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Hello USGA, we need to talk….

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It’s me, the amateur golfer.

We haven’t spoken in a while and I’ve been trying to reach you. I know you’ve had a lot on your mind lately and I feel like maybe I’m not at the top of the list of your callbacks, so I decided to send you this letter. I hope it finds you well.

You know and I know that people can drift apart sometimes. I know you’ve had a lot going on lately with work. First, I’d like to congratulate you on all of your recent success. I watched your U.S. Open this year where the winner, Brooks Koepka, earned $2.16 million. I read that this is the first time a winner’s share in any major tournament had exceeded $2 million! And in your Open! That is an impressive amount! I also read the total purse was more than $12 million. That’s also getting up there, isn’t it? I mean in 1996, the year before Tiger Woods won his first major, the total purse was only $2.4 million and the winner’s share was a hair over $400K.

You’re primetime now. Places like Chambers Bay and Erin Hills basically build courses just for you. You’ve really made it when guys start doing that, and now with that TV and sponsorship money… I mean five times the purse from ’96! Wow! And it’s not just Koepka! I read in Forbes that Roger Federer recently surpassed our old friend Tiger Woods as the top earner in individual sports with more than $110 million in tournament earnings. Tiger hasn’t even played much since 2009 and he was still No. 1 eight years later! Pros in your sport are doing really well. LOTS of money out there in the pro game. Your game, after all.

But it’s just… I feel like you don’t notice me anymore no matter what I do. I didn’t want your public success to affect the nice thing we had going, but lately that’s what it feels like. You’ve been making these comments; you’ve been talking to our friends like the media and saying hurtful things. You never did this in 1996, and your research printed in Golf Digest shows I wasn’t all that different back then. Please know that I have been trying to better myself though. For instance, I started using wider and squarer grooves hoping to get better for you… but I really didn’t. You didn’t notice my grooves though until THEY started using them. THEY started calling it things like “bomb and gouge” and saying it changed things. I never felt it changed things for me, and I didn’t think it changed things between us. Then you stuck the dagger in me again USGA, because for years I’d been trying to better myself by anchoring putters to my body. Again, not much success.

In 20+ years, my average index dropped from 16 to 14.5. That’s progress, but not enough to change me completely. I didn’t think it was enough for you to notice. But you noticed Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott for using anchored putters, didn’t you? Then you told me it wasn’t working out for us.

I have to be honest. It hurts. But again, I try to stay positive and think there is a future here. But now I see you in the press saying that I hit the ball too far and this is ruining things again. Talk about sending me mixed messages! Didn’t you tell me last year that I should “Tee It Forward” to help things between us? The next year you’re telling our friends that I hit it too far and am causing a “horrible impact” on your game because you have to lengthen courses? Why was I teeing it forward? Trackman says my average drive is 214 yards! Or were you talking about THEM again? Do you remember me USGA? Do you think about me anymore? Because I’ve been to all of your 11,000 public courses. Tell me how many of those you’ve lengthened because of me.

It’s not like I don’t do anything for you, USGA. I spend more than $2.5 billion on your game. You want to ignore me for the glitz and glamour of THEM, but it’s me who makes you what you are. Without me, you don’t have your sport. You don’t have your TV crews or your U.S. Open bids. You don’t have your “open doctors” adding 600 yards to a course that you’ll eventually say “I” made you lengthen. And you know what? There are 20 million of me, and it’s ME who generates interest in your game. I got 2.2 million people trying your game for the first time in 2015. I got 37 million people saying they were interested in playing your game that same year. These are some of the highest numbers ever, and you ignore ME? You ignore me for Dustin and Jordan and Rory?

Don’t push me anymore USGA. People change and things can change, but remember I was there for you in the beginning and helped get us to where we are. Please remember that before you do anything that really hurts me.

