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6 Ways I Dramatically Improved My Golf Game

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At some point in the last few years, I recall sitting down for a little meditative-type reflection. I thought about where I had been, what I had done, and what was next for me. As I was reviewing my life and career, it became apparent to me that one of the things I’m good at is making dramatic transformations.

For example, I was cut from my high school JV baseball team, yet I went on to be invited to a tryout for the Minnesota Twins at the old Metrodome. I was a sixth man playing high school basketball, and I ended up playing NAIA Division II basketball. After college, I wanted to be in a fitness magazine, so I transformed my body to the point where I made that happen.

BeforeAfter-1021-580

In golf, I was lucky to break 50 for 9 holes in high school (once I shot 70-48=118 for 18 holes in a junior tournament). I recall being stoked when I drove a ball past the 225-yard marker at the driving range in college, and I was a 14-handicap golfer as late as 27. Now, I’ve made multiple cuts in various professional tour events around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, won the televised Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a 381-yard drive, and won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships with a competitive best of 421 yards.

Similarly, I don’t have a runner-type body (I’m 6-feet, 2-inches and weigh 215), but I improved my running ability to be competitive and finish as high as fifth a few years ago in the Speedgolf World Championships in fields of elite and Olympic-level runners.

When I started thinking about all these things and how I accomplished everything, it became apparent that there was a general, step-by-step formula that I was putting in place most of the time. Here’s a brief overview of how it has worked.

No. 1: Know What You Want To Do

The first step is to simply decide what it is you want to do. Although it’s certainly possible to achieve things in life without the specific intention of doing so, the beauty of life is you can certainly direct your attention to something specific and go there.

Have the courage to even go for something that scares you. At some point in life, we all start from the beginning. Sure, some people are naturally better at certain things than others, but that doesn’t matter. Know and trust that if you want to achieve something in life, it’s possible. It doesn’t even matter if it’s something that no one has done before. New things are done and records are broken all the time by people who have never been there before, but they had the intention to do what they wanted to do.

No. 2: Find Ways to Quantify Your End Goal

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, figure out how to quantify and/or know when you’ll have achieved your goal.

For instance, let’s say your goal is to be the club champion. That’s easy to quantify, but you might also add some detail and look back at your club’s history to determine what score it typically takes to win. If 75 usually wins and the course rating on your course is 72 and slope rating is 108, you could reasonably have a chance to win if you were a 3-handicap golfer.

From there, you could make a profile of the 3-handicap golfer. Perhaps this golfer’s profile would include having 104-mph driver clubhead speed, hitting 7 or 8 fairways, hitting 9 greens in regulation, and taking less than 33 putts/round.

No. 3: Take an Honest Assessment of Where You Are

After you’ve decided where you want to go and what it will look like when you arrive, figure out your current location. This can sometimes be difficult, because it requires taking an honest look at yourself. That’s not always pretty.

Perhaps you hit some 250-yard drives a few times. Awesome! But they were downwind, downhill, and on firm fairways. Doh. Looking at your “real” average, you find that your drives tend to fly about 215 yards. Perhaps that’s a little depressing to your ego, but suck it up butter cup. With the right information, you’ll actually be able to start on the correct path to improvement.

No. 4: Connect the Dots with a Plan on a Timeline

Let’s say you’ve got a 15-handicap. Through your research and the above-mentioned sample profile, you now know that to win the club championship you need to pick up 35 yards off the tee, hit 3-4 more fairways, hit 4 more greens, and take 2 fewer putts.

Perhaps this feels daunting because maybe you’ve been stuck at that 15-handicap for years and have never even sniffed being a 10-handicap, much less the 3-handicap you’ll need to have a chance of winning the club championship. This is where you’ve got to have faith, trust that it’s possible, get yourself in an objective place, and stay focused on the end goal.

Start by making a timeline with some milestones that you need to hit along the way. You know where you want to go. You know where you are. You also know that next year’s club championship is 10 months away. That means you need to drop 1.3 shots off your handicap per month, every month. Again, perhaps this sounds daunting, but do as best as you can to stay out of that mental space of doubt.

Now, knowing the pace you need to go, start objectively thinking about how you are going to do it. Ask yourself, how do I get this done? What will it take? See what pops in your head.

At this point, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. There’s tons of information out there, much of which is conflicting, so stay focused on your end goal. If you want a red car and focus on specifically having the red car, you’ll start noticing all the red cars on the road among all the other hundreds and thousands of cars. The same is true here. Stay focused on being the club champion and see what you notice. Try to limit what you put in your plan to the 20 percent of the things out there that will create 80 percent of the gains. The minutia can be important, but at the same time, you also want to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck time and energy-wise.

