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How to Keep and Use Golf Records

The 13th Secret

The most important records I keep are the golf scores. They are kept chronologically by months. An average is struck at the end of each ten rounds, twenty rounds, forty rounds, and at the end of the year. Here is the record for my play in 1958 on the par 72 Augusta Country Club course. There were a number of questions I was able to answer through an examination of these scores.

1. Was there any improvement? Since the 1957 average was 77.3 and the 1958 average was 78.2, it appeared that, in spite of practice, my game had deteriorated. However, I noted that in 1957 I had not played in the winter months. Yet, after I eliminated these four months from comparison, I still showed an apparent loss of skill.
Finally, I saw a ray of hope. When I compared my 1957 scores in September and October with the same months in 1958, I found that my latter scores were almost a stroke better, with an average of 76.6 compared with the previous September and October average of 77.4. It was possible that I had improved a stroke instead of deteriorating that much. This was later verified by 1959 scores which dropped to a record low. Although I do not consider myself a person who is easily discouraged, I could have become so except for what the analysis of the records showed. I can think of no greater golfing tragedy than an unjustified discouragement that ruins one's game at the very moment when the actual prospects are most hopeful.

2. How widely do my scores fluctuate? It looked as if single scores could not give me much information. In a series of 10 rounds, there could be a fluctuation of 4 to 10 strokes between my highest and lowest scores. Over the route of a whole year, I varied from a low of 72 to a high of 88—16 strokes.

3. How significant are 10-round averages? Apparently they are quite unreliable. The lowest 10-round average was 75.6. The highest was 82.2. These averages by themselves do not mean too much. They become significant only when they are correlated with other factors, such as weather conditions.

4. How many scores does it take to indicate real changes? Well, we have seen that even a yearly average can be misleading at first glance. However, records show that 20 rounds of golf seem to be enough to give a fair picture of what is going on. We note that in 1958, 20-round averages reflected the effect of the winter months. There followed a steady "improvement," with best scores showing up in late summer and early fall. Of course, these reveal "improvements" which merely reflect better course conditions. They do not necessarily indicate improvement unless the same months are compared with those of the previous year.
Many other analyses of the above records are possible, and there are also other types of records which are useful. I sometimes keep separate records of the results of practice if I am working on a particular weakness. If my records do not show any improvement, I do not expect any when I play. If the records show that the weakness is being corrected, I play better —both because I am better and because my records have removed anxiety.

5. How much improvement can I expect? It has been said that golf is a "humbling game." Thousands of great athletes have fallen by the wayside in trying to master it. Even larger numbers of men eminently successful in the business and professional world have been casualties. On one occasion, I witnessed a determined club member at the Shackmaxon Club in New Jersey hit numberless balls into the lake at the old 17th hole. When he ran out of balls, he threw in his clubs and bag, and would have thrown in the caddy if he hadn't eluded him. One of our Augusta club members, Jake Howard, Sr., completed the grand slam of balls, clubs, bag and caddy at the famous Sea Island golf course, thus adding considerably to our enjoyment of the game.

If one keeps records, the "humbling" aspect of golf can be removed. It has made me realistic as to how much improvement I can expect from any given amount of practice or play, and it has given me a healthy respect for scores that to others might seem high. Too much significance is given to the scores of leaders in golf tournaments and not enough to the true average of professionals as a group. I have only casually examined the average scores during the Masters, but I hazard they must be about 78 or so. In any case, many are unrealistic about how much one should or can improve. This unrealism is cured when you keep records. An average improvement of one stroke a year is healthy progress.