Sincerely,

The Amateur Golfer

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Jeff Singer was born and still resides in Montreal, Canada. Though it is a passion for him today, he wasn't a golfer until fairly recently in life. In his younger years Jeff played collegiate basketball and football and grew up hoping to play the latter professionally. Upon joining the workforce, Jeff picked up golf and currently plays at a private course in the Montreal area while working in marketing. He has been a member of GolfWRX since 2008

71 Comments

71 Comments

  1. Donn Rutkoff

    Dec 14, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Since you are Canadian you might under appreciate the following.

    I think the USGA which holds about 5 national championship events (men, women, junior, amateur etc.) should Fly The Flag of the U.S.A. and start the tournament with playing The National Anthem. (Colin Winkydink of the NFL go take a leap. Tiger is no angel but he gives back to the community more, way more, than selfish Colin.)

    A player should NEVER go backwards to play from previous spot. Just drop a ball take a stroke no matter what happened to the shot in question.

    And USGA and PGA should NOT let Charlie Hoffman merely take a drop in sand due to whatever reason. He should play from a same lie. The official should have been authorized to bury his new lie in the sand the same depth he moved from.

  2. Eric

    Dec 11, 2017 at 7:45 am

    LOL. What a funny article. I don’t think the author of this needs to complain about belly putters, square grooves, or longer distances when he has improved his handicap by 1.5 over a 20 year period. My best advice is to head to the putting green with a regulation putter for an hour or two whenever you feel like writing a sorry message to the USGA again

  3. Norman Light

    Dec 11, 2017 at 12:53 am

    What we really need to talk about is the cost of golf. Golf companies are making the game for the rich people not the average person. One company you could buy a set of clubs for $20,000 And all the other companies you could pay between $900-$2000 what average American has that kind of money with a family of four this is totally totally stupid company need to get real and quit making millions and millions of dollars on the golf world thank you

  4. Underachiever

    Dec 9, 2017 at 9:51 am

    I wish I hit the ball too far…

  5. Michael

    Dec 9, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Excellent letter. All the golfers here who claim to be single digit should take note too. WE ARE ALL the game, not just one segment. The changes coming in 2019 are great, but there is no excuse for it to have taken this long. In the same vein, what is wrong with certain rules regarding the ball and other equipment that apply to the pros or USGA sanctioned championships?

  6. Bob Racho

    Dec 9, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Good letter. I am an 80 year old golfer and love the sport. I have decided to F the rules, and play according to mine. They are common sense rules that all of us senior golfers should be happy with. Anchoring the putter helps my back and will let me play a few years longer. I do not wish to hit out of a bad lie, so I move the ball a few inches to a better one. I value my clubs and do not wish to ruin them by hitting a tree, so I move that ball to get away from that problem. I play from the forward tees and have enjoyment from hitting some clubs that I haven’t hit in years. I now use ALL of my clubs including my wedges.
    I play public course and respect them all even if they aren’t as pristine as the private courses that the pro’s play on. I repair my ball marks and two others on each green, and divots as well. If our players did this our courses would be in way better shape and approach the private courses that are so pristine. I count my shots. The most important thing to me is to play with integrity to the sport that I wish to play, and that includes the changing of some idiotic rules for us older golfers that will allow us to play will into our 80’s.
    So, to the USGA, you best make a change in the rules for the older golfers who are an integral part of keeping public golf courses open.

    • AJ

      Dec 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Way to go Bob. I’m in the same mood as Bob is. However, I accept the challenge of honest play and do not
      Move my ball regardless. Exception: local rules. Perhaps in 10 years I will agree with Bob completely.

    • Lock

      Dec 14, 2017 at 6:06 am

      “Make Golf Fun Again”

    • Crazy About Golf

      Dec 14, 2017 at 11:34 pm

      Bob, you’re the man! I agree….unless you are recording a score for handicap purposes or playing in a tournament (or for money with your buddies), play by YOUR rules (within reason). If you want to improve your lie in the rough, do it. If you want to move your ball out of a divot, do it. If you prefer to pick up when you’re within 2 feet of the cup, knock yourself out! This game is also meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously and it seems that the USGA isn’t helping.