Related: The 80-20 of Golf Improvement

For example, in 2006 and 2007, when I knew I needed more distance to compete in long drive, I kept my focus on the end goal. I felt my swing was in a good place. I was striking the ball well, and my equipment was fit about as well as could be at the time. It seemed the only thing I could do from there would be to improve my body’s ability to generate speed.

At the time, there was virtually no information in the golf world on how to do this. Many prominent industry people even said it couldn’t be done. I stayed focused on my red car, and viola, I was drawn to my own past experiences and other sports and athletes (power lifters, dunkers, jumpers, sprinters, martial artists, body builders, etc) that helped me put together a swing-speed training program for myself. Behold, in 37 days, I added 26 mph of club head speed (and over 65 yards) to my swing, I started winning qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships, and those programs later became the basis for the swing speed training we have at Swing Man Golf.

Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. If you are going to achieve things that you (and perhaps others) have not yet achieved, you might have to be willing to do things differently. That may also mean receiving push back both from those around you and even “experts” in the field. So it takes a bit of courage, a willingness to be different, not worrying about what others think of you, and some faith in yourself.

No. 5: Start Moving, Track Progress, and Adjust if Necessary

Once you know what you want, you’ve figured out what that looks like, you know where you are, and you’ve put together a plan to arrive at your destination within your desired timeline, it’s time to get going. Beware of paralysis by analysis. Although planning is important, at some point you’ve simply got to get in the car and start driving toward your destination, especially if there is a timeline involved.

In that sense, it’s totally like the GPS in your car or mapping apps that you use on your phone. You are in Los Angeles. You want to get to New York. You have figured out you need to go east. Start driving. If you don’t, you might miss your meeting. Your route doesn’t need to be perfect. Sometimes, there is more than one way to get to your destination.

Provided you check in along the way like your GPS device does, you can make sure you are still on pace. Checking in periodically is important, because if you do get off track, it’s important to re-route as quickly as possible. And if something you are trying is not working in a reasonable timeframe, dump it immediately. As they say, if you are going to fail, fail fast.

No. 6: Be Persistent

Depending on the goal, it may take more or less time to achieve it. Getting a college degree takes longer than driving across the country, for example. But whatever you want to do, you won’t get there if you quit. There may be challenges along the drive. You’ll need to take breaks for food and gas. Perhaps you factored in some sightseeing along the way or a family visit. You might have gotten a flat tire. Perhaps you got way off track and ended up too far north in Canada. Whatever it is, you’ve got to get back in the car and keep going. This is one of the reasons why writing down your goals and putting them in places where you will see them regularly can be handy. It can help keep you focused from day-to-day.

In 2010, you may recall that the USGA changed its groove rules. I was playing single-length irons at the time (and had shot my first tournament round in the 60s with them), and none of the then manufacturers seemed to want to update their grooves. I really believed in the concept though, so I decided to make my own brand. It didn’t matter that I had never done that before. It didn’t matter that I was told “no” multiple times from various people before Tom Wishon decided to be my partner in 2013. It didn’t matter that I was in debt, living month to month, and otherwise didn’t have the money to fund the project. It didn’t matter that the testing and development process took 2.5 years.

What mattered was I decided to do it. I took action and found ways to move forward. I learned and adjusted along the way, and I just…kept…going. Because of that, we now have Sterling Irons.

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Related: The GolfWRX Review of Sterling Irons

So there you go. I hope that sharing this general process helps you, and I wish you the best in making your own dramatic transformations, whether they be in golf or in other areas of life.

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also holds the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – More than 2.8 million video views

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. golfraven

    Oct 10, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Looking at the picture I thought Paul Casey is telling his story. Are you guys related?

  2. MrUpandDown

    Oct 3, 2017 at 11:21 am

    I getting on Tinder as we speak! Can’t wait to apply these principles and stop being a loser!

  3. MrUpandDown

    Oct 3, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Trying to end 34 years of inactivity if you know what I mean.

  4. MrUpandDown

    Oct 3, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Can these principles be used for relationships?

  5. Jerome E.

    Oct 3, 2017 at 11:08 am

    This is a self-aggrandizing/masturbatory article cloaked as a self-help manifesto. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the advice given in this article. It’s a sophomoric regurgitation of a “Rules for Success” formula that’s been written and preached about ad nauseam. The photo of you posing and the humble brag on your golf clubs is especially cringe-worthy.

