Golf is supposed to be fun.
Even for the highest level professionals, it is still supposed to be fun.
The biggest enemy of a golfer and his scorecard is not the wrong equipment, horrible swing flaws, slow play or even your kids jumping off the top turnbuckle of the couch and doing a cannonball into your lap (Yes, this happens to me on a daily basis. The game is called “beat up daddy” and my 3- and 4-year-olds love it more than ice cream).
The biggest enemy of the golfer is being ridiculous in his or her expectations. That leads to course management problems that ruin the enjoyment of the game. It’s ok for golfers to have long-term expectations that are as high as they want, but short-term expectations, as in the very next shot, need to be more mundane at every level.
I have a good friend who is a 5 handicap. Smart guy — he went to an Ivy League law school. I once added up his cumulative expectations for every shot and he literally would have shot in the 50s had he lived up to his ridiculous standards.
He’s not alone. Golfers have a warped perception of what level of golf shots produce what scores. All you have to do is check out the PGA Tour stats.
It is safe to say that the average 0 to 15 handicap golfer is worse than the worst player on the Tour by a margin so wide it cannot be measured. The best average approach shot from the fairway to the green is 32 feet, 3 inches. Yes, you read that correctly. As I write this article, the guy on Tour who averages the closest to the pin from the fairway (shots from rough not included) is more than 32 feet. The worst on the Tour is 43 feet, 6 inches.
That means the average approach shot to the green on the Tour is between 31 and 47 feet. Why then do I hear the constant moans and groans when shots are not stoned dead?
The devil’s advocate would say, “Well, Monte, there are a lot of long approaches to the green, as there are 500-yard par 4s and pros go for the green from as long as 300 yards and those numbers are factored in.”
Fine. The best guy on Tour averages over 16 feet from the hole from 125 to 150 yards, a very common yardage for golfers playing the middle tees on par 4s and a yardage most experienced golfers expect to hit close. Again, using the premise that the average golfer is significantly worse than the worst Tour player, the bottom guy averages over 36 feet from the hole from 125 to 150.
So let’s look at this realistically. If the worst guy on the Tour is 36-plus feet from the hole, the run of the mill scratch golfer should be more than satisfied with that distance. And the 5 to 15 handicap should be doing cartwheels. But we all know that’s not the case.
I play with 15-handicaps who are ready to drive their cart into the nearest lake if they so much as hit the ball outside 30 feet on a shot of that length. Exaggeration? Maybe, but not much. Remember, these are stats from the fairway, not the rough, trees or someone’s patio.
Let’s work in even further. From the fairway, there are only 35 players who are currently averaging under 10 feet from the hole on shots of 50 to 75 yards, and many average over 30 feet. It’s a small sample size at this point on the season, but it is still telling.
These stats tell us one thing: We mere mortals should be happy just to hit the ball on the green, which leads me to the next faux pas I see. A solid single digit has a 100-yard shot to a tucked right pin and is taking dead aim. He shoves it 15 feet and short sides himself.
“If I can’t hit the green from 100 yards, I might as well quit,” I’ve heard many say.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that.
My response is he just hit a great shot and has a 15-foot putt from the fringe, or simple chip that is very make-able. The response is still being incredulous about missing the green because it is a blackmark on the stat sheet. So I do this. I drop five balls and offer them $20 to hit all five balls on the green anywhere. The result is often all five balls on the green between 10 and 50 feet with an average around 40. Basically, not much worse than the average shot of a low-end Tour player.
I am definitely not saying you should be this conservative, but be aware of what a good shot actually is. If you are a good player with a good short game, know that shots that miss the green but are still close to the hole are often more damaging to your stats than your score.
Even with the advent of Flightscope, Trackman and laser range finders, I am still appalled at the horrendous lack of knowledge golfers have about how far they hit the ball. Play any golf course in the world and you will see two things.
- Greenside bunkers short of the green that look as if they were the front of a WWI battle.
