Goal setting in golf and why it’s worth it

Goal setting in golf

The thing about golf is that you can always get better. But it is so much more satisfying if you KNOW you are getting better. This knowledge will bring you greater happiness and something to celebrate. All that time, the expense, perhaps even your nearest and dearest moaning they never see you these days. It all seems worthwhile when you reach that next milestone.

How to set goals to improve your game

Let’s have a look at how best to set your goals. It’s all about your mental attitude, and the great thing is that as soon as you begin to address this by making a detailed and organised plan about setting goals, then your game will improve.

Successful people, in any field, have a distinct idea that how they think about things is key to success, to achieving what you want in any walk of life. For golf, more than most games, mental attitude plays such an important part. Famous golfers are very clear about this, here are a couple of quotes I like, which seem to sum this up.

“Success in this game depends less on the strength of body and more on the strength of mind and character” Arnold Palmer

“Stay true to yourself and listen to your inner voice. It will lead you to your dream” James Ross

Goal-setting is an essential part of getting that right mental attitude. As with most things, you need some planning, some commitment and a clear way forward.

Here are some good basic principles:

Make your goals manageable, but exciting.

Manageable and exciting might sound a contradiction, but you can do it. An excellent plan is:

Set a long-term goal (an example might be what you want your handicap to be by this time next year) then break it down into manageable chunks. (so, what do you think your golf handicap can be in six months’ time, in three months’ time, next month)

Once you have worked out your long-term goals, and the milestones along the way then do this:

Work out what improvement this will mean month by month. Write it down, or

Print it out.

Put it somewhere you can see it. Just by your clubs say, or in that corner of the basement where you practise your putting.

An example is:

Long-term goal

knock ??? off your handicap by (this month next year)

Monthly goal

(divide your long-term figure by 12)

Knock ??? off your handicap by (this date next month)

NOTICE HOW MUCH EASIER THAT SEEMS NOW. This is such a useful little trick, and you still have the excitement of thinking you are going to be up there with the best players in your club by this time next year AND you have a path to getting there. What could be better?

Next step, let’s get down to the nitty gritty

You now know what you want to do. The next question is: How are you going to do it?

Again, writing (whether by hand or typing) is your friend. Writing something down means you are much more likely to do it, it somehow fixes your thoughts and intentions in your brain in a way just thinking does not.

Here is a successful way of going about this:

Choose the area for improvement wisely

You will know the weak areas of your game, and those are the areas you need to work on if you are going to reach your goal.

You probably have that part of your game which makes you frustrated and which you know you must improve upon if you are ever to get good at this.

Don’t choose this area!!

Why? At this stage it will demotivate you, you will feel frustration rather than enjoyment, and that is a route out of golf.

TO START DON’T choose your decidedly worse area. Choose an area where you know that, with some work, you can get better quite quickly. That way you will stay motivated and have the confidence later to tackle the very weakest area of your game.

(You can even add this to your goals. I will improve on (for example) putting, once I have reached (your goal) I will move onto driving.)

We need a lot of honesty here. You have identified those areas in which you are not so good, now say why you think this is. (If you are unsure, ask your golf buddies)


Write down (here is an example):

“I will improve (area of game) which is weak because (this could be physical strength, poor or badly chosen equipment, flaky mental attitude, lack of commitment, shortage of time for practice . . .)“.

And that is just for starters!

The truth is that your weaknesses are probably a mixture of several things, but to stay focused, write the ones which are the MOST IMPORTANT. As a guide, I would suggest no more than three).

Take your time and be honest with yourself. Talk to those you play with and ask them to be honest with you about your game (offer to return the favour perhaps!).

After you have done your thinking and focused on what matters to you NOW

Write down:

The area you are going to work on What you need to do to improve

Then we need to put some flesh on the bones. The more detail you get, the more likely you are to put your energy and focus where it is needed.


What do you want to achieve in the next month?

What (daily? weekly?) actions you are going to take to get there.

How you are going to celebrate when you reach your goal (this is very important. You need to be telling your brain “DONE it. Good work. Onwards and upwards.” And you need a reward, we all work better when there is something good waiting there if we achieve what we want. Of course, in golf, the right things are often there just waiting for you. That nearly perfect round you thought you would never do, anyone?

My top tips for goal setting in golf

ALWAYS put your aims in the positive not the negative

Here is an example:

(You want to change how you feel and behave when you make a terrible shot) So here is a definite aim to help you get there.

“I laugh, and I learn when I make a terrible shot.”

This type of positive statement sounds so much better than a negative form such as:

“I will not get angry and frustrated when I make a terrible shot.”

You can prove to yourself which is better right now. Just say the two statements to yourself. See what I mean? I bet you are smiling when you say the positive one and going ‘so what, duh,’ when you say the negative one.

ALWAYS put your goals in the present

You might have noticed something else about our positive statement. It is  written in the present. Speaking in the present tense is a smart little mental trick which makes these sorts of affirmations much more effective.

Let’s try it out. Say your positive statement to yourself again. Our example: “I laugh, and I learn when I make a terrible shot.”

I know what is happening, and you appreciate that moment, don’t you. You can see and even feel what laughing and learning when you make that poor shot is like when you are actually out on the golf course. You are there, enjoying the moment and that means your brain is taking it all straight in. Your emotions, as well as your logical mind, is engaged and that ups your motivation no end. And what you think makes it much easier to do what you want to do.

