Difference Between 3 and 0 Handicap: Peak Performance?

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By Chris92009

  • 16 Replies
  1. Chris92009
    Cincinnati, Ohio

    0 Posts

    I was reading on another Golf website the other day about a golfer that is a 3 handicap asking everyone what is needed to get to a 0 handicap. He further discussed that he had made to a 1 handicap at one point but regressed to a 3. This caused me to initially think, well his short game and putting game need more work....or he needs to make more consistent contact with the ball...or he needs more work on his long game....etc..etc...

    Then a couple days went by and it occurred to me that those last few digits on the handicap meter are probably more about one's mental approach to the game of golf vs. anything technical.

    Think about it, mental peak performance is now really a must at a scratch handicap level or even better. That is, the state of mind of relaxed, no fear, confidence as you move through each shot is required.

    What do you think? Maybe I am off base with my thinking....However, I do not think so but I thought this might be an interesting discussion point since many of us are in search of being the best player possible.

    Please chime in with your thoughts...Looking forward to reading your comments! I know there are some really great golfers in this community so many of us have encountered such a situation at least once or more in our golfer career!

  2. Hotsauce
    Georgetown MA

    0 Posts

    Hi Chris,
    I think you're spot on here. My goal has always been to get to scratch, and I've been as low as a 4, but now sit somewhere between 5-6. I truly believe the mental game and confidence are every bit as important as mechanics and technique. The more I find myself bogged down mentally, the worse I play. When I catch myself thinking about an issue at work, or tasks I must complete, I often find myself hitting poor shots.
    I've seen so many 10+ cappers hit amazing shots on the range, then get to the course, tighten up, lose confidence and then bang- poor performance bites. The mind is an amazing thing, and I believe it's every bit as important as swing mechanics.
  3. Eric H
    Ridgway, PA

    0 Posts

    The ability to accept a bad swing/mistake and move on to the next swing with proper focus and commitment is absolutely a difference maker when it comes to shooting good scores. As a HS golf coach I try to help my players understand the value of not compounding a mistake and that golf if a game of how good your bad shots are not really about how good your good shots are
  4. Christian J

    0 Posts


    I'm currently going through this myself. I'm checking in at a 3 handicap and yet have never shot par on a full length 18 hole course. I track my stats using a strokes gained model and it's clear my short game needs a lot of work. But no matter how hard I grind and practice it, it ultimately comes down to my mental state. And example from last season: I was +1 through 16 holes, knowing I had an easy par 5 to finish my round. Mentally, I was amped up and thinking how I can finally shoot even par! I ended up birdieing 18 but what was missed was my complete lack of focus on 17 resulting in a 3 putt bogey.

    I notice myself all the time thinking about my score when I'm playing well. Then I ultimately make a silly bogey and cannot recover. I wish there was an easy way to not think about golf while playing golf but I guess that is what separates me from those who go low every weekend. They are comfortable shooting under par.

    I think you are spot on with your thoughts. At this point, the mental game trumps the mechanical part. You can make every putt on the practice green but if you can't make them on 17 when it counts, none of that practice matters.
  5. Dr. Kovatchian

    0 Posts

    At my all time lowest I was a 2.5...zero kids and a country club membership to boot. Now I bounce around from 4.0 to 6.0 depending on seasonal conditions and if my playing partners meltdown looking for snacks that are gone by the 5th hole.

    I'm perfectly happy knowing that I can play to a 5.0 while coaching a 7 year old on the links as well.

    Those players who have the time and resources to maintain those scratch handicaps are gifted or work very hard to have incredible games from 100 yards and in. You have to have the ability of a sniper hitting wedges and putting lights out.

    You are right about the Mental Edge...you still have to have that repetition of those shots and putts to make them seem meaningless and effortless. You have to have that Mental Ability to go blank while hitting your best shots...Executing in the Subconscious.

