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Opinion & Analysis

5 Reasons You Won’t Improve This Golf Season

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This is going to be the year you work hard and accomplish your golfing goals, you tell yourself. Some of you might be right, but my research shows that the vast majority of golfers won’t improve this season.

I don’t meant to be a downer! I want you to meet your goals, whether you’re setting out to break 100 for the first time or win your club championship. There are 5 reasons most golfers don’t reach their goals, however, and if you can overcome them and you’re on your way to a memorable golf season.

1) Bad Information

I recently had a pipe burst in my house. When it happened, I called a plumber. That’s just what you do when you’re not an expert, right? That’s why I’m always shocked by how often golfers rely on their friends — who usually aren’t much better than they are at golf — for feedback or swing advice.

These conversations are generally a curious mix of hilarious and pathetic. For example, I played golf with a couple of guys last week. The one guy hit it left. The other guy showed him a motion to fix the problem. Sure enough, the next one went right. The friend then suggested another fix. Sure enough, the next one went left. He was playing “army golf,” and it continued for the remainder of the round. It should go without saying he didn’t reach any of his landmark goals that day.

The fact is that golf requires one of the most difficult movement patterns in sports. It also requires a diverse group of skills including putting, chipping, pitching, an iron game, driving and course management. In my opinion, these are practically impossible to learn without a professional instructor.

“When players get good information, are inspired to apply it and engage in this process with a purpose, they are not only happier but also more motivated,” says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Iain Highfield. “In my experience, happy, motivated people are fulfilled, and improved performance is just a by product of this process.”

If you want to get better this year, you must at least try working with someone who has a background in golf instruction.

2) Poor Work Ethic

Getting better requires a time investment; hours upon hours upon hours of following a practice plan that’s preferably created with a swing guru. Showing up for a lesson every two weeks is great, but only doing that won’t get the job done. There’s a huge time investment necessary to change a movement pattern, and it’s a much higher price than most are willing to pay.

Donny Lee, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher at Southern Dunes near Orlando, Florida, says golfers must be fully engaged when trying to get better. He suggests that they practice like they’re broke, and play like they’re billionaires.

“If you make a commitment to changing the way you practice, you can get better,” Lee says. “You need to bring attention and focus to what you are doing; practice needs to be more difficult than playing. Seems counterintuitive, but without making it hard, you are not learning anything that’s going to help you shot low scores next time you play.”

Too often, golfers take practice for granted. Without diligent attention to what you are doing, it’s unlikely that any learning is happening, thus perpetuating the same tired issues.

3) Poor Time Management

To learn a new skill, you must first engage in something called “blocked practice.” This means isolating one specific motion or skill and working on only that with repeated repetitions over an extended duration. As we build competency in the skill, we must then learn to transfer the skill from the range to the golf course. There is no way around the process; there is no secret, no special club or magical training aid we can buy. If you want to get better, you’re going to need a good process coupled with hard work.

According to Golf Digest Best Young Teacher and Middle Atlantic Teacher of the Year, Trillium Rose, who also has a Masters degree in motor learning, that process includes making time to hone in on your skill.

“We all have busy schedules so finding time can be very difficult,” Rose says. “Take a club to the office and make 15 repetitions of a drill every hour. Focus on the movement that you’re trying to change and find a way to get feedback to tell you if you’re actually making that change.”

4) Unrealistic Goals

Most of us start with a goal that we can never realistically expect to achieve and quickly get discouraged. The fix? Start smaller. The fact is that we are our habits and they are difficult to change. Going from zero range balls a week to hundreds in a day is not likely to happen. Instead of engaging in false hope, golfers need to segment their practice into achievable tasks. For example, lowering your handicap by two strokes throughout the season is a reasonable goal, whereas going from shooting in the 90s to shooting in the 70s over a three-month period is not.

According to Dr. Rob Neal, many golfers struggle to understand the difference between their average play and their very best play. “Part of golf is having a realistic sense of the possibilities,” Neal says. “Too many amateur players make plans based on their very best shots.”

5) You’re Not Actually Playing Golf

I play a lot of golf with people who hit the ball far when they connect. For every bomb they hit, however, they hit a couple foul balls that end up off the planet and out of bounds. They also take a couple mulligans and don’t finish each hole. Along with a few beers, it’s a good day away from work, but it’s not golf. Golf is shooting the lowest score possible over 18 holes.

The reality is most of us don’t take lessons and don’t practice enough. And when we do get to the course, we’re not doing everything we can to play our best. This doesn’t mean we should stop playing the game; it just means that we should not expect to improve. Ever wonder why places like Top Golf are getting more and more popular?

Have a great summer, and I hope you shoot a personal best this year… counting all your strokes and following all the rules, of course. If you don’t, remember that there’s always next year, and there’s nothing wrong with playing golf just to have fun!

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Brendan Ryan is a golf researcher, writer, coach and entrepreneur. Golf has given him so much in his life -- a career, amazing travels, great experiences and an eclectic group of friends -- and he's excited to share his unique experience through his writing on GolfWRX. He hopes you enjoy!

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Ryan

    May 23, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Let me sum up this article:
    5 Reasons you won’t improve
    1) You haven’t paid me for lessons yet, or
    2) You have paid me for lessons, but YOU don’t work hard enough, or
    3) You have paid me for lessons, but YOU don’t use your time wisely, or
    4) You have paid me for lessons, but YOU shouldn’t expect that I will actually help you improve significantly, or
    5) You actually don’t want to improve, which makes my previous 4 points moot.

