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The Dan Plan: A man on a mission

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Dan McLaughlin’s introduction to the game of golf began three years ago when he wondered if the public golf courses in his area would allow him to use their practice greens for hours at a time each day.

What makes McLaughlin’s story compelling isn’t the fact that he knew hardly anything about the game, or that he learned the most basic fundamentals of scoring – making one- and two-footers round and round the putting green. It’s that he quit his job in Portland, Ore., as a commercial photographer to focus on playing golf full-time. McLaughlin, a self-described 30-year-old of average build and marginal athletic talent, now carries a single-digit handicap. It only took him about 3,000 hours to reach a level that one out of every six golfers ever gets to.

McLaughlin, however, isn’t remotely satisfied with his progress. He isn’t interested in playing at his club’s next member-guest and carving his name into the winner’s plaque. You don’t quit your day job, the metaphorical equivalent of jumping out of a plane sans parachute, to be a quasi folk hero in your home town. McLaughlin is one-third into a 10,000-hour experiment that ends with him playing his way onto the PGA Tour. Should he succeed, he’ll be a 36-year-old rookie on the circuit. It’s an advanced age to make one’s debut, but certainly not outlandish. Allen Doyle and Jim Rutledge earned their cards as 47-year-olds. But Doyle and Rutledge were life-long golfers with solid amateur and professional records. McLaughlin will be attempting to break golf’s version of the sound barrier after a scant six years.

In terms of his development as a golfer, the 2013 season is going to be a key moment in the odyssey known as The Dan Plan. He has a full-season of tournament play in front of him and his goal is to be competitive.

“I want to play in at least 20 tourneys this year, but am not sure how many I will be able to afford,” McLaughlin said. “I’ll play in everything that is realistic to enter and want to play in all the big ones in Oregon such as the Oregon Am and Mid-Am, (and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association) Am and Mid-Am. My approach will be different in that I know what to expect this year and have a goal of shooting in the 70s.  Last year I played in my first five tournaments ever and the only goal was to gain experience.”

McLaughlin won’t be in any position to consider a run at Q-School at the end of this year, but a full season of tournament play will give him and his team plenty of metrics to analyze as they tweak both practice and fitness routines for the next phase of his development. More importantly, his tournament performance will reveal something critical the numbers can’t measure — can he play his best golf when there’s something on the line?

A Game Of Numbers

Photo Courtesy of thedanplan.com

The idea that would end up being The Dan Plan started to sketch itself about a year before McLaughlin quit his job. He began building up his savings over a five-year period to put towards business school. It took one finance class to make him reconsider his options. So instead of thinking about meal plans, books and lectures, McLaughlin began thinking about courses, coaches and clubs. The algebra he came up with, assuming he spent his money wisely, would allow him to dedicate the next four to six years of his life to chasing a little, white ball.

McLaughlin chose to play golf for some less-than-obvious reasons. He wanted to be outdoors and he didn’t want to do something that would eventually become boring. He also liked how golf held individuals accountable for their own successes and failures and, most importantly, it was unlike anything he had ever done before. As far as having any connection to the game, McLaughlin would’ve been hard-pressed to name 10 players on the Tour even after spotting him a Tiger and a Phil. All things considered, McLaughlin could’ve randomly decided to pick up a tennis racket or a bowling ball. For it wasn’t so much a passion for golf that interested McLaughlin as it was discovering what he calls “the human potential.”

The idea that hard work, in particular the concept of deliberate practice, can trump innate talent has been written about at length in the following best-selling books — “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin and “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. The basic premise of both books is that talent isn’t born, it’s made. Success is ultimately achieved through persistence, sweat and a proper use of one’s time. A third book of note, and the one that heavily inspired McLaughlin is “Outliers: The Story Of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Gladwell claims that the key to success in any field, to a large extent, is the ability to practice a specific task for a total of about 10,000 hours.

