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What Score Makes You Happy?

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Final scores are arbitrary markers of success and failure. It’s almost random how the same numbers can add up to make one player happy and another upset. When a 14-handicap shoots a 79, it’s time to celebrate; when a four-handicap shoots 79, don’t ask him how he played.

A golfer can hit the ball well, but with a few missed putts or a few bad bounces what looked like a promising round can end with a score that doesn’t speak to the player’s ability. Or, if it did all come together and the golfer had one of his rounds of the year, you know what? Any player will tell you that score could have been — should have been — one or two strokes lower.

So, what score makes you feel happy? Dennis, a five-handicap with a solid swing and good touch around the greens, told me his number is 75.

[quote_box_center]“Anything below that and either I didn’t screw anything up much, or I played well enough to recover from my bad holes.”[/quote_box_center]

He said this after a mediocre-for-him 38 on the front nine at Victoria. On his way to the back nine he added, “Anything over 80 and I just write it off as one of those 10 rounds that doesn’t count toward my index.”

“I’m a 26-handicap,” Rhonelle from Calgary told me at Desert Willow. “Last Thursday I shot a 92. That’s a great score for me and I beat my friend who’s a 20-handicap. To get a good score and to win a close competition makes it doubly enjoyable.”

“Anything in the 70s,” said Marty, a high single digit with an unorthodox grip and swing. “I’ve played about 2,000 rounds of golf in the last 30 years and I’ve been under 80 I believe 473 times.” I looked to see if there was a calculator hanging next to the towel on his bag or if his caddy was an auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “I can’t wait until I get to 500 sub-80s,” he said, like he thought that would bring a sure ticket to some personal Hall of Fame induction ceremony somewhere.

“When I break 90, I make everyone buy me beers,” Lenny said. Once he was an amateur boxer; he doesn’t overpower the course anymore though he says he is still capable of a big roundhouse hook.

“I don’t keep score,” Steven told me, and I figured that meant he didn’t want to count that high. “He’s good,” his buddy Jordan said at Malibu CC, “he just doesn’t like to get caught up in the numbers thing… he just likes to hit the shots.” I bowed toward him, thinking he’s either lying or I’m in the presence of a Zen master.

“I want to have a lower score on the back nine than on the front nine,” Alex told me on the 12th hole at Green Tree. His brother Jessie said maybe then he should quit after the 16th hole.

Steven said he likes to play courses that are par 71 or even par 70. “When you tell someone you shot an 82, they don’t ask you what par was on the course,” he explained.

“I’m an eight-handicap,” Terry said. “But I can shoot anywhere from 75 to 90 in any one round.”

“Yep,” his friend Freddy said, “he’s Mr. Consistent. But if you catch him on the right day, you can win some money from him.”

“So, what score makes you happy?” I asked again.

“If it’s a tournament, I want to be par or under, net. If it’s just a round with these guys, as long as I beat them I don’t care what I shoot. If I’m playing by myself, it’s all just practice and it doesn’t matter.”

Brian, a three-handicap, said, “I like to be around par or in the low 70s, but if I don’t, you know what? Nobody got hurt, nobody died. It’s just golf.” It must be easy to be philosophical when you’re a three, I think.

As for me, my handicap has gone up along with my age. Scores that used to be just a good number are now triumphs remembered for months. And the bad numbers are as easily forgotten as what I had for breakfast a week ago Friday.

My 89-year-old father-in-law still plays golf at his club on Long Island at least twice a week. He won some club tournaments when he was younger but now he says, “I don’t take myself seriously anymore, I just want to laugh and enjoy myself.” But the juices still flow. He says when he can play a par-4 with a drive in the fairway and an approach that gets him somewhere near the putting surface “so I can just run a 7-iron onto the green and putt for par,” then he’s happy. And, he adds, “I’m still happy even if I don’t make the par putt.”

