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Ingredients for better golf? Crunch the numbers

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I got an email the other day from a golfer looking to dig into his game and really make an effort to shave a few shots off his handicap. He sent me a detailed description of his game and how he perceived it: pretty good with the driver, decent short game, need to get better with the irons, etc.

The trouble with this interpretation? He, like most golfers, was merely guessing.

To improve as fast as possible, golfers need raw statistical data from their rounds (competitive rounds, if possible) before they can get a true picture of the state of their game. This has nothing to do with golf swing fundaments; it’s simply an assessment of how golfers play the game, where they score and where they struggle.

With the help of a couple new companies and a launch monitor, golfers can get very specific about where they need to improve.

1. Measure

To get better, golfers need to know exactly what is happening on the golf course. I’m no different than anyone else; I can sit on the range and hit shot after shot, yet when I go to the course things are different. You won’t know what is different until you measure, and you need a good way to measure — more than just your score.

The guys at Birdiefire have done a great job providing a service to do just that. You’ll have to set aside 5-10 minutes after the round to input your data, but the information you’re going to get will be extremely helpful. I pay for the service because I think the company is good at what it does. If it can help me, maybe it can help you, too. And there are several other companies that offer similar products.

Below is what the round entry interface looks like, and you will see one of these for each hole.

better-user-interface

Entering a round on Birdiefire from a laptop/desktop.

Take a look at the picture below. From a report, you can analyze approach shot data over a period of time, the distance window to the hole, the amount of attempts, and the average to a par of 3 from that window.

approach

Analytics report from Birdiefire

There’s a ton of great information, but a few things stick out to me. From 201-210 yards, the average is 3.1 in 21 attempts. From 71-80 yards, the average with roughly the same amount of attempts is a touch higher at 3.15. This player is averaging the same score from 71-80 yards as he is from 201-210 yards, which we know leaves a huge opportunity for improvement.

2. Make A Plan

Once you’ve got some great information like this, the road to actually improving gets very clear. In continuing the example above, this player would not only look at his technique, but also his strategy and decision making on the golf course. It’s tough to talk about fundamentals because every golfer is different, but using Trackman and data sets from the exact yardage windows give you get a pretty clear picture of what you should be doing from a strategy standpoint.

Trackman gives golfers great information about their tendencies when they track a group of shots. The picture shows the Trackman results of a college player hitting 20 shots with an 8 iron. From a flat lie and with the same club over and over, the dispersion will be as small as it’s going to get. In other words, this will be the tightest dispersion of shots you could or would expect with the same club over time.

better4

The pink ring represents the edge of the green

What does this look like on the golf course? If this player was aware of his dispersion, more shots missing left than right, then he’d pick an 8 iron, use the aim line in the image and theoretically have a very high probability of not missing the green. I think intuitively we all are aware of aiming away from a flagstick that is next to water or a bunker. Using the dispersion of shots, be aware of your tendencies so you can use the information on the golf course to maximize your chances of hitting the green. In a one-off situation, you may need to birdie the last hole or alter your strategy, but over the course of a season, if you can save 0.25 shots per round — that’s one shot a tournament — and on the PGA Tour that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A friend of mine, Scott Fawcett, has done some great work in this area, and his players have already won a U.S. Junior Championship and an NCAA Division I stroke play title. He also teaches golfers on the Web.com and PGA tours. If you’d like more in-depth information about what Scott does you can check him out at playinglesson.com.

3. Execute and Repeat

You’ve got great statistical information about what is happening on the golf course from Birdiefire, great information about dispersion patterns and carry distances of your clubs with Trackman… now the last part is the most difficult. It’s executing your new plan/strategy.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood over a shot in a tournament, aimed 10 yards away from a flagstick and on the downswing decided to hold off the face or rotate it over to get the ball to go toward the flag I’m aiming away from. Sometimes it worked out fine, but many times I paid the price.

