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A simple scoring system to record statistics

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I frequently get asked the question, “What statistics can I use to measure my entire game?”

The issue is that while there are many advanced methods of statistics to use, they are often very cumbersome and golfers tend to forget to record their score, take too long to record the metrics, or end up inaccurately recording their metrics. That leads to a skewed analysis of their game.

I’ve done countless hours of research on the game, and usually have a pretty good idea on how I performed in each area after a round, but I still use certain metrics to assist with that analysis so I can schedule my practice accordingly.

One of the main scores I like to keep is a metric I created in the 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis called the 15/5 Score. The scoring system goes like this:

  • Give yourself +1 point if your par save is within 5 feet of the hole.
  • Give yourself +2 points if you have a birdie opportunity inside 15 feet of the hole.
  • Give yourself +3 points if you have an eagle opportunity inside 15 feet of the hole.
  • Take away -3 points if your par save is not within 5 feet of the hole.

For bogey shooters, you can alter this score by giving yourself +1 point if your bogey putt is within 5 feet of the hole and use that as the baseline.

I also only give one set of points for each hole. If I have a 12-foot birdie putt and hit the putt 6-feet past the cup, I only give myself +2 points for the birdie putt inside 15 feet.  This is important to note because we can better decipher our putting skill using this methodology. I will go into that later in this article.

Another thing I like to keep track of is what I call “impedes.” These are any of the following:

  • Ball goes O.B.
  • Ball goes into the water
  • Ball goes into a fairway bunker
  • Ball goes into the tall rough
  • Ball goes into the trees
  • Anytime I have to hit above, below or around a tree
  • Ball ends up in a divot
  • Ball is plugged in a greenside bunker
  • Ball goes into the greenside bunker on a par-3

I call them impedes because these are all shots where advancing the ball is impeded.  Even if I’m behind a tree and can fairly easily clear the tree and put the ball on the green, I consider that an impede because that tree is still obstructing my advancement of the ball to the hole. 

As far as the ball going into a divot, it is about things that impede your advancement to the hole, not about what is fair. You will find that when you can limit your impedes, you will often shoot a much better score than you typically would performing the same way from tee to green.

The other metrics I keep are:

  • Fairway Hit
  • Green In Regulation Hit
  • Scramble
  • Putts on the Hole

I am NOT a big fan of those metrics because they are woefully incomplete and misleading. But, combined with your total score, impedes and the 15/5 Score, we can better deduct how well we performed in certain parts of the game. These aren’t time consuming or cumbersome, but they can be very helpful metrics to record.  

Here is an analysis of the points system of a recent round I completed. I will give my analysis of each round as well:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 5.09.08 PM

Click the table to enlarge.

With the 15/5 Score, typically +10 will equate to around even par. This in part makes the analytics fairly easy; if the 15/5 score is at +10 and I shot above par, then we know that it was likely due to short game and putting miscues. Conversely, if I shoot even par and have a 15/5 score of less than +10, then we know that I was likely getting hot with the putter. 

If I were to make a 25-foot putt for birdie, my 15/5 score would only be +1, but I still made the birdie. On the flip side, if I hit a chip shot to 3 feet and miss the putt and make bogey, my 15/5 score is still +1 and hence it helps dictate how well we are striking the ball versus how well we are putting.

In the scenario above, it is a little less clear since I shot 73 (2-over par), but had a 15/5 score of +6. This would indicate that my ball striking and short game/putting were in balance. Given that I shot a score of 2-over, my 15/5 score should have been around +6. 

My total score was 2-over, so in order to improve upon that it usually means that the ball striking has to improve. When looking at the driving, I hit 9 out of 14 fairways which is not bad. More importantly, I only had two impeded shots. Upon further inspection, I played those holes where I had an impeded shot at -1-under. Therefore, the impeded shots were not overly damaging and I think it is safe to say that my driving was fine for this round, or at least not the reason why I did not break par.

We can then get a better idea of the iron play by looking at the Greens In Regulation (GIR). Since I was hitting the driver fairly well, I should have a good amount of GIR — and I did end up hitting 11 out of 18 Greens. But just as important, we need to look at the corresponding 15/5 scores per hole because hitting it close is more important than finding the green. 

I hit a nice streak of hitting shots close on Nos. 8, 9 and 10 as I hit each shot inside 15 feet and converted the birdie try. Also, notice on the front nine that I had only 13 putts, which would be considered very good, but I had 19 putts on the back nine. That’s considered poor. However, I also hit 7 greens in regulation on the back nine. Furthermore, after the 10th hole, 5 out of the 6 GIR resulted in scores of +1 according to the 15/5 score, which means that I was hitting greens, but not hitting shots very close.

