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Opinion & Analysis

Either plan for excellence, or underachieve

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In late December, I returned from working with young professionals and preparing them for 2018 and tours ahead. From my experience, in the past 10 years, the challenge to get to the top ranks has become so much more difficult in professional sports – and golf is no exception. There are just so many more talented players attempting to make a living out of the game. That’s why being ultra prepared technically, physically, strategically, mentally and emotionally is so important.

The preparation and planning sessions are so critical to the young players’ year ahead and directly related to their year-long results. I typically spend at least a day with the player. The day includes their approach in every part of their game and the mindset around each piece. We critically examine every aspect of their game: from the time they drive in the parking lot to practice habits to round preparation to decision-making on the course to reflection after the round. I break the sessions into the following areas:

  1. Swing motion and the long game
  2. Short game (chipping, pitching, bunker play)
  3. Putting
  4. Trouble/recovery shots
  5. Practice
  6. Strategy/Decision-making on-course
  7. Preparation
  8. Assessment/Reflection

My approach with these young professionals is to highlight how to develop a great mindset and functional game plan in each area to best maximize their time and abilities. Without structure and a customized plan, their careers become a hit-and-hope scenario, potentially leading to long stints on the mini-tours and frivolously throwing sponsor money into the wind.

Let me now share with you an example of a few key points we consider in each of the areas above to highlight how we help players get into the right mindset around all areas of the game. All work is meant to build a more self-aware, self-confident, focused, resilient, optimistic and independent player. The work always starts with both a detailed yearly plan with targets, steps to action and weekly activity plans committed to by the player.

1. Swing motion and the long game

  • Structured 30 percent of practice time dedicated to long game
  • Make sure player owns and embraces any movements in the swing that make the player unique (every player has them)
  • A critical attention to fundamentals in practice sessions with a focus on balance and rhythm
  • A dedicated amount of time to build a process that develops distance control in the wedge game
  • An emphasis on functionality of the swing vs “the look” of it on video
  • Emphasis of elimination of one side of the course with a chosen driver shape
  • The process for testing any changes before bringing them to the course

2. Short game (chipping, pitching, bunker play)

  • Structured 40 percent of practice time dedicated to short game shots
  • Embrace the short game understanding that ball striking comes and goes. A well-developed short game is a constant and the key to scoring
  • Review developmental exercises and activities focusing on creativity. Practice must have a level of pressure, urgency and intensity
  • The process for testing any changes before bringing them to the course

3. Putting

  • Structured 30 precent of practice time dedicated to putting
  • Making sure there’s an emphasis on feel, flow and instinct, not a robotic mindset and obsession with precision and perfection that creates tension and apprehension
  • Evaluation of putting routine consistency. Preparation factors include grain, break and speed
  • Attitude around lag putts, short putts, birdie putts and par putts

4. Trouble/recovery shots

  • The decision-making process when considering options (risk and reward)
  • Embracing the challenge of trouble shots (mindset)
  • Ensuring practice of a variety of trouble shots (long and short) as a part of long-game and short-game time allocation

5. Practice

  • Ensuring every practice session has an objective. What am I trying to achieve?
  • Every shot in practice must have meaning (similar to golf course feelings)
  • Eliminate distractions. Put away the phone until after practice
  • Helping the player leverage their weekly practice schedule. Identifying current needs/priorities
  • Practice must always end in testing if any changes are made. Agreement around the process for long-game, short-game and putting

6. Strategy/decision-making on-course … and the mindset around it

  • Structuring the consistent routine from time of arrival at tee, green, ball in fairway to executing shot
  • Think box (conscious) and play box (subconscious) shot preparation evaluation
  • Link between feelings of the day and strategy (making adjustments)
  • Decisions re: green, yellow and red light pin locations
  • Par-5 strategy based on strengths (risk vs. reward)
  • Planning the time between shots

7. Preparation

  • Routine (time before tournament rounds). What works best
  • Structure of practice on tournament days. Allocation of time
  • Equipment: making sure equipment meets the needs of how the player wants to play and complements strengths
  • Exercises to develop key mental/emotional competencies to support overall plan (i.e. practical mindfulness exercises)

8. Assessment/reflection: how to take the lessons out of the action

  • Understanding how to take the learning out of each practice session and round
  • Development of questions to ask to efficiently extract the learning
  • Use of customized questionnaires to assess performance
  • Making sure the performance journal tool (written or digital) is a habit

There is a significant amount of detail and planning that goes in to creating the right professional plan for a player. The points above highlight the basic structure and are always customized based on needs of the player. I hope you can take some of these points and apply them to help you plan for excellence in your golf game in the coming season.