Can someone, if they are willing to train consistently over the course of that many hours, become a bona-fide golfing savant? Anyone who has ever played the game long enough might scoff. There’s a reason why so few golfers, even those who excelled as juniors, ever have a sniff at the Tour, let alone make a successful career playing at the highest professional level. Whether through naiveté or over-exuberance, McLaughlin was unfazed by the daunting odds. But when it came to convincing others, such as his first golf coach, it was definitely a tough sell.

“To be honest, I had about 15 seconds for him, maybe 10,” Christopher Smith, lead golf instructor at Pumpkin Ridge told Golf Magazine in an interview. “I was kind of offended by how easy he thought this was going to be.”

McLaughlin’s foray into golf had a genuine Dickensian quality. His gear, courtesy of Nike, consisted of two pairs of shoes, a hand-me-down rain jacket and an off-the-rack Method putter. Lessons and practice consisted of learning to putt and rolling 100 balls from inside a 3-foot circle. At first, McLaughlin struggled to hole 80 percent of his putts. After about a month, he was averaging over 90 percent and steadily increasing the distance.

A repertoire of different putting games kept McLaughlin’s practice sessions from getting stale. One of the games he played, called the “6-foot call shot,” consisted of rolling the ball from four different spots six feet away from the hole. Before addressing the ball, McLaughlin would “call out” which part of the hole he was aiming for as well as the speed at which the ball would drop. McLaughlin cut his teeth on the putting green week after week, finally adding chipping practice deep into the summer.

“Initially, I don’t think Chris thought I would stick to it, but after a year of just chipping and putting he knew I was serious,” McLaughlin said.

Imagine spending three months just working on holing putts. While other weekend golfers warm up for 10 or 15 minutes on the practice green before heading out to the first tee to battle their chronic slice, McLaughlin is wearing out the face on his putter.

We’re Talking Practice

Photo Courtesy of thedanplan.com

Ask an aspiring recreational golfer how much better they’d play if they just had the time to practice all day long and you’ll likely hear a grand tale about winning tournaments and breaking course records. Then ask that same golfer if they’re willing to practice up to eight hours a day, six days a week, come rain or come shine and they might need a minute or two think it over.

McLaughlin may have come into the game without truly understanding the rigors of golf, but there was nothing bush-league about his dedication. In addition to the thousands of hours he’s logged standing over a golf ball, McLaughlin has spent a significant amount of time at the gym training like a world-class athlete. His workout routine consists of equal parts strength training, cardio and plyometrics. Olympic lifts, squats, lunges, hip rotations, torso twists and medicine ball throws make up a fraction of the exercises that have allowed McLaughlin, who weighs a modest 150 pounds, to generate 998.2 watts of power (Average Power = square root of 4.9 x body mass(kg) x square root of jump distance(m) x 9.81). To put into terms a golfer can appreciate, McLaughlin swings his driver in excess of 105 mph. He and his physical therapist, Shawn Dailey, are hoping to get his swing velocity up to Tour-level standards by the end of the year.

“I’ve seen many golfers who have come and have years of pain, playing with pain and changing their swing around pain,” Dailey said. “Dan has the advantage that he’s a blank slate. We can develop a very efficient, strong swing for him. A lot of his strength and power exercises revolve around his legs, his glutes, his core.”

While it must seem like fun to be able to workout and beat range balls day after day (minus the paycheck), the risk of burnout is great. The honeymoon period of The Dan Plan came to abrupt end after about eight months. At that time, McLaughlin was still limited to practicing with a pitching wedge and putter, and playing golf from inside 40 yards. He was also facing his first winter in Oregon as a golfer when the average temperature is usually 40 degrees and the playing conditions are almost always wet. On his website blog, McLaughlin asked himself a very basic question. “So, Dan, why are you doing this to yourself? And, if nobody else cares, will you still follow through?”

He considered quitting.

“Like anyone who is starting a business it can be tough to juggle everything in your life,” McLaughlin said.

