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Hunt: Advanced break down of Tiger’s stats under Harmon, Haney and Foley

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Last week Tiger Woods announced that he was parting ways with instructor Sean Foley. I wanted to examine Tiger’s game over the course of his professional career to get a better understanding of what was going on and what may have caused him to change swing coaches over the years.

Please bear with me as many of the key metrics listed below were not available during these years. Nonetheless, we can still get a pretty good idea of Tiger’s game during the Butch Harmon years.

Butch Harmon years

For starters, he was one of the longest golfers on Tour. This was despite using a steel-shafted driver when most of the Tour had switched to drivers with lighter graphite shafts. The pinnacle of Woods’ success was in 2000; he won nine times including the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and PGA Championship. He ranked second in Driving Distance that season and 54th in Driving Accuracy, which is flat-out incredible.

We also see with his driving that his misses were fairly even. As I researched in a previous column I wrote (http://www.golfwrx.com/115076/the-myth-behind-the-one-way-miss/), there is a large myth about a one-way miss being preferable. Instead, the best drivers on Tour typically do not miss their tee shots in one direction. And the golfers on Tour who do miss heavily to one side are usually struggling with a problem shot they have yet to resolve. For Tiger, there is no imbalance of his missed tee shots.

For the years we have the data, Tiger was a very good iron player. The “Zone play” data is only on shots from the fairway because that is where we had the most complete information for Tiger over the years. This is fine because from a statistical standpoint, shots from the fairway give us the best indicator of a golfer’s iron play. But, we do see that hitting shots from the rough was a large issue for Tiger as he ranked near the bottom on Tour.

The putting data is scarce during this timeframe, but he appeared to putt fairly well in 2003. While ballstriking has a larger influence to success on Tour than putting, every piece of data I’ve researched about the game points to Tiger putting extremely well in 2000.

Hank Haney years

The Haney years are best depicted as a large regression in Tiger’s driving mixed with a tremendous progression with his iron play. There also seemed to be an improvement with his putting.

Tiger was still fairly long off the tee and was generating as much as 124.6 mph of club head speed. While we do not have any hard data on his club head speed under Butch Harmon, it was reported to be around 125 mph during that timeframe. In the Haney years, however, we start to see major issues with Tiger’s accuracy off the tee.

In 2000, Tiger was 54th in fairway percentage and in 2004 he fell to 177th and then 193rd in 2005. He also started to develop a very pronounced right miss bias, which at its worst was at 24 percent of misses to the right rough versus 10 percent to the left rough in 2008.

Furthermore, we start to see not only a dip in Tiger’s club head speed in 2009 and 2010, but we start to see Tiger become more conservative off the tee. The biggest indication is the difference in Tiger’s Driving Distance (measured drives) ranking versus his Driving Distance in all drives measured by a laser. When the “all drives” ranking is noticeably lower than the “measured drives” ranking, it is an indication that the golfer is laying up off the tee more often.

I don’t think any of this is revelatory, as those who watched Tiger during the Haney years saw the issues he had with hitting blocked shots off the tee. And then he played very conservatively off the tee by hitting a lot of 3 woods and 2 irons in order to keep the ball in play. Remember the 2009 PGA Championship, where Tiger lost to Y.E. Yang? Tiger almost never hit driver off the tee in the final round.

Y.E. Yang

Tiger’s iron play during the Haney era is a different story. We can see by his rankings how incredible Tiger was, however, that doesn’t quite give the entire picture. The key area for iron play on Tour are shots from the “Red Zone,” which is 175-to-225 away from the hole. Not only did Tiger rank 1st in 5 out of his 7 years in the Red Zone under Haney, but he often ranked well ahead of the 2nd ranked player.

In 2006, the 2nd-ranked player from the Red Zone was Kenny Perry. Tiger was hitting it 9 percent closer to the hole from the Red Zone than Kenny Perry did that season. In 2007, Ernie Els was the 2nd-ranked player from the Red Zone. Tiger was hitting it 5 percent closer to the cup on average than Els from the Red Zone.

And not only was Tiger becoming an incredible iron player from the fairway, but his play from the rough greatly improved. The numbers and the victories dictate that had to happen because he was finding the rough much more often. Therefore, he had to improve his shots from the rough in order keep winning.

