By Dr. Tom Dorsel, Ph.D.

Assuming a junior golfer is relatively proficient at swinging the club and has a reasonable short game, then a certain progression of development follows that I have seen repeatedly in successful players:1. Development of a mature, constructive attitude

Junior golfers often seem mature beyond their age. An excellent high-school player told me that he has seen college coaches watching him — that is, watching HIM, not where the ball goes, to see how he reacts to each shot. It makes sense, since the coaches already know he hits good shots or they wouldn’t be scouting him. They simply want to see how he handles himself on the golf course.

Not being dramatic with your emotions, accepting the result of the current shot and immediately focusing on how to execute the next one is a mark of maturity. It might help to think, “Now I get to demonstrate how good I am at getting the ball up and down around the green.”

Never giving up is another indicator of a good attitude. If every athlete who had been down in a contest had given up, there would be no memorable comebacks in the history of sports.

Consider this: A player’s scoring average is the main interest of college coaches. They want scores that can consistently fit into low “team totals” in tournaments. Coaches aren’t as interested in individual winners, as they are in having the team total be a winner. So remember whenever you have a bad score brewing — maintain your good attitude and keep the score as low as possible for your scoring average and a potential team total. Also recognize that golf is not a game of perfection, but rather one of surviving imperfection.

2. Understanding course management

Once you have a mature attitude firmly in place, the next step is expertly managing your game over 18 holes. At the forefront is learning to play placement golf — that is, maneuvering your ball to prime locations around the course for easier approach shots, pitches, chips and putts, both long and short. It is like a game of chess, rather than a home run derby.

In that regard, resist always trying to hit the ball as far as you can. Length is good, but sometimes the best place for your second shot is not the farthest. In addition, long shots have a greater chance of getting into trouble.

Consider risk/reward for any shot. You don’t want to attempt a very risky shot that does not gain you much toward making birdie or par. In other words, if a 7-iron will give you just as good a chance of hitting the green as would a 9-iron, then lay up to 7-iron distance and take the lake ahead out of play.

Make it your goal to execute stress-free pars and, thereby, lower your scoring average. Going low will come after you have demonstrated that you can shoot regular even-par rounds.

3. Going low by playing smartly aggressive

You don’t want to birdie EVERY hole, you want to birdie EACH hole. When you say “every,” you tend to think of the whole 18 holes at one time. You can’t birdie them all at one time. You have to take “each” one, one at a time, focus intently on that hole alone and how you are going to birdie that one hole right in front of you.

You want to give yourself a chance at birdie on every hole, and do it in the smartest way possible. Ask yourself on each tee, “What is the percentage way to make birdie on this hole?” Is it by hitting a long drive, by getting a good angle to the green and hitting the approach shot close, or do I just have to make a long putt? Play the hole accordingly.

Don’t try to force birdies. Let them come to you, by always putting yourself in position for a birdie possibility. Remembering your stage-two course management skills, you want to assure pars, while just letting the birdies “happen.”

Sometimes on Par 5s, laying up provides the best opportunity for making birdie. When Zack Johnson won the Masters, he laid up on every Par 5 that week; and I seem to remember he made more birdies on the Par 5s than anyone else in the field that week.

Par 3s and Par 5s are arguably the best holes for birdies. Think about it: The tees on most Par 3s are like having your drive in perfect position on a Par 4, with the added advantage that your ball is in a perfect lie … on a tee. On Par 5s your approach shot (third shot) should be much closer to the green (if not on it), than what you tend to find on most Par 4s.

Recognize when to give up on the birdie for a hole, and just salvage a par (or even bogey). This is also part of going low, as it could save your overall score. That is, you can recover from a bogey, but higher numbers make it difficult to go low.

Go smartly low, keep your name in the Top 10 on the leaderboard every tournament, and you will be noticed and feared, not to mention challenge for the winner’s circle on a regular basis.

Dr. Tom Dorsel is a clinical/sport psychologist practicing in both Hilton Head and Pinehurst.  He is a graduate of Notre Dame and the author of “GOLF: The Mental Game.”  He can be reached on Facebook at “Sport Psychology of Hilton Head” and online at