How Your Expectations Are Killing Your Golf Game

How Your Expectations Are Killing Your Golf Game

When I was a junior golfer, I was never happy with my game. While I believe this may have been a powerful driving force to my rapid improvement (I practiced endlessly to try and master the game), I look back now and see how this also held me back.


Expectations and Happiness

I always had incredibly high expectations – for some reason, I thought that the pros were infallible (check out the great video at the end of this post), and I wanted to emulate them so much. And when reality doesn’t match out expectations, this is the quickest way to dissatisfaction.

expectation reality

And when we are unhappy with our game, this affects both our confidence and our perceptions of the shots we take, and (ultimately) our future form.


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Drive For Show

A 15 handicap player tees the ball up on the first, pulls his driver out of the bag and aims down the middle of the fairway. It starts down the middle, before carving off to the right and landing in the deep rough.

I always miss right with my driver

When I ask players how often the average tour player hits a fairway, I am often met with something in the region of 85-95% of the time. Let’s look at the reality;

driving accuracy

In fact, as we speak, World number one (Jason Day) only hits an average of 56% of fairways. So, if the top professionals who

  • are the best in the world
  • practice more hours in a day than you do in a year
  • have put in tens of thousands of hours in their lifetimes
  • have the best techniques in the world
  • are the genetic elite

are basically hitting the fairways at a rate slightly higher than a coin-flip, why the hell are you so worried when you miss one? In fact, the fact you are so worried about missing a fairway might be increasing your miss rate, as you are less likely to swing freely when you have fear.


Proximity To The Pin

The player is now stuck behind the tree, decides to take the safe option of chipping out to his 7 iron yardage. Pulling out his favourite club, he aims eyes down the pin tucked on the left. He makes his swing, strikes it pure and it looks great – but at the last moment it starts to veer left, and he just misses the green.

oh no, I’ve short sided myself again.

short sided

A 40ft miss could mean a 2 putt, or a 50% chance of up and down (effectively costing you half a shot)

Again, when asked, lots of my pupils will believe that the pros will hit their 7 iron to an average of 5-10 foot from the pin. Let’s look at the reality




From the above, we can see that the average proximity to the pin (distance they hit it to) with a 7 to 5 iron from the fairway is 35 foot. This is 10 yards – and that could be 10 yards left OR right, effectively creating a 20-yard circle.

And that’s just the average. Sometimes they hit it worse!

I often find amateurs also have a side-to-side dispersion of around 10 yards (20-yard circle) – the difference between them and a pro is often in distance control, aim management, or club selection.


Putt For Dough

The player gets his chip shot close enough from a difficult up and down position. He proceeds to stand over his 8-foot putt for par, pulling the trigger and just missing on the left side.

I’m such a useless putter.

How often should an amateur expect to hole an 8-foot putt? Let’s have a look at what the best players in the world do on average?



Again, a small percentage more than a coin flip. And these players are playing on the best greens in the world.

So, next time you miss an 8-foot putt – let it go. Perhaps you should have chipped it/lagged it closer – that is probably something which is more in your control.


Intra-Round Consistency

Our player goes through a mixture of form during the round, having many 3-point birdies, but throws in the odd blob/scratch/zero point hole.

If only I could get rid of those bad holes

I can’t remember the last time I played a round without making a mistake – in fact, I don’t think it has ever happened. Mistakes are just part of the game, and golf is more a game of constant damage limitation than it is ‘perfect play’. Golfers mistakenly believe that they are going to one-day figure it out and start taking their A-game to the course shot after shot.

This is NEVER going to happen.

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Adam Young Golf

You are better off figuring out

  • how to score with your B game
  • how to fix impact patterns which pop up during a round
  • how to create a strategy for a certain shot pattern
  • bringing up the quality of your game as a whole

than you are striving to achieve the impossible of hitting it your best all the time. No matter how good you are, there will always be inconsistencies – even the top pros hit great shots and poor shots in a round of golf. It’s just that they are operating at a much higher level.


Kevin Chappell

Kevin Chappell’s “consistent” scorecard recently

Consistency Of Score

The player eventually signs for a score of 29 points.

I can’t believe it. Last week I had 36 points. I am so inconsistent.