This gives an indication that my putting can stand room for improvement, but I had bigger issues with my performance with the irons. It was a bit windy that day, which makes it difficult to get approach shots close to the hole. But based on this round, I would say that iron play and putting should be given more focus.

Here’s a round from European Tour player Jamie Donaldson at the South Course at Torrey Pines:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 5.16.34 PM

Click the table to enlarge.

We can see that Donaldson’s 15/5 Score was -1, while he shot even par for the round.  Again, since his 15/5 score was low for his score, that indicates that his short game shots around the green and/or his putting was likely very good. And we can see that was clearly the case as Donaldson only hit 5/14 fairways, 10/18 Greens in Regulation and had two impeded shots. 

On the flip side, he only had 27 putts and was 7 of 8 in scramble opportunities. We also see that Donaldson did not strike it well on the front nine, as his 15/5 Score was -10.  On the back nine, however, he was far better as his 15/5 score was +9. 

While I think there is the potential to have more accurate ways to analyze your entire game, I find the method I use to be very simple and practical. For bogey shooters, they can use the same type of 15/5 score, but they may want to alter the scoring system by 1 stroke (i.e. +2 points for a par putt inside 15 feet, +1 point for bogey putt inside 5 feet, etc). This still allows for the bogey golfer to accurately analyze their game, but also stresses the main point of the 15/5 Score — getting the ball closer to the hole.

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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, 2015 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 2015 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Gus

    Mar 25, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Stats keeping should be at a minimum during a round. All I keep is Score / GIR or Score / Putts then after the round I can interpret the results.

    If my score is 5 on a par 5 with 3 putts then I know I reached the green in 2 and 3-putter for par. The good – I can teach a par 5 in 2 with 2 good shots. The bad – 3 putt. It doesn’t matter if I 3-putter within 15 feet or 25 feet – putting is putting and we should always 2-putt to finish.

    If my score was 1 putt on any given hole, then it’s a positive stat regardless if I was putting for a birdie or putting to save triple bogey.

    If I wanted to assign a scoring system for these results, it should be applied after the round, not during!

  2. Drew

    Mar 24, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Good stuff. Not too complicated (despite what others are saying), and gives some good analysis. People could modify this to fit their game as well. Thanks Rich!

  3. Murph

    Mar 23, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I am not entirely sold on how these statistics help an average golfer. I am not hitting it within 15 feet 90% of the time and I am happy to just be on the green or around the green close enough for a chip. I don’t need involved stats to tell me I need to drive the ball in the fairway or avoid penalty strokes. While I appreciate the benefit of stats for a more accomplished player, I just don’t get what they do for a bogey golfer or even a 10 handicap.

    • Jeremy

      Mar 23, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      With all due respect, not every article or tip is for every golfer. Golf goes to great lengths to quantify (to several decimal places) how good you are at hitting a little white ball around a park, and for some people it’s really fun to look at the statistics from a new angle. If you’re not that interested, perhaps you’ll never be all that good, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of us probably fall into that category. It’s all about enjoying yourself, in the end.

      That’s why lot of this has to do with being less hard on yourself as well. It enables you to say “shoot, if only that one aspect of my game hadn’t been off I’d have shot my best round ever.” Makes it easier to swallow that three putt on 18 when you feel like, overall, you’re pretty good at hitting that ball. Maybe then instead of going to the range and pounding balls one night next week you’ll just hit some putts instead, and next weekend it’ll all come together.

  4. Jafar

    Mar 23, 2015 at 11:22 am

    This isn’t bad. A good starting point for others to build off of.

    Thanks for sharing this. I will attempt to make my own scoring system to help analyze and tune parts of my game.

  5. dapadre

    Mar 23, 2015 at 6:00 am

    This to me is analysis paralysis. This may be of great help to that borderline pro or aspiring pro, but the golf enthusiast I doubt. To be honest i have found GIR, Fairways hit, No. putts of greater importance and assistance. Also I used a new device from a friend that charted my shots and after a while I could see which shots were impeding my score of which I needed to work on.

    Also its says simple, Im sorry but I didnt find it simple.

  6. Sean

    Mar 22, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    I used to keep statistics, but found it really didn’t make a difference one way or the other. Now, I only keep my score. It also takes the pressure off if I miss a fairway, green or whatever. I don’t get caught up in my statistics and just play golf.

    • Connor

      Mar 23, 2015 at 1:13 am

      Word.

    • Murph

      Mar 23, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      I agree with you. I think keeping involved stats like this force your mind to focus on the negative things that can happen related to the shot you are about to hit. I do believe in FIR and GIR to a certain extent only because the higher those two numbers…..especially GIR…..the lower my score is.

  7. OG

    Mar 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    Good information, but it’s not too hard too figure out if I shoot 80 and hit 12 greens that my putter was off or didn’t get up and down well that round.

