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Golf is like a bag of marbles

As a golfer and coach, one of the most valuable lessons I've learned began with a bag of marbles. I often try to explain this concept to my students, especially when they get frustrated after hitting "bad shots". The bag of marbles is something I often refer to in my coaching but also something I have used when playing golf to help me have a positive, relaxed attitude, manage my expectations and most importantly, never give up on the golf course.

Let's start with the bag of marbles. The bag contains an equal number of gold, white, and black marbles. The gold marbles represent good shots, the white marbles represent average shots, and the black marbles represent bad shots. Every time you pull a marble out of the bag, you're just as likely to pull out a gold marble as you are a white or black marble. As much as you'd like to, it would be unrealistic to pull out a gold marble every time. You might get on a run of pulling out the same colour marble for a while, but eventually, over time, it all evens out.

Now, let's relate this to golf. When you're over the ball, about to hit a shot, any one of these marbles can be pulled from the bag. If we could pull a gold marble every time, then golf would be a very easy game wouldn't it? Unfortunately it doesn't work like that. It's important to remember that every golfer can hit good, ok and bad shots.

380 Metre Par 4

Let's use an example of a 380 metre par 4, comparing a 12-handicap male golfer to Adam Scott. Both the 12-handicap golfer and Adam Scott pull out the same sequence of marbles - gold, white, black, white.


When the 12-handicap golfer pulls out a gold marble for their tee shot, it goes straight down the middle of the fairway, 220 meters, leaving them with a 160 metre mid-iron for their second shot. In contrast, Adam Scott's gold marble tee shot goes 310 meters straight down the middle of the fairway, leaving him with a 70 metre pitch shot for his second shot.


When the 12-handicap golfer pulls out a white marble for their second shot, they pull it slightly and miss the green but leave themselves with a chip shot of 25 meters for their third shot...not too bad. Adam Scott's white marble for his second shot from 70 meters out means he hits his pitch shot to within 17 ft of the hole. Again, not too bad from that distance, but not amazing (for him).


When both players pull out a black marble for their third shot, the 12-handicap golfer duffs his chip, it trickles onto the green and ends up 30 feet from the hole. Adam Scott, from 17ft, leaves himself 3ft short of the hole.


Both players then pull out a white marble for their fourth shot, the 12-handicap golfer lags his 30-foot putt to within 3 feet of the hole. Adam Scott then holes his 3ft par putt (96% success rate for tour pros).

Let's just say the 12 handicapper pulls out a gold marble for his 5th shot and he holes his 3ft putt for bogey.

Both players have pulled out the same sequence of marbles for the first hole, but Adam Scott made par and the 12 handicapper made bogey. That's just a difference of 1 shot, but imagine if that happens over 9 holes, and then 18 holes. The difference would eventually add up to something quite vast, but the marbles pulled from the bag were the same. Adam Scott still hit some bad shots, but the level of his marbles is much higher, which is why he would score so much better.

What does this tell us?

  • Every golfer, no matter what their level, hits great, average, and bad shots.

  • The level of those shots is relative to the standard of the player. In other words, the gold, white, and black marbles represent shots that are good, okay, or bad for each individual golfer.

  • It's unrealistic (and frankly silly) to think you can pull out a gold marble every time. Nobody does! So why get so annoyed when you don't hit a perfect shot?

  • To improve your score, you have to improve the level of your marbles - this can be achieved through practice, coaching, and other forms of training.

  • Given enough time, the players with the best marbles will always come out on top

Things that can affect which marbles are pulled out

  • Reacting too emotionally to bad shots and allowing that to affect future shots

  • Getting overly frustrated and feeling sorry for themselves

  • Believing they need to change everything about their swing when they hit one bad shot on the course

  • Thinking too technically on the golf course (cognitive stage of learning)

  • Not owning what they do - relying too heavily on the coach

  • Hitting a few bad shots and giving up on the course

If this sounds like you, my main advice to you right now is to relax, and let it play out. If you had an exam tomorrow that you haven't studied for at all, you wouldn't expect to pass the exam. In golfing terms, whatever is in there is going to come out on the course...allow that to happen and you'll hit some good, some average and some bad.

If your marbles aren't at the level you're happy with, improve them!

What you can learn from this and apply to your game

  • Don't react emotionally to each individual shot, bad shots will happen at any level

  • Improve the level of your marbles to improve your standard of good, average and bad shots

  • Develop a consistent routine to shift your focus to process on the course, rather than technique

  • Go through your process and stick to a plan, allow the shots to play out (or the marbles to be pulled out of the bag)

  • The routine will also help you focus on one shot at a time, and prevent negative thoughts from entering your head

  • Remember that you could go on a run of pulling several gold marbles out in a row, so don't give up on the course

  • Manage your expectations, be aware that any colour marble can be pulled at any time

How to improve your marbles

  • Assess your game

  • Make a plan

  • Regular Coach Guidance

  • Follow a structured coaching program with clear building, maintenance and performances phases

  • Make the 3-P Pledge. Plan, Practice, Persevere

  • Join G60!

If you're not already part of G60, but you want to feel less frustrated on the golf course, click the button below and let's have a chat about how we can improve your golf game.

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