Remember, playing golf is very different than working on your golf swing fundamentals. The decisions you make on the golf course, the strategy you choose to implement, and the way you spend your time practicing all will have an impact on the scores you shoot. Don’t guess at what you can measure, and use those measurements to drive improvement.

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Rob earned a business degree from the University of Washington. He turned professional in June of 1999 and played most mini tours, as well as the Australian Tour, Canadian Tour, Asian Tour, European Tour and the PGA Tour. He writes for GolfWRX to share what he's learned and continues to learn about a game that's given him so much. www.robrashell.com Google Plus Director of Instruction at TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale www.touracademy.com

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Jul 9, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I just wanna beer after my 81.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Speedy,

      Maybe we can track which beer helps you play best in your next round, would it shape your beer choice? Big IPA fan personally.

      Cheers

      Rob

  2. mat69

    Jul 9, 2015 at 11:54 am

    any suggestions for a Uk version?
    Thanks

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 10, 2015 at 9:34 am

      Mat,

      Birdiefire works nicely in the UK as well, a little bit of work to get everything up and running, and from there you should get some great feedback. Good Luck!

      Rob

  3. Ken

    Jul 8, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Even if you had to make 18 photocopies of the image with all the questions on it, and fill one out with your scoring pencil while you’re playing each hole, it’d be worth it. And if you’re half-ways coordinated, you wouldn’t be “slowing down the game,” so there’s no argument there. This also takes away the excuse of “remembering all that info after a round.” Being manly men (for those of us who are men), putting pencil to paper a little more often in order to improve our enjoyment of the game should not be a big chore. I heartily approve.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Ken,

      Thanks for the vote of confidence on this one, at the very least, tracking your game forces you to reflect, or think, about what is really happening on the golf course.

      All the best with your golf!

      Rob

  4. Dave S

    Jul 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Biggest problem here is remembering all that info after a round. Unless you track your club on an app right after the shot (or hole) it’s tough. Gamegolf and Arccos both are good, but still in beta phase IMO… i’ve read about too many kinks in both systems to make me want to plop down $300 for either of them yet… but I have no doubt that’s the future of golf stat tracking.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      Dave,

      I’ve always looked at what the best teams and players are using most, two stat platforms stick out, Birdiefire, and homemade versions of Mark Broadie’s strokes gained data. No question you’ll spend a little bit of time entering rounds, I always felt going the little extra mile gave me an edge on the people I was trying to beat. Didn’t mean I’d beat them, I just felt like I was preparing better/practicing better, etc.

      All the best!

      Rob

  5. Peakation

    Jul 8, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Gamegolf will do this “automatically”. Same with other shot trackers out there like Arccos. Several apps as well. Gamegolf’s app is free. Nice web interface will give you all the stats.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Peak,

      All depends on willingness to use the plugs on the butt end of the grip, in my playing days would have been hesitant in using them, just my preference. Would like to see Game and Arccos report and analytics side.

      Rob

  6. Gary

    Jul 7, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks Rob. You can also try GolfLogix and GetRealGolfStats. Both those you can use as you play so you don’t have to enter it in later. I’ve also just purchased a Microsoft Band which is partnering with Taylormade (https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-band/en-us/support/health-and-exercise/golf-tile) to track all your golf shots without having to enter data. I’ve been tracking my golf status since the mid 90’s when I had created a Access program to capture it.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 7, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Gary,

      Thanks for the thoughts, the best feedback I’ve found comes from detailed work on compiling your stats. There is no easy way to get this done, it takes time and effort, and can’t imagine a better way to evaluate exactly what is happening on the golf course. Love that you used access, my first stat tracking program was a database through microsoft works. Good luck and keep tracking!