  8. JT

    Mar 21, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Here is my simple system: score goes in the box for the hole, and then, in this same single box, I mark the following
    – check (hit), x (missed), or “OB” in top left for fairway
    – check, x, or OB in top right for green
    – number of putts in bottom right

    This gives new the most relevant stats, and it’s really fast so it keeps me focused on play – not stats or mechanics in round.

  9. ShakeNBake

    Mar 21, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    My last round, I shot even with a 15/5 score of -15 and 7 impediments. Does this mean I am secretly terrible?

  10. Jake Anderson

    Mar 21, 2015 at 10:15 am

    i am sorry, but this system is too complicated.
    i think it would suffice to keep, GIR, and O.B. (which type of shot went O.B.).

  11. RG

    Mar 21, 2015 at 5:16 am

    Check mark=fairway hit
    X= GIR
    U= Up and down
    F= Putt from fringe if holed
    B= Bunker shot holed
    Number of putts and distance
    Score on hole
    It will all fit in the boxes below your score

  12. Tom D

    Mar 21, 2015 at 12:21 am

    I don’t find counting putts very helpful. If I’m chipping onto the green and chipping well, I’ll get the ball close enough to make a 1-putt likely. However, if I’m getting on a lot of greens in regulation, I’m probably landing pretty far from the hole. This means that a 1-putt is very unlikely. In either case, the number of putts says more about my ball-striking than about my putting.

    To give me some real feedback on how I’m putting, I use a variation of “strokes gained – putting”. If my first putt is within 6ft of the hole, a 1-putt is zero strokes gained, a 2-putt is one stroke lost and a 3-putt is two strokes lost. If my first putt is over 6ft from the hole, a 1-putt is one stroke gained, a 2-putt is zero strokes gained and a 3-putt is one stroke lost. Add up all strokes gained and subtract all strokes lost. The total is how well I putted. A positive number is good, a negative number, not so good.

    As you get better, change the dividing line from 6ft to 10ft!

  13. chris franklin

    Mar 20, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I wish my club had “cartboys”
    I’m tired of seeing those floozies

  14. Brutus

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    I keep 2 stats the work for me. When they’re used in combo with the score I card for a hole, it tells me enough that when I look back a year later I can pretty much know exactly how I did. And it’s all estimating as I don’t want to get too anal for exact distances. First is how long the shot that found the green was. The second is the length of my first 2 putts and underline a putt that goes in.

    Say if the distance is 150, I can easily figure out if it was a GIR or had major problems just getting to 150 to hit the green. If it’s 5 yards from off the green I know if my approach(es) sucked. (Used with the putting numbers, I can tell how I’m chipping too.) I can tell all I need by the length of my first 2 putts and if I made one of them. If I 3 putt, I don’t really give a flip about how I “nailed that 3rd stroke from 2-1/2 feet”… since the first 2 tell where the problems of the 3 putt sin lies.

    I don’t see the need to “record” if my drives or approaches go right, left, or worse. Odds are most players know their general tendencies and to work to get accurate stats on that is a waste of time merely to confirm it. And if I don’t see many approaches written down from say outside 120 yards, then I know about where I’m beginning struggling with my irons.

    It shouldn’t hold up the game as it takes me less time to enter up to 3 numbers than for just 1 person in my group to tee off on the next tee… and I can still spot their drive.

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 20, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      I don’t think it is too hard to figure out the distances of 15 feet and 5 feet. If you’re at 5-feet 4-inches and record it as 5-feet, I don’t see it as a travesty of inaccuracy. I think it is easy to record on the course and easy to remember if you’re recording it after the round.

  15. John

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I personally think stats tracking isn’t a reason for slow play. Most GPS apps can keep stats and inserting them takes about a minute, or about the time it takes to cart over from the previous green to the next tee. Slow play is because most people (and I’m guilty of this at times as well) think they’re better than they actually might be, and so each shot matters a bit more than it should. Tourney/professional play, I understand. But there’s absolutely no reason, unless you’re playing for your life, that you should take more than 30 seconds to read a simple putt. Especially when you’re just gonna blow it by 5 feet anyways.

  16. birdeez

    Mar 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    i really don’t see whats not simple about this.

    the explanation is long and involved, but the actual scoring of 15/5 system is as simple as it gets…..unless you were brought up on Common Core math, then you might have some trouble.

    i’ll be giving this a shot

  17. Mat

    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Get GameGolf or Arccos and move on from 20th century stats.

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      I don’t think the 15/5 Score is a ’20th century stat.’ Neither do I think impedes are ’20th century stats.’ I’m not a fan of GIR or even fairways hit. And I feel that with the 15/5 score and your actual score you can get a pretty good idea whether your ballstriking or putting/short game is the issue. But, if you are looking for more detail, then you can use impedes, fwys and GIR to get a better idea of how you performed in driving vs. iron play vs. short game shots around the green vs. putting.

