Recently I got the following email from one of our Swing Man Golf members named Ken.
Hi Jaacob, Since you’ve been able to do what I’m trying to do, I’m hoping to get some insight from you. I have one question for you, so it should be brief. I’m a big proponent of the 80-20 principle; what do you think gave you the most bang for your buck in terms of improving your score?
According to Wiki, the 80-20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Business-management consultant Joseph Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Pareto developed the principle by observing that 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden contained 80 percent of the peas. Wiki also states that it is a common rule of thumb in business that 80 percent of a business’ sales come from 20 percent of its clients”.
I replied to Ken’s message with a few things off the top of my head, but his question got me thinking that a more thorough answer would make for a great article. Personally, I have a very busy life, as I’m sure is the case with many of you. So to get the most bang for your buck, here’s what I’d recommend for you to drop the most amount of shots with the least amount of work.
1. Watch the Clubface Rotation
First, cut down on the amount of clubface rotation in your full swing, pitches and chips. I’ve written about this in previous articles, but I’ll briefly go over it again because it made such a big difference in helping me shoot lower scores.
It used to be that I would start my swing by opening up the clubface relative to my swing path, such that when the shaft was parallel to the ground in the beginning of the back swing, the toe of the club pointed up to the sky in to a position that strangely is sometimes called square. On the way back down, I would roll the club over to impact and pass through to an opposite position on the other side in which toe was pointed back up to the sky when the shaft was again parallel to the ground.
I instinctively wanted to keep the club face more square to my swing path down through the hitting zone, but I figured since so many top players and teachers played with and advocated this rolling-type of hand action that it must be the best way. As soon as my first golf coach, Dan Shauger, took out this excessive rolling action in my swing and gave me the confirmation that it was okay to do so, I immediately started getting more control of my ball and my shot dispersion tightened up tremendously. Over the years, this change also saved me a lot of time on the range. I have been able to maintain an elite level of play with much less practice because my swing became less dependent on timing.
So that’s the first thing I’d say. If you’re having trouble controlling your ball, watch your club face rotation. It’s made a difference to the scores of many of the students I’ve had implement it, and it could do the same for you.
2. Swing Under Control
Second, discipline yourself to always swing under control. I’m talking about full swings here, but this actually applies to all shots. For example, on the pitches, chips, and putts, be smooth and watch being too jerky.
Especially for us guys with our egos, swinging under control is easier said than done. It certainly was one of the more difficult things I had to overcome. However, it is an important lesson because swinging under control can mean better balance, more consistent contact, faster club head speeds, etc.
Further more, shooting lower scores isn’t necessarily about hitting perfect shots. Rather, it’s about cutting down your average dispersion and making your overall misses better in order to eliminate disasters. There are things that point to swinging under control all over the golf world. Count Yogi talked about being boneless. Mike Austin talked about supple quickness and not impeding the pendulum. George Knudson said never to swing beyond a point that takes you out of balance. I like to think of it as watching the amount of tension in your swing. They’re all more-or-less different signposts that point in the direction of the same important lesson.
If you like numbers, earlier this summer PGA Tour winner David Gossett and I were hitting balls and talking about his swing speed using a Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radar. I had him make driver swings at a speed at which he felt like he could hit straight and keep under control. Then I had him swing as fast as he could. The difference was about 8 percent, meaning that he can control his ball at up to 92 percent of his maximum speed. Similarly, I’ve done this test on myself and I am also about 92 percent.
You may be a little more or less than David or myself, but you can do a similar test on yourself to learn your maximum threshold. If you don’t have a radar handy, you can test yourself on the range to learn the feeling at which point your precision starts taking a big dive. Then it’s just a matter of paying attention on the course and training yourself to never go above your personal threshold.
Be prepared for a back and forth tennis match with yourself to create this habit, but your scores will thank you for learning the lesson.
3. Get Custom Fit
Third, you certainly can play good golf with poorly fit golf clubs, but it is much easier to do so if you’ve been custom fit.
I’ll liken this to going out and running a 100-meter race on the track. If you throw on some big red floppy clown shoes, you probably won’t run as fast as if you had a nice pair of correctly-sized track shoes. Likewise, you can perform much better when you get custom fit for your golf equipment. It may cost a little bit more money in the short term, but it saves you in the long run. I won’t get into details in this article, but a knowledgeable teaching pro or club fitter can help you put together a set of clubs that works for you and your style of play on the types of courses you most regularly encounter.
