The Nine R’s of Golf

Dr. Tom Dorsel, Ph.D.

It doesn’t take long to realize that golf is harder than school.  After all, there are millions of college graduates, while only a small number of scratch golfers exist and even fewer professional tour players.  That should remind us to keep doing well in school, because it is hard to become an elite golfer and have a career playing the game!

Since golf is so hard, it’s not surprising that many more R’s are required to succeed in golf, compared to just the three (Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic) in school. By honoring the following Nine R’s, you will increase your chances of graduating at the top of your golf class, and maybe even making a career out of playing golf.


  • Play tees and set score expectations and competitive goals that are realistic for your age and abilities.
  • Count all your strokes, so you have a realistic measure of how you are playing and improving.


  • When you have a bad day on the course, blame yourself, rather than your clubs, the course, the weather, etc.
  • Review your round for what went wrong and what needs correction and practice.
  • Remember that time spent blaming and making excuses is time lost from practicing the skills needed to fix the situation.


  • Practice or play a little bit every day, rather than playing 36 holes once per week on Saturday. A little chipping in the backyard and rehearsing your swing keys each day can go a long way toward staying in touch with the game.
  • Cramming for exams doesn’t work in school, and “cramming” just before tournaments doesn’t work either.


  • A relaxed body is key to the smooth action of the golf swing. You may think that some people are simply born relaxed, while others are doomed to be tense. Not so! Relaxation is a skill anyone can learn with the help of a sport psychologist.
  • For starters, try Stomach Breathing – Stand up straight, put your hand on your stomach and feel it go out as you breathe in, and go in as you breathe out. While doing this, think of the air as breathing you, rather than you breathing the air.
  • Similarly, Let the Club Swing You, rather than you swing the club. Think of the driver head as very heavy and flow with it, letting the heavy club head swing you, while stretching and relaxing your muscles.
  • A Light Grip on the club will go a long way toward relaxing your whole body.


  • A regular routine refers to doing the same thing consistently before every shot. This puts your swing on automatic once you begin your routine.
  • Everyone has his or her own personal routine that may vary in the number of steps and amount of time necessary to do it. The fewer the steps the better.
  • Once you have established your routine, make it your sole goal to do the routine. If after each shot you can say that you did your routine, even if the result isn’t perfect, consider that shot a success.
  • Rest assured that successful outcomes will soon follow from successful routines.


  • Good golfers want a repeatable swing that does the same thing every time, particularly in tournaments.
  • Perhaps the fastest way to repeatability is a simple one-piece swing like the swings of Steve Stricker, Bryson DeChambeau and many other Tour Professionals.


  • Let reason control your play, rather than emotions. When you leave a green, no one should be able to tell whether you just made a birdie or a triple bogey.
  • Have a reason for the way you play each shot. Think about placement of the shot, the percentage shot, and don’t think you have to use driver every time you are on the tee box, or sand wedge just because you are in the sand..
  • Calm, cool reasoning will ultimately win the day.


  • Give yourself credit for things you are doing well, even if your score isn’t quite there yet.
  • Keep records (for example, graphs) of your scores, as well as numbers of putts, greens in regulation, pars and birdies, etc., so you can see your progress and reward yourself.


  • Once you are doing the 8 R’s above, consider yourself a reliable, accomplished golfer who uses good judgment in managing your game.
  • Trust your own reliable swing and decision-making, and resist being swayed by every new thing you see or hear from other junior golfers. Similarly, beware of experimenting too much with every new technique or club technology that comes along.
  • Listen to your PGA Professional swing coach who understands the game, understands you, and has a systematic plan to move your game reliably forward.
  • Be reliable in showing up on time for your round. Don’t make fellow players wonder whether you are coming or have to rush to the tee at the last minute to accommodate your lateness.
  • Play hard and reliably finish every round, no matter how poorly you might be playing. Playing carelessly can become a bad habit, and giving up or walking off the course shows immaturity that violates the basic principles of the gentlemanly game of golf.


Dr. Tom Dorsel has provided sport psychology consultation to players of all ages for over 30 years.  He has been featured on ESPN 10 times; published over 100 columns in Golf Illustrated, GOLF Magazine, Golf Digest and GOLFWEEK; and written 3 books, the latest being, “GOLF: The Mental Game.”  Dr. Tom can be found and contacted on FACEBOOK at “Sport Psychology of Hilton Head,” or through his website,