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Get better faster: The 80-20 of golf improvement

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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.

DSC00739

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.

JOHNDEERECLASSIC_t440

David Gossett won the 1999 U.S. Amateur and the 2001 John Deere Classic.

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.

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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.

inar01-dean-reinmuth-breaking-80

I once had a 1-hour lesson with Dean Reinmuth, the swing coach of Ricky Barnes, and he noticed a couple subtleties in my game that helped right away.

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.

Recommended Tee Boxes for Your Individual Clubhead Speed

Recommended Tee Boxes for Your Individual Clubhead Speed.

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!

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also shot the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons® here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – Millions of views!!!

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Pingback: How To Become A Better Golfer | Howtoguide

  2. Carlo Williams

    Jan 7, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Hi Jaacob. Thanks for the article. I am not clear about the first point regarding the rotation of the clubface. The club travels on an arc, so isn’t it biomechanically correct for the clubface to open on the back swing then close as it travels towards the ball?

    I would imagine that this will also help players to release which increases swing speed.

    I’m not trying to argue here (you are the professional), but I can’t get my mind to understand how the clubface returns square at impact without any rotation and still maintain a decent speed at impact.

    Regards

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Jan 13, 2014 at 6:19 am

      Hi Carlo, thanks for the comment.

      It’s a bit difficult to explain without demonstrating in person, using video, etc…but it depends on a number of factors like your initial grip setup with each hand (weak, neutral, or strong), how your lead arm is situated at setup in your shoulder socket (externally rotated, neutral, internally rotated), the type of action you make on the back swing (http://www.golfwrx.com/68601/the-6-actions-of-the-wrists-and-forearms/), etc.

      There’s a number of ways to do it, each with it’s advantages and disadvantages.

      One example…one thing some long drivers do is internally rotate their arm in the lead shoulder socket at setup. This can give an illusion of a strong lead hand grip from a face-on viewpoint, even if the grip is still actually neutral. Then in the back swing that lead hand radial deviates (cocks upward). In the down swing, the lead hand ulnar deviates (cocks downward). Because of how the arm is situated in the shoulder, it’s basically a lead hand chop. You get a lot of club head movement without the club face rotation. It does help with this type of action to move your lower spine towards the target on the downswing to move the point of the fully released club head beyond impact. Usually at that point you’ll see some rotation of the club face (pronation of the trail hand, supination of the lead hand, external rotation of the arm in the lead shoulder, etc)…but at that point it doesn’t matter because the ball is already gone.

      Ryan Palmer mitigates the movement of his hands in the back swing a bit, but he is an example of a regular Tour player who has a similarly described action -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsflOEN0E18

      I also have a video on the inside of the Swing Man Golf website explaining another way to do it.

      Hmmm, but really I need to do a more lengthy video to better and more fully answer your question! Good question!

  3. Pingback: The Golf Ball Goes Where the Club Face Is Pointed! | Quick Fix Golf

  4. Mike D.

    Dec 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Interesting article, but I question the validity of it considering 99.9999% of players would improve significantly if they improved their putting and yet this area of the game is omitted from the article.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Dec 30, 2013 at 6:35 am

      Thanks for the comment. Putting is certainly important.

      However, you must have only skimmed the article because putting was mentioned twice. 😉

      For that matter, putting could fall under 4 of these 5 categories.

      I have a Pro friend of mine who has excessive putter face rotation in his putting. You can see it visually as well as on the SAM PuttLab. He would putt much better and possibly have made it as a tour player if he had worked on eliminating the excess rotation.

      Under the 2nd section, I brought up being too jerky with putts. The putters with the best distance control that I’ve observed over the years from week to week and month to month are the ones who are smooth, rhythmic, and don’t “hit” at their putts.

      In the 3rd section, I mentioned the importance of club fitting…including with the putter.

      Lastly, consistency goes a long way towards better putting. It’s difficult to putt well when you constantly are changing your putter, routine, thinking, mechanics, etc.