What score makes you happy? Tell us in the comments section below. And check out Tom Hill’s humorous golf book, A Perfect Lie – The Hole Truth at 7-ironpress.com – use the coupon code GOLFWRX for free shipping of the paperback.

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Tom Hill is a 9.7 handicap, author and former radio reporter. Hill is the author of the recently released fiction novel, A Perfect Lie – The Hole Truth, a humorous golf saga of one player’s unexpected attempt to shoot a score he never before thought possible. Kirkus Reviews raved about A Perfect Lie, (It) “has the immediacy of a memoir…it’s no gimme but Hill nails it square.” (kirkusreviews.com). A Perfect Lie is available as an ebook or paperback through 7-ironpress.com and the first three chapters are available online to sample. Hill is a dedicated golfer who has played more than 2,000 rounds in the past 30 years and had a one-time personal best handicap of 5.5. As a freelance radio reporter, Hill covered more than 60 PGA and LPGA tournaments working for CBS Radio, ABC Radio, AP Audio, The Mutual Broadcasting System and individual radio stations around the country. “Few knew my name and no one saw my face,” he says, “but millions heard my voice.” Hill is the father of three sons and lives with his wife, Arava Talve, in southern California where he chases after a little white ball as often as he can.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Bob

    Jul 22, 2015 at 2:19 am

    I play 4 times a week. Can’t drive. hit irons, pitch, chip or put. Handicap , if I kept a score would be above 36 hence I do not keep score. I ,however play fast and enjoy the game.

  2. Ron

    May 17, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Great question! Golf is interesting partly because successive days on the same course can be so different. Whatever the level, golfers who play fairly often tend to score fifteen of the holes more-or-less the same – that is to say, the aggregate score will be comparable (but not the scores on the individual holes). Whether its a great round or a horrible one depends on what happened on the other three.

    For me (at 75 years old with an index of about 3), I’ll typically have 5 or 6 bogies, so a good or bad round depends on whether I birdie a couple of the others or bogie (or worse) the remaining three. So the score often comes down to two or three shots – either hit better or worse than on the rest of the round. Yesterday, my three bogies and two birdies made a great round. Had I bogeyed instead of birdied on those two, it would have just been so-so. Shooting my age, I guess, is always a target – but as my son so graciously reminds me, that is getting easier since I keep getting older!

    My happiness shouldn’t depend on any of that! After all, I’m still getting to play as much as I want!

  3. Big D

    May 8, 2015 at 3:52 am

    Having recently become a senior (50 years), I am at the point where I am just happy to be out on the course playing. I went through a period where my handicap was scratch or better for 15+ years but now play off a 3.8. Any time I can shoot under 75, I am thrilled. After a serious injury incurred hitting a tree root and going through 6 surgeries to try and resolve the issues, I just love playing whether that is shooting 70 or shooting 80. That being said, I am happier shooting 70 and losing than shooting 80 and winning.

  4. Mat

    May 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    I don’t care what the number is as long as my handicap goes down even a tenth. I’m a 17 these days, thus, roughly breaking 90 is a happy day.

  5. alan

    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    anything in the 70’s makes me happy. im a 7+ index so i dont get there as often as id like too but conditions play a huge part in my personal par which varies every time on get on the course.

  6. Progolfer

    Apr 27, 2015 at 1:28 am

    As my name indicates, I play for a living. My career low is 60 (lipped-out for 59), and that day I was so in the moment that it didn’t matter what I shot. That’s how you break barriers and play your best– forget about score and get absorbed in the game.

    I got a great tip from Eddie Merrins once. He said, “No matter how well you’re playing, there will always be somebody out there playing better than you are. Don’t ever protect your score.” Words of wisdom.

  7. JohnnyB

    Apr 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Its easy, par or better. I will never forget the first time I broke par on 18 holes. It was one of the most satisfying days of my entire life.