ALWAYS write down your goals

So now you can write good, positive, present-time goals. Do that, and then sit back a bit and relax. Let your shoulders fall and breathe a bit more slowly. You are now getting more oxygen to your brain, and you are in a better place to think clearly about the next stage. Remember, the more detail we have, the better and more useful the goal.

Focus on those monthly goals.

What do you want to achieve over the next four weeks?

ALWAYS make your goals achievable

Make sure that these goals are achievable. That doesn’t mean super-easy, there is no point in that. What you need is a mental sweet-spot, something you can achieve with an amount of focus and an amount of time which is realistic for your lifestyle. Do not be afraid to adjust your goals a bit, take it up a bit or take it down a bit.

Then do this check to make sure you have got it right.

If I did (your actions) x number of times (what feels comfortable and enjoyable for you with your lifestyle, your wishes, maximising your enjoyment and the other demands on your time) would I have a realistic chance of achieving the goal? When you feel you have got this right (and use your instincts as well as your logical mind here), then you have your goal for the month.

ALWAYS set the right number of goals for you

Make sure you do not overload yourself. A surfeit of goals is as bad as no goals at all. What is right for you will depend on how long you can spend on improving your golf game, your athleticism and strength and your mental attitude. A few goals you achieve, with that beautiful rush of pride and achievement you are going to get, is better than too many which overwhelm you.

Usually, two or three goals a month are the very maximum you want.

Do a check to get his right for you. Make a list of your goals and then sit back and notice how you feel about your list. If you get a bit panicky when you consider what to do and say “Oh . . . Where do I start?”, Then your list is probably too long, or your goals are not achievable. So, cut it down a bit. If, on the other hand, contemplating your goals is leaving you cold, even feeling a bit bored, (perhaps you are stifling an inner yawn, just thinking about them) then the chances are that your list is not challenging enough. In this case, think about adding a goal or making one of your goals a bit tougher.

ALWAYS use the visual in your golf goal setting

Once you have got your list, it is time to get a bit creative. You have been writing a lot so far, and that is great. Now is the time to go one step further. You are going to write these down in a nice-looking format and put them somewhere where you can see them. (You can either do this by hand or on the computer and then print out, whatever suits you best).

Choose the place you are going to put your goals before you do the nice final version.

Here are some pointers

Somewhere which says ‘my golf game’ to you, near your clubs, where you practice at home, where you keep your golfing magazines.

Somewhere where you will see it every day.

A good space of its own where other things do not crowd it.

All this is important. Every little thing can give you that edge as you improve your golf game.

Make sure it is eye-catching and attractive; this will transmit positive messages to your subconscious. AND make it interactive. When you write down your goals, make sure you have space where you can record your progress and tick off your goals.

SMART goals in your golf game

It is a good idea to make your goals SMART. You may well have come across this term in business, but it works just as well for improving your golf game.


Let’s look at them one by one


Think about putting a number on what you want. A digit won’t fit all your golfing goals (being club champion or winning a regional tournament for example), but it will reflect a lot.

(Remember to make them PRESENT, so say “I am rather than “I will do”) An example might be:

I am a 6 handicap by next year.

I am a 12 handicap by the summer (whichever is realistic for you). I keep the ball on the fairway more than a third of the time.


We all know that golf and statistics go together. So, it should be quite easy to measure your goals. Technology can be a great help here. There are thousands of apps to help you track your performance.

It can help if you set aside time every week to assess how you are doing. After all, there is no point in measuring if you don’t use it to improve your golf. (If you have gone through your monthly goal setting above your goals should be measurable so do a double-check).


It is so important to make your goals achievable if you are to keep up your motivation. Remember, think with your brain and listen to your instincts. That sweet spot of a bit of a challenge but not impossible is where you want to be. (see setting achievable goals above)


Making a goal relevant relates to what we said earlier about making sure that your focus is on those parts of your game which need improving, but not the very worst part of your game. Pick them and focus on them one at a time, when you have developed one enough for the time being in one area move on to the next. Relevance also keeps your game fresh and your motivation high.


If you have a vague idea that you are going to get better at some time in the future, then the chances are it will never happen. Something will always get in the way, and there will still be another call on your time. So, as you set your goals say WHEN you are going to get there. (If you have done your yearly and monthly goals following the schema above then you should be there).

This site might spark some good ideas, and it has a template.

Develop and own your own golf goals

You will know your personality, and if you are better at creating your programme from scratch or if you are better with some more structured guidance there is help out there.

Even if you are a person who feels that some outside structure and support would be suitable, I would advise starting by developing your own goals and ways of achieving them. You will then own your goals. You will be honest with yourself, so you can identify those areas where your attention needs to go. It will come from inside you, from what you want out of your golfing game and that will feel more natural for you. It will be a better fit for your personality and your lifestyle.

If, at some time you do feel you need help and a bit more structure, or just something outside of yourself to move you along there are some great resources out there. Here is one we like.

Goal setting in golf summary

To reach your goal, you need to improve, and improvement is all about feedback, feedback, feedback. You can get this from the mates you play with or from a coach. But the most important help comes from within yourself. We hope you find our plan useful, let us know and let us know any goal setting tips which you have.

Happy Golfing!