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Mental Training: Playing Reward Golf

by TG_Admin01
By Seth Kaplan
I often say to my golfers, “You go for the reward, you get the reward!” However, too
often competitive juniors, collegiate players, and pros do not trust in their shotmaking
abilities, especially when they have opportunities to score.
For example, let’s say you are 100 yards out and the pin is in close proximity to a
bunker and a sloping ridge. Often players will perceive this as “potential trouble.” They
calculate what “could go wrong” and conclude that it is too risky. So rather than going
after the pin they play a shot to the fat part of the green. But after executing the “safe
shot” the player is in a situation where he/she is on the green, but faced with a long putt.
I am not a mathematician, but I am quite sure that putting a small ball into a small hole
from a considerable distance reduces the probability of posting a solid result.
Playing “Reward Golf” is an integral part of my Mental Conditioning Program that
maximizes players’ abilities. It is a style of play that leverages players’ confidence in
themselves and trust in their shotmaking skills. When a “reward shot” presents itself I’ll
ask my players to tell me what they ideally would like to do with this shot. They all say
they’d like to put it close to the hole. So why does the behavior often not follow? Why do
they “stay away” when ideally they would like to put it right on the stick – knowing they
have the ability to stick it?!
I think the answer is two-fold. First, players who “stay away” do not trust in their
training. They’ve trained up the skill. They have the technical ability. But in competitive
situations there is self-doubt in their ability to execute. Consequently, they perceive
events as “risk” rather than “reward.” Second, bunkers (and water) are defined as
“hazards.” And in our daily lives we are conditioned to “stay away” from hazards that are
in our line of sight. For example, when you are driving in a car you steer away from
hazards or when you perceive a situation to be potentially hazardous/dangerous. Thus,
when players see pins close to bunkers and limited room to operate, they are
conditioned to move away from potential trouble.
Here are 3 Mental Tips to Play “Reward Golf” and take shots off your game:
1. See bunkers and water for what they are. One is a solid and one is a liquid. There is
nothing inherently hazardous about either. Therefore, nothing to be avoided.
2. Cue yourself repeatedly to take action when a “reward shot” presents itself. Use
powerful self-talk (cue phrases) as part of your pre-reward shot routine:
• “Right at the stick!”
• “Go for the reward, get the reward!”
• “Trust and let it fly!”
3. Combine with pre-shot visualization. See in your mind’s eye ideal execution of the
reward shot. Program it in. See yourself going after it with confidence, trust, and
intention and getting the result. Then get it the play box knowing it is going right at
the stick…and do it!
Reward Golf is a style of play that is both personally empowering and performanceenhancing.
It feels great to go for your shots, trust, and get the reward. When you
repeatedly play Reward Golf you no longer see risk. Only reward. My players know they
can’t control where the ball goes, but they go after it. They know that the result with be
within the range of “pretty good to outstanding” when they go for the reward. And when
they execute with a little swagger behind it, shotmaking is toward the higher end of that
Nobody ever won anything playing safe, timid golf. So double-down on yourself, trust in
your game, and go from potential to performance!
Seth Kaplan, M.Ed.
“Official Mental Conditioning Coach” – eGolf Tour
Mental Training Expert for Juniors, Carolinas Golf Association
Director of Mental Conditioning
Competitive Golf Advantage
Raleigh, NC

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