Congratulations to me! I am every bit as bad, and every bit as average as I thought I was! It has been a summer of having my lunch handed to me on the golf course. I wanted to believe it wasn’t all my fault. I wanted to be able to say that the way the USGA handicap system is set up, that I was destined to fail more often than not. What I found out is that failure, in my eyes and in the eyes of the USGA are two different things.
Every first and 15th day of the month, like probably millions of other golfers, I get my updated USGA handicap index emailed to me. These emails leave me shaking my head. How can I have so many rounds over par mixed in with my few great rounds a month that are under par and still end up with a handicap equating to a +3.5?
“Handicaps are there to show a golfer’s potential of shooting the course rating,” says Mary Kate Kemp, USGA Director of Handicaps and Course Rating Administrator. “It is not about your average, most people get that wrong.”
You can add me to that group of people. It seems to me that if par for a course is 72, and my stroke average for that course is 70.8, my handicap should be +1.2. I have posted 30 rounds this summer from that Tom Weiskopf gem. But I also have 30 rounds from another course that I play where the par is 71 and my stroke average is 71.9. Fair is fair, those rounds should be averaged in and my handicap must be +1.2 -0.9 for a total of +.3. I’m no math or philosophy genius but that is pure number logic right there, I don’t care who you are.
According to the USGA if a golfer posts 20 rounds in a month, the 10 highest scores are tossed and the lowest 10 are used with the slope rating of the courses to determine a player’s chances of shooting “scratch” golf. And here is yet another thing I was wrong about. Scratch golf, according to the USGA, is shooting a course’s “rating.” Par ain’t got nothing to do with it, son!
Golf courses are rated based on the length of the holes and on the number of obstacles like bunkers, ponds, trees, and everything else that is in between the tee boxes and the greens of the individual holes. The hole rated as the No. 1-handicap hole of the course may not actually be the most difficult hole on the course per se, it is more about where the people rating the course determine that the lesser skilled players would have a better chance of getting into or blocked by one of the obstacles, and or would end up having to hit an exponentially more difficult approach shot into the green based on how much more accurately a “scratch” golfer might hit a shorter club like a wedge into a green while the higher handicapper could be farther out and have as much as a five-iron in, and on that hole a stroke needs to be given to make up that difference.
Huh? Hey don’t go re-reading that previous paragraph, I’m not even sure I said it right. But how many times have we all looked at a score card and saw a hole rated a certain way and said to the guy sitting next to us in the cart with half a hot dog stuffed in his mouth, “I wonder why they have No. 1 rated as harder than No. 16?” It’s because people way smarter than us determined it should be that way.
This brings me back to me being such a tremendous loser. I look at my 20 or so rounds a month and see that I generally only shoot five or so rounds a month where I can cover the 3.5 shots I have to give back to the course to shoot the rating. So roughly 75 percent of the time my handicap is an albatross around my neck that I cannot shake. Let the self-loathing begin. There you go, breath it in.
Not so fast says Kemp and the USGA website, “You may only play to your handicap one out of five rounds or so,” she says. The USGA actually goes as far as to tell you not to be discouraged if you can only do it 20-25 percent of the time.
Where this gives me fits, and what I think is unfair, is when these handicaps are used in head-to-head matches. One such event this summer was when I was matched up against a 13 handicap in a match play affair. Before we teed off I was given our score card with 17 dots listed on the holes of the score card. It looked like a Dalmatian dog.
A quick examination of our scores posted showed that he had posted a score as low as 78 and one as high as 90 recently. My score range was a low of 64 and a high of 81. On either end of the spectrum the odds of me winning seemed quite bad.
I mentioned that to a fellow I know who is a strong five handicap, but prefers to carry a 10.5 for tournament purposes like these, and he bristled, “Yeah but the better player always has a better chance of not having an off day and being able to play to his handicap!”
“Really,” I said? “He shot 78 on this course last week in qualifying, if he chokes out an 85 I may still have to shoot four under to tie.” Four-under par would be one of the 25 percent of my rounds rounds the USGA bases my handicap on. For those of you keeping score at home, that means 75 percent of the time I don’t shoot that well.