I also hear this one a lot – a player may have a week-to-week swing of 6-10 shots and think that the world has come crashing down on them. Let’s get something straight – this is perfectly normal. In fact, last year;

  • Mcilroy shot a 61 one week and an 78 and 80 the next?
  • Jordan spieth can have a low round of 61 and a high round which is 14 shots higher in the same year
  • Mickelson this year followed a 68 with a 78 at the Memorial
  • Bubba Watson has had a 77 and followed it with a 62 the next round
  • Even Jim ‘Mr Consistency’ Furyk had an 11 shot swing from one round to the next (Pebble Beach)

So, over the course of the year, we can see close to a 20 shot swing even with the best players in the world. So, quit fretting about the 6-10 shots difference between your last two rounds, and start working on getting better overall. This way, you will be bouncing around from 65-75, not 85-95.

Pro versus Am


Our Best Selves

The problem is, we seem to hold our expectations in line with our best ever games.

Sure, we have had those days that we hit almost every fairway. Yes, we have holed every 8 footer we set our eyes on. And yes, we have all stiffed it to that pin tucked on the left. But we have probably all flipped 10 heads in a row too. And if an infinite amount of monkeys slammed a keyboard for an infinite amount of time, one of them would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare.


But holding yourself to this unachievable expectation should not be the goal. It is not going to make you happy in the long run, and may even cause more tinkering, leading (ironically) to more inconsistency.


The Pros

Also, while we shouldn’t compare ourselves against the pros, it is worthwhile seeing that they too are fallible.

Most of their shots are coin flips – but they seem to get it around nonetheless. Surely working out how they do that would be more beneficial?

Even then, sometimes it is really fun to watch the pros suffer. After all, it makes us feel better about our own games. See the below video.

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  • Paul Stewart

    Great video, love your insights!

    • admin

      Thank you Paul

  • Don

    My expectations aren’t what they used to be but I do tire of making the same mistakes repeatedly and any attempt to improve is fruitless. I am aware of my weaknesses but am powerless to improve it seems. -Don

    • admin

      We all have these feelings Don. No one is consistently reaching their potential, which is why we come back for more. We know what we are all capable of, but stringing it together is the impossible part. We might do it once or twice in our lives, then spend the rest of our golf careers seeking that moment again and being unhappy with what we actually achieve.

      It’s just like someone flipping a coin, trying to recapture the time they flipped 10 in a row, and being unhappy with the 50/50 they are getting.

  • James

    Great post Adam, it’s eyecatching when you see the stats and you present and it leads into a completely different mindset of how hard we are on yourselves and our own expectations which more often than not are what stops us realising our capabilities. One of the best tips I was given as a youngster, and high handicapper, playing golf was for anyone starting out with a handicap over 18 to simply stand on every tee and add an shot on to whatever the par was… par 4s became par 5s and so on, immediately this changes your expectations and the game becomes much easier to achieve the result you’re striving for!

  • Dean Walker

    Hi Adam,

    Great insight and a lot of things ring true with me growing up. I used to be incredibly hard on myself if I didn’t hit a perfect shot every-time, believing the pro’s never hit a bad shot.

    But I also think you have to have high standards and expectations to be good at anything, but its your attitude towards failure which is important.

    The players that do incredibly well shrug bad shots off and just try and do better the next time. It’s not the fact they have lower expectations than the person that gets down on himself and loses confidence.

    I think an important step is to have very realistic attainable goals, people who do well do not think on a shot by shot or round by round basis. They set more long term goals and as-long as they are heading towards them, they are happy.

    Dean Walker

  • Alan Goudie

    A very helpful comment from a great teacher.
    Many amateurs like me get a false impression of golf on TV where we mainly see great
    professionals playing their best shots.
    Adam has highlighted that amateurs often expect to playto an impossible high standard.
    Many thanks for showing us a more accurate picture.

  • David Bastyr

    Suggest updating your article on the stats and player references to a more up to date status before marketing through email but otherwise I think this article is super good in regard to the reality we amateur golfers need to hear as so many of us complain, get angry and frustrated and expect so much out of our game when in fact the pros aren’t as perfect as we make them to be. But they are good to phenomenal no doubt just not as much as we often think. I also like to think sometimes on a comment from Peter Kostes how when we watch a pro shoot a 61 or 64 and think how come they can’t do that all the time. But rather that was the anomaly. The average is more like a 67 or a 69. Sometimes our dispersion on the numbers can be higher and spread out more than the pros but like you stated even the best pros can shoot 11 strokes higher than their previous one in a given moment. So perhaps we’re not all so different. Just the scoring margins are different. But great article and awareness.

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