Lastly, we see a very telling and interesting trait of Tiger’s game in his putting metrics. He was generally a good to spectacular putter from 3-to-5 feet, however, he was incredible at making putts from 15-to-25 feet. Typically, Tour players do not rank high or low with any consistency on putts more than 15 feet long. A Tour player who putts poorly from longer than 15 feet one season is likely to progress towards the mean the next season. Conversely, a Tour player who putts well from longer than 15 feet one season is more likely to regress towards the mean the next season.

Tiger, on the other hand, putted fantastic from 15-to-25 feet five seasons in a row: from 2004 to 2008. He slipped in 2009, but countered that by putting superbly on putts longer than 25 feet. This shows that Tiger is at the top of his game when he is making putts from 3-to-5 feet and from 15-to-25 feet. He was very wild off the tee and then became conservative off the tee in the Haney era. So, that will mean more birdie putts from 15-to-25 feet and more par saves from 3-to-5 feet. So when Tiger had his putter working from those distances, he was very difficult to beat.

Sean Foley years

In the Foley years, we see that Tiger’s club head speed decreased, however, we also saw that decrease in club head speed in the 2009 and 2010 seasons when Tiger was still working with Haney. I think it is safe to say that the knee injury certainly took a toll on his club head speed. After the 2011 season, we see that Tiger started to not miss the right all of the time. And his fairway percentage improved nicely to 66th in 2012.

What I find interesting is that Tiger had a very nice season driving the ball in 2012. He was not laying up much off the tee, as his Driving Distance rank on measured drives versus all drives was virtually the same. But, after that successful 2012 season, Tiger started to become incredibly conservative off the tee and was laying up off the tee quite often. His iron play regressed, but it essentially became more human from the incredible iron play during the Haney years. His troubles from the rough also started to come back.

Lastly, Tiger’s putting was good but not elite like it was in many of the seasons under Haney. He still made a lot of 15-to-25 foot putts. In fact, after he won his 4th event of 2013 (The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass), he was ranked No. 1 on putts from 15-to-25 feet, well ahead everybody else. He needed to putt that well from 15-to-25 feet, however, because he was becoming so conservative off the tee that he would leave himself with longer birdie putts than Tour players who were hitting driver off the tee and thus and hitting their approach shots closer to the hole. And since his play from the rough regressed, that required him to make more putts from 3-to-5 feet to save par and he simply could not get that done under Foley.

In summation, Tiger had some incredible parts to his game under Harmon and Haney. His driving under Harmon was at times incredible. His iron play and putting from 15-to-25 feet under Haney was off the charts. The injuries have taken their toll and it has greatly hurt his club head speed. He has further exasperated the matter by becoming extremely conservative off the tee, even when his accuracy greatly improved under Foley.

At this point, Tiger will either need to find a way to rejuvenate himself and regain his club head speed or he will have to change the way he plays the game at 115-to-116 mph club head speed. The numbers already show the effect that his injuries have had on his game. So, any further injuries will just amplify the issues.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Pingback: Interesting article « Thomas Petersson

  2. Kisha

    Sep 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

    PF

  3. marionmg

    Sep 7, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Strokes gained….strokes gained…..strokes gained….

  4. sebastien

    Sep 7, 2014 at 8:36 am

    So… All of them got ‘fired’ following a bad season…
    I could care less who he picks, just hope he gets to enjoy the game again cause all I’ve seen lately is a miserable Tiger

  5. Christosterone

    Sep 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Tiger has won 79 PGA tournaments(106 total)and 14 majors.
    For the record, in 2013 tigers stats:
    5 WINS…thats 5 in one year including the players
    PGA Player of the Year
    PGA Tour Player of the Year
    Vardon Trophy
    Money List Winner
    ………..
    I would say that is pretty impressive and bodes well for his future…
    He is currently recovering a major back surgery so it is expected that he will not be up to form for a minimum of 6 months from his surgery…probably more like a year

  6. Jerome M

    Sep 5, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Lovely article Rich. And yes, there are people who care (unlike the comment made by ‘Booger’).