Before you all berate me with deserved insults and threaten me with certain pain and misery, yes I understand that my competitor only has a 25 percent chance of shooting his handicap as well. My point was that my stroke average compared to my handicap was much more difficult to obtain than his was for him. It didn’t help that our match was over-hyped all over the club, starting with the young gun assistant pros who were taking side action.
I asked Ms. Kemp if she thought that a 13 should be able to compete with a +3.5. “Those two players are apples and oranges, really,” she said. “The skillset of a +3.5 should make it very difficult for the 13 to be competitive.
Ouch. Maybe I do stink after all. I was defeated in the match. His stroke average was about 12 shots worse than mine, but I was giving him 17 shots. There had been some talk in the earlier rounds that his handicap was notoriously “iffy,” and that when he was forced to play the tougher of the two courses at our club that those scores were always posted but not necessarily the ones from the easier course where the match was played. Either way, the difference between stroke averages would have been a more fair way to play him. I think somewhere some bright eyed mathematician needs to be able to figure out a way to weight that difference more fairly. That brings me to my next thumping.
Three years ago I played another guy in an intense head-to-head, straight-up battle that went down to the last hole. Yes, he beat me then too. But when I saw that I was going to play him this summer I was really looking forward to another great match. Then I saw the score card. He explained that he had not been posting many scores lately but that he had played in quite a few four ball tournaments and things like that. His handicap was four. So this player, who could beat me straight up on any given day, was getting seven and a half shots from me.
“You can get a handicap with as little as five posted scores,” Ms. Kemp explained, “in that instance they take your one best score and base it in the formula with the slope and the course rating.”
“There’s no question that a bigger sample of scores is more accurate though,” she added.
The course where we played has a lot of the pop holes early, and I was forced to play from behind all day and could never overcome the lead he was staked to. It was a bitter defeat. It was most bitter because I know this guy is a good player, and he’s not one to purposefully manipulate his handicap. He posted a few scores of rusty golf earlier in the spring and he posted a few as he went, but his sample was way too small to be fair.
So what about the players out there who do dishonor the whole system and keep an artificially high handicap? A great example of this was when a frequent four ball partner of mine and I played our first four ball matches as new members of a club in the annual member/member round robin tournament. We never had a chance. The joke was on us. Apparently if everyone cheats it just levels the playing field.
My partner was the same cat I mentioned before who plays to a five but now carries a 10.5. That weekend we were never close to beating anyone. There were players in the field who I had battled with for 30 years in junior golf, high school golf and college golf. These were good players. I found myself standing in the fairways with them with wedges in our hands and me giving them pops, three times in nine holes!
This brings up another aspect to the handicap system that I think is really unfair. On any given day a four handicap can beat a scratch player straight up. On any given day that four handicap player could beat a +3.5 player straight up. The chances of them both playing their best at the same time is ¼ x ¼ or 1/16. So why do they play with all of the strokes all of the time?
The difference between better players on any given day could be one more made 30-foot putt, one less wayward tee shot, one more great up and down, or anything like that. It is why over the course of four rounds Rory and Tiger generally end up beating everyone. They usually do things fractionally better than other top players, and those fractions add up.
My now former four ball partner joined the crowd and manipulated his handicap up to 10.5. I saw that he and his new partner won the member/member this summer. Hey, congratulations!
“The system is based on integrity,” Ms. Kemp adds, “but each course needs a peer review and handicap committee that can step in and police the guys that are breaking the rules.”
In a country where the number of rounds are down significantly and in an industry in decline I can’t see a club pro wanting to scare off another regular player like the guy who played in my club’s Ryder Cup matches a couple weeks ago with a less than accurate handicap. He came in with a 19 handicap and reeled off six straight pars to earn his first point for his team. Once again eyebrows were raised and feathers were ruffled, but since there was no action by a peer handicap committee, we all have ourselves to blame. By the way he reeled off those six straight pars against me and my partner in the morning four ball matches. He made par to close us out on the seventh hole of our nine-hole match. He was getting two pops on the hole.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that I don’t play well under pressure. Wait that’s not what I meant to say. What I am saying is that I wish they could make a system that was based more on averages rather than on potential. It’s interesting that they say the system is based on potential because when I tried to post a 64 this summer the machine wouldn’t let me. It spit out a message saying the score was too low! Well, maybe the machine has seen me putt.
