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.
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.
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.
Mondays Off: Augusta National: start on the front or back nine? | Knudson’s Fujikura visit
Would you rather start your round at Augusta National from the front or back nine? Mondays Off debates both after the most recent Masters had players starting from both. Steve gets some information on Fujikura shafts from Knudson’s visit last week and then Knudson confesses on how his first night of league play went!
The Wedge Guy: How many wedges?
From the feedback I get, many golfers are not entirely confident…or are completely confused…about how many wedges they should carry. Those of you who know my work and writing over the past 25 years or so also know that I am a proponent of carrying a carefully measured “set” of wedges that give you the shotmaking control you need in prime scoring range. But what I’ve learned over those many years is that the number of wedges that is “right”, and the lofts of those wedges can be very different from one golfer to another.
The reason I think getting this right is so important is that your scores are more heavily influenced by your play from wedge range into the green, and your shotmaking around the greens, than by any other factor. The right “set” of wedges in your bag can make all the difference in the world.
As I repeatedly preach, taking your guidance from the PGA Tour players might not help you achieve your goals. These guys spend hundreds of hours each year perfecting their wedge play, and you simply cannot do that. The good news is that you can add some science to your wedge set make-up that can help you have more shot choices when you are in scoring range or trying to save par from a missed green.
My basic premise on the subject is that the answer can be approached scientifically for each golfer, and it is a multi-step process
- Begin by knowing the loft of the 9-iron and “P-club” that came with your set of irons, as optimum gapping begins there. The industry challenge of producing longer-hitting irons has led most OEMs to strengthen lofts throughout the set. Along the way, it was apparently decided to widen the gaps between the short irons to 5 degrees from the traditional 4 that stood for decades. What this does is increase the distance differential between your 9-iron and “P-club” from what I would consider optimum. For golfers of slower swing speeds, that 5-degree gap might well deliver a 10-12 yard differential, but my bet is that most of you are getting a difference closer to 15 yards, or even more. That just will not let you get the distance control precision you want in prime scoring range.
- The second step is to be honest with your distances. I am a big proponent of getting on the golf course or range with a laser or GPS and really knowing how far you carry each of your short irons and wedges. Hit a number of shots from known yardages and see where they land (not including roll out). My bet is that you will find that your distances are different from what you thought they were, and that the differentials between clubs are not consistent.
- Figure out where to start. If your actual and real distance gap between your 9-iron and “P-club” is over 12-13 yards, maybe the place to start could be with a stronger P-club. You can either have your loft strengthened a bit or make the shaft 1/4 to 1/2” longer to add a few yards to that club.
- Figure out what lofts your wedges should have. From there, I suggest selecting lofts of your wedges to build a constant yardage difference of 10-12 yards between clubs. Depending on your strength profile, that may require wedges at four-degree intervals, or it might be five – each golfer is different. Those with very slow swing speeds might even find that six-degree gaps deliver that distance progression.
- Challenge the traditional 52-56-60 setup. Those lofts became the “standard” when set-match pitching wedges were 48 degrees of loft. That hasn’t been the case in over 25 years. Most of today’s P-clubs are 45 degrees, which leaves a very large distance differential between that club and a 52-degree gap wedge. Some enlightened golfers have evolved to carry a wedge set of 50-54-58, which is a step in the right direction. But you can get whatever loft precision you want, and you should do that. At SCOR, we made wedges in every loft from 41 to 61 degrees, and our wedge-fitting tool prescribed lofts of 49-53-57-61 to many golfers, based on that 45* “P-club” and their stated distance profile. Those who took that advice were generally very happy with that change. We fitted and sold many sets at 49-54-59 as well. Though no company offers wedges in every loft, you can bend even numbers to hit your numbers exactly. Just remember, bending stronger reduces the bounce and bending weaker increases the bounce.
What many of you will find with this exercise is that it suggests that you should be carrying more wedges. That’s probably true for the vast majority of recreational golfers. I have come to realize that more wedges and less long clubs will usually improve your scores. After all, long or short by 25-30 feet is great at long range, but not acceptable in prime scoring range.
If you have more clubs at the long end of your bag (longer than a 5- or 6-iron) than you do at the short end (9-iron and up) then you should consider an honest self-appraisal of how often you use each club between your driver and putter. My bet is that it will be an enlightening analysis.
The Harding Park experience
When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.
TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.
The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.
The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.
The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.
As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.
The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.
The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.
The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.
Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.
Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.
As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.
The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.
Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.
The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.
The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.
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