As a statistician, a common conversation I have with golfers is when they should shoot at flagsticks and when they should avoid them and choose a more conservative target. If most golfers knew what I know, however, I doubt I’d have the conversation so frequently.
Here’s what you need to know.
Tour players are essentially firing at flags all the time. When they don’t, it’s most likely because they have a funky lie and aren’t sure how the ball will react. Otherwise, they are trying to get the ball as close to the hole as they can — and for good reason. They are not going to make many birdies if their birdie putts are more than 20 feet from the cup. Too few birdie chances from inside the 20-foot range means they probably won’t win… or make the cut… or keep their Tour card.
After recording so many rounds and researching the data, I’ve come to believe that while golfers can always improve their swing mechanics, they first need to overcome some defects in their mental outlook or they will continue to succumb to the same pitfalls. I have found that this advice even applies to many Tour players. I could discuss the numbers to give golfers a better idea of when to play safe or fire at the flag, but I’ve found that the numbers are not as important as a golfer’s mentality about good shots and bad shots.
There is an old adage in golf: “The difference between Tour players and the rest of us is that they hit better bad shots.” On average, I find that Tour players do hit better bad shots than the rest of us, however, they also hit a lot of miserable golf shots. Want proof? Below is a video of the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, Rory McIlroy, topping a 3-wood from the fairway.
A couple of years ago, I had a PGA Tour client who could not stop shanking pitch shots for about a month. Another Tour player, U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson, has also talked about his occasional shanking problems. And I’ve seen Tour players hit pop ups, snap hooks and horribly fat shots as well. Tour players are not robots, and they’re going to hit some horrendous shots.
To me, the belief that Tour players hit better “bad shots” than all other golfers has been detrimental to development of a lot of golfers’ games, because they buy into the concept too heavily. They relate golf to other sports like football and basketball, and forget that golf is different than those sports.
In sports like football and basketball, it is common to see a coach yelling at the players constantly. I have no issue with this, as those sports revolve around energy levels and avoiding mistakes. And in those sports, mistakes are often avoidable. We have all seen the inferior team in basketball and football come out with a high energy level and beat the team with superior talent that comes out flat. And often times, that high energy level translates into avoiding mistakes because the players are paying attention and not loafing around.
In golf, a high energy level can actually work against peak performance. Even more importantly, golf is a game where mistakes are usually unavoidable. I can be paying attention and have the perfect energy level to hit a shot, but we know from launch monitors how slim the difference between a great shot and a bad shot really is.. and that doesn’t factor in imperfect course conditions. Essentially, we erroneously believe that golf is supposed to be a mistake-free game, when in reality it is filled with mistakes — even in great rounds of golf.
The statistical data of golf suggests that the difference between Tour players and the rest of us is that Tour players hit better good shots and they hit those good shots more frequently. A big part of that? Tour players give themselves the chance to hit good shots by aiming at that flag when the rest of us might aim for the middle of the green in fear of mishitting a shot. That’s why I recommend having a mindset of trying to accumulate good shots in a round instead of trying to avoid bad shots. You are going to hit bad shots, even in great rounds of golf. And if you can hit enough good or great shots, you can more than offset the bad ones.
A classic example of Tour players benefitting from an aggressive mentality is No. 16 at Augusta National. Let’s imagine we have the Sunday pin position on the back of the left side of the green. We know that if the player hits it pin high toward the center of the green, the ball will funnel toward the hole. So let’s imagine that the center of the green, about pin high, is where we want to aim.
One of the things I learned from sports and performance psychologist Dr. Bhrett McCabe is what he calls “good focus,” which is when you focus on one thing and nothing else matters, as McCabe says. By this definition, “bad focus” is when we have divided our focus so everything matters to us.
In the case of No. 16 at Augusta, good focus would be putting our attention on the shot we need to hit to the center of the green. I think we have all experienced good focus at one time or another in golf… you know, the 20-foot putt that we just sense we are going to make. All we focus on is the hole and hitting the ball into the cup, and it goes in. That’s what we want with the shot on No. 16. We want to focus on what shot we need to hit and nothing else.
The issue for most golfers, using No. 16 as an example, is that they have so much fear about hitting their shot into the water hazard that flanks the left side of the green they don’t allow themselves to hit a good shot. Their focus is too divided, and that lack of clarity results in misses: shots hit so far to the right that they can’t make par, or shots hit short or left into the water.
Bad focus comes from what I call “False Confidence,” which is when golfers think they won’t hit a bad shot during a round. What inevitably happens is that the golfer does hit a bad shot and it destroys their confidence. It often happens on a hole like No. 16, where they feel as though they cannot, under any circumstances, hit the ball in the water or their chances of playing a good round will have vanished.
The Tour players who use good focus have what I call “True Confidence;” they know that they are going to mishit at least some golf shots. Tour players are humans, after all. Players with True Confidence are still confident in their abilities, however, so they know that they can always hit great shots in order to make up for their mistakes.
Golfers with False Confidence will hit a drive into the woods and can’t believe they just did that. They resign themselves to making bogey on the hole. Golfers with True Confidence will hit a drive into the woods and focus on hitting a great shot in order to save par. And if they are unable to save par on that hole, they know they can hit a series of great shots in the holes or rounds remaining to negate the bad shot.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
Paige Spiranac blasts golf culture: “A big boys club” that is “elitist, stuffy and exclusive”
Looking back on a golf genius: Anthony Kim (with final full bag specs)
Patrick Reed’s winning WITB: 2020 WGC-Mexico Championship
Sergio Garcia WITB 2020
On Spec: Fairway wood fittings | Adam Scott wins with 17-year-old irons
Today from the Forums: “Best 3-wood off the deck?”
Phil Mickelson WITB 2020
Viktor Hovland’s winning WITB 2020 Puerto Rico Open
Sungjae Im’s winning WITB: The Honda Classic
Dustin Johnson WITB 2020
WITB Time Machine: Phil Mickelson WITB, 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open
Equipment is accurate as of the Waste Management Phoenix Open (2016). Driver: Callaway XR 16 Sub Zero (8.5 degrees) Shaft:...
Byeong Hun An WITB 2020
Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open Driver: Titleist TS3 (8.5 degrees, B2 SureFit setting) Shaft: Accra TZ5 M5...
Pat Perez WITB 2020
Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open. Driver: PXG 0811X Gen 2 (9 degrees) Shaft: Aldila Rogue Black 130...
Adam Long WITB 2020
Equipment accurate as of the 2020 Players Championship. Driver: TaylorMade SIM Max (9 degrees) Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Smoke Green...
News2 weeks ago
Looking back on a golf genius: Anthony Kim (with final full bag specs)
Whats in the Bag2 weeks ago
Bubba Watson WITB 2020
Equipment3 days ago
Phase 1 vs. P7TW: An inside look at Tiger Woods’ TaylorMade irons
Equipment2 weeks ago
Today from the Forums: “3-hybrid or 7-wood?”
Equipment6 days ago
Building the perfect half set
Opinion & Analysis6 days ago
Behind the numbers: A road map for an 18 handicap to get down to a 9
Whats in the Bag3 weeks ago
Tommy Fleetwood WITB 2020
Whats in the Bag2 weeks ago
Steve Stricker WITB 2020