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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

More stroke-saving advice for seniors: Love thy hybrid

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Continuing our series for seniors, this is a topic I’ve written about before but it is so important to our senior games, it is worth revisiting.

Some of you may be aware of the “24/38 rule.” It deals with the idea that most golfers lose consistency with an iron that is less than 24 degrees of loft and over 38 inches long. That USED TO BE a 3-iron. And I always thought even that was marginal—a 3-iron for a middle handicap players has always been a bit “iffy.”

Then came the “juicing era” when manufacturers started making golf clubs with much less loft and some added length. Now, that “24/38” rule applies to 5-irons! The cavity back era gave way to some great innovations, particularly forgiveness, but it also introduced stronger lofts and added some length. For example, today’s 6-iron, on average is 31 degrees and 37.5-38.o inches. The point is this: Many golfers do not have sufficient speed to hit 5-irons, maybe even 6-irons, from the fairway!

This goes for golf in general, but in senior golf, it is even more important to remember!

What to do? Voila! The invention of HYBRIDS! We have to understand one simple golf impact principle:  Getting the golf ball airborne from the turf requires speed. If we lack that speed, we need clubs with a different construction. The HYBRIDS are built to help launch the golf ball. Basically, it works like this: when the center of gravity is further from the hitting area (face), it is easier to launch the golf ball. On an iron that CG is directly behind the ball. In a hybrid, it is moved back, so the ball can be launched higher. There are other factors, but basically, that’s it.

My personal recommendation is as follows

  • If your driver clubhead speed in under 85 MPH, your iron set might go 7-PW
  • Driver speed 85-90 MPH, your iron set might be 6-PW
  • Driver speed 90-100, your iron set might be 5-PW
  • Driver speed over 100, you can choose the set make-up with which you are comfortable

As this piece is largely for seniors, I’m assuming most of you are in one of the first two categories. If so, your game may be suffering from your set make-up. The most common swing issue I see in seniors is “hang back” or the inability to get weight through at impact. This is often the result of a club shaft too stiff, OR clubs too difficult to launch—example, a 3-iron. Please DO NOT beat yourself up! Use equipment that is easier to hit and particularly easier to launch.

The question invariably arises, what about fairway woods of similar loft?  They are fine if you do not mind the added length. The great thing about hybrids is they are only slightly longer than similarly lofted irons. My advice is to seniors is to get with a pro, get on a launch monitor, find your speed and launch conditions and go from there.

Note: I am NOT a fitter, and I DO NOT sell clubs of any kind. But I do know, as a teacher, that hybrids should be in most seniors’ bags.

 

Want more help with your swing? I have an on-line swing analysis service. If you are interested in a “look” here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

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Clement: Long and short bunker shots

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It happens to all of us where: We get short-sided and need to put a shot together to save the furniture. The short bunker shot can really be a challenge if you do not have the right task to perform it and can result in you wasting a shot in the bunker or letting the shot get away from you because you don’t want to leave that delicate shot in the bunker.

And of course, so many of you are afraid to put a full swing on a longer bunker shot because of the dreaded skull over the green!

We have the easy solutions to all of the above right here and the other videos I have, which are great complements to this one including an oldie but goodieand this one with Chantal, my yoga teacher.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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