      Rob

  7. Mike

    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks Rob, I’ve been looking for something like Birdiefire. I’m a 7hdcp and am trying to get to a 5. I’ve been using GolfShot and the stats it provide are nice to look at but they aren’t actionable. An old timer at my club was giving me some advice the other day and he told me I needed to start keeping track of all my stats if I really wanted to improve. He showed me a little note book he used that had charts and numbers for every shot he took. He did everything by hand! Thanks but no thanks, I think I’ll try Birdiefire.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 7, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Mike,

      The information directly shapes practice and instruction and will have the greatest impact on your improvement. You’ve got a lot of work in front of you and any gains are going to be hard earned, you’re on the right track and good luck!

      Rob

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Instruction

Faults & Fixes: Losing height in your swing

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In this week’s Fault and Fixes Series, we are going to examine the issues that come with losing your height during the swing and its effect on your low point as well as your extension through and beyond impact.

When a professional player swings, there is usually very little downward motion through the ball. Some is OK, but if you look at this amateur player you will see too much. When the head drops downward too much something, has to give and it’s usually the shortening of the swing arc. This will cause issues with the release of the club.

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Dangers of overspeed training revealed: What to do and what not to do

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Speed: a key factor to more money on tour. The key component sought after by many amateur golfers to lower their scores. The focus of many infographics on social media this past PGA Tour season. A lot of people say speed matters more than putting when it comes to keeping your tour card and making millions.  

Overspeed Training: the focus on tons of training aids as a result of the buzz the pursuit of speed has created. The “holy grail” for the aging senior golfer to extend their years on the course. The “must do” training thousands of junior golfers think will bring them closer to playing college golf and beyond.  

Unfortunately, overspeed training is the most misunderstood and improperly implemented training tool I see used for speed in the industry. Based on the over 50 phone calls I’ve fielded from golfers around the world who have injured themselves trying it, it is leading to more overuse injuries in a sport where we certainly don’t need any help creating more than we already have. Luckily, these injuries are 100 percent preventable if you follow the few steps outlined below.

Don’t let your rush to swing faster get you hurt. Take five minutes to read on and see what the industry has not been forthcoming with until now.  

Understanding how to increase your speed safely and with as little work possible is the path to longevity without injury. If you could train 75 percent less (to the tune of about 8,000 fewer reps a year) and still see statistically comparable results, would you rather that? 

I would.

Would it make sense to you that swinging 8,000 times fewer (low volume protocols versus high volume protocols) would probably decrease your risk of overuse injuries (the most common injury for golfers)?  

I think so.

But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after you finish reading.   

Your Challenge

Your biggest challenge is that the answer to more speed for you is not the same as it is for your friends. It differs depending on many factors, but there are four main ones that you can start with. Those four are 

  1. Your equipment
  2. Your technical prowess
  3. Your joint mobility at your rotary centers (neck, shoulders, spine, and hips) 
  4. Your ability to physically produce power  

If you are not totally clear on these, I’d recommend checking out the earlier article I wrote for GolfWRX titled Swing speed: How do you compare? Go through the testing as outlined and you’ll know the answer to these four areas in five minutes.

Basically, you have the potential to pick up speed by optimizing your equipment (ie. find the right shaft, etc), optimizing the technical element of your swing for optimal performance (ie. launch angles, etc) or by optimizing your body for the golf swing. Understanding how to best gain speed without putting your body at risk both in the short and long term is what 95 percent of golfers have no idea about. It is the single biggest opportunity golfers have to make lasting improvements to not only their golf game but their overall health.

Are You a Ticking Time Bomb?

In my earlier article (link above), I described three main categories when it came to physical factors. Step one is to determine what category you are in.

The first option is that you might be swinging faster than your body is able to control. In this case, you are a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode in injury. We all know that friend who just has a year-round membership to the local physio or chiro because they are always hurt. If this is you, DO NOT try overspeed training, it will only make your visits to the physio or chiro more frequent. There are much better areas to spend your time on.