    You succeeded on 2 counts of the rhetorical triangle with credibility and logic, but failed by not understanding your audience. This is a golf forum. Not a bodybuilding/entrepreneurial forum. Your examples make sense logically, but fall flat in terms of relating to the audience. Choose better, more relatable examples next time.

    • NG

      Oct 4, 2017 at 1:29 am

      Reminds me of Tony Robbins, another one of them self-aggrandizing sociopath snake oil salesman disguised as a businessman

  6. Boss

    Oct 3, 2017 at 9:33 am

    We would all much rather listen to DJ mumble nothings and find it hilarious than have to be shoved all this personal glory story down our throats like this

  7. Matt Schulze

    Oct 3, 2017 at 6:41 am

    In fairness, the 97% of people 24th can’t/won’t improve their 28 handicap probably shouldn’t have even bothered with the article if they aren’t willing to invest time practicing and working at it.

    What did they expect – how Netflix and potato chips increased my driving distance?

  8. Paul

    Oct 2, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    The yips are holding me back. I can’t get through them. Had twelve 3-putt greens this past weekend. Somehow I’ve able to hold a 14 handicap. No problems tee to green. On the green equals disaster!

  9. Bob

    Oct 2, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Sometimes accepting what you can do gets in the way of what you want to do….you can hit a 7 iron 120 yards on the green most any time, but you can also hit a 7 iron 150 yards any time and hope to hit the green…so 100% of the time you know which club you pull for that 150 yard 3 par…no way your pulling a 5 iron out of the bag.

  10. Triple Mocha Man

    Oct 2, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    You wound like a very positive person, but also super annoying.

  11. Mario

    Oct 2, 2017 at 5:04 am

    Dang.. Thanks for letting us know all of your accomplishments and how special you are.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Oct 2, 2017 at 11:57 am

      You have missed the point. This is an article about how YOU might make a dramatic change to any area of YOUR life based on a formula that what has worked well for me. My accomplishments are only relevant to illustrate that point…and yes, I’m great. But you share that as well! We all do!

      • Double Mocha Man

        Oct 2, 2017 at 3:31 pm

        Stephen Paddock don’t

      • Boss

        Oct 3, 2017 at 9:31 am

        No, Jaac, you missed his sarcasm. And dang, you are annoying, Jaac. Go pat yourself on the back and enjoy the mirror some more.

  12. Radim Pavlicek

    Oct 2, 2017 at 2:56 am

    Very nice article. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Guia

    Oct 1, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Your commitment is amazing. I am starting my change tomorrow.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Oct 2, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks…and excellent! There’s no sense waiting until New Year’s to make resolutions, set goals, and be that which we see ourselves. And as they say, it’s only too late if you don’t start now! Go get ’em!

  14. Double Mocha Man

    Oct 1, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Wouldn’t it be drastically and not dramatically

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Oct 2, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      Yes, drastically would work as well. Although, such changes could be dramatic too. This one was editor’s choice. :-p

  15. Tommy

    Oct 1, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    I know your story Jaacob but it was nice to hear it again. You’re a great inspiration to us hacks everywhere.

  16. Double Mocha Man 4 Pres

    Oct 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    Good article, thanks Jaacob. Love how you broke it down into pieces. Time to get moving towards our goals!

  17. Boss

    Oct 1, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Man, I knew it. Now you’re just showing off. THAT’s the one thing bad players hate about you people. You just don’t get it, Jaacob. You’ve proved to people that you can’t just PLAY golf on the weekends without practice or working out, that buying new equipment won’t help.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Oct 2, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      This is not meant as showing off. This is more, “if you want to make a big change in your golf game (or life), here’s one way to do it”.
      People can play however and to whatever level they would like…and that doesn’t necessarily mean it requires lots of practice or working out if they want to get better. It’s definitely possible to be better (even with only weekend golf) if you make that your intention, pay attention, are willing to change your approach, and keep your focus over time.
      New equipment may help in certain situations, being custom fit can definitely help if one hasn’t already done that…and of course, I’d recommend Sterling Irons single length irons. 😉

  18. Lorne

    Oct 1, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Congratulations!!! Everything you have done in your life is commendable and inspiring. You are a winner.
    However, the average ‘golfer’ who can’t break 100 honestly cannot and will not make a commitment to improving their golf game. They will buy newer clubs but cannot make a change to their physical abilities over the longer term. Physical training is too painful and time consuming.
    Basically, most recreational golfer play golf for fun, relaxation and social contact…. and search for a ‘golf tip’ to solve their swing problems. Nothing more.
    What you are advocating may only apply to the top 1 – 3% of golfers worldwide who are obsessed with their decent golf game… and even then. I know, because I did it too.