The day after feeling miserable about his situation, he ventured out to Heron Lakes in the rain. Out there on his own, McLaughlin saw a tree fall to the ground without any obvious provocation. It immediately reminded him of a quintessential philosophical question — can something exist without being perceived? Maybe it was pure accident or maybe it was serendipity that caused the tree to fall. Either way, the tree left an impression, no pun intended. McLaughlin would occasionally write about experiencing fatigue and needing a short break from golf, but he would never get as low as he had that first autumn.

McLaughlin reached his first major milestone a month later, surpassing the 1,000-hour mark. In the spring of 2011, McLaughlin began to hit full shots with his pitching wedge. He also began working with a sand wedge. He didn’t look like much of a golfer slinging a mostly empty stand bag across his shoulders, but McLaughlin was coming close to outgrowing his beginner status.

A key point in his development may have occurred a couple of months earlier when McLaughlin visited the IMG campus in Bradenton, Fla. — a heralded golfing academy that has graduated notable alumni such as Paula Creamer, Michele Wie, Sean O’Hair and Peter Uihlein to name just a few.

McLaughlin went to Bradenton to measure his training against what world-class juniors are able to receive when budget isn’t a limiting factor. He was also able to observe some of the best teenagers in the country strike balls with machine-like precision. McLaughlin admitted that he felt intimidated, but he left IMG encouraged about his future.

“Back then I only had three clubs and had never even made a full swing,” McLaughlin said. “I didn’t even know what it meant to play golf, just chipped and putted and had no clue what this wonderful game is all about.  Back then I wanted to join those kids in ripping drives and now that I am confident on the course I would love to go back and play with or against them.”

After one year, five months and four days on the plan, McLaughlin passed the 2,000 hour mark. He wasn’t yet competing in tournaments like he had originally, and wrongly, predicted when he first started. But he was feeling upbeat about his progress. As for his relationship with golf, what started off as awkward as a blind date had turned into a genuine love affair. Days spent putting and chipping were now being augmented with rounds at Heron Lakes and Columbia Edgewater.

“I think once I actually understood the game and was playing the game I started developing a passion for it,” McLaughlin said. “I was completely hooked.”

McLaughlin was now carrying seven clubs (a putter, 56-degree, 52-degree, pitching wedge, 8-iron, 6-iron and a 3-hybrid). He was playing from the white tees and posting scores in the 90s and 80s. As the year drew to a close, his handicap fell to 11.4 with strong showings in his final two rounds in which he posted scores of 82 and 83.

Nearly two years of laborious and focused practice had gone into turning McLaughlin into a golfer. It’s a number most avid golfers who take up the game later in life can’t fathom. And while McLaughlin understands that the average person can’t commit the same time or resources into their game as he has, he thinks everyone can benefit by being more attentive to their practice habits.

“No matter how much time you have, practice interweaving,” McLaughlin said. “Try to not hit the same club twice and if you do, reset your brain by going through your routine each time. We learn optimally by having to adjust to new situations and circumstances and hitting ball after ball is nothing like the actual game, so practice randomly and with consequences.”

The Tipping Point

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McLaughlin’s new wedges arrived at his doorstep a few weeks ago. He posted a photo of his new clubs (still in their shrink-wrapped plastic) on Facebook. He made a few giddy remarks on Twitter. With his initials “DM” stamped in a random pattern along the sole of his 46-degree, you couldn’t blame McLaughlin for feeling a little bit like a rockstar, especially if you’re treated like one by the crew at Titleist.

McLaughlin toured the Titlelist headquarters in Carlesbad, Calif., in February. There he saw the racks of Vokey wedges that serve as an equipment archive for the some of modern golf’s greatest players. He met with “Voke” himself, and had his picture taken with the legendary craftsman. Later on he stopped by the Oceanside Test Facility and learned enough about lofts, bounce angles and grinds to fill a small textbook.