    It's amazing to me how easy it is for the Elite player to go from a 45 second fairway walk conversation with an opponent to hitting it stiff and making birdie.
    The on/off switch and clearing the brain for the body to do its thing is pretty complex and powerful.

    I wonder if Kylo Ren could pull it off?

    Dr. K
  6. 0 Posts

    Yeah I agree, I think it is probably mental. You can do all the drills you want and can be the best putter, ball striker, etc... but if your head isn't on straight or you get too mad too quickly you are gonna eventually have a bad hole or just have a mental breakdown. Golf is a mental game. I'm no expert but that is just my opinion.
  7. Tom B
    Northborough, MA

    0 Posts

    I'd agree on the mental side of it. Let's face it. If your a low single digit handicap you're already in the top 2% or less of those who play this game. But if you've ever played in serious local, State, or USGA tourneys, you've may have been humbled by those who who are consistently at the top of those tourneys, or qualifiers who seem to never make mistakes. Pretty tough to be a casual player or weekend player and get too far beyond the low single digits. Keep the mind sharp and think like they do at Augusta. Be careful shooting at pins. The best only do it when it's an easy pin or a small mistake won't put them in the hazard or worse. Minimize your mistakes not by trying to play it safe per say, just don't be aggressive all the time. Many times it's best to take the bogey than try the low percent shot and be looking at double. I always try to remember Venturi in the tower watching someone set up for the miracle shot, saying "....Jimmy now he's bringing 6 and 7 into the picture".
  8. Edward K
    Wesley Chapel, FL

    0 Posts

    Great thoughts from everyone. Now for the REAL truth. No offense to anyone on the board here, but becoming a scratch or better takes 2 years of very good golf. When I say VERY good golf, I mean your BAD days are 73. How to do that? You have to make more birdies than bogies, plain and simple. Remember, it's course rating, not par that your handicap is based off.....20 years ago I was pretty good mini-tour player, working at a club as a GM. I was a solid 1-3. I began sparring around the practice green with some other aspiring pros. Started playing with them. They all shot under par on a bad day. The moral of the story is it IS all mental. Next thing you know, I'm a +3 around Orlando. It's being hungry to get better mentally that is the hardest part. You can't practice enough from inside 100 yards. And you can't hit enough putts, ever........The difference between a 0 and a 3 is a lot more than 3 shots. The 0 is a better putter, driver and strategist. And he's much better mentally, and emotionally. He handles a bad shot better, and doesn't get TOO excited when he hits a great shot......When he makes a double, he generally re-groups and forgets it.
  9. 0 Posts

    I think the key to becoming a scratch is mental like having the ability to make those par putts and not getting rattled can be the difference between a couple strokes
  10. 0 Posts

    For me it was the swing i got to a 1 and started looking for better. lessons etc and lost my swing for a few years. Finally I just found the old swing one day and back came the consistency
  11. pauldrue
    Nashua, NH

    0 Posts

    There may be some minor tweaking of a swing, some little adjustments in the stroke, but for the most part the mental/emotional side of the game is the part that moves the handicap down.

    Just last week, I had two very low rounds going. Both times, my thoughts were not on my swing but were with the mental demons inside. Fortunately, it worked out nicely in the end both times. But I could feel the battle going on inside me, especially towards those last few holes when I knew I could post a low score.

    What a great game! Haha


  12. Speedy
    Newmarket, NH

    0 Posts

    Mental and not having the confidence is my biggest cause for my handicap going up or down...

    BUT... I have to remember and IMO, the players that 0-3 or scratch, these are players that do this for a living or are able to practice every day which of course I'm extremely jealous. Those players should be low.. Unfortunately I don't have that luxury with 2 little ones.. Someday though, someday.. I just hope I still have the energy then...

    I agree with Paul, golf is a great game!!! Wouldn't want it any other way..