- Nearly untouched bunkers behind the green that only receive traffic from the people who hit it in the front bunkers and decide that picking the ball clean is the best way to hit a sand shot.
Let me give you some advice. The distance you hit an iron is not how far you hit one downhill, downwind, at altitude, when you leaned on one orhit the best shot of your life (and after it landed a coyote picked it up and ran another 50 yards). Seeing as how I have played with many golfers who played 18 consecutive holes without hitting a ball that didn’t land short of the green, this is again not much hyperbole.
“OK, Monte, we get the point, we need to take the average distance we hit our clubs, give it a rest.”
Well, I won’t give it a rest because that is wrong too. It is not the average distance you hit a club, but the distance you hit the ball most often. That sounds like the same thing, but I have found though years of harassing poor, unsuspecting amateurs that the “most often” shot is usually five and sometimes as much as 10 yards shorter than the best shot. But the fear of going over the green chides people into being short all day long. Using the most often approach can result in five or more saved shots from not being short, which is a lot better for your score than the one bogey you might make from the career shot that sails over the green.
I like what the great Jackie Burke said to one of his students when he was pondering a club choice. He asked the unsuspecting young star what he could hit over the green. The student responded, “5-iron.”
Burke then responded, “Well then, wouldn’t that make this a 6?”
There are so many ways to improve your scores if you just use some common sense. The Ivy League lawyer I spoke of earlier, well that kind of on-course behavior runs in the family. His father would attempt flop shots (which he was horrible at) from a place where Phil Mickelson would be hard pressed to get the ball within 30 feet. The results were predictable. He would advance the ball 6 feet in front of him from getting too cute, then the second shot would end up 30 feet, which is where it would have ended up with a normal chip, bump and run 7-iron, foot wedge, topped driver or one of Phil’s gravity defying parachute flops.
The answer to this question is the answer to most every other shot in golf. What shot would have the best cumulative results if you hit it 10 times? It might not be the way Tiger plays it, the way Johnny Miller says is the best way to play it or the way your club champion plays it, but if it’s the way you can do it well most times, it’s the right shot even if your friends laugh at you for putting from 20 yards off the green with a sprinkler in your line.
Now that I have segued to putting, more strokes are lost on putting by people trying to make too many putts. You read the putt, you line up, hit it the right speed and it will go in or it won’t. You have no control over anything but proper speed outside of 3 to 4 feet. Don’t believe me? The best putters on Tour only make two out of five putts from 10 to 15 feet, and many only make one out of five or worse.
My question is: Why are we trying so hard to make long putts? Why do we hit them so hard or and try to steer them on line?
Unless you are a masochist and want to provide hours of entertainment for your friends, dollars for their bankroll and keep the producers of Prozac in business, the next time you play golf try this:
1. Hit whatever club (using your normal yardages) will end up 5 yards short of the back edge of the green.
2. Try to hit the ball where your predominate miss won’t miss the green, no mater where the pin is.
3. Try and hit every putt outside of 5 feet the correct speed and don’t worry about whether it goes in or not.
4. Be ambivalent about the results of individual shots.
I guarantee your next 20 rounds will lower your handicap.
Train Slow to Swing Fast and Play More
You are probably reading this article because the title made zero sense to you when you read it. You are probably thinking, “Slow training makes me go fast? Everyone knows you have to train fast if you want to go fast. We have all seen SuperSpeed Golf’s commercials. This guy is an idiot.”
With that rationale, not sure I can blame you!
If you’re a golfer and you want to move the clubhead faster, with more efficiency and for many more years to come, however, I encourage you to read on with a bit of curiosity and even skepticism if that is more your flavor. What you find out might turn the way you train 180 degrees onto its head. I know it did for me.
When I started training athletes more than 10 years ago, I subscribed to the “train fast to be fast” mentality for awhile. Then, thankfully, I read the research out there and realized how I was overlooking one of the most important phases to train mobility, power and maximal strength in my athletes as many people do: the eccentric phase.