To further prove that I don’t know what I am talking about I do have 10 or so really great head-to-head matches each summer with a buddy of mine who carries about an eight to a 10 handicap. He too posts 120 rounds or so a year. It’s uncanny how often we can play each other and have it come down to the last few holes. So maybe the system is perfect as it is.
Train Slow to Swing Fast and Play More
You are probably reading this article because the title made zero sense to you when you read it. You are probably thinking, “Slow training makes me go fast? Everyone knows you have to train fast if you want to go fast. We have all seen SuperSpeed Golf’s commercials. This guy is an idiot.”
With that rationale, not sure I can blame you!
If you’re a golfer and you want to move the clubhead faster, with more efficiency and for many more years to come, however, I encourage you to read on with a bit of curiosity and even skepticism if that is more your flavor. What you find out might turn the way you train 180 degrees onto its head. I know it did for me.
When I started training athletes more than 10 years ago, I subscribed to the “train fast to be fast” mentality for awhile. Then, thankfully, I read the research out there and realized how I was overlooking one of the most important phases to train mobility, power and maximal strength in my athletes as many people do: the eccentric phase.
There are a few phases of movement that we should clarify before going any further so as to clear up any confusion later on. Most movements consist of three phases:
- The Eccentric Phase
- The Isometric Phase
- The Concentric Phase
In a squat, the eccentric phase is the lowering phase to the bottom of the squat. The isometric phase is the pause at the bottom of the squat. The concentric phase is when the athlete starts to move their body back toward the start position.
In the golf swing, we can simply classify the three phases:
- The eccentric phase occurs toward the end of the backswing as the club is decelerated
- The isometric phase occurs at the top of the backswing as there is a slight pause right before the start of the transition toward the target (i.e. there is still tension in the tissues and joint, but there is no net joint motion occurring)
- The concentric phase occurs during the downswing when the club is accelerating toward the golf ball
Please note that there are many nuances and arguments could be made against these classifications. This categorization is made in the spirit of simplicity to help with understanding of the phases.
While all three of these movements are relatively easy to see in most human movement and in golf as well, we more often see a focus on the concentric training piece in the gym rather than all three phases. This is interesting to note, as the eccentric phase is a crucial one where athletes are able to store large amounts of energy in connective tissues (muscles and tendons mostly) that we can then use to produce more power during the concentric phase.
The caveat here is that you need to be strong enough to apply your brakes effectively to decelerate during the eccentric phase and reapply this force during the concentric phase. If you are weak in the eccentric phase, not only will you be inefficient in transferring the energy from the eccentric to concentric phase, but you will be more likely to be injured as well.
So why are we not focusing on this critically important phase of movement in our training of golfers? This is the million dollar question. By simply adding a focus on this part of your training, you will not only decrease your risk of injury, but also improve your strength, power, mobility, movement efficiency and muscle growth
Now to the “so what” part of this article. All of this information is great and cool, but how do you implement this type of training. More importantly, when in the year should we be doing this? Who is this NOT for? Let’s get into it!
This training is NOT for severely untrained individuals with no training background. What is going to follow is a simple progression from beginner to advanced that you can use to implement the benefits of eccentric training to help improve your longevity in the sport and your power output on the tee.
Please Note: If you’re a newbie, we recommend you seek out the help of a fitness professional to safely guide your progressions.
Step 1: Three-Second Eccentrics
This is probably the simplest form of eccentric training you can do, and it doesn’t matter if you are using a kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell. It is exactly what it says. Just focus on lowering yourself through the eccentric phase for a three-second count.
The weight that you use should be less than what you would normally do for the rep count, as the focus on the eccentric phase increases your time under tension and the demand on the system with lower weights. This is another reason why eccentric training with newer athletes is great. You don’t have to use as much weight, and you are forced to slowly move through the motion and truly own the pattern. There is no using speed to mask weakness or bad technique. Usually sets of 6-8 are plenty with this focus.
This video below is of a five-second eccentric squat (Step 2) but the technique is no different for the three-second eccentric other than the descent is not quite as slow.
