I started out with the idea of scoring each shot that I took and recording it on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was a terrible shot where I lacked all focus and composure and 5 was a shot where I was completely committed and the shot turned out just the way I wanted it to. The few pieces I've read about keeping a score like this would say things like "As your mental scores go up, you golf scores will go down." I tried that for a few practice rounds, but I found there was a sort of dissonance: I'm used to "good" scores being lower when I'm playing golf. So I tried reversing the scoring range, where 1 is the best mental state and outcome and 5 the worst. After a few rounds, I found that really worked for me. The way I see it, as my mental scores start to approach my "stroke" scores, the better those "stroke" scores will likely end up.
Ultimately, this is the scale I've come up with:
- I committed to the shot, picturing the shape of the ball's flight through my practice swings and setup, and I maintained that picture through impact in the swing. The picture I had matched what happened. I had good tempo. For putts, I saw the line, went through my routine, picked a "focus spot"* and held on to it through the putt. The putt did everything I wanted it to.
- I committed to the shot, picturing the shape of the ball's flight through my practice swings and setup, and I maintained that picture through impact in the swing; however, the picture I had didn't match what occurred due to something having to do with me (i.e. it wasn't just "luck" or course conditions or something like that). I had good tempo, and I maintained my composure and good attitude in spite of the result not being exactly what I wanted. For putts, I saw the line and went through my routine, but had a vague "focus spot" resulting in a putt that ended up doing something I didn't want.
- I committed to the shot, picturing the shot through my practice swings and setup, but something distracted me during my swing and I lost focus, resulting in a shot that didn't turn out the way I wanted. My tempo was probably off somehow (fast or slow . . . probably thinking about swing mechanics instead of the shot at hand). For putts, I tried to read the line, but I wasn't confident over my putt and likely rushed the routine, resulting in a poor putt.
- I initially pictured the shot, but rushed my routine or just "went through the motions" with my routine. I lacked focus, and ended up with a poor result. For putts, only vaguely read the line, skipped or rushed my routine. The likely result was poor.
- I wasn't thinking about the shot at all. I rushed through my routine (if I did it at all), took a half-hearted or nervous swing at the ball, and ended up with a terrible result. For putts, I just walked up to the ball and hit it with no preparation, likely exasperated or frustrated.
* Note about the term "focus spot": lately I've found that if I can find some unique feature of the cup when I'm putting (a unique cluster of grass blades around the edge, a discoloration on the inside of the cup, or something else like that), and if I can maintain the picture of that spot through my putting stroke, the results of my putt tend to be very good.
So with the above scale, after each shot, I honestly evaluate my mental state during the shot. It's interesting to see the results: usually, through the first few holes while I'm settling into the round, my scores tend to be threes or fours with a smattering of twos. As I settle in, I start having consistent ones and twos. What's interesting is that getting this feedback during the round helps me to recover when I notice that I'm starting to drift. During a recent round, I noticed that around the 14th hole I was going astray. I hit a tee shot that I would have rated a four (I was thinking "I'm really going to kill this ball" and started thinking mechanics rather than maintaining a good tempo and focusing on the shot), followed by a couple poor recovery shots I'd have given threes. When I got to the green, I was frustrated, and whacked a couple putts mindlessly. Through that hole, I neglected to write down my mental scores, but as I got to the next tee and was recording my strokes, I realized what had happened. I replayed the hole in my mind, evaluated my shots, and regained my focus. The next hold I had a series of "ones", and if the green had been in better shape, I likely would have birdied the hole. I was able to take that focus and finish the round successfully.
It's also interesting to see how in a couple recent practice rounds and a nine-hole round I was able to squeeze in where I didn't keep this kind of mental score, my game really suffered. I've found that I start thinking mechanics rather than shot, and not only do my scores deteriorate, so does my enjoyment of the round. I start getting frustrated with myself and with the game, but without that reminder, I tend to end up in a negative spiral.
So this is something I think I'll stick with: not only does it help me maintain a good mental state through my rounds, it seems that mental state is directly translating into some better scores . . . and probably more importantly, a more enjoyable time out on the course.