Golf ball about to fall into the cup at sunset

By Dr. Tom Dorsel, Ph.D.

Serious golfers can learn from the PGA Tour pros, even from their mistakes. A case in point occurred during one of the recent FedEx Cup Playoffs, when Jon Rahm inadvertently picked up his ball on the green without first marking its position with a coin.

I would speculate that this happened because Jon does it carefreely in practice. I mean, why bother marking it when you are “just practicing?” After all, you are going to put it back in the same place anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that you get into a bad habit, and bad habits can jump up and grab you at the most inopportune time, like when you are under pressure in competition and not paying particular attention to all the details, like marking your ball.

When playing an important putt, you are so focused on making the putt that it is easy to let details just run off automatically. And if, due to careless practice, your automatic behavior is to not officially mark your ball, that bad habit is likely to pop up under the intensity of competitive play.

Jack Nicklaus said that he never hit a careless shot. That is, whenever he hit a shot in practice, play, tournaments, whatever, he gave it his full attention and did everything just the way he would expect himself to do it, if he were playing in a major championship.
Years ago I heard that when Jack went home from the Tour, he never played golf with his children. He may have missed out on some family memories, but I suspect he knew that playing with the children would lead to his not focusing on his own game, and instead hitting careless shots, messing around with his kids.
Golf was more than a family pastime to Jack. It was his job, his profession, his legacy. It deserved nothing less than his undivided attention at all times.

So, when you practice and keep score in drills or practice rounds, always play by the rules. If the ball moves as you are addressing it, replace it and count it as one stroke. Putt everything out, and if you miss a 6-incher because you took a casual stab at it, count it. Keep a totally accurate score, even in practice, because that is what you will have to do when you play.

Play by the rules, all the rules, whenever you put a club in your hand and a ball in front of you. It might not be as much fun as messing around, but it is the price you have to pay to be a Jack Nicklaus, rather than just some other journeyman out there wondering why he or she is not making it to the top of the world rankings.

Dr. Tom Dorsel is author of GOLF: The Mental Game. Visit him on Facebook at “Sport Psychology of Hilton Head” and at This article was first published in the Hilton Head Sun on October 7, 2020