  13. rodney t
    hilllsborough, NC

    0 Posts

    i agree on confidence. On days I have a good flow the game is easy. I can shoot under par, I have the feeling the game is easy. But when I start out slow, I change my swing, tempo, lose confidence in my putting., The I can shoot well over par. I am thinking what has happened.
  14. 0 Posts

    I having been as low as 2 at my best I always believed the difference between a 3/4 and a scratch was not so much the quality of the good shots but more the quality of the not so good shots, which I guess is as much mental as physical. Excepting that every shot will not be perfect and missing in the right location or knowing where your pressure shot will miss is the difference in my mind. We see this every time we watch a tournament, the players that control the quality of there misses always seem to be at the top of the leader board.
  15. Edward K
    Wesley Chapel, FL

    0 Posts

    In the END, you gotta go hunting birdies.......18 pars on most golf courses isn't scratch....LOL
  16. 0 Posts

    As a teaching and former professional player I can say the bloggers are close but are lacking a big piece. The mental side, yes. Confidence, yes. However, how do you obtain those things, because they are not you can pull out of thin air. The pre-shot routine is huge, but the biggest difference is course management. An amateur looks at each hole backward. The are on the tee and let their drives rip and hope for the best. I, and the other pros I played with, looked at the green; decided the best approach given the shape of the green; and would measure back 3 distances (mine were 125, 150, and 175 yards); then, draw a line back to the tee. The club used off the tee would be determined by which distance (125, 150, 175) gave you the highest probability of hitting the lay-up yardage. That increases your odds, decreases the errors, keeps you scoring from the fairway, increases confidence, and makes it so that when you go to the range that you practice primarily the 125, 150, 175 yard shots instead of every club in the bag. It makes practice more beneficial. Think about the times you see a pro hitting a 2 iron or 3 wood off the tee. They are laying up to that target distance- to a shot they have practiced. If a player hits the 125, 150, 175 yard clubs (again, your yardages can be what ever you choose) you will have much more confidence hitting those (hitting several hundred shots with them each week) rather than practicing with all of your clubs that you may only hit a few of each week. There is much more to course management than this, but this is just to give a glimpse as to what the low handicapper misses in approaching the course. I had one student that came to me as a 14 handicap player. through the course of a few months, he was playing to a +2 (2 below scratch) and 90% of his transformation was teaching him a strong course management and how to play to his strengths. He went on to win many titles and got a full golf scholarship.
  17. DV

    0 Posts

    I have been as low as a plus 4 and now a 2.4. The key I felt to score well on the course was to have a plan as to how you were going tackle the course. I knew before I even played the round what clubs I were going to use on every shot I made. I knew when I was going to play conservative and when I would play more aggressively on a hole. I did the mental preparation the night before I played. Before the round I would determine what one swing thought I would use consistently for the round that day. The next step was just executing my plan focusing on the process you planned the night before. I never ever focused on score, or what I needed score wise to get my par if I was grinding. I just stayed focused on the process. Leave swing mechanics back at the range not on the course. Stay in the present not thinking about the last hole, or the last shot, or what you need to do on the next hole to recover a stroke. The icing on the cake was to do all this without being stressed and to be mentally relaxed as if you were playing a round of golf with your Dad or wife. Whenever I scored well for the day this is the one take away that always stands out in my mind. How relaxed I felt while I was playing. My pre-game preparation in conjunction with my low-key approach to the round many times seemed as if it was a key I needed to perform well. As the round would progress my confidence would build on itself as I went from shot to shot achieving the shots I had planned the night before. The score I would achieve hole by hole were just the result of my preparation and execution and not a result of me saying to myself that I need a birdie on this hole to get me to 2 under par for example.

    Anyway, this is what always seemed to work for me. Prepare, stay focused on your plan and the processes needed to execute your plan (ie pre-shot routine), and stay mentally relaxed for every shot. Getting pissed off because you missed a 3 foot putt will never help you achieve your goal so why get upset? If you start to implement these types of stratergies I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised at the results you will achieve also.

    Best Wishes,


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