to drive a golf ball more than 300 yards, few of us have the ability to do so no matter how much we practice. Second, the goal should be measurable so that you will know when you have reached it. Becoming a better putter is a meaningful goal, but how will you know when you have improved? Setting a standard of comparison is helpful. For example, you may be able to make 5 out of 10 putts from 3 feet. Set a goal of making 8 out of 10 putts and practice for a week or two, then measure whether your goal of becoming a better putter has been achieved.

Because it is critical to achieve the goals you set, set no more than three goals at a time. Too many goals make it difficult to focus during practice, which makes it difficult to reach your goals. Pick out only the most meaningful goals that will increase your golfing success.

In the next section, we discuss benchmarks of success, or ways to determine how much progress you are making, and then we suggest ways these benchmarks can help you speed up your success.

You set goals but never seem to reach them.

Make sure your goals target specific skills and are measurable. It is difficult to improve with a vague goal such as "I want to shoot lower scores."
That kind of goal does not identify a skill that will lead to a lower score. A goal such as "I want to have more one-putt holes" will help you find appropriate practice activities that will lead to achievement.

Goal-Setting Drill. Priority Goals

Review the rating of your goal skills that you completed in step 10 (My Most Successful Shots, page 122). Identify the shots you need to improve the most and design two practice goals that specifically state how you will know you have achieved success. For example, you might state, “My goal is to be able to chip 8 out of 10 balls to within 3 feet of a hole that is 10 yards away on a practice green.”

Success Check


  • Make sure goals are measurable and achievable.

Score Your Success
For each goal, give yourself 1 point if you identify a specific skill and 1 point if you identify the level of success you hope to achieve.
Your score ___

This is an excerpt from Golf: Steps to Success.

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