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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 creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. 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 shot 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 helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players 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 – Millions of 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!

      • 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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On Spec

On Spec: Bryson Wins U.S. Open & playing with hickory shafted clubs

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How could we not talk about Bryson winning the US Open and being the only player to finish under par at Winged Foot?

In contrast to Bryson’s take on the modern game, our host Ryan Barath recently had the opportunity to play golf with hickory clubs for the first time and tells the story.

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Opinion & Analysis

Dear announcers: Stop saying “topspin”

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If there is one thing that grinds my gears, it’s when television announcers at the highest level in golf, with the largest audiences, get things so terribly wrong about the physics of the game. It may seem like a small issue, but the problem is these pieces of false information get into the minds of golfers, which then continues to perpetuate misinformation around the game, club fitting, and what actually happens when a golf ball is in motion.

The most recent account was during the first round of the U.S. Open when after a shot was hit from the rough and took off low with very little spin a not-to-be-named announcer said something along the lines of

“That really took off with some topspin, look at it roll out” 

This, from a physics perspective, is impossible. So I did what many commentators of the game do, I took to Twitter (@RDSBarath) to state my displeasure for the comment and share the truth about what really happens when a golf club strikes a ball.

The truth

Now that we have pointed out the falsehood, let’s help you better understand what’s really going on. In the golf vernacular, there are a number of ways spin is improperly described, with the two most common being; “sidespin” and “topspin.”

What is sidespin

Spin Axis – Trackman Golf

Sidespin is a commonly used incorrect way to describe the spin axis of a golf ball as it travels through the air. Rather than try and define it myself I will refer to the experts at Trackman to help me explain what’s really going on.

“Spin Axis is the tilt angle relative to the horizon of the golf ball’s resulting rotational axis immediately after separation from the club face (post impact).”

“The spin axis can be associated to the wings of an airplane. If the wings of an airplane are parallel to the ground, this would represent a zero spin axis and the plane would fly straight. If the wings were banked/tilted to the left (right wing higher than left wing), this would represent a negative spin axis and the plane would bank/curve to the left. And the opposite holds true if the wings are banked/tilted to the right.”

To better understand just how important spin axis is it to hitting shots that land close to your intended target check out the video below which demonstrates both spin axis and launch direction.

The falsehoods of “topspin”

As mentioned off the top, no pun intended, any shot struck under normal circumstances will not have topspin. The only scenario where is it possible is when a shot is topped into the ground with the leading edge or sole of the club above the equator of the ball.

The idea of topspin originates in paddle sports like tennis and ping pong where is it entirely possible to hit a low flying topspinning shot that hits their respective courts or tables and proceed to almost pick up speed.

The difference between a racket/paddle and a golf club, is a golf club delivers loft at impact, and the center of gravity is away from the contact point of the face. A golf ball even when hit in extremely low friction will still leave the clubface after impact with some amount of backspin, even on a putt.

The below video shows a putt starting to roll forward almost immediately, but what is really happening is the ball is struck under almost perfect putting launch conditions will very low backspin (but still measurable), friction from the ground resists the movement of the ball and the ball goes from skidding to forward roll very quickly.

In the case of the announcer who misspoke, it would have been much more beneficial to the viewer to have explained the shot like

“based on the lie and circumstances of the impact that shot came out a lot lower than it normally would with very little spin, and ran out more than usual” 

It’s a major change to the original statement and accurately describes what actually happened when the ball was hit from U.S. Open rough.

Remember, just because it was said on TV by a former professional golfer doesn’t make it true.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: U.S. Open Roundtable with Barath and Knudson | Favorite driver combo of 2020

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny has On Spec’s Ryan Barath and TG2’s Brian Knudson on the show to go deep on the US Open picks and their favorite driver/shaft combos for 2020.

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