    In my view, Tiger has lost his ‘energy power’ as a result of the reduction in his range of motion due to his heavy dependency on weight training. This loss of energy has reduced his club head speed. And to make up for the loss of his club head speed and hence distance, he lifts heavy weights. More scar tissue is formed and the cycle continues.

    His accuracy, or lack thereof, off the Tee and with his Irons under Sean is a direct consequence of his improper ‘firing’ sequence and his his improper spine alignment at impact (both down-the-line and frontal).

    The issues above are easy to resolve at any age. He just needs to stop heavy weight training and to remove all scar tissue by visiting a professional who specializes in microfiber reduction. He can do it! He is Tiger Woods.

  7. Booger

    Sep 5, 2014 at 6:29 am

    In the middle of the playoffs and the Ryder cup coming up, your writing about this guy. Nobody cares.

    • DavidOber

      Sep 7, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      I care about Tifwe. Just like I still care about Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Trevino, Watson and all the other living greats. Nice article, sir. Thank you.

      • DavidOber

        Sep 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm

        “Tifwe” was supposed to read, “Tiger.”

  8. Raurie

    Sep 5, 2014 at 2:02 am

    Really great read. I know we don’t have all the metrics from the Harmon era but it interesting to see that Tiger was not necessarily the complete package that we all seem to think he was during that time (myself included). I would love to be able to see his stats for the red, yellow and green zones during the Harmon era.

  9. Jeff

    Sep 4, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    This is probably going to strike some as an inappropriate comment, but there’s a real basis for my hypothesis. I think Tiger’s club head speed and accuracy both fell of when he lost the ability to perform the favored “core strengthening regimen” of athletes and men since the beginning of time. The scandal of ’10 cost him in many ways, the least reported of which is he couldn’t possibly have had the same Wilt-Chamberlain like prolific pace with the ladies. It may make some blush, but there’s not much better for core strength, and core strength is great for golf.

  10. James

    Sep 4, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks for that, Rich. In Haney’s book he said that Woods had trouble adapting to the new less spinny balls when they came out and shots which previously had drawn back to the middle of the fairway with his driver stopped doing it with new balls. He had to exaggerate the path/face relationship to get it to come back and became less accurate.

  11. JBH

    Sep 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    One particular thing I’ve noticed since Tiger started with Foley is that he doesn’t seem to have the artistry/arsenal of shots he used to have. I realize a new swing will take time to develop these shots but I remember when Tiger would spray the ball all over the park off the tee and then hit some ridiculous recovery shot that made your jaw hit the ground. He seems to be very limited with his options now and unless he’s in the short grass he’s having to lay up and scramble for par.

  12. TheFightingEdFioris

    Sep 4, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    I learned a little… But I certainly reaffirmed that Tiger Woods with an iron in his hand is the greatest of all time. He’s got Hogan’s low ones, he’s got Nicklaus’s high ones, and everything in between. Loved watching him hit all nine shots under Haney, what a joy. Hope he goes back to being an artist, like that.

  13. West

    Sep 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Is it also possible that athletes generally taper-off over the years too???

    • TheFightingEdFioris

      Sep 4, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Most of the other great players of Tiger’s generation have played their best golf at this age.. Ernie was great in 2010 and won the Open in ’12. Furyk continues to be on the leaderboard every week. Vijay was unreal at 40. Phil won an Open and contended in countless other majors.
      But I will admit… this horse (or cat, if you will) has a ton of miles on it.

      • Jake

        Sep 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        Driving/Iron play declines quickly for guys from the late 30s, especially into the 40s. Check the 3rd/5th graphs here (http://golfanalytics.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/aging-curves-for-scrambling-and-driving-distance/).

        And I strongly disagree that most of his contemporaries have had their best years in their 40s. Phil isn’t the overall player he was in the mid 2000s (when he was ~35). He’s won a major after 40, but his overall game has declined from top five to more like top 20. Same with Ernie. He was top five in the world in his 30s; he’s declined to a shell of that guy since. Lee Westwood’s not anything like the guy he was in his late 30s. Retief Goosen was great in his late 30s, now he’s anonymous. Padraig Harrington hasn’t been the same since he turned 40. Robert Allenby, a hugely underrated ball-striker, has been awful since turning 40. Greg Norman was completely cooked by age 42-43. etc, etc, etc.