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The “wedge archive” at the Vokey Tour department in Carlsbad, Calif.

He also underwent a rigorous two-hour fitting in which he executed everything from bunker shots to bump-and-runs. The club-fitters at Titleist built four new clubs for McLaughlin. Two of them are standard SM4 wedges (46 and 50, each with eight degrees of bounce). The other pair (54 and 58 degree) are Vokey TVD grind. All four wedges have True Temper Dynamic Gold S200 shafts and Golf Pride New Decade Multicompound grips in green. McLaughlin, who must’ve felt like a child at a toy store, hopes he can return to Carlesbad for a full club fitting, seeing as how some his older clubs are no longer adequate for his swing.

Life has changed in some subtle and not so subtle ways for McLaughlin. In his blog, McLaughlin occasionally talks about reaching a tipping point. Coincidentally or not, the same author who penned “Outliers,” wrote an earlier work called “The Tipping Point” which describes how certain social conditions combine to bring about change quickly and unexpectedly. In terms of reaching critical mass, The Dan Plan is still in the early stages of gaining notoriety, but the days of rolling putts on soggy greens in relative obscurity are drawing to an end.

Over the past year McLaughlin has been gearing up for tournament play. His first official event was staged at Pumpkin Ridge, the site where the LPGA plays its Safeway Classic and where Tiger Woods won his unprecedented third consecutive U.S. Amateur. A gallery of sorts consisting of an AP writer and two cameramen watched a nervous McLaughlin shoot an 86. A decent score for a golfer getting his first taste of competition.

As McLaughlin has evolved, so has his team. He and his first coach severed ties last July over what McLaughlin describes as a communication rift. His relationship with Nike, which wasn’t an official relationship at all, also came to end around the same time.

“Nike decided to go with Rory instead of The Dan Plan and I have to admit that his chances of winning a major are a little better than mine,” said McLaughlin, jokingly. “[We] parted amicably. I appreciate how generous they were to provide my first set of clubs and wish them continued success with their new gear.”

McLaughlin and his new coach, Adrian Burtner, began working together last October. Last winter they started using TrackMan to enhance their training sessions. McLaughlin, in particular, has been engrossed with posting combine scores. The TrackMan combine consists of hitting 60 shots to nine different targets at various distances. Your score is tabulated based on how precise each shot is executed. In a lot of ways it’s like taking aim at plastic ducks at a carnival — only much, much harder. A good score for a Tour professional is an 83. McLaughlin, by comparison, posted a 66.9 his first time through the simulator. TrackMan has also allowed McLaughlin to accurately measure his swing efficiency for every club in the bag.

dan-plan-charts

While a huge component of The Dan Plan revolves around golf-specific training and improving his performance on the course, McLaughlin is increasingly spending time raising awareness and securing additional funding. Although McLaughlin has enough money squirreled away to theoretically finish his project, his self-funding strategy will greatly limit his opportunities to gain exposure and further enhance his training.

“I would really love to start playing in the smaller mini tours as early as this year if possible,” McLaughlin said. “Depending on budget, I would like to enter a couple gateway tour events to get a taste of what golf is like at that level. From there the goal would be to play in a full series of them next year and follow that with Q-School.”

In the past, McLaughlin has limited himself to accepting donations online through his website. But he and his newly hired publicist have been investigating alternative forms of fund raising including speaking engagements and corporate sponsorship. McLaughlin has also raised a few eyebrows when he recently issued a public challenge to Michael Phelps to play against him in an exhibition match this summer. There are some people who have been following The Dan Plan who feel that the Phelps match (should it ever happen) might detract from the project’s mission and its sincerity.

McLaughlin will certainly feel pressure this year. His tournament performances will be judged and graded. If he finds and accepts corporate sponsors, he’ll be expected to make good on that investment. There are countless examples of golfers who end up being derailed by expectations — both internal and external — rather than by lack of ability or desire.

