I Shot Under Par For The First Time - Here's What I Did Differently

Elliott Heath shot his first under par round after playing golf for nearly 20 years

Golfer pictured with a scorecard overlayed
(Image credit: Future)

I’ve placed a proverbial monkey on my back over the past few years by giving myself the goal of shooting under par, and recently it has become a bit of an obsession.

I’d come close numerous times but never quite got over the line despite knowing I was able to break 70, my course’s par, and seeing people I knew though the years go sub-par despite having higher handicaps than me.

One of my closest golfing friends has shot under par five times, but not for a long while now and despite having a lower handicap than him, he always had this over me.

Having shot level par multiple times and giving away a good few under par scores, I had began to wonder if it would ever happen. I remember bogeying the last, albeit in near-darkness thanks to a late tee time, to shoot level par and another time where I was two-under after 12 in a competition before limping home. Another round I left myself a short birdie putt on the 16th to go one-under, which I holed, and then remember barely even being able to grip my club on the 17th, a par-3, hoping that I wouldn’t shank it. Stupid right?

More stupidity came just a couple of months ago at Western Gailes Golf Club in Ayrshire. Playing with two scratch handcappers, I think I was off 4 at the time, I was basically having the round of my life. I barely missed a shot for 13 holes to sit one-under-par before we turned back to the clubhouse with the railway down the right-hand side.

Despite essentially flushing everything for the last two-and-a-bit hours, I was now doing everything in my powers to not slice or shank it. A shocking bogey followed at a par-5 (I did birdie the next though) and I ended up finishing bogey-bogey-bogey for a two-over 73. It really is incredible how your mindset can change in this game. From stress-free great golf to suddenly playing with fear, panic and negativity.

A month later I was in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th at Wildernesse GC in Kent with a hybrid in hand and the green easily in range. Birdie for my first ever under-par round. I felt okay at this point but proceeded to pull it left and scrapped a par to shoot level. That day I was level after eight but three-over after nine thanks to a triple-bogey. I came home in three-under and made six birdies in total, yet still didn’t break par. This comeback gave me some hope though, and I have since been positive in my mindset that it will eventually happen.

Fast forward to this past weekend and I arrived full of hope that today was the day I could put my monkey to bed, just as I do prior to every round. I got to the club 10 minutes before my tee time and didn’t even have a practice putt, chip or swing in the net, although that's not too out of the ordinary. I did have a new golf ball - the TaylorMade TP5x - and my new Titleist TSR4 driver freshly adjusted into a different setting. Who knows what difference these made but maybe they just did. My drive on the 12th was much further up the fairway than I expected so I definitely gained some distance with the new combo at least.

Picture of two golf balls

(Image credit: Future)

Like Wildernesse, I again found myself three-over-par - this time after just six holes. Hitting it averagely, chipping very averagely and plodding my way to a round in the high 70s, I wasn’t prepared to give up as I came back from three-over just a month ago. I told my playing partner, the same friend who has multiple under-par rounds in his locker, that I just need four more (birdies). I managed to turn in two-over before back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th got me back to level par. One more I told him.

The last five at my club feature a simple dogleg-right par-4, which suits my fade, two long and tough par-4s, a simple-ish par-3 and a short par-5 finisher that always offers up a birdie chance if you can get the drive away. I knew if I could get to the 18th tee at level par then I’d have a great chance.

I made a mistake on the 15th tee - going back to Western Gailes ironically - of just trying not to hook my drive OOB onto the train line. Obviously that led to a slice into the trees on the right but somehow I managed to hole a snaking 12ft right-to-lefter for an almighty par, and some 20 minutes later I had a three-footer on the 17th to get to the 18th tee at one-under. It went in thankfully and now all I needed to do was make a par up the last to break 70 for the first time. I felt calm and deep down I think expected to make a birdie or at least an easy par... How wrong I was.

The drive was good and I was left with a perfect hybrid yardage from the perfect lie. At this point, two-under was on the cards. My hybrid has the tendency to go left but I trusted myself. I wasn't going to play safe and make bogey. Why not go for the green when I'm playing well? I've definitely arrived at the stage where I can live with myself if I mess up after feeling confident. Messing up after playing safe or not committing to a shot in that moment would have been a cardinal sin that I wouldn't have been able to live with.

It went left. Just like on the 18th at Wildernesse, but somehow the trees caught it from going out of bounds. The provisional went even further left for those wondering. At this point, I wasn’t too fazed as I had lost the fear of failure. I think I even managed a smile. I’d failed so many times that what bad would another failure be? A blob and I’d sign for a 71 with an asterisk. It would have still been a good day.

Luckily, my ball was found but unfortunately I could only chip it out sidewards, with the swipe going about two yards, leaving me with around 35 yards to the pin with the prospect of an up-and-down to shoot my magic number. I thought my pitch shot would be 10ft short when I hit it but somehow it just continued to run - perhaps it was my day - and I had a four footer to shoot my first ever under par round. The putt crept in the right side of the hole and I signed for a 69.

It was a strange experience, shooting my lowest ever round and accomplishing the only real golfing goal I’ve had for at least the last three years. It should have felt like I had completed golf but in my mind I haven’t.

I played worse than average for the first six holes and scrapped it down the last, yet this was my best ever 18. It’s a strange game we play and I put this score down to experience and losing that fear. I wasn’t really that nervous coming in. I hit every shot (barring the drive on 15) with confidence, without worrying about slices, hooks or tops.

Golf is such a mental game - it’s played on the six inch course between your ears as the great Arnold Palmer once said - and this is so true.

Fear and negativity comes so natural to me on the golf course, and probably many others too, and that’s why I’d never broken par. But if you can somehow get rid of it, you’ll see that your best golf is possible.

Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news team as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as five Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays off of a six handicap. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2

Hybrids: Titleist 816 H1

Irons: Mizuno MP5 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Srixon Z Star XV