      • Anon

        Jul 7, 2014 at 8:05 am

        So you are claiming that reducing putter rotation leads to better putting? Tell that to Tiger Woods, who rotates the putter more than most on tour, but was still the best putter in the world during his dominant years. This was verified by SAM putt lab as well. Sir Henry Cotton was known as one of the best putters in history, and he used to try to draw his putts! I have to say that I strongly disagree with your statement. What kept your buddy off the tour was the simple fact that he wasn’t good enough.
        Putting is an art, there is no “magic move” that will fix your putting, or the rest of your game. Your website wreaks of salesmanship and glamorization. The testimonials were all written by the same person who speaks English as a second language, and you offer an automatically renewing 50 dollar “bonus” membership to a service most of your clients would not pay for otherwise. (You have to read the fine print under his offer to find this.) I have not spoken to you in person, so I can’t say anything about your moral character, but your website screams scam. You should remake it and remove the bonus membership thing.
        For anyone who has read this far, his website features a doodad that says if you sign up by “xx date” you will receive bonuses. Don’t fall for this, it is a variable timer, he is using an old sales technique of trying to hurry you into buying. I don’t need to hear what he has to say to know it’s a scam.
        Every one of his articles states the same thing generally, and they all point you to his website where you can buy more! Don’t fall for sales pitches like this, if there really was some magic secret, he would have sold it to a bunch of PGA tour players already for a mountain of money. PGA certified instructors are very reliable, and we all share our information between each other for the better of the game. If you really want to improve, fix the basics of posture, ball position, and alignment. Go see a PGA certified instructor!

  5. Jabrch

    Dec 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    I like the common sense approach of Bowden. Nice article.

    Most particularly, I appreciate the advice that depending on your time and committment, some goals may be unattainable. Too many instructors I have seen are ready to toss away your swing completely without first determining if you really have the time and committment to improving that way, or if you aren’t truly better off fixing what you have.

  6. paul

    Dec 27, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Best 80/20 rule i heard for golf was 80% of online golf articles about how to swing better will make only 20% of us better. not trying to say that there is anything wrong with swing tips or anything. i love them. im just part of the 20% now. but it took a while to get here. kind of have to read everything about golf at least one time. then start sorting out all the info and figure out what applies to you.

    Another possible 80/20 rule could be that 80% of people only practice well 20% of the time.

    • A

      Dec 28, 2013 at 11:42 am

      20% of the people who play golf don’t practice 80% of the time

      • A

        Dec 28, 2013 at 11:44 am

        80% of the people can only play 20% of their lives so they never really get better

  7. Ewan S Fallon

    Dec 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Well done Jaacob. Helping to demystify the golf swing is most worthy. Then I was surprised and pleased to read your take on the “flip” . I read one article which likened the final part of the Austin swing to the slap shot in ice hockey. Myself I have always thought that the flip shot could just be a good shot that didn’t use the hips or shoulders and could be good if those members were included, if you know what I mean. – I have a home video on it if anybody is interested. How true about people wrongly changing things trying to improve. Tiger comes to mind maybe trying to hit the fairway by following more down the line through impact, and making it worse. then it looks like he maybe “infected” friend McIlroy with the same swing thought, so that both had a traumatic period in their career trying to improve.- just guessing of course, but who knows? Anyway Jaacob keep up the good work !!

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Instruction

Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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Golf 101: How to hit a bunker shot

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I’ve heard from numerous people over the years that theoretically, the bunker shot should be the easiest shot in golf—you don’t even hit the ball.

Sounds romantic, but common sense would suggest the polar opposite. Any new golfer or one walking into the game knows that hitting it into the bunker can be a disaster if you don’t know what to do. Figuring out how to hit a bunker shot can be daunting. So in the spirit of the 101 series, I want to give the beginner a three-step strategy to playing out of a bunker with one goal in mind: get it out of the bunker.

Keep in mind, this is simply to get the ball outta the sand, not spin it, not get it close, just get it back on the grass.