Step 2: 5-7 Second Eccentrics
This is a simple progression off the three-second eccentrics in Step 1. After four weeks or so of the three-second program, you can move to the even slower and longer lowerings. This further challenges you to really own the patterns and control the motion perfectly. It allows you to be more in tune with how you are moving throughout the motion and many times will bring to light inefficiencies in your pattern that you can work to improve without the weight being crazy heavy.
Step 3: Three-Second Isometrics
This next step takes “feel the burn” to a whole new level. Now that you can control the eccentric phase, you will work to isometrically control and hold your position at the bottom of the motion. This is a nice variation away from the slow-lowering focus to really challenge you to control the weight during the transition phase of the motion.
A common question is, “How low do I need to go?” Without getting into the whole butt-to-ground vs. thigh-parallel-to-the-ground argument, go as low as you can (comfortably) while still maintaining sound technique. That being said, try to at least get to thigh-parallel if you’re able to with good technique.
Step 4: Overload Plyometrics
Depending on your age, your joint health and the overall ability you posses, Step 4 might be another game changer for you. Before going any further, if you have total joint replacements, bad arthritis, avoid high impact activities for any reason or just generally don’t think jumping is a good idea for your overall health, then the risk/reward is not present for you with this step. Stick to Steps 1-3 and enjoy the benefits there.
If you have no problems jumping or with higher impact force training, however, Step 4 can be not only fun, but also very beneficial to your performance! The idea of overload plyometrics is that as you drop down from a surface to the ground, you absorb that force and then explode as high as you can vertically or as far as you can horizontally — and then stick a solid landing.
In golf, the vertical force is what we are going to want to focus on training as the horizontal is less applicable. There are many variations you can perform such as altering your take-off mechanics, your landing mechanics (one vs. two feet) and even the height of the surface from which you are dropping. We utilize these variations with many of our traveling professional athletes as equipment can often times be difficult to find, but it is always easy to find a bench or step to drop from in order to make sure they are stimulating the nervous system response that we are after.
This example of a simple depth jump demonstrated below shows the athlete dropping off of an elevated surface on two feet and then exploding up onto a higher box, which reduces how much force he has to absorb on the second jump. By using a higher box for the landing of the second jump, you are decreasing the amount of neural stress you have to take on because the box “catches” you closer to the apex of your jump.
The name of the game with overload plyometrics is all about how much force you have to absorb. The more force you have to absorb, the harder and more advanced the exercise is. To clarify, if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on the ground, that would be more intense (you would have to absorb more force) than if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on a 12 inch box.
Step 5: Overloading
This is where a lot of the rubber hits the road, and it should not be attempted without professional guidance — and definitely not if you are not a highly trained athlete. This is not a type of training for the weekend warrior who hits the gym only 1-2x/week. If that is you, stick to the top 3 steps and you will still see gains.
Highly trained athletes can oftentimes handle up to 125 percent or more of their concentric ability eccentrically. This means that we can put higher levels of stress on their tissue to force it to adapt, leading to increased maximal strength and hypertrophy gains. This is the performance benefit for higher-level athletes with great movement competency. There are a number of ways to achieve this desired outcome of overload training, such as with drop bars on the side of the barbells, heavy chains, flywheel training or others.
Flywheel training is one that I would like to focus on here, as it is one of the safest forms of training around because it only allows you to put as much force on yourself eccentrically as you can create concentrically. This means the chances of injury are much lower than the other types of overload mentioned above. While these machines tend to be a bit cost prohibitive, it is this type of advance in training that will continue to occur to help golfers hit it longer for many more years to come while staying healthy. If you can find a facility near you that has one… JOIN!
In the end, eccentric-based training and eccentric-overload training create improvements in power, speed, strength, change of direction ability and mobility while also reducing the risk for injury. Each variation of this type of training may be more appropriate for different golfers at different stages in their life and career, but the first step is to be aware that this type of training exists. The next step is to figure out where it might fit into your training regimen. As always, I am more than happy to field questions and answer any specifics you may have by just emailing email@example.com.
As with anything, the success of this training depending on how it is executed. Because of the increased demand on the nervous system and muscles, there can be increased soreness after this type of training so recovery needs to be perhaps the biggest part of this conversation. Timing in terms of when in the season to utilize eccentric based training as well as how to support recovery with nutrition are conversations that you should have with your golf fitness professional.