The second situation might be the rare, sought-after balanced golfer. You might have great mobility in the four main rotary centers (hips, spine, shoulders, and neck) and your swing speed matches your physical power output abilities. It should be noted that based on our mobility research of almost 1,000 golfers, 75 percent of golfers over the age of 40 don’t have full rotary mobility in at least one of the four centers. When you age past 50, that 75 percent now applies to at least two rotary centers. Hence why “the balanced golfer” category is elusive to most golfers.

The final option is the sexy, exciting one; the “more RPMs under the hood” golfer. This is the one where overspeed training is your fountain of youth and you can pick up 10, 15, even 20 yards in a matter of weeks. You might have more RPM’s under your hood right now. Being in this category means you physically are able to produce way more power athletically than you are doing in your golf swing currently.  

The Good News

The “more RPMs under the hood” golfer describes over 50 percent of amateur golfers. Most of you sit at work and don’t train your body to move at maximal speeds outside of when you swing the golf club. The number of adults and senior golfers who train maximal speed at the gym, run sprints and train with plyometrics (correctly) is under five percent.

Why is this good news?

Because if you don’t move fast at any point in your life other than on the golf course right now, doing pretty much anything fast repetitively will make you faster. For instance, you can jump up and down three times before you hit a drive and your speed will increase by 2-3 mph (6-9 yards) just from that according to a research study.

This means that for the average amateur, adult golfer in this category, picking up 5-8 mph (12- 20-plus yards) almost immediately (it won’t stick unless you keep training in though) is incredibly simple.

The Bad News & The Fine Print

Remember earlier when I mentioned you needed to “also have full mobility in the four main rotary centers” and that “75 percent of adults over the age of 50 lack mobility in at least two rotary centers?” 

That’s the bad news.

Most golfers will get faster by simply swinging as hard as they can. Unfortunately, most golfers also will get hurt swinging maximally repeatedly because they have to compensate for the lack of rotational mobility in those rotary centers. 

This should be a big bold disclaimer, but is often not. This is the fine print no one tells you about. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sexiness of overspeed training crashes and burns into the traffic jam of joints that don’t move well for most amateur golfers.  

Your Solution

The first step to your solution is to make sure you have full rotational mobility and figure out what category of golfer your body puts you in. As a thanks for being a WRX reader, here is a special link to the entire assessment tool for free. 

After you determine if you have the mobility to do overspeed training safely and you know if you are even in the category that would make it worthwhile, the second and final step is to figure out how many swings you need to do.

How Many Swings are too Many?

Concisely, you don’t need more than 30 swings two times per week. Anything more than that is unnecessary based on the available research.  

As you digest all of the research on overspeed training, it is clear that the fastest swing speeds tend to occur with the stronger and more powerful players. This means that first, you need to become strong and be able to generate power through intelligent workout plans to maximize performance, longevity and reduce injury likelihood. From here, overspeed training can become an amazing tool to layer on top of a strong foundation and implement at different times during the year.

To be clear, based on the two randomized overspeed studies that Par4Success completed and my experience of training thousands of golfers, it is my opinion that overspeed training works in both high volume (100s of swings per session) and low volume protocol (30 swings per session) formats exactly the same. With this being the case, why would you want to swing 8,000 more times if you don’t have to? 

The research shows statistically no difference in speed gained by golfers between high-volume overspeed protocols compared to low volume ones. Because of this, in my opinion, high volume protocols are unnecessary and place golfers at unnecessary risk for overuse injury. This is especially true when they are carried out in the absence of a customized strength and conditioning program for golf.     

Rest Matters

In order to combat low-quality reps and maximize results with fewer swings, it is necessary to take rest breaks of 2-3 minutes after every 10 swings. Anything less is not enough to allow the energy systems to recover and diminishes your returns on your effort. If these rests are not adhered to, you will fatigue quickly, negatively impacting quality and increasing your risk of injury.  

Rest time is another reason why low volume protocols are preferable to high volume ones. To take the necessary rests, a high volume protocol would take more than an hour to complete. With the lower volume protocols you can still keep the work time to 10 minutes.   