  7. Paul

    Dec 9, 2017 at 6:16 am

    When it rains at my course and the ball gets a bit dirty, I have to ‘play it as it lies’. How come THEY get Lift, Clean and Place whenever conditions aren’t perfect?
    Have you ever noticed that you never see TV dootage of them cleaning their ball on the fairway?

  8. Joe sixpack

    Dec 8, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I agree with the spirit of this article. And I would add a couple things to it. First, equipment. The reason courses are too short for the pros now is because the usga totally failed to prevent drivers and balls from going way the f— too far. Changing the grooves on wedges was a moronic approach to this issue. The usga is in bed with the equipment companies and they need promises of greater distance to sell new drivers every six months. The usga allowing this is a corruption of the game. Second, technology. The usga have been Luddites when it comes to understanding and embracing technology. For years they kept distance measuring devices illegal. Why? Is pacing off yardages from sprinkler heads a skill that golf should test? Just let everyone use a laser and speed things up. They seem to understand this finally but it took 20 years. Technology isn’t going to slow down. New stuff is coming constantly and they’re too old and stuck in their ways to get out in front of it and make informed choices about which technologies are good or bad for the game.

  9. Bill F

    Dec 8, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    I wish we could all sign that letter and truly send it!

  10. Marc Halley

    Dec 8, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Excellent article. Right on the money. Thanks much.

  11. DaveT

    Dec 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    The article says, “USGA, you only care about the professionals.” Those disagreeing with the articles are mostly saying, “Stop feeling so important. You’re not. The professionals are. Don’t like the USGA rules? Play whatever rules or non-rules you want.” OK, let’s go with the idea that both are correct. The obvious response is for only the professionals to pay USGA dues. If the USGA does nothing for the duffers, seniors, and mid to high HCP — seems agreed by both sides — then let’s see how they get along without them.

    • Robert Roy

      Dec 9, 2017 at 9:09 am

      I would not pay money to watch professional golfers hit 260 yard drives. I want to see them bomb it 300+ because bit is what makes them special. Leave the ball issue alone or I think you will lose even more players and interest. The USGA needs to stop speaking for golfers without knowing our feeling.

  12. JDMasur

    Dec 8, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Time is the biggest detriment. 3 6s, not 2 9s would make it easier to introduce spouses and kids.play 6, or 12 or 18.

    • mM

      Dec 9, 2017 at 10:47 am

      Or, you can just quit golf, and make it easier on yourself and your family.

  13. Sean Foster-Nolan

    Dec 8, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Well done Jeff. You have echoed many of my comments, but in a more elegant way.

  14. jd57

    Dec 8, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Blaming the USGA for ruining your local round of golf is like blaming the NFL for ruining your neighborhood game of football. Has literally no effect on you. They’re a professional sports governing body, not the local gestapo policing your round.

    • Scrubby

      Dec 8, 2017 at 3:24 pm

      Not exactly. The PGA governs the pros. The USGA is for all of us.

    • John Uphoff

      Dec 8, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      PGA governs the tours
      USGA and R&A govern all golf
      Bifercation is present in many sports. Metal bats in amateur baseball
      The shorter distance on extra points in football
      Several different rules in basketball
      No fighting in amateur hockey etc
      Golf isn’t for the professional golfer only a very small % of golfers ever shoot par most never break 90

    • George

      Dec 9, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Yeah and the should not be. A amateur organization running a professional event is a JOKE.

  15. dbleAGLE

    Dec 8, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    If you really want to help the rest of us give us a little book of slopes for every green we play and a caddy to confirm the break.

    Pros make tons of putts but then again…Pros get tons of info about EVERY putt we lemmings dont.

    Dilly Dilly Indeed

    • mM

      Dec 9, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Yeah? But then Pros usually don’t ever play as a 4some as we do on public courses, and some public courses send out 5somes. And, the Pros are still playing their rounds in 5 hours with a 3some. With a 4some, it’s a guaranteed 6 hour round. When they play with Ams at places like Pebble Beach in the Pro-Am all the way thru to the weekend, their rounds take 6.5 hours. You really want us Ams to carry AIM point maps? Your weekend rounds will take 7 hours with your regular 4somes.