        The list of contemporaries who genuinely have played their best golf after 40 is Stricker and Vijay. Furyk has managed to stay about the same.

  14. Chris

    Sep 4, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I love these statistical looks at things. Keep up the stellar work!

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Geoff Shackelford and Louis Oosthuizen join our 19th Hole podcast

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Louis Oosthuizen and Geoff Shackelford join our 19th Hole this week. Oosthuizen talks about his prospects for the 2018 season, and Shackelford discusses Tiger’s setback at the 2018 Genesis Open. Also, host Michael Williams talks about the PGA Tour’s charitable efforts in the wake of tragic events in Parkland, Florida.

Listen to the podcast below on SoundCloud, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Fantasy Preview: 2018 Honda Classic

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It’s off to Florida this week for the Honda Classic, as the lead up to the year’s first major continues. PGA National has been the permanent home of this event since 2007, and it has proved to be one of the most demanding courses on Tour since then. The golf course measures just under 7,200 yards, but it is the often blustery conditions combined with the copious amount of water hazards that make this event a challenge. There is also the added factor of “The Bear Trap,” a daunting stretch of holes (Nos. 15-17) that are arguably the most difficult run of holes we will see all year on the PGA Tour.

Ball strikers have excelled here in the past, with Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy all boasting fine records at PGA National. The par-70 golf course contains six long Par 4’s that measure over 450 yards, and players will be hoping that the wind isn’t too strong — when it does blow here, the course can turn into a brute. Last year, Rickie Fowler posted 12-under par to win the event by four strokes over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland. It was the first time in the last five years that the winning score reached double digits.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Rickie Fowler 8/1
  • Rory McIlroy 10/1
  • Justin Thomas 11/1
  • Sergio Garcia 18/1
  • Tyrrell Hatton 28/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 30/1
  • Gary Woodland 30/1

Previous champions Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are sure to be popular picks this week, but it’s Justin Thomas (11/1, DK Price $11,300) who I feel offers slightly more value out of the front runners. Thomas has begun the year well, finishing in the top-25 in all four events he has played. The numbers show that his game is getting better all the time. His iron play has steadily improved, picking up more Strokes for Approaching the Green week by week. Last week he gained six strokes approaching the green at the Genesis Open, which was fourth in the field.

At the ball strikers’ paradise, Thomas fans will be glad to know that he ranks fourth in the field for Ball Striking over his last 12 rounds. He is also ranked fourth for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and second in Strokes Gained Total. Comparatively, neither Fowler nor McIlroy rank inside the top-50 for ball striking and the top-40 for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over the same period.

Thomas’ accuracy on his approaches has been sensational lately. He leads the field in Proximity to the Hole for his past 12 rounds, and on a golf course that contains many long par 4’s it should play into Justin’s hands, as he’s been on fire recently with his long irons. He is third in the field for Proximity on Approaches Between 175-200 yards, and second in the field for Approaches Over 200 yards in his last 12 rounds. Thomas has a mixed record at PGA National, with a T3 finish wedged in between two missed cuts, but I like the way his game has been steadily improving as the season has progressed. It feels like it’s time for the current PGA Champion to notch his first win of the year.

On a golf course where ball striking is so important, Chesson Hadley (55/1, DK Price $7,700) caught my eye immediately. The North Carolina native has been in inspired form so far in this wraparound season with four finishes already in the top-5. The way he is currently striking the ball, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see him get his fifth this week. Hadley is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and Ball Striking, while he is No. 2 for Strokes Gained Total over his last 24 rounds.

Having taken last week off, Hadley returns to a golf course where he has finished in the Top-25 twice in his three visits. Yet there is a sense that this year he’ll be aiming even higher than that. Chesson is fifth in this field for Proximity to the Hole from 175-200 yards and fourth overall over the past 24 rounds. With that level of accuracy on such a tricky golf course, Hadley will be confident of putting himself in position to claim win No. 2.