There are plenty of individuals that would take great pleasure in watching McLaughlin strike out on the mini tours. But there’s an even greater contingent of supporters who have been following his story. People genuinely love an underdog and McLaughlin is probably the biggest underdog since Rocky Balboa. And while’s he not expecting anyone to unveil a bronze statue in his honor, McLaughlin would love to see a day that his wedges earn a place on the Titleist archive rack next to all the others that have been swung by the best in the game.

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: The More You Improve, The Harder It Gets | Self Help QA

  2. Pingback: The More You Improve, The Harder It Gets : The Art of Non-Conformity

  3. 8thehardway

    Mar 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

    He would be a great candidate for Big Break… unique and compelling story, installed fan base, mutual promotion/exposure, etc.

  4. joe

    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Awesome! wish i had the balls to do this!

  5. Marshall

    Mar 21, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Loved the article! I have been playing golf for about 8 months, and I can fully relate to his mission. I’ve put in about 1,500 hours while also attending school. I’ll definitely continue following the Dan Plan.

    Good luck and I look forward to updates!

    • Rusty Cage

      Mar 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Marshall,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Feel free to contact Dan McLaughlin directly through this website – http://thedanplan.com – he’s open to discussing different ways to practice and train. Best of luck on your journey.

  6. Frank Dolan

    Mar 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Another great article Rusty. This one was a homerun – keep up the good work I enjoy them all.

    Frank Dolan
    “The Villages”, FL

  7. j

    Mar 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    It’s good for the game. Best wishes man. Look forward to the updates.

  8. Ed L

    Mar 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve been following The Dan Plan for over a year now, competed against Dan in a few local events last summer and Fall and was paired with him in the 2nd round of the PNGA Mid-Am. As a golfer with almost 30 years invested in the game, it has been fascinating to observe Dan’s journey and see the response from other golfers.

    The biggest thing that Dan has going for him is his determination and dedication to the entire project. What drove him to undertake this project wasn’t really a love for the game, but a curiosity about the nature/nurture argument and the forces that contribute to achieving excellence in any field. Whether he makes it on the PGA Tour at the end of 10,000 hours of practice isn’t the point of the whole venture, but merely a measurable goal to a hypothesis.

    For me, it’s hard to imagine any golfer not admiring the idea of truly dedicating one’s time and energy to see just how good you could get. I’ve been very surprised at some of the negative reactions from other golfers regarding Dan’s quest. I would think some of those negative vibes are just from jealousy. I’d guess that others feel offended by a novice having such grand, specific goals to be achieved in such a short time frame (relatively speaking). The notion that you have to pay your dues and suffer like the rest of us golfers in order to achieve anything in this demanding game.

    The Dan Plan embodies the dreams that many of us golfers have. How good could I be if I really dedicated myself to practicing? Do I have the dedication to persist and see it through? Dan has made the sacrifices to make it happen and it’s very apparent that he’s focused on seeing through in the right way. Can’t wait to see where he ends up at the 10,000 hour mark.

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Opinion & Analysis

How to qualify for the U.S. Amateur (in-depth statistical analysis and tutorial)

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This is a follow-up of sorts to an article that I published on GolfWRX in May 2017: A Modern Blueprint to Breaking 80.  

With the U.S. Amateur concluding at iconic Pebble Beach last weekend, I thought of the many amateurs out there who would love to one day qualify for this prestigious event. Personally, I made it to the State Amateur level, but work and life got in the way and I never made it to the next step. For those who aspire or wonder, here’s an outline of what your game should look like if you want to qualify for the U.S. Amateur.

Scoring

To start with, your USGA Index needs to be 2.4 or lower to even attempt to qualify. If your course is rated 71.5/130*, the best 10 of your most recent 20 scores should average 74.3. This score will adjust slightly up if your course is rated more difficult, and slightly down if it’s rated less difficult. For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming the average course and slope rating above.