  16. Chris Carpenter

    Dec 8, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    If you aren’t using your 14 handicap to pay your mortgage, speaking as “Everyman” may be a bit of a stretch. I’m guessing if [generic] you wanted to anchor your putter to eek out an 86, nobody would care. If [generic] you wanted to hit from a forward set of tees to enjoy your round and leverage your lower irons during a round rather than mid to high, that would be okay too.

    Amateurs are not pros and we don’t have to play under the same scrutiny or tight guardrails if we don’t want to. Play a breakfast ball. Carry 17 clubs. Anchor your putter. Play whatever tees you want. [Generic] We may need to take ourselves a bit less seriously as amateurs and remember to just play. If you’re playing in a tournament, play by the rules. Otherwise, literally everything you do on a course is just practice for the sheer enjoyment of the game. My opinion (worth about $0.03) has changed significantly since playing NCAA golf 20 years ago and being a middle-aged father of 3 who just wants to get a round in when I can now.

    • Oscar Farley

      Dec 8, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      The USGA should take 15 percent of what they give out to the already millionaire winners of tournaments and help supplement green fees for those of us that simply want to feed our families instead of paying jacked up weekend green fees.

      • George

        Dec 9, 2017 at 10:26 am

        Great, Just what the game needs. A Obama spread the wealth solution. The USGA nor anyone else you be paying to supplement anything in your life PERIOD.

  17. Michael

    Dec 8, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    How about the “Game we call penalties on our selves” A game of honor, integrity and sportsmanship.
    Then they say you can’ post your solo games for a handicap!!
    So much for trust.

    • Darryl

      Dec 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      Sorry, I agree with the USGA on that one. When you play alone you’re not playing you’re practicing and those scores shouldn’t count.

      • B Johnson

        Dec 8, 2017 at 1:56 pm

        golf is an individual sport, but you cant play a legitimate round by yourself?
        anybody who wants to phoney their handicap still can do so
        I dropped the handicap …. dont miss it…it is just as legitimate to give a truthful answer to the question “what do you hope to shoot?“ on the first tee

      • OB

        Dec 8, 2017 at 2:30 pm

        I agree that solo golf is only a practice round and not playing to register a score with other golfers according to the Rules of Golf.
        I play a lot of solo golf in the evenings and I usually play with a 6/7/8/or 9-iron and lob wedge and play 6-12 balls to sharpen my short game. I do carry a full set too, but I play 3 balls over 9 holes (3 x 9 = 27 equivalent holes) because I already know how to walk! And when I do play 3 balls I can play scratch golf, but not with the same ball!!!
        😉

      • Steve S

        Dec 9, 2017 at 8:58 am

        I play a lot of solo golf. I’m retired and most of my golfing friends still work. That and I really don’t like people. They tend to distract me and ruin the round. Plus I can play much faster which is more fun and better exercise. If I want to register my handicap I will since I count all my strokes and play the ball as it lies. Makes the occasional sub 80 round that much more enjoyable and feel like I actually accomplished something. I’m a member of the USGA…mostly just to get the “free” US Open hat.

  18. Vic Man

    Dec 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Dilly Dilly! Absolutely agree.

  19. Ma Ja

    Dec 8, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    My main issue with courses that are pushing the ” Play 9″ initiative is that they want us to play 9, but they want to charge us for 18!!! How about “Play 9, Pay 9”???

  20. CB

    Dec 8, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Jeff, you forgot to say:
    It’s me, the Amateur, who pays the greens fees at all the courses and support the courses from closing and help the professionals who run the courses and help them make money from teaching at the courses and driving ranges all across the country.

  21. JJVas

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:57 am

    As a 2 hcp, I completely agree. Tee it forward and play fast enough to not enjoy the $$$ you’re putting down… on a course that is now longer and tougher than ever before… but feel bad about your technology while you only get 20 yards on me when you need 60 to compete. Sound right?

