As a teacher, I’m always investigating ways to help my players become more proficient both on the golf course and within their practice time. That’s why I am so excited to have come across one of the best books ever written on the subject of golf improvement, Mark Broadie’s Every Shot Counts, and if you are serious about moving your game to the next level I highly recommend that you find the time to read it.
Every Shot Counts tells the story of how conventional golf stats that we have all kept at one time or another can be misleading and can hamper your improvement. One of my favorite examples in the book is when Brody discusses the putts per round stat and how it can be flawed. Think about it: putts per round does not take into account the fact that many of a golfer’s putts might come after a chip shot, not an iron shot, and it doesn’t factor in how long or how short a putt is.
Brody suggests many other ways to look at putting in an effort to improve your approach and improve your scores. In this article, I’d like to show you how you might be diligently practicing your putting, but doing it in such a way that you are not improving as fast as you could or not improving at all!
There are two goals that every player should focus on while working on their putting:
- One-putting more often from the statistical distances that makes sense to your level of play.
- Eliminating three putts from the statistical distances that make sense to your level of play.
Here’s a chart that shows the probability of one-putting from different distances depending on a golfer’s ability level:
Let’s examine a few of the data points in more detail:
- For all players, any putt inside 2 feet is almost a guaranteed make.
- For better players, 3-foot putts are almost a given unless something radical happens.
- For golfers who shoot in the 90’s, 3-foot putts start to become an issue (84 percent success rate).
- Between 5 and 8 feet, a tour professional’s proficiency drops off dramatically.
- Between 5 to 8 feet, scratch golfers begin to show their putting weakness.
- Outside of 5 feet, 90’s shooters have extreme difficulty one-putting.
- At 10 feet, tour professional only make 40 percent of their putts.
- At 20 feet, a 90’s shooter isn’t half as good as a scratch golfer, but the difference between a scratch player and a tour pro is a mere 1 percent.
The numbers show that tour pros should focus their practice on 8-to-10-foot putts and 90’s shooters are better off practicing putts of 4-to-10 feet. 90’s shooters should forget working on longer putts, with one putting short putts being their only goal.
Here’s a chart that shows the probability of golfers of different ability levels three-putting from different distances:
Let’s examine the data points in more detail:
- Lag putting work from 20 feet and in is basically a waste of time for the tour pro and scratch player.
- The idea of lag putting for 90’s shooters should begin at 20-to-25 feet.
- For the tour pro and scratch player, the thought of lag putting should begin around 40 feet.
- 50-to-60-foot putts for the average golfer spell “three putt.”
For the levels we have discussed, here’s the synopsis.
The tour pro does not have much to worry about until he gets to 50 feet, and if he can get the ball inside 8 feet on those putts he has a good chance of converting a two-putt. Secondly, on normal tour greens (a.k.a. not Augusta), a tour pro should not have that much trouble lagging the ball within 8 to 10 feet on even on the most difficult breaking putts, which still gives him a good chance to convert his two-putt.
Based on the data, tour pros should work on putts from 8 to 10 feet as well as those outside of 50 feet to use of their most effectively. .
Again, you can see that beginning around 55 to 60 feet tour pros need to become focused on lagging the ball close. However, these players have a buffer that’s unlike what you will see with the 90’s shooters. The 90’s shooters only make putts that are inside 5 feet 66 percent of the time. That’s why 90’s shooters should focus on becoming better short putters within the 5-to-10-foot range. Those putts will be much more important to their score than the putts they hit from 15-to-45 feet.
The 90’s shooters should instantly go into “lag mode” from 20 feet out, ensuring that they have the proper feel to snuggle the ball close to the hole from longer distances. Remember that the proficiency of the 90’s shooters from shorter distances basically states that until they get the ball within 5 feet, they will miss more than half their second putts.
So the key for the 90’s shooters is to become more proficient from 6-to-10 feet so that they have a better chance from longer ranges. As a 90’s shooter, if you don’t get your putts from 40 feet and out into a 5-foot circle around the hole, your chances of two putting diminishes greatly. That’s the pressure poor short putting puts on the lag putting for average golfers.
I hope by now you have seen the importance of understanding how to use the stats you can derive from charting your game based on the data provided by Broadie’s book.
The book also goes over stats for all parts of the game that you will find useful, but the one-versus-three-putting stuff hit me like a hammer. I, like you, practiced and wanted to become the best I could be, but it’s data like this that makes me just cringe thinking about how many wasted hours I spent on things that weren’t very statistically relevant to the big picture.
I hope this story saves you an hour or two during your life of golf!
How-to Series: How to move your hips on the backswing
This is the first installment in our How To Series — follow this plan to master the movements of the hips on the backswing!
This new series is all about helping you improve your golf swing quickly. We’re going to break the swing down into its component parts and give you specific practice direction — master these key elements of the swing and you’ll see improvement fast!
How “long arms” at the top of the backswing can help you hit the ball farther
One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to make a big shoulder turn with extended arms at the top. It’s the swing of a younger golfer! However, every one of us can add width at the top so we can hit it further, but few know how to actually do so. In this article, I will use MySwing 3D Motion Analysis to help you understand how beneficial long arms are at the top.
As you examine the swing of this particular player, you will notice that the lead arm is “soft” and the hands are close to this player’s head at the top. This is the classic narrow armswing to the top that most older players employ. And as we all know this position leaves yardage in the bag!
Now let’s look at the data so we can see what is actually happening…
At the top you can see that the shoulders have turned 100 degrees which is more than enough, but the arms look jammed and narrow at the top. Why?
The answer lies within the actions of the rear arm, the lead arm is only REACTING to the over-bending of the rear elbow. As you can see at the top the rear elbow is bent 60 degrees. In a perfect world, when the rear elbow is at 90 degrees (a right angle) or more, the lead arm will be mostly straight — depending on how you’re built.
Something to note…in this position the hands are just past the chest and the shoulders have turned almost 90 degrees. However, when this player finished his backswing, he added 30 more degrees of rear elbow bend and only 11 more degrees of shoulder turn! What this means is that for the last quarter of the backswing, all this player did is allow the hands to basically collapse to the top of the backswing. This move is less than efficient and will cause major issues in your downswing sequencing, as well as, your transitional action.
As stated when your trail elbow stays at 90 degrees or wider in route to the top, you will have a much straighter lead arm.
One last thing to note when comparing these two players is that this player two had a shorter backswing length but a BIGGER shoulder turn with WIDER arms at the top, giving this player a short compact motion that resembles Adam Scott — which seems to work for he and Butch!
Therefore, the thing to remember is that if your lead arm is soft at the top and your arms look crowded at the top, then you must fix the over-bending of the rear elbow on the backswing. And if you have wider arms you will have a more solid “package” to become a ballstriking machine!
Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter
Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.
The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.
In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.
And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.
Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.
As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.
Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.
Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.
This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.
So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.
- Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
- Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
- Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
- Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
- Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.
While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.
When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.
And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,
“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”
Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.
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