The Low Volume Overspeed Protocol

You can see the full protocol in the full study reports here. It is critical you pass the first step first, however before implementing either protocol, and it is strongly recommended not to do the overspeed protocol without a solid golf performance plan in place as well in order to maximize results and reduce risk of injury.

This is just the first version of this protocol as we are currently looking at the possibility of eliminating kneeling as well as some other variables that are showing promising in our ongoing research. Be sure to check back often for updates!

Commonly asked questions about overspeed training…

Once initial adaptations have occurred, is there any merit to overspeed training long term?  

None of the studies that I was able to find discussed longitudinal improvements or causation of those improvements. This is the hardest type of research to do which speaks to the lack of evidence. No one actually knows the answer to these questions. Anyone saying they do is guessing.

Do the initial gains of overspeed training outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?  

There appears to be a bigger jump with the addition of overspeed training than solely strength and conditioning, by almost threefold.  In 6 and 8 weeks respectively, the average gain was just around 3 mph, which is three times the average gain for adult golfers over a 12 weeks period with just traditional strength and conditioning. 

Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?

No. Emphatically no. It would be irresponsible to use overspeed in isolation to train golfers for increased speed. First off, increasing how fast someone can swing without making sure they have the strength to control that speed is a means to set someone up for injury and failure. Secondly, if they are appropriate and you increase someone’s speed, you also need to increase their strength as well so that it keeps up with the demands the new speed is putting on their body.   

Are long term results (1 year+) optimized if overspeed training is combined with traditional strength and conditioning vs in isolation or not at all?  

It would appear, based off our longitudinal programs that using overspeed training periodized in conjunction with an athlete-specific strength and conditioning program and sport-specific training (ie. technical lessons, equipment, etc—not medicine ball throws or cable chops) in a periodized yearly plan maximizes results year to year.  

In order to keep decreases in club speed to no more than three-to-five percent during the competitive season (as is the normal amount in our data), it is imperative to keep golfers engaged in an in-season strength and conditioning program focused on maximal force and power outputs. By minimizing this in-season loss, it assures that we see gains year over year.  

It is unclear if overspeed training in conjunction with strength and conditioning during the season further decreases this standard loss due to nervous system fatigue, but this would be a great area for future research.  

What sort of frequency, protocols or volume should one utilize for maximal benefit and minimal risk of injury?  

Most of the studies that I was able to find specifically on swinging looked at about 100 swings three times per (baseball). The Superspeed protocols which are the most popular in the golf world, follow a similar volume recommendation after an initial ramp up period. It is a concern, especially with untrained individuals, that adding more than 11,000 maximal effort swings over the course of year might increase risk for injury due to the incredible increase in load. Especially for the amatuer golfer who only plays on the weekends and does not engage in a strength and conditioning program, this is a significant volume increase from their baseline.

The Par4Success studies in 2018-19 found no significant difference in swing speed gains between high volume protocols and a lower volume protocol which required only 30 swings, 2x/week but required a 2 minute rest between every 10 swings.

More studies beyond these two need to be done looking at this, but it would be my recommendation, specifically in golf, not to engage in the high volume protocols as it does not appear to increase speed gains while also increasing load on the athlete significantly.  

Do any potential gains of overspeed training outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?

It does not appear that overspeed training is superior to any one training method, but rather a tool to use in conjunction with other proven methods. The key here is to assess yourself and look to implement this type of training when mobility is not an issue and the physical ability to produce power is higher than the ability to generate club speed. In the right scenario, overspeed training can be a game-changing tool. In the wrong scenario, it can be a nail in a golfer’s coffin.

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Faults and Fixes: Arms too far behind body at the top

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In this week’s Faults and Fixes, we’ll look at the issue of the older player getting the arms too far behind the body at the top. When this happens, the clubhead speed is compromised, and the ability to create height, spin, and distance is diminished. For older players, Brandel Chamblee has the right idea by wanting the left heel to raise and the arms to work themselves into a more upright position.

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