How to Avoid A Back 9 Choke On The Golf Course

practice putting 3 balls

Putting warmup

You show up to the course with 20 minutes to spare before your tee time. You spend it chatting with your buddies, stroking a few on the practice green to get the feel of the day’s putting.

Maybe you squeeze in a small bucket and somewhere in there you find the time to put the club behind your back and stretch a little.

Maybe you kind of just wander around feeling your way around the practice area and clubhouse or maybe you have a really solid, consistent pre-game routine.

Either way, you walk up to the first tee like you’ve done a hundred times or more before and everything seems ok. Not amazing or in the zone, but just ok.

The holes fly by and before you know it, the front 9 is over and you are making the turn.

positive golferYou add up your score and are somewhat surprised to see how well you’re doing! You thought you were playing pretty good but didn’t realize just how good! Wow, exciting. Much better than usual. “This game is pretty fun after all” you think to yourself.

Walking up to the 10th hole your mind is filled with thoughts of what could be.  “If I can repeat what I did on the front, I’ll shoot a ______ “(which would be one of your best if not your best score ever.)

A little jolt of energy shoots through your body.

You tell yourself to calm down and just get back to playing golf like you did on the front 9. You start having a full-blown conversation with yourself with one part of you thinking about how great it will be to get the respect from your buddies for such a great round.

Another part of you, the worrier part, starts to give you all sorts of advice inside your head for how to repeat what you just did with your swing and putting or the last advice you got from a book or pro.

Your game falls apart.

Making the turn

Making the turn

You start steering your tee shots. You spend too much time over the ball on the green and overthink everything there.

You feel the tension or stiffness in everything you do.

…and another round that “Could have been”  goes into your memory banks.

As you followed that story from the perspective of me writing this as an outside observer, can you see yourself in it?  It’s so hard to see/feel/know  what’s going with us WHILE it’s going on but it’s crystal clear from this viewpoint right?

What caused the problem in the story?  The obvious answer is because SCORE became the focus of the game on the back 9.

“But Craig, how am I supposed to avoid focusing on the score? It’s right there and I have to put down a number every hole. I can’t just ignore it.”

Yes, I get that.  Our unconscious mind is too smart to try to fool it by pretending SCORE doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter or to NOT think about it. Your unconscious is what kicked into gear those destructive parts that hurt your back 9.

I teach all of my clients that it is SO MUCH easier to replace thoughts than it is to NOT THINK of certain thoughts.  This is what you did on the front 9 that worked so well for you. In sports psychology terms, it means “playing in the present moment” or “one shot at a time.”

You hear that advice so often but it goes in one ear and out the other and what does it really mean anyway in reality out there on the course?

ScorecardIf you want to actually follow that advice and play like the first 9 holes, It means to make a DECISION at the beginning of a round WHAT you are going to focus on for the whole round.

It means WHAT are you going to fill your mind with while you play so that SCORE doesn’t have an opportunity to take over and ruin your game?

Why not make a list, in advance, on a 3×5 card for what things in your game that you will dedicate the next round to focusing on.

Pull that card out of your pocket and look at during the round to keep you on track.  This kind of mental work is what is going to keep SCORE in the proper mental compartment  and allow the back 9 to repeat the front.

Craig Sigl

Craig Sigl

Also, the next time you have a great 9 (or if you can remember the last time), see if you can identify the difference in your thinking from front to back. Write down WHAT WORKED on the front about your THINKING.  Add it to that 3×5 card. Bring it to your next round.

DO NOT assign your front 9/back 9 breakdown to any physical part of the game. That’s the trap you’ve always been in and there’s no way out of that because your swing is already good enough to go low.

Greens and fairways,


P. S. I’d love to see your comments and additional help for other golfers on the front 9/back 9 problem. Let’s help each other all out. I read and answer every comment.

  • Danut Munteanu says:

    It was happens to me , too. My strategy is to consider every hole as a single game ( more or less, like in match play ). When I am finishing the hole , I am recording ONLY GIR & Putt, no total strokes, netto score, or brutto score !
    I am very good at maths and of course I can easily made all the calculations, but I AM NOT DOING THAT ! I am just recording, not adding, or something else.
    When I pick up the ball from the last cup, I make my score. My gap has decreasing from 5-6 to 1-2 shots between front and back nine. Which is quite good for my level.