  8. Matto

    Apr 25, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    About 6-7 years ago, after 25yrs of golf, I threw it all in, sold my clubs, cancelled my course membership and said F this game.
    I was taking it so seriously that it made me miserable, 84 was my best ever score.
    I didn’t play for 2yrs. Then I met some new friends on a job who were new to the game and I took it up again, promising myself not to revert to my old ways…and I never have. Within 6mths I had a 79.
    My number is 82-86, I’m a 10.8.
    My goal every round is to be the happiest guy in my group.

  9. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 24, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    If I shoot 2 over or better I am happy. So sad since I used to be ecstatic when I broke 80. When I’m very near par, or under, I will stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home and treat myself.

  10. ooffa

    Apr 24, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I strive to shoot one shot better then the competition and collect the money without raising my handicap. If the best number is 80 then 79 takes the money why shoot 74 if you don’t have to. If your winning by a few dump one in the water or three put a few of the closing holes. Barely winning in the key to the bank.

    • Taylor

      Apr 24, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      So true. I keep my handicap so I can hopefully one day play in the state amateur, and to get strokes against my buddies. If I have the low score for the day I’m happy, typically the low score is high 70’s or low 80s. We typically play 73 rated courses, so thats a pretty good day.

  11. other paul

    Apr 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I am happy when I hit great shots. No score will ever satisfy. Maybe 18 under par will satisfy. Not that I will ever know.

  12. RobG

    Apr 24, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    I only play golf 5 or 6 times per year. I’m always looking to shoot in the high 70’s but my game is too rusty and I usually end up in the mid 80’s. 84-85 I’m happy, 82-83 I’m content, 80-81 I’m thrilled. They only time I get really frustrated with my score is when I shoot 84-86 and I go back and add up my wasted shots – OB tee balls, balls left in bunkers, and missed short(ish) putts – and they add up to 8 or 10 strokes.

  13. Alex

    Apr 24, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I don’t really have a number. It’s more about what happened during the round. I can be happy with an 85 if I did my best and caught a few bad breaks. I can be disappointed in a 76 if I had some stupid mishits.

    It’s not the best way to think about it. A good-looking 80 and a bad-looking 80 are both 80s, but it’s hard for me to remember that I’m playing golf, not golf swing, sometimes.

  14. Jay

    Apr 24, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Division 1 hockey player who recently walked on my college’s varsity golf team. Its fun to play with the top guys on the squad because they are scratch golfers and as a 3 handicap who keeps up with them from time to time is a great feeling no matter what the number is.

  15. Blake

    Apr 24, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Much like others who have already posted, I want to play to, or lower, my handicap. I currently play off a +0.3, and I play an easy course, where the course rating is 66.5. Therefore, I look to shoot 66 or lower when I go out. Some days this isn’t possible unless I play a perfect round, but I always want to be under par.

  16. 8thehardway

    Apr 23, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    There are a lot of scores that put a smile on my face: 2 birdies, 3 strokes better than the rest of my foursome, 10 GIRs, 11 fairways, 26 putts. For the round, 74 on my par 70 course is a well spent Saturday.

  17. Gary Gutful

    Apr 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    A pass mark for me is to play to my handicap. Even on the toughest of courses that is my aim. If I don’t do it then I snap at least 3 clubs in the car par after the round…sometimes 4.

  18. Johnnythunders

    Apr 23, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    I really dont care what i shoot, i play in a match play league and love to beat my opponent. Love the strategy, the pressure, one on one is the best.

    Playing for score is so boring.

  19. RG

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    I keep an index because I like to play tournamrnts and skins games. My index is currently 4.2 and I look at score like this.
    It’s going to happen and numbers cannot tell the story. The most important thing in a round is my decision making process and did I get everything out of the round I could that day. If I manage my game well the score will take care of itself.

  20. Bob

    Apr 23, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I am happy to shoot 80-85. Have broken 80 4 times all just barely. I am a 18 handicap and anything over 85 I wonder if I just made this shot or that one it would have been a better round. Even a bad day on the golf course beats a good day at work.