  18. AGF

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:47 am

    This is why it takes 4.5 hours+ to play golf: guys keeping ‘stats’ on the course. Please. If you have to do this, do it at home; it’s not hard to remember later and the other members of your foursome won’t think you’re a nut…

    • me

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      No I think the guys that keep stats are the more serious golfers who are very self aware of their pace of play. The reason you get rounds that take 4.5+ hours is due to the people who don’t understand “ready golf” and stand there at the tee waiting for the guy who parred the last hole, but he’s too busy checking his cell phone. Or the guys who stop the cart girl and take 5 min to get beers. Or the ones who absolutely won’t hit until someone who is 1 yard further hits (even if on the opposite side of the fairway). Or the guys who take 10 minutes at the turn. Or the guy who shanks the ball, and then takes 3 or 4 “post shank” practice swings to diagnose what happened, and then spends all day looking for the ball he shanked.

      I see this stuff every weekend when I’m out with my friends and I find myself constantly saying, just go ahead and hit man. It’s super annoying. And then their excuse is that the people in front of them are slow so they can’t go anywhere.

      • Rich Hunt

        Mar 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm

        I agree with ‘me.’ Recently I had to play a 5-hour 45-minute round and we waited every shot. The guys I were paired up with only played golf about once a year. They certainly weren’t keeping their stats and we were waiting every shot anyway.

        I think the issue is people don’t understand the pace of play and how important it is to let faster players play thru. I think that is the very basic, rudimentary problem to the entire issue. The other big issues I see is that golf balls are expensive and courses are more designed to lose golf balls and people end up searching for them which takes time.

      • Mark Reischer

        Mar 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm

        There is a very good book written about pace of play. There are many factors that contribute to slow play and only 1 of them is the actual golfer. (I think it’s called the Pace of Play Bible, but I don’t remember 100%)

        Other factors include: tee time spacing, location of bathrooms/water stations, cart path routes, is there a beverage cart?, does the beverage cart drive around?, etc, etc

        Usually yes, people play slow but if all other issues were fixed at every single course, even the slow players wouldn’t be holding anybody up

    • rymail00

      Mar 21, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Though I can’t see myself doing this every round, I can’t see how this would add extra time to around. Your marking 6-7 numbers on a scorecard along with your score. If your on the green putting you know if your 5 feet from the hole or outside of it. You don’t have to actually measure or anything that would add extra time. Your either inside the 5 or 15 or not.

      Its to bad. It just seems every article written brings WAAAAAAY more negative posts then then 90% of the threads on WRX. I wonder if it’s because people can use names different from their screen name. This is just a general statement and a response to the post I’m replying to.

  19. Roody

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I think it’s simpler to, and prefer only tracking fairways (hit, left, right, miss), and number of putts. Any more than that and I feel it would take too long, and be more information than most of us would need anyways.

  20. Philip

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:15 am

    I have no issue with stats as long as it takes no thought process to log and works against me staying in the zone. I’ll first add impedes and once I have incorporated that stat, I’ll work on adding the 15/5 or a my own take on it.

    Simple to see how you have down after a round.
    Like it, thanks

  21. Ryan O.

    Mar 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

    May be to complicated for most. I use the strokes gained system. Easy with this website http://www.strokesgainedgolf.com/?logged_in=Yes

    • Rich Hunt

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      There is a multitude of issues with the ‘strokes gained’ formula as the shot gets further from the hole. I had this verified from a PhD in Economics, a PhD in Mathematics and an Ivy League statistics graduate. All of them liked the strokes gained metric for putting, but as the shot is further from the hole, there are too many unaccounted variables that can greatly offset the accuracy of the measurement. For instance, a shot from 100 yards from the rough on 1 hole may be greatly different in terms of difficulty than a shot from 100 yards on another hole. Or that roughly 25% of the par-4’s on Tour have no real benefit to hitting the ball further off the tee because of penalties (hazards, trees, bunkers, etc) that are easier to hit as the ball is hit further off the tee. Also, the conditions of the courses play a large factor as studies done by David Orr show, faster greens generally yield higher make percentages on the green which would greatly alter ‘strokes gained – putting’ from the average amateur that usually plays slower greens. I would imagine the same goes for other conditions as a round recorded by Steve Marino at a local muni course showed where Marino ‘only’ shot 68 (-4) and said (paraphrasing) ‘I would likely never go real low at a muni course because the conditions make the course too unpredictable.’

  22. Ryan S.

    Mar 20, 2015 at 10:33 am

    This is simple!?

    • me

      Mar 20, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      The scoring itself is pretty simple and shouldn’t hinder your round while playing. The analysis takes some brain power. But seems worth it if you really want to understand what’s going on with your game. I may give it a try for a few rounds

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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