Hopefully you have learned something here today and as always, please reach out with questions or specific issues to attempt to implement this type of training into your golf fitness routine. Swing Faster. Play Better. Hurt Less.
Editor’s Note: The author has no affiliation with Versapulley or any manufacturer shown in these videos.
Don’t be THAT guy at your corporate outing
Today is the day. Your out-of-office email is up, and you’re fully prepared for an afternoon at the course. As a driving range pro, you think this day will be a gentle breeze. However, you are not prepared. You may not even realize it, but you are about to be that guy.
That guy… who is that guy? Well, I’m glad you asked.
He’s that guy at the range hours early instead of socializing at the breakfast. He’s that guy arranging the scramble lineup when he finally makes it to that breakfast. He’s the guy who finds himself reading a golf blog about a corporate scramble.
Now, let’s start this early in the morning. You’re in your closet carefully crafting your outfit for the day. Wait, wait, wait… let’s not start there. Therein lies the problem, guy. You aren’t composing an outfit, not today! An outfit is for Day 2 of your member-guest. An outfit is for that golf trip with your buddies. An outfit is for Bill Murray at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am (who, with those bell bottoms, is becoming dangerously close to that guy).
A corporate outing is for the muted colors sitting in the back of your closet. There’s no need to get flashy with your attire on this day. If your game is as good as your rangefinder magnet says you are, your game will be enough of the conversation; there’s no need to make your belt buckle one of them. White shorts are fine, but please, don’t be the guy wrapped in pants in 80-degree heat. I get it, you’re “more comfortable in pants” and “this new fabric is actually cooler than shorts.” Come on now, let’s save the pants for guys who aren’t playing for pro shop credit.
Obviously club-tossing, swear-wording and teammate-bashing are huge no-nos, but you already know that. Be encouraging on the course and give your teammates credit when they hit one down the middle, even if you drive it past them. It was still their shot that freed you up.
Most importantly, gauge the competitiveness of the team. Some people are there to win; some people are there for gin. If it’s clear that your team isn’t firing 14-under, kick back, relax and help your teammates improve. You’ll have your own chance. You can still get excited for the long drive, guy.
Speaking of the long drive, why is the prize for winning said competition so often a new driver? “You proved today how well you smash that driver, so here is a new one!” Sir, he likes his just fine. I think it’s safe to venture he’d rather stop the three-putt pars. Which also goes for the longest-putt prize. A brand new Odyssey White Hot! Just stop it. Pro shop credit… problem solved.
Speaking of problems, there’s a good chance someone in your group will have a massive one with their swing. As a guy, you’ll probably want to tell them they are “casting” and to try this “towel-under-the-arm drill.” Yes, it is completely fine to provide a tip, but only when warranted (or preferably, called upon). You can go from “guy who helped my short game” to “guy who destroyed my swing” with just a few too many hints.
One more thing. Don’t let any guy pull this move.
Let me paint a story. Your team approaches the green, you have two decent looks at birdie. Good for you! However, your team can’t decide. One is 15-feet straight up the hill. The other is an eight-foot slider. The team agrees the shorter putt is still the play.
“I’ll smack this 15-footer, just for fun,” your cheating teammate says. Followed shortly by, “unless it goes in, ha.”
Other than actually cheating, this is the most common and lame shenanigan I’ve seen in a corporate scramble. I’ve never forgotten the people that did it with me, and they won’t forget you.
Man, that got dark in a hurry.
Back to the fun stuff. You’ve mastered the clothing and seamlessly blended casual and competitive like Tom Brady in Uggs. All that is left now is to select your winning item in the pro shop. And this is where I leave my final tip. Go with something practical: gloves, golf balls. The last thing your wardrobe needs is another lime green shirt that you’ll want to wear in next month’s scramble.
The 19th Hole: Host Michael Williams plays Shinnecock Hills and reports back
Host Michael Williams reports on his visit to Media Day at Shinnecock Hills, the site the 2018 U.S. Open, where he played the course. How are the current conditions? He weighs in on the Unlimited Mulligan Challenge made by Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports that day, as well. Also, famed Architect David Kidd talks about how he created Bandon Dunes at the age of 25, and Steve Skinner of KemperLesnik gives his views on the health of the golf business.
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
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