  2. artie j

    May 23, 2017 at 7:32 am

    There are bad teachers and good teachers just like bad students and good students. This is a good article for golfers who are looking to get better and stay better, but the ones who truly want to do this and put in the work are so few. Like 10% of golfers.

  3. Nick Chertock

    May 22, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    If your response was “people are playing golf to have fun” then you’re missing the point of the article, it’s not aimed at those people who are just out to enjoy the day with homies getting drunk and perhaps simultaneously dabbling in recreational drugs .

    The introduction clearly indicates the article is aimed at the person who starts the season expecting to make improvements, yet that rarely happens, for the reasons listed, and many others.

    There are plenty of positive articles but I found this negative article refreshingly honest. To the commenters who think golf instruction is a sham, I would respond that you just haven’t found the right instructor, or you found them and were too pig headed to realize they were giving you good instruction, and you expected to be ‘cured’ in a lesson.

    Actually getting better takes time and effort and coaching, there’s no way to bypass it through dicking around with friends on the range, buying better equipment, or reading tips. Because it’s hard, almost no recreational golfer ever makes significant improvements. They plateau and then start getting worse as they age.

    This was a rare attempt to shine a light on this issue of golfers lying to themselves.

  4. Nick Chertock

    May 22, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    What ad?

  5. Steve S

    May 22, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Never found a teacher that could tell me how to swing a golf club to avoid aggravating my lower back issues(arthritis). Between watching videos of older pros and a friend at the range I have a swing that doesn’t hurt and has me playing to an 11 handicap. Which is about the best I’ve ever been.

  6. Bruce

    May 22, 2017 at 9:42 am

    I never met a PGA teacher that works to fine tune my swing: the answer is always start over and swing their way.
    Watch the pros on tv – you see as many swings as players – precisely my point: you don’t have to start over to improve.
    I find useful help reading books.

    • Ed

      May 22, 2017 at 7:14 pm

      You shouldn’t have to start over! you are correct.

  7. Someone

    May 22, 2017 at 6:55 am

    You could’ve easily written this to the positive instead of the negative. “5 ways to make sure you improve this year.” Would’ve been a better sell.

  8. PineStreetGolf

    May 21, 2017 at 9:48 am

    This article is bizarre.

    1. Virtually golfers should define improve as “have more fun” not “shoot a lower score”. Talking to your friends about golf is fun. Buying new equipment is fun. Drinking beer is fun. Improving fun > shooting 78 instead of 82.

    2. You know what a plumber does? He charges money. If the pipe bursts again the next day he comes back and fixes it. He doesn’t charge you a second time. Golf pros don’t work that way. They charge for whatever and, if you still suck, you pay to go back. Its nothing like a plumber. Plumbers are honest. Golf pros are, by and large, nonsense. Plumbers have to stand behind their work and stay on it until the job is done. Golf pros don’t work that way. Comparing golf pros to plumbers is a massive insult to plumbers.

    3. The single thing 99% of golfers could work on to shoot lower scores is to work on playing golf and not playing golf swing. I’m a decent player. I hardly ever think about mechanics while on a golf course. I’m playing golf. My high cap friends almost never think of anything *but* mechanics. A great resolution going into the season is to think about mechanics only on the practice tee. The only thing that has been linked through academic study to golf success is that the better the player the less they think about mechanics during a round. This is indisputable (the study was at Penn State in 2005). This doesn’t mean ignore mechanics during practice, it means ignore them while playing.

    • Dan

      May 22, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      +1 on all the above, although a local pro does do a ‘fix your slice or your money back’ deal, but I’d say he’s more used car salesman than plumber.

      There’s a few generalisations here I disagree with, but I appreciate that’s probably more to do with simplifying your point that trying to be rude.

    • ders

      May 23, 2017 at 1:52 am

      “The single thing 99% of golfers could work on to shoot lower scores is to work on playing golf and not playing golf swing. I’m a decent player. I hardly ever think about mechanics while on a golf course. ”

      This is what people say who don’t have massive issues with their natural swing, started golf as kids or are natural athletes. I started golf in my late thirties after I got too beat up for the sports. If I don’t think about mechanics I push slice it off the planet losing at least a ball per hole and have no chance of ever breaking 100. Good on you that your instinctive move works for golf but it doesn’t for everyone.

    • Ollie 14

      May 29, 2017 at 8:35 am

      Spot on is this comment, I myself earlier this year went for a gapping session and as a 10 Handicap golfer have quite a decent swing. This particular day I did not have a good swing going but the Pro doing the session turned the gapping session into a lesson which I did not require nor ask for. Any professional at any job would not take money for services you did not ask for. I have found most Pro’s over the years as very unhelpful if the money is not in their pockets first.

  9. Kenn

    May 21, 2017 at 1:36 am

    Oooops — just hit a shanking sucker’s nerve, lolol

  10. Dave R

    May 20, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    All his comments should be shanked . That would be a +2.

  11. Bert

    May 20, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Top Golf getting more popular? It’s the booze, not the golf.

    • Dave C

      May 22, 2017 at 6:17 am

      I think that was the author’s point. People ate not trying to get better at Top Golf, rather fun and drinks with friends.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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