In my next article, I will highlight the key roadblocks/mistakes I see holding players back from maximizing their abilities in the professional game.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. steve

    Feb 16, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    “Without structure and a customized plan, their careers become a hit-and-hope scenario, potentially leading to long stints on the mini-tours and frivolously throwing sponsor money into the wind.”
    This is such a telling comment on the arrested mentality of most aspiring young players. Unfortunately, most are immature mentally and physically regardless of their playing ability. They cannot discipline themselves because they have a childish approach to the game and career. They play for fun and practice becomes a painful experience. Only those with an obsessive-compulsive mentality and proper mentoring and training can succeed. They are few.

  2. Philip

    Feb 16, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Very nice … going to use it as a template for this season to ensure I get on track fast and do not drift – thanks

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Opinion & Analysis

Opinion: Why all of golf’s majors should pass on 2020

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As a lover of language, the word selections of golf’s major-championship bodies intrigue me. They plan to delay, postpone, and suspend their events until a later date. It won’t be long before Thesaurus.com’s suggestions are invoked, and we prorogue, adjourn, and defer these tournaments until an undetermined, future date. I have a problem, a serious beef, with the notion that these events might be played. I’ll summarize in two arguments.

Other tournaments own those weeks

Look over the planned tour schedules of 2020. There is little to no room (i.e. open weeks) for events to slot in. The Masters, reportedly, is looking at an October date. Will they contact Shriners, Houston, Nine Bridges or ZOZO and ask them to step aside, or will they not even pay that courtesy? The PGA announced the postponement of its flagship event. The USGA is on the verge of announcing … something about the U.S. Open. No doubt the R&A will follow with an update on The Open Championship. Yes, these are major championships, ones that golfers dream of winning, and around which legends build their schedules. This designation does not give them any right to effectively reduce the efforts of organizers, volunteers, staff and fan base of any other event, to an afterthought. Take what fate has tossed your way, 2020 Majors, and leave a hole in the history books.

Humanity

Does a golf tournament hold any higher worth than other human endeavors? It will take something miraculous to conduct a professional golf tournament in the next 12 months. Doing so would require the assurance for all involved (players, rules officials, staff, and volunteers) that conditions are 100 percent safe. Without a vaccine, without a cure, this guarantee cannot be offered. Let’s not forget, that survival does not mean immunity. There is no suggestion that, once cured; safe. Given our social nature, we humans might reinfect each other, again and again. Why run that risk? Golf doesn’t need the bad publicity that “we matter more than your safety does” will bring. The families of tournament participants, workers, and supporters, also don’t need the worry that exposure will bring.

There are many more arguments to make, in support of this recommendation. There is no need to take up any more of your time, to make them. Join me and ask the Augusta National, the LPGA, the PGA of America, the USGA, and the R & A, to take the humane path and adjourn their premier events for a year. Their sacrifice will ensure solidarity with the rest of us.

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19th Hole

Looking back at the extraordinary 2014 WGC-Match Play final: Day vs Dubuisson

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@skysportsgolf

Though we may be missing what was scheduled to be the 2020 WGC-Match Play this week, it seems like as good a time as any to delve into the vault and look back on a classic Match Play final.

Here I’ll take you back to what was one of the most memorable finals in recent history between Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson.

Day (26) had been tipped for greatness throughout his young career and had raced effortlessly to the final in the desert.

Less was known about Dubuisson (23). Despite a win a few months earlier at the Turkish Airlines Open, the Frenchman had appeared previously just three times stateside, failing to make much of an impression.

The Match

Dove Mountain, Arizona was the setting, and by the 13th hole, the match looked done and dusted, with the heavy favorite Day forging himself a 3up lead – before it began to slowly slip away.

Dubuisson took the 13th hole, but despite a birdie at the 15th, the Frenchman was staring down the barrel remaining 2down with two to play. Facing a 12-foot putt to stay alive on 17, Dubuisson held his nerve pouring the putt in the middle to take it to the last.

On the final hole, Dubuisson saved par from the bunker which left Day two putts from 68-feet to wrap up his first WGC title.

The Australian’s first putt settled 10-feet from the cup, and ready to capture the second PGA Tour title of his career, Day’s par attempt was dead-center from the moment the ball left his flat-stick. But he agonizingly failed to hit it, leaving it short and in the jaws and taking us to extra holes.

Back in 2014, as silly as it sounds knowing what we know in 2020, doubts lingered about Day’s ability to close. He had won just once on Tour (2010), had three times been the bridesmaid at majors and at the 2013 Masters held the lead with three holes to play before stumbling home with two fatal bogeys.

