Whether gambling helps will depend on how you structure the wager, particularly when it comes to medal play, the most common format for city, state and national tournaments, as well as many club championships.
Also called stroke play, you simply count all your strokes for the entire 18 holes to determine your score.
Here are some examples of non-beneficial wagers:
Most gamblers want to make short-term bets: “Let’s play for a dollar a hole.” This develops a mentality of demanding a reward after each hole. It is hard to shift to delaying your reward till the whole round is over, which is the case in medal play tournament golf.
Another common wager is a Nassau: $5 for the front nine, $5 for the back nine, and $5 for the entire 18 holes. Once again, no requirement to wait the entire 18 holes to get a reward. Plus, you get a consolation prize for winning the back nine, something you don’t get in 18-hole tournament golf.
Yet another non-beneficial facet of gambling golf is that it is often team play. If you lose focus for a hole or two, your partner can pick you up. There is no partner in the club, state or national championship. Each shot is all on you for a long 18 holes.
Presses are still another element of gambling not available in tournament golf. A “press” is when you are allowed to start a new match at any point in the round, which then runs simultaneously along side the original match.
Presses reflect a golfer who can’t maintain his attention span and delay his reward for an entire 18-hole round. He or she always needs some short-term motivation to focus on.
There are, however, some beneficial wagers you could make.
One wager that can work toward making you a better medal play tournament golfer is to play for one monetary prize at the end of the round, just like on the PGA Tour. This leads to only one focus: a low total score at the end of the round.
An even better bet is to play for a dollar a stroke. That is, you pay your opponent a dollar for each stroke you are beaten by at the end of the round. The benefit of this bet is that if a player wants to give up and stop struggling, he or she can do that – it will just cost them a dollar for every stroke that is carelessly thrown away.
This wager keeps everyone in the game until the bitter end, if only to limit one’s losses. It is also the mindset of a medal play tournament golfer.
How much money should you play for? I would suggest, “Enough to make you uncomfortable, but not so much as to incapacitate you.”
Tournament golf is tense, but not life or death. With that continuum in mind, structure your golfing wagers somewhere closer to tense than to a near death experience.
Tom Dorsel, Ph.D. of Hilton Head Island is a clinical-sport psychologist and author of “GOLF: The Mental Game.” Dorsel.com