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Operation 36: Try to shoot 36 for nine holes no matter your skill level

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Ever tried to take your kids to the driving range? Recently I had my 9-year-old nephew Jack in town. Jack, like most 9-year-old boys is a mixture of curiosity and explosive energy. When he asked me to take him to the range, how could I refuse? One hour later, I had learned a very valuable lesson; teaching little kids is wicked hard. A couple days later, I recounted the story to my friend and fellow Campbell University Alumni (Go Camels!), Ryan Dailey. Ryan, co-founder of Operation 36, laughed hysterically as I recalled the struggles of trying to manage one nine-year-old.

“Been there for sure, my friend!” recounts Dailey, who in 2010 was charged with designing and implementing a program to grow golf among junior players in rural North Carolina, close to Campbell’s campus.

“When we started to look at growing the game, we thought we had one major obstacle; the rural setting. We thought finding kids was going to be hard, but once we had them, we thought they would love us, the game and it would be smooth. Man, was I wrong,” laughs Dailey as he recounts his early days.

“Sure, getting players was hard in a rural setting, but not as hard as keeping them interested! We would spend 2 hours before every class to plan an array of activities to keep their attention for an hour, and spend another hour after sharing ideas on how to make it better next time. We thought we were on the right path by integrating golf and non-golf activities to make it fun,” shares Dailey’s business partner and fellow founder of Operation 36 Matt Reagan, PGA.

Ryan and Matt were stumped more than once trying to create golfers. To get off the ground they started with 3 students and a goal to run a long-term program for 8 months out of the year. They grew to 20 students, 40, 70 and then after year 5…BAM! They lost 30 students! What happened? The fun ran out…

The tagline for Operation 36 is “Creating Golfers.”

“That’s what it boils down to, we are Creating Golfers,” Ryan said. “It’s a lot harder task than you think to guide someone to a point of full engagement in the game of golf. It’s not just motivating them in a class, drill, game or activity. That can be pretty easy with all the fun toys you buy, music you play and endless drills and games you play on the practice tee and putting green.  It’s guiding them on that journey from being motivated in class, being engaged in a drill or activity and then the ultimate, being engaged in the game of golf playing on the golf course. We lost almost half of our program after year 5 because we forgot about the most important part, getting them to play the game of golf on the actual course. Eventually if all you do are games, drills and activities in your programming and you don’t have a set playing component, players will phase out and leave your program.”

So, here’s the game: Operation 36

They tried every playing component imaginable and couldn’t find one that really helped to hook players on the challenge of the sport. They settled in on a format where the goal is to shoot 36 or better for 9 holes. Now students start at 25 yards away from the center of the green and play all 9 holes in a competitive match format.  If they shoot 36 or better, they move back to 50 yards for their next match. If they don’t shoot 36 or better, they remain at the same yardage and keep trying until they develop the skills in class, practice and in match experience to pass.

“We banged our heads against the wall for about a year as we tried to integrate playing golf into the program. After our first Op 36 Match we could see we were on to something for a couple reasons. First, we got around the golf course in under 1.5 hours, where previously even from a forward tee we were pushing 3 hours for 9 holes. Second, the junior golfers who didn’t pass were excited to play again, and the golfers who did pass were asking … what’s next?” says Matt

The original format Ryan and Matt came up with on a drive down US 1 to Pine Needles in 2014 is the same used today. After 50 yards, players go to 100, 150, 200 and then their full tee box based on age. What started out as “for Juniors only” has evolved into a huge success with adults.  It’s a lot easier to learn the game whether you are young or old from a manageable distance where success is experienced right away.

Fast forward to present day. The team at Operation 36 trains coaches globally to implement and manage the program at their own home facility. To date, over 319 facilities use Operation 36 and over 10,000 golfers participate. The team uses the tools, technology and resources to help coaches successfully launch full-service Academies or add a world-class beginner program to their established Academies.

A full 6-level curriculum is included to help coaches know exactly what to teach and when during an Academy Class. Time has been spent coaching over 3,000 Academy Classes to figure out what needs to be taught and how to teach it to have the biggest impact on the player.

To help golfers on the course, golf professionals issue participants with a series of goals to accomplish within the Operation 36 mobile app. The goals are not only educational, but provide a long term roadmap to success. In the next article, Ryan and Matt will share profound results of their having tracked over 2,000 Operation 36 rounds.

“The goal has always been to create a journey or pathway that players plug into and see if they are ahead, behind or right on pace based on their given goals,” Ryan said. “We have arrived at a point now where I can have that conversation with a student and parent. Based on the scores in Operation 36 and the age of the player we share relevant, accurate and impactful data from our research that helps shape decisions in coaching, parenting and training that keep players on track.  I like to compare what we do to a GPS. The student gives us the destination and we use Operation 36 to know where they are on the journey. If they are behind, we motivate them to work harder. If they are on pace or ahead, we communicate that what we are doing is working and let’s stay the course. As our research and number of facilities participating grows, we learn more and more impactful data that only helps parents, players and coaches to be more focused, intentional and motivated. Amazing, effective stuff is coming out of this corridor that we are very excited about, stay tuned.”

To get involved with Operation 36, email support@op36golf.com. To book Matt and Ryan to come speak to your golf association, section or coaching staff, please email Director of Operations Andrew Strom at andrew@op36golf.com. They are also available to do a certification for your chapter, section, or association and are willing to drive, boat, or fly to get there.

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Brendan is the owner of Golf Placement Services, a boutique business which aims to apply his background in golf and higher education to help educate players, their families and coaches about the process! Website - www.golfplacementservices.com Insta - golf.placement.sevices Twitter @BMRGolf

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. E

    Jul 11, 2018 at 12:17 am

    Oh my I LOVE this. Change the expectations and increase the fun!

  2. Dad

    Jul 9, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    “…and then after year 5… BAM! They lost 30 students! What happened? The fun ran out…”
    That happened after 5 years of frustrating golf and they discovered girlfriends and boyfriends… more funner… 😉

  3. swing dr

    Jul 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    This is fantastic, but many courses/ people already do this! A great lesson for parents.

  4. Te

    Jul 9, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    What if it’s Par 35 or 37?
    Dumb idea. Why not just call it Operation Par?

    • Jamie

      Jul 9, 2018 at 6:49 pm

      Obviously you didn’t read the article. 25 yards in 3 shots x 9 holes, then 50 yards in 3 and so on.

    • JR

      Jul 9, 2018 at 7:49 pm

      Bet you’re pissed at 8 minute abs too.

    • Karen Gray

      Jul 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      There’s always going to be a negative put downer. You didn’t disappoint. “Helping comments” always welcome. Please revisit your need for extinguish enthusiasm for what these fellows have achieved and the long term journey they’ve traveled. Reconsider your approach and you might be surprised to realize your thoughts are actually being seriously received. Just thinking.

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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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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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