There are a few phases of movement that we should clarify before going any further so as to clear up any confusion later on. Most movements consist of three phases:
- The Eccentric Phase
- The Isometric Phase
- The Concentric Phase
In a squat, the eccentric phase is the lowering phase to the bottom of the squat. The isometric phase is the pause at the bottom of the squat. The concentric phase is when the athlete starts to move their body back toward the start position.
In the golf swing, we can simply classify the three phases:
- The eccentric phase occurs toward the end of the backswing as the club is decelerated
- The isometric phase occurs at the top of the backswing as there is a slight pause right before the start of the transition toward the target (i.e. there is still tension in the tissues and joint, but there is no net joint motion occurring)
- The concentric phase occurs during the downswing when the club is accelerating toward the golf ball
Please note that there are many nuances and arguments could be made against these classifications. This categorization is made in the spirit of simplicity to help with understanding of the phases.
While all three of these movements are relatively easy to see in most human movement and in golf as well, we more often see a focus on the concentric training piece in the gym rather than all three phases. This is interesting to note, as the eccentric phase is a crucial one where athletes are able to store large amounts of energy in connective tissues (muscles and tendons mostly) that we can then use to produce more power during the concentric phase.
The caveat here is that you need to be strong enough to apply your brakes effectively to decelerate during the eccentric phase and reapply this force during the concentric phase. If you are weak in the eccentric phase, not only will you be inefficient in transferring the energy from the eccentric to concentric phase, but you will be more likely to be injured as well.
So why are we not focusing on this critically important phase of movement in our training of golfers? This is the million dollar question. By simply adding a focus on this part of your training, you will not only decrease your risk of injury, but also improve your strength, power, mobility, movement efficiency and muscle growth
Now to the “so what” part of this article. All of this information is great and cool, but how do you implement this type of training. More importantly, when in the year should we be doing this? Who is this NOT for? Let’s get into it!
This training is NOT for severely untrained individuals with no training background. What is going to follow is a simple progression from beginner to advanced that you can use to implement the benefits of eccentric training to help improve your longevity in the sport and your power output on the tee.
Please Note: If you’re a newbie, we recommend you seek out the help of a fitness professional to safely guide your progressions.
Step 1: Three-Second Eccentrics
This is probably the simplest form of eccentric training you can do, and it doesn’t matter if you are using a kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell. It is exactly what it says. Just focus on lowering yourself through the eccentric phase for a three-second count.
The weight that you use should be less than what you would normally do for the rep count, as the focus on the eccentric phase increases your time under tension and the demand on the system with lower weights. This is another reason why eccentric training with newer athletes is great. You don’t have to use as much weight, and you are forced to slowly move through the motion and truly own the pattern. There is no using speed to mask weakness or bad technique. Usually sets of 6-8 are plenty with this focus.
This video below is of a five-second eccentric squat (Step 2) but the technique is no different for the three-second eccentric other than the descent is not quite as slow.
Step 2: 5-7 Second Eccentrics
This is a simple progression off the three-second eccentrics in Step 1. After four weeks or so of the three-second program, you can move to the even slower and longer lowerings. This further challenges you to really own the patterns and control the motion perfectly. It allows you to be more in tune with how you are moving throughout the motion and many times will bring to light inefficiencies in your pattern that you can work to improve without the weight being crazy heavy.
Step 3: Three-Second Isometrics
This next step takes “feel the burn” to a whole new level. Now that you can control the eccentric phase, you will work to isometrically control and hold your position at the bottom of the motion. This is a nice variation away from the slow-lowering focus to really challenge you to control the weight during the transition phase of the motion.
A common question is, “How low do I need to go?” Without getting into the whole butt-to-ground vs. thigh-parallel-to-the-ground argument, go as low as you can (comfortably) while still maintaining sound technique. That being said, try to at least get to thigh-parallel if you’re able to with good technique.
