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.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
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