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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News

PGA Tour Pro and Parkland Alum Nick Thompson is Part of the Solution

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The tragic shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida moved the entire nation in a deep and profound way. The tragic events touched many lives, including PGA Tour Professional Nick Thompson, who attended Stoneman Douglas for four years and was born and raised just minutes from there.

On our 19th Hole podcast, Thompson described in detail just how connected he is to the area and to Douglas High School.

“That’s my alma mater. I graduated in ’01. My wife Christen and I graduated in ’01. I was born and raised in Parkland…actually Coral Springs, which is a neighboring city. Stoneman Douglas actually is just barely in Parkland but it’s pretty much right on the border. I would probably guess there are more kids from Coral Springs that go to Stoneman Douglas than in Parkland. So I spent 29 years in Coral Springs before moving to Palm Beach Gardens where I live now, but I was born and raised there. I spent four years of high school there and it’s near and dear to my heart.”

Thompson’s siblings, LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson and Web.com pro Curtis, did not attend Douglas High School.

His reaction to the news was immediate and visceral.

“I was in shock,” said Thompson. “I just really couldn’t believe it because Coral Springs and Parkland are both wonderful communities that are middle to upper class and literally, like boring suburbia. There’s not much going on in either city and it’s kind of hard to believe that it could happen there. It makes you think almost if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. I think that’s one of the reasons why it has really gotten to a lot of people.”

Thompson knew personally some of the names that have become familiar to the nation as a result of the shooting, including Coach Aaron Feis, who died trying to save the lives of students.

“I went to high school with Aaron Feis,” said Thompson. “He was two years older than me, and I knew of him…we had a fair amount of mutual friends.”

And while the events have provoked much conversation on many sides, Thompson was moved to action.

“We started by my wife and I, the night that it happened, after we put our kids to bed, we decided that we needed to do something,” Thompson said. “The first thing we decided was we were going to do ribbons for the players, caddies, and wives. We did a double ribbon of maroon and silver, the school colors, pin them together and wrote MSD on the maroon section. We had the media official put them out on the first tee, so all the players were wearing them. It’s been great.”

“I got together with the media guys and Ken Kennerly, the tournament director of The Honda Classic and they have been amazing. The amount of players that had the ribbons on, I was just watching the coverage to see, is incredible. I actually spoke to Tiger today and thanked him for wearing the ribbon. We really appreciate it, told him I went to high school there. I mean the only thing he could say was that he was sorry, it’s an unfortunate scenario and he was happy to wear the ribbon, do whatever he could.”

Thompson is quick to note the help that he has received in his efforts.

“It’s not just me. My wife has been just as instrumental in getting this done as me. I just, fortunately, have the connection with the PGA Tour to move it in the right direction even faster. I have the luxury of having a larger platform that can get my words out and everything we’re trying to do faster than most people. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart so it was just literally perfect with The Honda Classic coming in town.”

Thompson has also been involved in fundraising that goes to help the survivors and victims’ families. GoFundMe accounts supported by Thompson and the PGA Tour have raised in excess of 2.1 million dollars in just a week.

“One of the most important uses for this money is counseling for victims, for these kids who witnessed this horrific event, or have one degree of separation,” Thompson said. “Counseling for kids who lost a friend or a classmate, who need counseling and to help them with their PTSD essentially. I think that’s one of the most important things is helping all these kids deal with what has happened.”

Thompson acknowledged the fact that the entire Parkland family is activated to help in the healing. As for his efforts, it’s the product of his recognition of just how fortunate his life has been and a heart for service.

“Golf has given so much to me that it was the perfect time to give back even more than I already have. It’s the best we can do. We’re just trying to make a difference. ”

Listen to the entire interview on a special edition of The 19th Hole with Michael Williams on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Podcasts

TG2: What irons did Knudson finally get fit into?

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GolfWRX equipment expert Brian Knudson gets his first ever iron fitting. He dishes about his favorite irons, some irons that didn’t work for him, and he discusses the wide array of shafts that he tried. And then, he reveals what irons and shafts he got fit into. His irons of choice may surprise you.

Check out the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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