With Day losing a 3up lead with just six holes to play and then leaving his 10-foot putt on 18 for victory short, it seemed like the 26-year-old could be hit with another mental scar.

But those fears looked to alleviate themselves when on the first playoff hole his competitor found the base of a cactus.

The final will forever be remembered for the sequence of events that followed.

Dubuisson’s Magic

In any other circumstances, Dubuisson would likely have taken an unplayable. But in a do or die position, the Frenchman summoned up one of the most remarkable up and downs you’re likely to see – knocking the ball from the cactus to 4 feet from the hole and extending the match.

On the very next hole, Dubuisson found trouble again in the form of a bush surrounded by rocks. To do it once was remarkable, to do it twice was borderline ridiculous. But the enigmatic 23-year did just that, swiping at the ball, hitting it to 8-feet, holing the putt as if it was nothing and extending the final.

All Day could do was laugh or cry. He chose the former.

The After-Effect

Day would go on to win the final, birdieing the fifth playoff hole and perhaps changing the course of his career. Tagged with an inability to close before the WGC-Match Play win, this victory was undoubtedly the catalyst in the Australian’s career. Nineteen months after winning his second title on Tour, Day had racked up a further five victories, including his single major title to date at the 2015 PGA Championship.

For Dubuisson, later that year he would shine at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, winning 2.5 points from three matches and was described by playing partner Graeme McDowell as “Europe’s next superstar”.

As of 2020, that proclamation has failed to materialize, with Dubuisson suffering massively with a perforated eardrum which saw him appear just twice in 2018, and he has since only twice claimed top-10 finishes on the European Tour.

Day didn’t trail once over his final 53 holes at the 2014 event, triumphing in the desert to kick start an incredible run that would see him climb to the summit of the sport.

But ask anyone who watched the 2014 WGC-Match Play final and their first recollection will almost always be the two extraordinary escapes the cool Frenchman gifted us to prove that sometimes there can be glory in defeat.

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Opinion & Analysis

Behind the numbers: A road map for an 18 handicap to get down to a 9

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I wrote an article four years ago for GolfWRX called “The statistical differences between a scratch golfer and a PGA Tour player.” This article became one of the most-viewed features for the site, totaling over 420,000 views to date. I recently consulted with Ben Alberstadt, GolfWRX’s Editor-in-Chief, about pulling together some numbers for handicap levels to which more of us can relate.

You might ask: How do I know the differences between these handicap levels? Well, it is my full-time job to know about the numbers behind the game of golf—at all levels. I have been a student of the game from a statistical standpoint for 30-plus years. I created the strokes gained analysis website, ShotByShot.com, used by thousands of amateur golfers to improve by isolating the strengths and weaknesses of their games. Additionally, I work with PGA Tour players to extract clear answers from the Tour’s overwhelming 650-plus ShotLink stats.

I’ve learned that there is no such thing as an “average” game, no matter the handicap level. We’re all snowflakes and find our own unique way to shoot our number. With that said, ShotByShot.com’s 384,000-plus round database enables us to create a composite of the average golfer at each level. One of the beauties is that our data is robust and smooth across all five major facets so that any golfer’s strengths and weaknesses—and we all have them—stand out clearly by comparison.

The Data We Used  

  • 18 Handicap: I averaged the 3,551 rounds in our database that match the 18 Differential from Slope Adjusted Course Rating. In other words, the Best eight of 20 rounds when Mr. 18   actually played to an 18 handicap.
  • 9 Handicap: Similarly, his Best eight out of 20 using the 5,000 applicable rounds in our database.

As you might guess, the difference between these two in scores is nine strokes. So, if your snowflake matches or is close to Mr. 18’s, simply drop the shots below by facet and voila you are there.

The chart below shows the distribution of the strokes by facet that Mr. 18 needs to save to join Mr. 9.

Driving

Skill in this critical facet of the game is measured by distance and accuracy. But let’s take distance out of the equation by assuming we’re all playing the correct tees for our games and focus on accuracy.

As the chart above indicates, we are looking for 2.5 strokes on, what for a typical golf course, is 14 driving holes. The chart below shows results in the average round for Mr. 18 and Mr. 9. Note that both make at least one Driving Error* per round. Weed out that error and you can be more than halfway home, especially if it is a Penalty Error** that tends to carry a cost of between 1.3 strokes (penalty with drop) and two-plus strokes (stroke and distance).

*No Shot Driving Errors = Balls hit out of play that cannot return to normal play with an advancement shot. 

