5 ways to dominate at mini golf, according to a world champion

Ulf Kristiansson en route to victory at the 2023 Minigolf World Championships, where he posted a final-round 22.

Ulf Kristiansson en route to victory at the 2023 Minigolf World Championships, where he posted a final-round 22.

YOUTUBE/Skoghalls Bangolfklubb

As a popular choice for family outings and first dates, miniature golf probably isn’t the kind of group activity that stokes your killer instincts and makes you want to crush the competition at all costs. Then again, maybe it is. Maybe you’re the kind of person who needs to win at everything golf-related, whether you’re pegging it with pals at the muni or putting through a rotating propellor on artificial turf.

Ulf Kristiansson can help.

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A soft-spoken 48-year-old from Skoghall, Sweden, a small town west of Stockholm, Kristiansson earns his keep as an automation technician at a box-making factory — and draws priceless satisfaction from blowing away opponents on mini-golf courses near and far. His most notable conquest came last summer, at the 2023 Minigolf World Championships, in Uppsala, Sweden, where Kristiansson shot a gaudy final-round 22 to claim the individual stroke-play crown over Yannick Müller of Germany.

While the mini golf that Kristiansson plays bears only faint resemblance to theme-park Putt-Putt (there are, for instance, no animatronic dinosaurs on the tournament courses he tackles), scorekeeping works the same in both — lowest number wins — and similar strategies apply.

In the spirit of cutthroat competition, we asked Kristiansson for tips on how to dominate in miniature golf, whether you’re vying for a world title or just out to trounce the field at your kid’s birthday party.

1. Acquire course knowledge

As in real golf, there’s no substitute for knowing how the ball bounces and rolls. Before your outing, Kristiansson recommends playing multiple practice rounds and treating them as reconnaissance missions. “You have to know the course inside and out,” he says. Are there subtle, unseen breaks? Low spots where shots tend to gather? What about the borders on the holes? Are they wooden or metal? Soft or springy? No detail is too small, as any intel can lead to an advantage, from the pace of the turf to the speed at which the windmill spins.

2. B.Y.O.P.

You know how serious bowlers and billiard players travel with their own balls and cues? Kristiansson and his peers do something similar. Not just custom putters but balls of varying size, spin and softness suited to whatever surface they are playing. Point is, don’t hesitate to B.Y.O. putter, which is bound to be better than the rubber-headed sticks most courses loan out. For next-level intensity — (okay, maybe next-level dorky-ness, but who cares? You’re aiming for peak performance) — you could even show up with your own Pro V1, though you should probably swap it out for a house ball before the final hole, as most 18th holes in mini golf reclaim the ball automatically.

3. Do not be quiet, please

If you watch the YouTube highlights of Kristiansson win last August, you’ll notice that elite mini golf involves a fair amount of yelling, and not from yahoos screaming “You da man!” Whenever Kristiansson makes an ace, which is often, he bellows — a kind of primal scream — regardless of what’s going on around him. It’s a common practice. He recommends you that you adopt it. “Partly, you are celebrating,” he says. “At the same time, you are intensifying the pressure on the competition.” (Editor’s note: This tactic is especially useful for intimidating children).

Ulf Kristiansson celebrating victory at the 2023 Minigolf World Championships
Kristiansson, in light blue, celebrating his world title. YOUTUBE/Skoghalls Bangolfklubb

4. Solidify your putting stroke

Mini golfers get the yips, too. (The Swedish phrase for it, Kristiansson says, translates to “jelly arms.”) There are two ways to deal with them. You can curl into fetal position and give up. Or follow Kristiannson’s recommendation: turn around and putt from the other side, with a cross-handed grip, hands separated by about six inches. It will feel weird at first, and you might struggle at the outset to dial in distance. But, Kristiansson says, you’ll also notice that the backhanded action will make “your wrists feel stiffer,” which should minimize those awful electric spasms and make it easier to get your putts on line. 

5. Eliminate self doubt

To borrow from Bob Rotella, mini golf is a game of confidence. “You have to have high self-esteem,” Kristiansson says. “When you stand over the ball, you have to tell yourself that you are absolutely going to make the putt.” You also have to believe it, which is easier said than done, but often involves having a short memory (“Forgetting about the putts you’ve missed before,” Kristiansson says), and a dash of self-delusion (“Maybe you have to convince yourself that you are even better than you are”). But more than anything, it requires practice. “You just have to keep putting yourself in pressure situations over and over and over again.”

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.