    Don’t worry, just because every other professional sport is smart enough to have their own rules, doesn’t mean we have to be. As an added bonus, some 25-year old wearing Rickie Fowler pants who gave this a “shank” will always have his lecture ready for you because he has “perspective”. Good luck!

  22. Doug Stiles

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Be nice to see what idea he has for USGA to do something better. What exactly have they done wrong. do you want them to send some of the money Koepka won to you so you can play for free???

    You are picking low hanging fruit – Go play golf and enjoy the time away from real life.

  23. Stephen

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Each one of us should Play from the correct Tee box according to our abilities and then it doesn’t matter about course length. I am not in favor of making the size of the hole bigger. If your ball stops within 3 feet of the hole, pick up your ball and pretend your next putt went in and move on to the next hole like most average golfers do or should do, and quit slowing course play for the rest. If you hit eight strokes on any hole, and there are people waiting behind you to play, pick up your ball and move to the next Tee box. Not rocket science. Oh and get take a few lessons, and go to the golf range and practice your putting and hitting other clubs in your bag.

    • CB

      Dec 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      Or, America could be a bit more responsible like some other countries and force people to have to have licenses to play the game, after having gone through a quick test of their abilities and basic knowledge of the rules and etiquette of the game before they are even allowed to step onto a full-sized golf course.

    • DoubleMochaMan

      Dec 9, 2017 at 12:23 am

      Cool. If I didn’t have to putt out my 3-footers I’d shoot about 8 strokes lower.

  24. Bob

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:35 am

    The USGA is disingenuous about moving up. I am 70 years old and have moved to the senior tees. After hitting a 200 yard dive from the senior tee I am still 30 yards behind a 45 year old hitting from the white tees. I am hitting a 7 wood to the greens d the 45 year old is hitting a 7 iron. Yet the USGA in their wisdom requires that I lower my handicap by three strokes when playing against this guy. Thanks for making your game even harder for senior players. Several of my fellow senior players and Ihave Idropped our USGA membership and are not planning on rejoining soon. But as the author said they just don’t care about older players.

    • Another Bob

      Dec 8, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      Amen. This could hVe been written by me.

    • Scott

      Dec 8, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      Bob, First, it is called a handicap not a handbobmymoney. You get more strokes if you are a worse player. If you like to rake in putts from everywhere and like to have a vanity handicap, then you will pay the price when you bet. And if you play the course shorter you change angles, hazard distances, strategy, etc. Distance is not the only factor. Second, every golfer has strengths and weaknesses. Maybe the guy who hits it further is more wild or has a worse short game. Stop whining about giving up strokes when you are playing an entirely different course, no matter how far you hit it.

    • Murv

      Dec 8, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      I agree completely.

  25. HDTVMAN

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Just like the NCAA. They are a bunch of know-nothing sliver-spoon-fed high society MORONS who are in it just for their EXCLUSIVE clicky country club trash buddies. They need to go away!

    • Joseph dreitler

      Dec 8, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Sorry, but they do nothing special for those of us fortunate enough to belong to private clubs. Until people are willing to accept that the game THEY play is a different game than WE play, it is all talk. If we bad amateurs need to be able to say our equipment must be the same as theirs, we will pound 210 yard drives and flail 5 woods at greens while they hit it 340 with their drivers. MLB players need to use wooden bats because if they did not the ballparks would all have to be extended and rebuilt to 430 feet down the lines and 520 to dead center.