*Note: 71.5/130 is the average rating of courses played by single digit handicap golfers in the ShotByShot.com database of 340,000 rounds.

Your average scores by par type will be:

  • Par 3:  3.21
  • Par 4:  4.20
  • Par 5:  4.86

The Fastest and Easiest Way to Lower Your Scores

Every round is a mix of good shots, average shots and bad shots/errors. The challenge is to determine which piece of your game’s unique puzzle is your greatest weakness in order to target your improvement efforts on the highest impact area. If you track the simple good and bad outcomes listed below for a few rounds, your strengths and weaknesses will become apparent.

Tee Game or Driving 

Goals: Hit EIGHT fairways and limit your driving errors to ONE, with the majority being the less costly “No Shot errors” (more on this later).

Distance: I will ignore this and assume you’re maximizing distance as best you can without sacrificing accuracy.

Fairways: Hitting fairways is crucial, as we are all statistically significantly more accurate from the short grass.

Errors: Far more important than Fairways Hit, however, is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of misses. To help golfers understand the weaknesses in their game, my golf analysis program allows users to record and categorize the THREE types of Driving Errors: 

  1. No Shot: You have missed in a place from which you do not have a normal next shot and require some sort of advancement to get the ball back to normal play.
  2. Penalty: A 1-stroke penalty due to hazard or unplayable lie.
  3. Lost/OB: Stroke and distance penalty. 

Approach Shots 

Goals:  ELEVEN GIRs and ONE penalty/2nd             

Penalty/2nd:  This means either a penalty or a shot hit so poorly that you are left with yet another full approach shot from greater than 50 yards of the hole.

The chart below displays the typical array of Approach Shot opportunities from the fairway (75 percent fall in the 100 to 200-yard range). The 150 to 175-yard range tends to be the most frequent distance for golfers playing the appropriate distance golf course for their game.

Short Game (defined as shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Chip/Pitch: If you miss 7 greens, you will have 6 green-side save opportunities. Your goals should be:

  • Percentage of shots to within 5 feet: 40 percent
  • Percentage of Saves: 47 percent (3)
  • Percentage of Errors (shots that miss the green):  6 percent, or approximately 1 in 17 attempts.

Sand: You should have 1 of these green-side save opportunities. Your goals: 

  • Percentage of shots to within 8 feet: 35 percent
  • Percentage Saves: 32 percent
  • Percentage of Errors (shots that miss the green): 13 percent, or approximately 1 in 8 attempts.

Putting: You need just over 31 putts.  Aim for:

  • 1-Putts: 6
  • 3-Putts: 1

The chart below displays the percentage of 1-Putts you will need to make by distance, as well as the typical array of first-putt opportunities by distance. Note that 62 percent of your first-putt opportunities will fall in the 4 to 20-foot range. Adjust your practice efforts accordingly!

Good luck, and please let me know if and when you are successful.

For a complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to ShotByShot.com and sign up for a 1-round free trial.

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Opinion & Analysis

Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics

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After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.

Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.

The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.

These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.

There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:

  1. Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
  2. You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
  3. Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
  4. All things being equal, take the younger player.
  5. Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.

A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):

The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).

The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).

It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.

The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.

Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:

Tiger Woods

This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.

Tony Finau

Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.

Bryson DeChambeau

Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.

Patrick Cantlay

This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).

From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.

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Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing

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In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?

If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:

Be Prepared

Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.

It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.

Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:

  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What is your favourite part of coaching?
  • What type of student best fits in at your university?
  • What type of athlete best fits in?
  • What are the goals for the golf program?
  • How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
  • Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
  • What access does the team have to golf courses?
  • Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
  • Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
  • What is your greatest strength as a coach?
  • Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
  • What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
  • How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
  • Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting into grad schools?

Know the Numbers

With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.

Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.

For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!

Do your research

Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).

Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.

First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.

Have a Plan

Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!

For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.

As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.

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