My next pick was a slow sell, but with the number so high I couldn’t leave him out. Adam Scott (55/1, DK Price $7,700) has been struggling for some time now. He has slipped out of the World’s Top-50, changed his putter from the short putter to the long putter and back again over the winter break, and he doesn’t have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the FedEx St. Jude Classic last summer. Despite all of this, I don’t feel Scott should be as high as 66/1 with some bookmakers on a golf course where he has excelled. To put it in perspective, Scott is the same price to win this week in a modest field as he is to win The Masters in April.

There are also signs that Scott blew off some of the rust last week in LA. The Australian was 12th in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, which indicates that things might slowly be coming around for a man who is known for his prodigious ball striking. Scott’s achilles heel is the flat stick, and I wouldn’t expect that to change this week. He’s been very poor on the greens for some time now, which must be incredibly frustrating for a man who gives himself so many looks at birdie. But average putters have performed well at PGA National in the past, where it seems that excellent ball striking is the key for having a good week. Scott won here in 2016, and on his two other visits to PGA National in the past five years he twice finished in the top-15. If he can continue to improve his iron play the way he has been, I feel he could forge his way into contention.

My long shot this week is Sean O’Hair (200/1, DK Price $6,800). The Texan hasn’t done much so far this year, but he is making cuts and he arrives at a course that seems to bring out the best in him. O’Hair has five top-25 finishes in his last seven appearances at PGA National, which includes a T11 at last year’s edition. At 200/1 and with a DK Price of as little as $6,800, there is little harm in taking a chance on him finding that form once more this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Justin Thomas 11/1, DK Price $11,300
  • Chesson Hadley 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Adam Scott 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Sean O’Hair 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Opinion & Analysis

Don’t Leave Your Common Sense in Escrow Outside the Golf Course Parking Lot

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Disclaimer: Much of what follows is going to come off as elitist, harsh and downright mean spirited — a pro looking down from his ivory tower at all the worthless hacks and judging them. It is the opposite. The intent is to show how foolish WE golfers are, chasing around a white ball with a crooked stick and suspending all of the common sense we use in our every day lives.

Much of what follows is not just the bane of average golfers, but also low handicappers, tour players and even a former long-drive champion during his quest for the PGA Tour… and now, the Champions Tour. In other words, if WE take ourselves a bit less seriously and use a bit more common sense, we are going to have more fun and actually hit better golf shots. We will shoot lower scores.

FYI: All of the examples of nutbaggery to come are things I have actually witnessed. They’re not exaggerated for the sake of laughs.

It’s winter time and most of you poor souls are not enjoying the 70-degree temperatures I am in Southern California right now (see, you all hate me already… and it’s going to get worse). That gives us all time to assess our approach to golf. I am not talking course management or better focus; I am talking how WE golfers approach our successes and failures, which for many is more important than the aforementioned issues or the quality of our technique.

Why is it that golf turns normal, intelligent, successful and SANE people into deviant, ignorant failures that exhibit all of the tell-tale signs of insanity? I also forgot profane, whiny, hostile, weak-minded, weak-willed and childish. Not to mention stupid. Why do we seem to leave our common sense and sanity in escrow in a cloud outside the golf course parking lot… only to have it magically return the moment our car leaves the property after imposing extreme mental anguish on ourselves that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (don’t feel bad if you have to google this) would find extreme?

Smarter people than I have written books on this, but I think they missed a key factor. Clubs, balls, shoes, bags, gloves, tees, the grasses, especially the sand in the bunkers, the Gatorade they sell at the snack bar, hats, visors, over-logoed clothing, golf carts, etc., are all made with human kryptonite. Not enough to kill us, but just enough to make us act like children who didn’t get the latest fad toy for Christmas and react by throwing a hissy fit.

Bob Rotella has said golf is not a game of perfect, and although religious texts say man was made in God’s image, thinking we are perfect is blasphemous. We all play golf like we think there is an equivalent of a bowling 300. We expect to hit every drive 300 yards (the bowling perfect) with a three-yard draw… in the middle of the face… in the dead center of the fairway. All iron shots must be worked from the middle of the green toward the pin and compressed properly with shaft lean, ball-first contact and the perfect dollar-bill sized divot (and not too deep). Shots within 100 yards from any lie should be hit within gimme range, and all putts inside 20 feet must be holed.

