The Virtues of Low Expectations by Anthony Scorcia and Sara Dickson, PGA


Thank you to Anthony for collaborating on this! I hope you all are having a great summer.  You can find Anthony at – Sara

As an amateur, I often confuse confidence with expectations.  If I’m playing well, I expect to shoot a low score and no doubt bewildered in the wake of posting my score. The truth is expectations are a scorecard/golf game killer for all players, regardless of skill. There is something to be said for not having any expectations going into a round whether you are confident or not. Take Phil Mickelson’s ten hole performance in the final round of the Open Championship:

“It was one of those times where you’re not thinking birdie and things were just happening. I’m not planning on making a 50-footer for eagle, but it just happens. I’ve hit some of the best shots I’ve hit in the wind not just today, but really all week…”

How often do we just “let things happen” as opposed to thinking we have to make something happen.

Instructor’s Response

Great post here, Anthony.  I’m glad you wrote on this topic as I’ve thought a lot about it myself growing up playing in basketball games and golf tournaments.  There is certainly a distinction between “making” and “letting” something happen, and, quite a distinction in the mentality that goes along with those options. Today, I’d like to share my thoughts on how this relates to us as golfers. 

As far as golf goes, I would argue to say that not all, but perhaps most golfers would do better taking the “let it happen” approach as opposed to the “make it happen” approach.  “Making it happen” can initially get one excited and pumped up to golf, but it eventually leads to a stressed mindset and tension. This interferes with our ability to express our abilities.  So why take the “let it happen” approach? The length of time it takes to play golf, the fact that it is mostly an individual game, and the mental nature of the game all require more patience and peace of mind. “Letting it happen” would therefore be more in line with this patient and more peaceful approach. 

As we read above, Phil Mickelson attributed his British Open success not to planning what was going to happen, but to just letting it happen.  When we take the “let things happen approach”, our mind is more relaxed and therefore WE are more relaxed, which in turn allows us to have clear-headed course management and smooth golf swings. 

Now, this is not to say that we are to be lackadaisical, unambitious, or unconfident in an effort to meekly just “let it happen.”  Not at all! The ability to “let something happen” takes more structure and confidence than the looseness of the phrase may initially suggest.

To illustrate this, take a walk back down the high school hallway and find yourself in front of an AP Calculus test. All of a sudden you cannot even recall how to start the first problem. You freeze. You have two choices. Choice one: keep thinking really quickly, grasping for ideas, trying to force the steps for completing the problem to arise.  Or, choice two: pause for a second, recall back to class and homework problems, and see if you can put together the puzzle pieces from previous examples to help with the current problem. 

Now of course if we choose the latter option, it is under the assumption that we actually have some puzzle pieces with which to work.  The latter option is under the assumption that we actually have attended class and done the homework problems.  Otherwise, the “let it happen” approach quickly diminishes in its capabilities. 

Mickelson was able to “let it happen” because he had prepared efficiently.  As the terms themselves imply, “letting something happen” assumes the something is there and ready to happen to begin with.  “Making something happen” connotes creating something and the absence of that thing before it is made.  In golf, we practice with a structured purpose so that when we are in competition we know the skills are in place, which we then simply let happen. 


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