Step 4: Overload Plyometrics
Depending on your age, your joint health and the overall ability you posses, Step 4 might be another game changer for you. Before going any further, if you have total joint replacements, bad arthritis, avoid high impact activities for any reason or just generally don’t think jumping is a good idea for your overall health, then the risk/reward is not present for you with this step. Stick to Steps 1-3 and enjoy the benefits there.
If you have no problems jumping or with higher impact force training, however, Step 4 can be not only fun, but also very beneficial to your performance! The idea of overload plyometrics is that as you drop down from a surface to the ground, you absorb that force and then explode as high as you can vertically or as far as you can horizontally — and then stick a solid landing.
In golf, the vertical force is what we are going to want to focus on training as the horizontal is less applicable. There are many variations you can perform such as altering your take-off mechanics, your landing mechanics (one vs. two feet) and even the height of the surface from which you are dropping. We utilize these variations with many of our traveling professional athletes as equipment can often times be difficult to find, but it is always easy to find a bench or step to drop from in order to make sure they are stimulating the nervous system response that we are after.
This example of a simple depth jump demonstrated below shows the athlete dropping off of an elevated surface on two feet and then exploding up onto a higher box, which reduces how much force he has to absorb on the second jump. By using a higher box for the landing of the second jump, you are decreasing the amount of neural stress you have to take on because the box “catches” you closer to the apex of your jump.
The name of the game with overload plyometrics is all about how much force you have to absorb. The more force you have to absorb, the harder and more advanced the exercise is. To clarify, if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on the ground, that would be more intense (you would have to absorb more force) than if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on a 12 inch box.
Step 5: Overloading
This is where a lot of the rubber hits the road, and it should not be attempted without professional guidance — and definitely not if you are not a highly trained athlete. This is not a type of training for the weekend warrior who hits the gym only 1-2x/week. If that is you, stick to the top 3 steps and you will still see gains.
Highly trained athletes can oftentimes handle up to 125 percent or more of their concentric ability eccentrically. This means that we can put higher levels of stress on their tissue to force it to adapt, leading to increased maximal strength and hypertrophy gains. This is the performance benefit for higher-level athletes with great movement competency. There are a number of ways to achieve this desired outcome of overload training, such as with drop bars on the side of the barbells, heavy chains, flywheel training or others.
Flywheel training is one that I would like to focus on here, as it is one of the safest forms of training around because it only allows you to put as much force on yourself eccentrically as you can create concentrically. This means the chances of injury are much lower than the other types of overload mentioned above. While these machines tend to be a bit cost prohibitive, it is this type of advance in training that will continue to occur to help golfers hit it longer for many more years to come while staying healthy. If you can find a facility near you that has one… JOIN!
In the end, eccentric-based training and eccentric-overload training create improvements in power, speed, strength, change of direction ability and mobility while also reducing the risk for injury. Each variation of this type of training may be more appropriate for different golfers at different stages in their life and career, but the first step is to be aware that this type of training exists. The next step is to figure out where it might fit into your training regimen. As always, I am more than happy to field questions and answer any specifics you may have by just emailing email@example.com.
As with anything, the success of this training depending on how it is executed. Because of the increased demand on the nervous system and muscles, there can be increased soreness after this type of training so recovery needs to be perhaps the biggest part of this conversation. Timing in terms of when in the season to utilize eccentric based training as well as how to support recovery with nutrition are conversations that you should have with your golf fitness professional.
Hopefully you have learned something here today and as always, please reach out with questions or specific issues to attempt to implement this type of training into your golf fitness routine. Swing Faster. Play Better. Hurt Less.
Editor’s Note: The author has no affiliation with Versapulley or any manufacturer shown in these videos.