For example, they can help you find a driver that optimizes your launch conditions for maximum carry and roll (although this isn’t always desirable), determine what and how many clubs you’d need to achieve sufficient distance gapping (sometimes you may not need a full set of 14 clubs), figure out how much bounce you need on wedges to be more effective around the greens and determine the amount of loft you need on your putter to get the ball rolling immediately, etc. All of these things can make scoring lower much easier. If possible, get fit at a facility that uses Doppler radar launch monitors like FlightScope or Trackman.
For more information about getting custom fit, you might also read some of the GolfWRX articles by my friend Tom Wishon.
4. Be Consistent
Fourth, to play good golf, it’s important to be consistent. As the saying goes, it’s difficult to master something you are constantly changing. Ironically, to go somewhere you’ve never been, you may need to do things differently than you’ve done before.
This is where a good coach can come in handy. Depending on your goals and how much time you have available, it may or may not be a good idea for you to make certain changes to your technique, equipment, swing thoughts, etc. Something may be more optimal from a scientific standpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be more functional for you.
There’s a Tour player I know whose name I won’t mention. He took up the game rather late compared to most pros, but he pretty quickly self-taught himself to shoot in the mid-60s and he even set a number of course records. Then in order to become more competitive, he decided he need to get a swing coach so he could swing more properly. The coach was well meaning, but they made some changes that completely wrecked my buddy’s natural move to the point where he now struggles to make cuts. I fear he may not survive as a Tour pro.
Interestingly, the guy who has the best chipping game I’ve ever seen in person out of both amateurs and pros is a former scratch-level college player who has been using the same exact wedge and unconventional technique for over 30 years. Therefore, make changes as you and, if you have them, your coach or team feels necessary. However, do so with a great deal of caution because you may be better off perfecting existing parts of your game through some goal setting, well-balanced practice, consistent repetition and mental game work versus changing to something different in regards to your technique, equipment, swing thoughts, etc.
5. Increase Your Club Head Speed
Finally, make sure you have enough club head speed to play your desired tee boxes. An average Tour-level course rates around 74.7 and is roughly 7,224 yards long. To play these type of courses, golfers could probably get away with a driver swing speed of about 100 mph at shorter venues with more generous openings to the greens. But they would also need to be crazy good with their hybrids and long irons, as well as have a superhuman short game. A more realistic swing speed goal is 104-to-105 mph. If you want to play like the average Tour player, you would need to have a swing speed of about 113 mph.
I’ve experimented playing in various professional events as both a power player and a shorter, more accurate hitter, shooting tournament rounds in the 60s both ways. On the shorter courses with soft greens or not as much forced carry, I was fine either way. However, I really struggled with the shorter more accurate style of play as soon as I got to a long sea-level course with hard greens. I couldn’t reach as many par 5’s in two, and coming in with so many hybrids and long irons to par-4’s made it difficult to get the ball landing steeply enough and with sufficient spin to stop the ball anywhere close to the hole.
Having enough club head speed really makes scoring a lot easier. To give you some guidance, take a look at the chart I’ve made below and find how fast you swing your driver (or how far you hit your driver if you don’t know your club head speed). From there, you’ll see the approximate course distance you should play to similarly experience what the average Tour player experiences when playing a Tour level course at 113 mph.
If you find that you are biting off more than you can chew, then to boost your scores I’d either recommend moving up to a more appropriate tee box for your existing level of power (even if that means going up to the forward tee box), or doing 10-to-15 minutes of swing speed training twice per week like what is outlined at Swing Man Golf in order to get your club head speed up to a level where you can manage better scores at the course distances you want to play. The idea with swing speed training is to train to increase your maximum club head speed so that when you back off to 92 percent of your max (or whatever your personal precision threshold happens to be), your “playing speed” also goes up proportionally. You could have the greatest technique in the world, but if your body isn’t conditioned to execute your technique with sufficient speed for the tee boxes you want to play, you’ll just be trying to scale a scoring mountain that is more-or-less insurmountable.
So there’s the 80-20 answer for me as far as it went with lowering my golf scores in big chunks. Give these things a try and hopefully you’ll find similar benefit for your own games. Have fun and good luck!