How to hit a bunker shot

Use a 56-degree wedge. Non-negotiable. You need the loft, the bounce, and the forgiveness.

Dig in: Gives your feet and body not only a feel for the sand but also a firm base. The bunker shot isn’t a full swing but you need stability. So when you address the ball, wiggle your feet a bit to get in there. It also makes it look like you know what you are doing—that helps for social reasons.

Face open: Imagine if you had to hold an egg on the face, that’s the visual. If the face isn’t open enough to do that its not open. Remember also that when you open the face, you are not cranking your hands over to do so. Turn the club open, grip it normally, and there you go.

Thump

This is what I have taught beginners a few times, and I’m not a teacher, but I’m a pretty gnarly bunker player. It works. Now that you are dug in, the face is open and you are ready to hit it, pick a spot an inch behind the ball, and with some speed, control, and a firm grip (hold the face open) THUMP down on that spot. Even more, THUMP the heel down on that spot. When I saw THUMP I mean CHOP, BEAT down on it with some purpose. Two things will happen, the ball will pop up by simple momentum and the face will stay open because the lever (and meatiest part) that holds it open (the heel) is doing all the work. Your tempo is key, and yes, I’m telling you to beat down on it, but also be mindful of staying in your body.

Could you potentially stick the club in the ground? Yup. Maybe. But the odds of you skulling, whiffing, chunking are reduced to almost nothing.

The best way to get outta the sound is to use the sand to help you. That’s how to hit a bunker shot. Pounding down on it with an open face uses a ton of sand, a ton of energy, the bounce of the wedge, and requires you to do very little.

Give it a shot.

 

 

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How the direction of turn influences your swing

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Understanding the direction you turn in the backswing will help identify your swing pattern. To start, turn is simply a word for something going around or moving circularly. When teaching, the term turn is very broad. The spine, shoulders and pelvis can all move in different directions.

So what direction should you turn? After an efficient setup (How Posture Influences Your Swing) I want players to coil around their original spine angle. This gives players an efficient “shape” to the body at the top of the backswing. Shape is the relationship between the upper and lower half of the body. Shape retains body angles from the setup, which also mirror impact. The relationship between the upper and lower body are highlighted in the pictures below.

When in this shape, the downswing can become a reaction towards the target. The club and body can return to impact with efficiency and minimal timing required. The body doesn’t need to find the impact position. This impact position is a common look to all great ball-strikers.

An important concept to understand is the direction of turn is more important than the amount of turn. Think of throwing a ball towards a target. You don’t turn more to throw the ball further or for more accuracy. Your body coils the correct direction to go forward and around towards the target. The golf swing and direction of turn is similar to a throwing position.

A great drill to get the feeling of this coil is what I call off the wall on the wall. Start by setting up with your lead side against a wall. Make sure your trail shoulder is below the lead shoulder with a tucked trail arm. From this position, swing your arms to the top of your swing. Note the backswing position.

When doing this drill, note how your upper body moves off the wall, and the lower body stays on the wall. An important note to make is the hips and glutes don’t stay stagnant against the wall. They go around, sliding against the wall as the upper moves off.

The beauty of the golf swing is there is more than one way to do it. Many great players turn with lead side bend in the backswing. This is where the upper body tilts towards the target (lateral trunk flexion). However, these players will have to change their spine angle to find impact. This pattern isn’t incorrect, just needs more recovery in the downswing to find the impact position.

I do not prefer players having to recover in their downswing. I define recovery as having to re-position the body in the downswing to find impact. Think of a baseball player having to throw a ball to first base when his body starts in a contorted position. I the golf swing, this requires more talent and timing and can lead to inconsistency unless precisely practiced and trained.

Educating yourself on how your body coils in the backswing is critical when working on your swing. Remember, there is no one perfect swing and people have different physiologies. However, coil in a direction that will give you the most efficient swing and prevent injuries.

www.kelleygolf.com

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