  21. JBoh

    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Score doesn’t really matter to me. I keep my handicap so I can play in events during the season, but its truly just relaxing to get out and play. My handicap states I am a 5, but some days large scores happen. I played 9 the other night and shot 46. 5 water balls did me in, but I struck the ball pretty well. Could not have been more pleased (working through some swing changes).

  22. R.Conklin

    Apr 23, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I’m a 22 handicap and for me, I call a good day anytime I break 90.

  23. bradford

    Apr 23, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Yeah, there’s a lot to be said about someone who can walk off the course and say “I played awful, but what a great day!”. I wish I could do it more often, but it being a game where every shot counts, it’s hard to ignore that 7. To answer the question, anything starting with a 7 is a pretty good day. I normally sit anywhere between 78-83 and can go a couple either way any given day.

  24. Bob

    Apr 23, 2015 at 10:16 am

    I play only nine holes at a time. 38 or 39 makes me feel good. 40 is a might-have been score, and 42 is a what happened? score.

  25. Connor

    Apr 23, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Division II college player.

    Anything with a 6 in front of it makes me “happy”, 70-72 leaves me pleased, but knowing I didn’t get everything out the round that I could, and if it is over par it means it was not all put together that day.

    Happiness is anytime I suck the life out of a round and walk away knowing I took everything from the round, and scored the best I could have, with the swing I had that day.

  26. MHendon

    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:44 am

    What scores make me happy, 70 to 75 I’m happy, any thing below 70 I’m ecstatic. I’m currently a 1.6

  27. slider

    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:00 am

    any day on the course is a good day in my eyes all you can do is your best on every shot

  28. Jonzy

    Apr 22, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I’m a 12, and I’m extremely happy with breaking 80 (only done it twice), but if I shoot 86 or higher I feel that I had a bad day. To answer the question “what score makes me happy”, I’ll say 82. If I shoot 83-85, I’m not upset but I know that I screwed up somewhere.

  29. marty

    Apr 22, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    I hope for under 90.

  30. david

    Apr 22, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    I’m a3.7, my goal is 74 or beter. a lot is weather dependant; if it’s quite windy or cold, I’ll lower my expectations, it’s difficult for me to shoot more than 83 even when I play terrible, but I get bored if it’s another round of 77…I know I also need to lighten up.

  31. Jeff

    Apr 22, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    My handicap is just under 6, and my average score is just over 80. I am seldom happy with a round in the 80s unless I had a really bad hole and had to make up ground during the round.

  32. Sam

    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:43 am

    I play for my high school golf team, and im a 8 handicap. Im happy at 79 and under. Ive been playing for two years and when I do shoot a 90 or high 80s I feel like Im right back at square one.

  33. JMaron

    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Anything in that is 0 or better in the index for the round makes me happy. I’m a 1 handicap now, never been 0. Last year I did that 7 times in 40 rounds.

    Anything 80 and up makes me downright depressed. Did that 12 times in 40 rounds.

    Having pondered this question – I think I need to lighten up.

  34. Scott

    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:13 am

    I am a 5.5 index and most of the courses that I play are considered very difficult, especially my home course (slope of 148 from the tips and 142 from the blues) . I tried to not get too caught up in the numbers if I am hitting the ball well because big numbers lurk almost everywhere on my home course. If I am playing at my home course, I am happy breaking 80, but a low 80s won’t bother me too much, if I have some birdies and win some cash.

  35. JBH

    Apr 22, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I’m ecstatic with a round at or better than net par for my handicap (9), I don’t get too bent out of shape if I don’t break 80 though and generally shoot low to mid 80’s. There’s always a chance of blowing a round up into the 90’s on days when nothing feels right but they are few and far between. Used to be a bit of a hot head and still commit the crime of bad self talk when I’m struggling but getting better at letting go and refocusing on the next shot.

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