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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To book Matt and Ryan to come speak to your golf association, section or coaching staff, please email Director of Operations Andrew Strom at email@example.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.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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