We get these ideas from watching the best players in the world late on Sunday, where all of the above seem commonplace. We pay no attention to the fact that we are significantly worse than the guys who shot 76-76 and missed the cut. We still hold ourselves to that ridiculous standard.

  • Group 1: “Monte, you’re exaggerating. No one has those expectations.”
  • Group 2: ”Monte, I’m a type-A personality. I’m very competitive and hard on myself.”

To the first group, the following examples say different. And to the second group, I am one of you. It’s OK for me to want to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line, but at 50 years old and 40 pounds over weight, what would you say to me if I said, “I’m type-A and competitive and I want to dunk like Lebron James!” Oh yeah, and I want to copy Michael Jordan’s dunking style, Steph Curry’s shooting stroke and Pistol Pete’s passing and dribbling style.” That seems ridiculous, but switch those names to all-time greats in golf and WE have all been guilty of those aspirations.

I don’t know how to answer 18-handicaps who ask me if they should switch to blades so they can work the ball better and in both directions. The blunt a-hole in me wants to tell them, “Dude, just learn to hit the ball on the face somewhere,” but that’s what they read in the golf magazines. You’re supposed to work the ball from the middle of the green toward the pin, like Nicklaus. Well, the ball doesn’t curve as much now as it did in Nicklaus’ prime and most tour players only work the ball one way unless the circumstances don’t allow it. “And you’re not Jack Nicklaus.” Some joke about Jesus and Moses playing golf has that punch line.

Wouldn’t it be easier to get as proficient as possible at one shot when you have limited practice time, versus being less than mediocre on several different shots? This also applies to hitting shots around the greens 27 different ways, but don’t get me started…just buy my short game video. Hyperbole and shameless plug aside, this is a huge mistake average golfers make. They never settle on one way of doing things.

The day the first white TaylorMade adjustable driver was released, I played 9 holes behind a very nice elderly couple. He went to Harvard and she went to Stanford. He gets on the first tee and hits a big push. He walks to the cart, grabs his wrench and closes the club face. She tops her tee shot, gets the wrench and adds some loft. Out of morbid curiosity, I stayed behind them the entire front 9 and watched them adjust their clubs for every mishit shot. It took over 3 hours for a two-some. These are extremely nice, smart and successful people and look what golf did to them. Anyone calling this a rules violation, have a cocktail; you’re talking yourself even more seriously than they were. Old married couple out fooling around, big deal if they broke a rule. No tournament, not playing for money, they’re having fun. They had gimmies, mulligans and winter rules. Good for them.

This is an extreme example of a huge mistake that nearly 100 percent of golfers make; they believe the need for an adjustment after every bad shot… or worse, after every non-perfect shot. How many of you have done this both on the range and on the course?

”(Expletive), pushed that one, need to close the face. (Expletive), hit that one thin, need to hit down more on this one. (Expletive), hooked that one, need to hold off the release.”

I’ll ask people why they do this and the answer is often, “I’m trying to build a repeatable swing.”

Nice. Building repeatable swing by making 40 different swings during a range session or round of golf. That is insane and stupid, but WE have all done it. The lesson learned here is to just try and do better on the next one. You don’t want to make adjustments until you have the same miss several times in a row. As a secondary issue, what are the odds that you do all of the following?

  1.  Diagnose the exact swing fault that caused the bad shot
  2.  Come up with the proper fix
  3.  Implement that fix correctly in the middle of a round of golf with OB, two lakes, eight bunkers and three elephants buried in the green staring you in the face.

Another factor in this same vein, and again, WE have all been guilty of this: “I just had my worst round in three weeks. What I was doing to shoot my career low three times in row isn’t working any more. Where is my Golf Digest? I need a new tip.”

Don’t lie… everyone reading this article has done that. EVERYONE! Improvement in golf is as far from linear as is mathematically possible. I have never heard a golfer chalk a high score up to a “bad day.” It’s always a technique problem, so there is a visceral need to try something different. “It’s not working anymore. I think I need to do the Dustin Johnson left wrist, the Sergio pull-down lag, the Justin Thomas downswing hip turn, the Brooks Koepka restricted-backswing hip turn and the Jordan Spieth and Jamie Sadllowski bent left elbow… with a little Tiger Woods 2000 left-knee snap when I need some extra power.” OK, maybe it’s a small bit of exaggeration that someone would try all of these, but I have heard multiple people regale of putting 2-3 of those moves in after a bad round that didn’t mesh with their downtrending index.