  26. Regis

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:21 am

    No one says that the author or anyone else has to play golf by USGA rules. No one says anyone has to even keep score. If your not in a tournament play whatever game you want. I’ve been a member of the USGA since 1986. I’d wager the author has never plunked down the 20 bucks to join. Not even for the free hat. I have some issues with some of ru!ings of the USGA (and the R and A -let’s not forget it’s a joint venture) but overall they do a great job. This “article” is just mean spirited and the fact that the author took up golf fairly recently should surprise no one

    • Chris Carpenter

      Dec 8, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      Well said. Not keeping score forces a significant shift in perspective about the game. There are times that it is relevant to score your round, but there are also times when the big picture of a course, layout, how your shots feel, what you are grateful for, etc…is less about score and more about taking in the whole experience and not just 86 measurements of it (if you’re a 14).

    • Uhit

      Dec 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      How big is the market for non conforming golf equipment (driver, wedges, balls)?

      B.t.w.
      If you want to grow the game, then you have to listen to the ones, who are the growth:

      The newcomers, who joined recently…
      …lets say, within the last decade.

      And I think it is no good idea, to touch the balls, they grew up with.

  27. ron

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:18 am

    The USGA is doing just fine The PROS deserve all the money they earn !! Check out other sports!!
    Anchoring is cheating … and never should have been allowed

  28. Steve Cantwell

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Leave it to a Canadian to come up with such a far-fetched fairytale!

    • Philip

      Dec 8, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Seriously, as if Americans have never had some pretty far-fetched fairytales … keep countries out of it …

  29. Tbone

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Jeff plays at a private course. Enough said!

  30. Wyomick

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:11 am

    The USGA are a bunch of Twits. I stopped dating her when she said I couldn’t use my 10 year old clubs in her tournaments. I wasn’t going to buy new ones just so she’d go out with me. I don’t spend any more money on HER anymore.

  31. Bill

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:10 am

    If the USGA wants to help amateur golfers, why not make the hole just a little bit bigger. Most of us play on muni courses that have greens that the pros never see. I understand the cost factor with maintaining great greens,but why no help is a little with the size of the hole. It could easily improve scores, which improves interest.

    • Aggowl

      Dec 8, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      The pros SHOULD play on imperfect course. They did years ago. NO ONE talks about the course condition being a factor in scoring, NO ONE. IT IS. Look at how putts had to be hit 30 to 40 years ago. It truly is a PUTTING SURFACE. RIDICULOUS!

  32. Paul Vicary

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Great article and oh so true. You can see where this is all heading. I see the cliff and hear the roar of the ocean.

  33. Matt

    Dec 8, 2017 at 10:58 am

    No one at the USGA is saying you, the 14 handicap, hits the ball too far. That argument is so bad it must be purposefully disingenuous.

    • Chuck

      Dec 8, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Exactly! And the USGA didn’t want to take your old square grooves away, either. You were allowed to keep them. Because they didn’t even matter, when like most average retail amateur golfers, you were buying Surlyn and Ionomer (not expensive tour-level Urethane) golf balls.

    • Jody

      Dec 8, 2017 at 11:36 am

      Yet before long they will change the ball and or the rules because .05% of golfers in the world hit the ball too far. They’ll say it’s in order to uphold the integrity of the game when in all reality they will just be making the sport harder for the majority. Then we’ll again be hearing the apocalyptic whistle about needing to grow the game, all while the USGA is being a major part of the problem! Football, baseball, and basketball all have different rules for the professionals and it doesn’t belittle the game or effect how most people view these sports. Why should golf be different?

      • Tal

        Dec 11, 2017 at 2:41 am

        Golf is different because you play the course, not the man so you can directly compare your game to the pros. It loses some magic without being able to do that.

  34. Rich

    Dec 8, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Right, because they haven’t just spent the last ~5 years rewriting the rulebook to make the game you enjoy easier.

    • John B

      Dec 8, 2017 at 11:01 am

      If the USGA is so into the anchoring ban why aren’t they enforcing the rule. It’s quite clear they are still anchoring their forearm to their body. Read the rule, it’s a violation.

      • Rich

        Dec 9, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        Oh for goodness sake, give it a rest! 4 stroke penalties are being given out in professional golf costing players tournaments. I hardly think they are going to let players continually violate a rule week in week out withouth penalty.

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Opinion & Analysis

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

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19th Hole

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