    • Craig Sigl says:

      Fabulous Danut! Notice how you reduced strokes through your mental game and not the physical game. I feel so bad for so many golfers who think the way to get better is to perfect their swing. Bravo!

      Greens and fairways,

  • David Patterson says:

    Craig, let me put my back spin on this topic, honestly and frankly. IT IS A GAME, more between the ears then any where else.
    My personal approach, I only mark +1 or -1 for each hole, if that is what I shot, my goal is to shoot to the demand of the hole, I keep an empty score card in my back pocket and look at the layout of every hole to see where I want each and every shot to be.
    I never calculate front 9 totals, I pretty well know, if I have played well on the front 9. The back 9 is always somewhat challenging, due in part to the fact your muscles are warmer and your body more flexible. Where I sometimes feel I err, is with my hands and grip, that in part is I think laziness or comfort.
    At the end of the round, I simply look at the course rating and then either add or deduct the + & -, pretty simple, I’ve learned to play this game in my mind, where it is won or lost. I will never be a card holder, or be anywhere near a tour, however, I didn’t commence playing for those reasons. If I can walk off the last green and smile, saying, that was a good day with good friends, I am a happy person

    • Craig Sigl says:

      David, thank you very much. LOVE the +1, -1 idea. You are so correct about it being a game between the ears!

      Greens and fairways,


  • Ron says:

    I ask whoever I’m playing with not to tell me my score at the end of 9 holes. I know when I’m shooting well and I don’t try to figure out my score as I play. I just play one shot at a time

    • Craig Sigl says:

      Excellent Ron! Which makes a new point that we could possibly mess with a playing partner by emphasizing how WELL they are playing eh?
      Greens and fairways,

  • RC says:

    Actually, I usually play better on the back 9 than on the front. Seems like it takes me a few holes to get a rhythm going and if I’ve never played the course before, it takes some time to read the greens and get an idea of how to play it.

    • Craig Sigl says:

      Ahhh, that’s a problem for another article. 🙂

      • Michael Schaloum says:

        Did you end up posting a blog on this topic?

  • Jim says:

    Sounds like a parts integration might be helpful.

    It is amazing how just a slight variance in shots from one side to the next can produce quite different scores. I did this in my first round this year (on vacation in Florida 37-42). But then again that was my best round of the trip, by far, and better than any round last year.

    • Craig Sigl says:

      Hi Jim,
      Haha, nice. Parts integration might work! I personally think we need to destroy what causes the worry and fear in the first place…fear of failure.
      G & F

  • Robert Reaves says:

    Hi Craig,

    I too like everyone else do better on the front 9 than I do on the back nine. When I’m with my buddies I really don’t mind them telling me what I shot on the front nine before I tee off of 10 because it really doesn’t matter because they won’t play for money. I play on a small tour where the entry fee is any where from $199.00 to $499.00. The prize pool can get up there so there is more pressure to do well. Something that has been working for me recently is I write down my score on each hole obviously, but I don’t add it up until the whole round is over. The person keeping my score on the 8th hole I always tell him not to tell me my score on the front nine. This seems to just keep me playing and having fun, because the harder you try in golf yhe worse you do, for me anyway.


    • Craig Sigl says:

      Excellent tip Robert. Thanks for weighing in. You are so correct about “the harder you try, the worse you do”
      Greens and fairways,

  • Peter says:

    The back nine problems I think it come from body endurance that will cause to loosing mind focus and effect to your technic.

    • Craig Sigl says:

      Good point Peter. What do you to keep your mind focus?

      • Peter says:

        Good question Craig . I will said I don’t have specific point to focus in my mind but I focus to do my routine .

        • Craig Sigl says:

          Routine is perfect!

  • Rocky Phelps says:

    That happened to me last year. Playing the Woodlands course at Sunriver, I shot an all-time best 37 on the front 9, then followed that with a 48 on the back. Exactly what you describe here.

    • Craig Sigl says:

      Hi Rocky, Yep. Unfortunately, it happened to me a lot in the past as well. Not any more!
      greens and fairways,

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