Who Are You as a Golfer?

You’ll Think I Made This Up

I had an introduction for this lesson written, but I scrapped it in favor of something I overheard yesterday.  The range at my course sits next to the ninth hole.  While I was hitting balls, one player shouted to another, “Yeah, my wedge went over there, but it doesn’t matter because I suck.”

Sir, if you’re reading this, please know that its not you that sucks, it’s your golf self-image.  And we’re going to fix that.

This Lesson Is For You If:

This one is for everybody

What Is Your Golf Self-Image?

If you’re reading this, I can assume that you spend a lot of time thinking about golf.  As such, your Golf Self-Image – GSI from here forward – is rather detailed.  You have ideas about how you perform with every club in your bag.  Additionally, you probably have distances and types of shots that you think you excel at and others that you think you’re poor at.  You probably have courses where you “know” that you can’t play well, others that you love.  It even extends to strategy and attitude – “I’m the kind of player who always goes for it” or “Once I have a bad hole, the round is ruined.”

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a fully-formed version of yourself as a golfer running around in your own head.  Now let’s talk about why that matters.

Is Your GSI Helping Your Game?

Let’s go back to our friend from the intro.  We don’t know how detailed his GSI is, but we know his headline is, “I am bad at golf.”  And, by the numbers, he may be right.  He might be short and crooked with a putting stroke that makes people shield their eyes.  But I’d like to ask him, “Do you think that attitude is helping your game?”  The answer, obviously, is no.

And before you click away thinking, “Here goes Matt on another ‘Think positive’ rant,” know that blind positivity is not necessarily the right answer.  Let’s think of our friend’s polar opposite, someone utterly convinced that he could beat 2002 Tiger.  His attitude isn’t helping him play his best either, because he’s constantly taking the wrong clubs, taking too much risk, and not playing the odds.

So what should we be doing with our GSI?  What will help us play our best?  Here’s my roadmap.

Take Stock of Your GSI

I would suggest starting by making your GSI explicit.  Write it down.  Go club by club and acknowledge what you think about it.  Does it make you feel confident or insecure?  Is it a club you want to hit?  Do you avoid hitting that club on the course, even when it’s the right play?

Also take stock of your attitudes about different types of courses, types of holes, weather conditions, pace of play, certain shots, and anything else you can possibly think of.  Do you knuckle down when the going gets tough or do you throw away the round after a bad hole?

Don’t censor yourself.  Write everything down, then take a good look at who you think you are.

Is It Accurate?

Step two is checking your opinions about yourself against the facts.  This applies to the part of your GSI that deals with your clubs – which ones you like or dislike, whether or not you’re a strong driver, etc.  The best way to know if your beliefs are accurate is to check them against hard data from shot tracking.  I particularly like Shot Scope’s Strokes Gained function for this.  You can compare yourself to other players with the same handicap and, with one number, see where you stand with your driving, iron play, short game, and putting.  Obviously you’re welcome to dig in deeper, but this basic check of strengths and weaknesses is something everyone should do.

The reason that an accurate GSI is important is that it will lead you to better strategic decisions.  Let’s consider a tee shot where a hazard covers the landing zone from 210-225 yards.  If you think too highly of your driving, you’re likely to park your tee shot in the middle of the hazard.  The problem is even worse in the other direction: if you don’t realize that you’re a good driver, you’re going to throw away strokes by laying up when you should be bombing it over the hazard.  This same thing can play out with approach shots and in the short game.

Is It Helpful?

The third and final step in this process is asking yourself which parts of your GSI are helpful.  This starts with your attitudes about types of courses, holes, and conditions.  What is in your GSI that’s sabotaging your game?  If you – like me – hate slow play, I’m not suggesting that you super glue rose colored glasses to your face and squeal, “I love 6-hour rounds!”  However, I’m am saying that throwing a tantrum anytime you have to wait to hit a shot isn’t going to make you play better.  On your sheet of paper, replace “I can’t play well when it’s slow” with “I can be mentally tough when conditions aren’t optimal.”  Whether it’s wind, rain, cold, slow play, or a hole that doesn’t suit your eye, choose to view it as a hurdle to overcome rather than a reason to check out.  When you make a bad score on a hole, double your focus and bounce back with a par.

That same reframing can apply to the fact-based parts of your game, too.  If your stats say you’re a bad driver, then you’re a bad driver.  But knowing that doesn’t mean you need to carry a bad attitude.  First, you could work on your driver.  And even if you don’t, walk up to the tee with a clear swing thought and a focus on doing your best even though this isn’t the strength of your game.

Get a Regular Check Up

If you’re reading this, you think about golf a lot, so your GSI is something you should be checking in with regularly.  Keep an eye on your stats and make sure you’re giving yourself credit for the strengths in your game.  And stay alert for thoughts and attitudes that will keep you from being successful on the course.

Matt Saternus
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  1. Well said

  2. Patrick Kilcoyne

    So much truth with our perceptions

  3. Hello Matt,
    Keep up the good work, love reading ur article’s. First post that I ever
    commented on, about who we are as a golfer.
    Been around a 11 handicap and last yr. I got down to 9.4, with better equipt, and this yr. Wanted to break 80 alittle more often.
    So I decided, to take some lessons at my local golf course, pro.
    He has a little building to get out of the weather for lessons and trackman in there. Surprisingly pretty nice inside there.
    He is easy to talk to, retired and loves helping people, and he cheap.
    But my golf game has went out the window, so frustrating that I gave up for this yr. Living in Ohio, our season is almost over anyway, and I thought this winter I would try to find someone else to help me.
    I think we tryed to do to much at one time and I don’t told him, I won’t be back til I get my flaw corrected. Went back 3 times, hard time keeping forward shaft lean thru impact.
    I never got better, even hitting hundreds of balls on range.
    I’m 54yrs. Old, no spring chicken, but should have the coronation to find the bottom of my swing.
    Seen plenty of utube vids. About ball placement and leaning back to make me sick. I think I’m loosing my angles right before impact, also.
    Flushing irons, might 1 in 5. Hitting fat and thin is frustrating, And hitting off the mat, don’t help me one bit, makes me think that I have it corrected.
    But I keep a good attitude on the course and the wife keeps me looking good on the course. So I guess I got acouple things going for me.

    • Matt Saternus

      Thanks, James.

      I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with a new instructor. Have you looked into Adam Young’s work? His approach really resonates with me and is helpful for “getting out of your own way.”



  4. I was reminding myself too much of my mistakes on the course. I would write down notes on my scorecard after the round about what I did wrong. I believe it’s much better to document or remember what was good: A fantastic drive on a long, tight hole; an approach to a tight pin and how I played it, or a difficult putt under pressure. These are the things I now document. Luck is a good thing but I don’t document those shots. Matt, am I on the right track here? I have just recently started doing this so I haven’t yet noticed a difference in my game but I do sence more confidence in my approach.

    • Matt Saternus


      I think you’re hitting on something very important. Anecdotally, I think most golfers are more apt to remember the bad shots – the “This round would have been great, but ___” shots – rather than their good ones. I like the idea of writing down your wins.



      • Yes, they often say to forget about your bad shots. These days I don’t remember much of my rounds so I keep coming back, lol!
        Good article again. I should write up my round a bit as well, to assess.

  5. Nice article, Matt. I can’t help but believe that underneath your cover of a golf enthusiast – beats the heart of a psychoanalyst. Thanks for the variety!

  6. Chetwood Johnson

    Great informative article keep up the good work Matt

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