**Penalty Error = a.  Stroke with drop, or b.  Stroke and distance. 

 

This may be easier said than done, but sometimes the fix is as simple as target and club selection from the tee. Sure, it works to aim away from trouble but try choosing a club that cannot reach the trouble. Most holes that feature trouble off the tee will also be stroke holes, even for Mr. 9. Avoid the error and take double-bogey out of play. This is also a valuable strategy for match play situations.

Next, strive to hit at least one more fairway. The approach accuracy charts below show how many more greens are hit from the fairway vs. rough.

Approach Shots

Here we need to save 3 strokes. This facet involves the greatest number of long game opportunities–on average 17.6 full swing attempts per round. These attempts are generally split 70 percent from the fairway and 30 percent from the rough. Let’s ignore the sand for now as it accounts for approximately only 1 shot every three-plus rounds. Except to say that when you find yourself in a fairway bunker, it is usually a mistake, so take your medicine, get back in play and avoid doubling the pain.

So where to save three strokes? Avoid penalties and that’s at least one stroke. Then hit three more greens in regulation and you’re there–Mr. 18 averages five GIRs vs. Mr. 9’s eight. The key is to improve accuracy.

I recommend working on the distance ranges circled in the charts below and devoting 70 percent of your work to fairway shots. From distances longer than the circled ranges, make smart choices, play within your capabilities and avoid errors and penalties. Easy?! At either handicap level, from long-range you’ll miss more greens than you hit. Knowing this, work toward “good misses” – the fat side of the green, short but in the fairway, etc. Finally, my data supports that hitting the green is far more important than worrying about “proximity to the hole”. But that’s another article.

Chip/Pitch Shots (within 50 yards of the hole)

Here we are looking to save 2 strokes in a less frequently used part of the game–ten shots per round for Mr. 18 vs. eight shots for Mr. 9. Again, please start with avoiding Errors*. My pro and mentor spent hours on the short game with me. First, valuable technique instruction and then competitions @ $1.00 per shot—best lessons ever! His method was to break the shot opportunities into three categories, and this goes for the Sand game as well. Try it—it works.

  • Green light: Good lie, no trouble–try to hole it
  • Yellow light: Difficult but doable–play conservatively and try to be left with an uphill, makeable putt.
  • Red light: Very difficult with looming downside–just get the ball on the green and avoid the error.

Next, practice the type of shots that you face the most and especially those that tend to give you problems. Bottom line, hit more shots closer to the hole and avoid costly errors. While this sounds like annoyingly obvious advice, maybe it will help to consider that Mr. 18 saves 20 percent of these opportunities vs. 32 percent for Mr. 9.

*Short Game Errors:  The shot misses the green AND requires 4 or more strokes to hole out.

 

Sand Shots (within 50 yards of the hole)

Here we are looking to save half a shot in a very small part of the game—just 2 and 1.6 shots per round respectively for Mr. 18 and Mr. 9. I view this an underrated skill that definitely produces more errors per attempt than any other part of the game. When I was learning the game, I was afraid of the gaping bunkers that surrounded and protected ALL of our 18 greens. It wasn’t until I worked hard to gain real confidence from the sand that the greens seemed larger and easier to hit. Again, avoid errors and you’ll solve this portion of the puzzle. Mr. 18 saves 12 percent of his sand opportunities (with 28 percent errors) vs. 21 percent saves for Mr. 9 (15 percent errors).

*Short Game Errors:  The shot misses the green AND requires 4 or more strokes to hole out.

Putting

Putting is 40 percent of the game at all levels and we need to save 1 stroke. EASY, Mr. 18 simply needs to reduce his 3-putts from 2.5 per round to 1.5. Do this by working on distance control from 20 to 50 feet.  Beyond 50 feet think of it as more of an easy chip shot with your putter. You’re doing well if you leave it within 10 percent of the original distance and below the hole. Finally, work on your short putts in the three-to-10-foot ranges. I recommend starting with three feet, then move to four to five feet. If you can get those ranges to Mr. 9’s one-putt numbers, you’re well on your way.

Conclusion

Bottom line, I have laid out where, on average, Mr. 18 needs to improve to make the leap to Mr. 9. If you made it this far, you may be saying, “Why all the focus on errors?” Simple! They are important! Most stat programs ignore them—the PGA Tour certainly does. My studies show that the relative frequency and severity of errors do more determine one’s scoring level than do all the good and average shots played.

Your game will no doubt have different areas of strength and weakness. The key is to accurately identify them so that you can address them appropriately. This article has hopefully given you some ideas about how to do that.

 

For a complete strokes gained analysis of your game, go to: www.ShotByShot.com

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