An 8-handicap comes to me for his first lesson. He had shot in the 70’s four of his last five rounds and shot a career best in the last of the five. All of the sudden, those friendly slight mishits that rhyme with the place where we keep our money show up. First a few here and there and then literally every shot. He shows up and shanks 10 wedges in a row and is literally ready to cry. I said, “Go home, take this week off and come back… and what’s your favorite beer?”

He comes back the next week, pulls a club and goes to hit one. I tell him to have a seat. I hand him a beer and we talk football for 15 minutes. Then I pull out my iPad and show him exactly why he is hitting shanks. I tell him one setup issue and one intent change and ask him to go hit one. It was slightly on the heel, but not a shank and very thin. I said to do both changes a bit more. The second one — perfect divot, small draw and on target. I walk over, put my hand up for a high five and say, “Awesome job! Great shot!”

He leaves me hanging and says, ”Yeah, but I hit it in the toe.”

Don’t judge him. Every day I have people with 50-yard slices toned down to 15-20 yards saying the ball is still slicing. These are people who won’t accept a fade, but slam their club when it over draws 15 feet left of the target… and so on. I can’t judge or be angry; I used to be these guys, too. During a one-hour lesson, I often hear people get frustrated with themselves for thin and fat, left and right, heel and toe. Apparently, anything not hunting flags or hit out of a dime-sized area is an epic fail. I also get emails the next day saying the fault and miss is still there.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

My big miss has always been a big block, often in the heel. Instead, I now often hit a pull in the left fairway bunker out of the toe. I celebrate like I’m Kool & the Gang and it’s 1999… and I get strange looks from everyone. I can manage a 10-15 yard low, slightly drawn pull. I cannot not manage a 40-50 yard in the atmosphere block… that cuts.

So, now that I have described all of US as pathetic, let’s see what we can do.

  1. Be hard on yourself, be competitive and set lofty goals all you want… but you need to accept at least a one-side miss. If you hate hitting thin, weak fades, you need to allow yourself a slightly heavy over draw. Not allowing yourself any miss will make you miss every shot.
  2. Generally, the better the player, the larger the pool of results that are used to judge success. Pros judge themselves over months and years. High-handicappers judge themselves on their previous shot. Do you think pros make a swing change after 10 good shots and one minor miss? We all seem to think that course of action is astute. Bad shot, must have done something wrong… HULK MUST FIX!
  3. Don’t judge your shots on a pass/fail grade. Grade yourself A-F. Are you going to feel better after 10 A’s, 25 B’s, 15 C’s, 4 D’s and 1 F… or 10 passes and 40 fails? If every non-perfect shot is seen as a failure, your subconscious will do something different in order to please you. Again, 40 different swings.
  4. Improving your swing and scores is a lot like losing weight. No one expects to make changes in a diet and exercise routine and lose 20 pounds in one day, yet golfers expect a complete overhaul in a small bucket. Give yourself realistic time frames for improvement. “I’m a 12. By the end of next year, I want to be an 8.”  That’s your goal, not whether or not your last range session was the worst in a month. It’s a bad day; that is allowed. Major champions miss cuts and all of them not named Tiger Woods don’t change their swings. They try and do better next week… and they nearly always do.
  5. DO NOT measure yourself either on the mechanics of your swing or your scoring results according to some arbitrary standard of perfection… and especially not against tour players. Measure yourself against yourself. Think Ty Webb. Is your swing better than it was 6 months ago? Do you hit it better than 6 months ago? Are you scoring better than 6 months ago? If you can say yes to at least two of those questions, your swing looking like Adam Scott is less relevant than the color of golf tee you use.

That is a winning formula, and just like bad habits in your swing, you can’t wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re no longer into self flagellation. It takes effort and practice to improve your approach and get out of your own way… but more importantly, have some fun.

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