Golf Instruction

How the Mental Scorecard Worked for Phil

(and how it can help you)

August 2014

Adapted from Mastering Golf's Mental Game: Your Ultimate Guide to Better On-Course Performance and Lower Scores, copyright © 2014 by Dr. Michael T. Lardon. To be published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of Random House LLC, on Sept. 16, $25.

Over the past 10 years, I've been helping golfers like Phil Mickelson find high-value motivation to continue to improve year after year, and showing them how to use the strong results orientation they all have in a productive way. One of the basic tools for this work is what I call the Mental Scorecard.

Golf is a game of score and measurement. You write down your score for each hole, and you plug your final score into the computer. You're judged by your handicap, just like PGA Tour players are judged by their finishes and rank on the money list.

We all know intuitively that it's best to be focused on the process, or the task at hand. But we can't help but try to peek forward at what our results might be: If I can par out, I can break 80 for the first time, or All I have to do is two-putt here. Or we chew over past results: I never hit a good tee shot here, or I always choke under pressure. When you dilute your attention that way, it's hard to perform at your best.

I designed the system to satisfy every golfer's need for immediate feedback. But instead of measuring the number of strokes taken on a given hole, the scorecard measures performance against a series of benchmarks. Did you carefully calculate wind, elevation and other factors to come up with your yardage and shot? Did you go through your visualization process to see or feel the shot? Did you hit your shot with a clear, neutral mind? In simple terms, you track the number of shots you take on a given hole, and the number of shots out of that total that you executed all the mental benchmarks successfully—regardless of how the shot turned out.

At the end of the round, you'll have your standard score, plus a percentage of those total shots that you executed after successfully integrating your mental steps. At the tour level, the difference between winning a major championship and keeping your card is about 7 or 8 percentage points—five to six shots per round with less than full concentration. The best tour players score 98 or 99 percent. Top-125 players are usually above 90 percent. Good college players are in the low 80s, and single-digit handicappers are in the 60s. Regardless of your level, if you can consistently increase your percentage, the numbers on your standard scorecard will improve. I'll give you two examples.

In early 2011, I was watching Phil go through one of his normal off-week practice sessions. When he stopped to take a break, I asked him to show me what his process was for a real shot in a tournament—from getting yardage from his caddie to pulling the club and going through his pre-shot routine. He went through his process and hit a shot at one of the target flags on the range. After he hit the shot, I gave him a quick description of the pre-shot mental benchmarks and how the scorekeeping worked. One of the reasons Phil has been so successful for so long is his complete lack of ego when it comes to incorporating new ideas into his game. He's a naturally open, curious person, and he's extremely intelligent. If he finds something he thinks can help him, he won't hesitate to use it.

After listening to my description, he said he'd give it a try. He paused for a few seconds to go through the steps, then hit the next shot. I was watching him, not the ball, and I asked, "How was that?" Before he could answer, I heard the ball hit the flag. Phil picked another flag 158 yards away, tucked onto a little ridge, and hit 20 shots alternating between high-drawing 9-irons and soft-cutting 8-irons. At the end, a dozen balls were within four feet of the flag. He told me he liked the system, especially the "mental scorecard part." A name was coined, and coincidence or not, he went out the next week and won the Shell Houston Open.

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