No one wants to shoot a million in a golf tournament, and have their friends see it online.

But that’s the deal these days, whether you’re playing in a provincial qualifier, a local invitational or men’s and ladies’ day at a club. (Yes, ‘ladies’ day.’ It’s so yesterday, but most clubs still go with it. Sigh.)

I’m pretty sure the guy I played with recently in a tournament didn’t want the score from “my worst game of the year” posted.

He remained pleasant to play with, but on the 15th green, he announced he was going to “DNF.” His score would be shown as Did Not Finish. He kept playing, however.

When we finished, tournament officials were incredulous, and asked him a number of questions as if they couldn’t understand what happened.

I have a pretty good idea, and so did Howard Glassman on our Swing Thoughts podcast.

“I know lots of guys like DNF guy,” Howard said. “They are fine players but they won’t play in tournaments because they don’t want people to see them shoot high numbers.”

Worrying what people will think about you, and being consumed in thought  about it, speaks to why many people often struggle with golf.

Hell, I’ve been through it. About 25 years ago, I played in a Golf Writers Association of America tournament in early April. It was my first game coming out of the winter, during which I had worked with a training device to hone my swing.

When I got to Myrtle Beach, S.C., I realized that over the winter I had grooved a vicious duck hook. I shot something like 110.

I felt devastated. Instead of going into the clubhouse afterwards, I went to the range to work this out and avoid facing anyone.

I had an achingly dramatic story going in my head—a tale of misery, woe, humiliation, and shame. I sucked, I had always sucked, I would suck for evermore, and everyone at the event would now know I sucked. A movie version of my thoughts would have shown a tall ship lashed by hurricane-force winds in storm-tossed seas.

Eventually, I went into the clubhouse, and joined everyone in the bar. To my surprise, a few other guys had shot similarly disastrous scores.

But there was a bigger surprise: No one cared about my score.

We had a great time hanging out, sharing stories and each other’s company.

I think DNF guy had a similar story going in his head about himself, although DNF clearly indicates you had a very rough day.

In golf and all parts of life, we’re going to have bad days.

Like everything else in life, what’s really important is how we respond. Do we accept such things with grace and humility? And what do we learn that we can take forward?

As a friend of mine loves to say, “I never learned anything on a good day.”

We also have a choice whether we listen to the thoughts. They are just thoughts; the habitual dreck that comes up from the past when we’re in a tough spot. They’re not helpful, they keep us stuck in old behaviours, and most of their content is exaggerated noise.

You can distance yourself from your thoughts by observing your them. Rather than get pulled along by them, observing our thoughts—as in, for example, ‘I’m having those self-flagellating thoughts again’—allows us to detach from them and let them go.

The key question is: how do we respond to our challenges so that we can handle them better next time?

Howard said, “DNF guy didn’t learn a thing.” The next time he starts to haemorrhage in a tournament, what will he draw on to stop the bleeding?

No one wants to shoot a million and have everyone know about it, but sometimes it’s the best thing that could happen to us.

No one cares anyway.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!


  1. As always, excellent article TOC. We’ve all been there. I like HG’s final comment. It’s all about learning from our experiences, good and bad. I recently heard David Feherty say, “experience is what we get when we don’t get what we want.” Like you and HG, I’ve been playing this game for along time and often feel I’m still at the top of the game’s learning curve. But isn’t that what makes golf so great?

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