Don’t be THAT guy at your corporate outing
Today is the day. Your out-of-office email is up, and you’re fully prepared for an afternoon at the course. As a driving range pro, you think this day will be a gentle breeze. However, you are not prepared. You may not even realize it, but you are about to be that guy.
That guy… who is that guy? Well, I’m glad you asked.
He’s that guy at the range hours early instead of socializing at the breakfast. He’s that guy arranging the scramble lineup when he finally makes it to that breakfast. He’s the guy who finds himself reading a golf blog about a corporate scramble.
Now, let’s start this early in the morning. You’re in your closet carefully crafting your outfit for the day. Wait, wait, wait… let’s not start there. Therein lies the problem, guy. You aren’t composing an outfit, not today! An outfit is for Day 2 of your member-guest. An outfit is for that golf trip with your buddies. An outfit is for Bill Murray at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am (who, with those bell bottoms, is becoming dangerously close to that guy).
A corporate outing is for the muted colors sitting in the back of your closet. There’s no need to get flashy with your attire on this day. If your game is as good as your rangefinder magnet says you are, your game will be enough of the conversation; there’s no need to make your belt buckle one of them. White shorts are fine, but please, don’t be the guy wrapped in pants in 80-degree heat. I get it, you’re “more comfortable in pants” and “this new fabric is actually cooler than shorts.” Come on now, let’s save the pants for guys who aren’t playing for pro shop credit.
Obviously club-tossing, swear-wording and teammate-bashing are huge no-nos, but you already know that. Be encouraging on the course and give your teammates credit when they hit one down the middle, even if you drive it past them. It was still their shot that freed you up.
Most importantly, gauge the competitiveness of the team. Some people are there to win; some people are there for gin. If it’s clear that your team isn’t firing 14-under, kick back, relax and help your teammates improve. You’ll have your own chance. You can still get excited for the long drive, guy.
Speaking of the long drive, why is the prize for winning said competition so often a new driver? “You proved today how well you smash that driver, so here is a new one!” Sir, he likes his just fine. I think it’s safe to venture he’d rather stop the three-putt pars. Which also goes for the longest-putt prize. A brand new Odyssey White Hot! Just stop it. Pro shop credit… problem solved.
Speaking of problems, there’s a good chance someone in your group will have a massive one with their swing. As a guy, you’ll probably want to tell them they are “casting” and to try this “towel-under-the-arm drill.” Yes, it is completely fine to provide a tip, but only when warranted (or preferably, called upon). You can go from “guy who helped my short game” to “guy who destroyed my swing” with just a few too many hints.
One more thing. Don’t let any guy pull this move.
Let me paint a story. Your team approaches the green, you have two decent looks at birdie. Good for you! However, your team can’t decide. One is 15-feet straight up the hill. The other is an eight-foot slider. The team agrees the shorter putt is still the play.
“I’ll smack this 15-footer, just for fun,” your cheating teammate says. Followed shortly by, “unless it goes in, ha.”
Other than actually cheating, this is the most common and lame shenanigan I’ve seen in a corporate scramble. I’ve never forgotten the people that did it with me, and they won’t forget you.
Man, that got dark in a hurry.
Back to the fun stuff. You’ve mastered the clothing and seamlessly blended casual and competitive like Tom Brady in Uggs. All that is left now is to select your winning item in the pro shop. And this is where I leave my final tip. Go with something practical: gloves, golf balls. The last thing your wardrobe needs is another lime green shirt that you’ll want to wear in next month’s scramble.
The 19th Hole: Host Michael Williams plays Shinnecock Hills and reports back
Host Michael Williams reports on his visit to Media Day at Shinnecock Hills, the site the 2018 U.S. Open, where he played the course. How are the current conditions? He weighs in on the Unlimited Mulligan Challenge made by Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports that day, as well. Also, famed Architect David Kidd talks about how he created Bandon Dunes at the age of 25, and Steve Skinner of KemperLesnik gives his views on the health of the golf business.
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
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