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Ingredients for better golf? Crunch the numbers

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I got an email the other day from a golfer looking to dig into his game and really make an effort to shave a few shots off his handicap. He sent me a detailed description of his game and how he perceived it: pretty good with the driver, decent short game, need to get better with the irons, etc.

The trouble with this interpretation? He, like most golfers, was merely guessing.

To improve as fast as possible, golfers need raw statistical data from their rounds (competitive rounds, if possible) before they can get a true picture of the state of their game. This has nothing to do with golf swing fundaments; it’s simply an assessment of how golfers play the game, where they score and where they struggle.

With the help of a couple new companies and a launch monitor, golfers can get very specific about where they need to improve.

1. Measure

To get better, golfers need to know exactly what is happening on the golf course. I’m no different than anyone else; I can sit on the range and hit shot after shot, yet when I go to the course things are different. You won’t know what is different until you measure, and you need a good way to measure — more than just your score.

The guys at Birdiefire have done a great job providing a service to do just that. You’ll have to set aside 5-10 minutes after the round to input your data, but the information you’re going to get will be extremely helpful. I pay for the service because I think the company is good at what it does. If it can help me, maybe it can help you, too. And there are several other companies that offer similar products.

Below is what the round entry interface looks like, and you will see one of these for each hole.

better-user-interface

Entering a round on Birdiefire from a laptop/desktop.

Take a look at the picture below. From a report, you can analyze approach shot data over a period of time, the distance window to the hole, the amount of attempts, and the average to a par of 3 from that window.

approach

Analytics report from Birdiefire

There’s a ton of great information, but a few things stick out to me. From 201-210 yards, the average is 3.1 in 21 attempts. From 71-80 yards, the average with roughly the same amount of attempts is a touch higher at 3.15. This player is averaging the same score from 71-80 yards as he is from 201-210 yards, which we know leaves a huge opportunity for improvement.

2. Make A Plan

Once you’ve got some great information like this, the road to actually improving gets very clear. In continuing the example above, this player would not only look at his technique, but also his strategy and decision making on the golf course. It’s tough to talk about fundamentals because every golfer is different, but using Trackman and data sets from the exact yardage windows give you get a pretty clear picture of what you should be doing from a strategy standpoint.

Trackman gives golfers great information about their tendencies when they track a group of shots. The picture shows the Trackman results of a college player hitting 20 shots with an 8 iron. From a flat lie and with the same club over and over, the dispersion will be as small as it’s going to get. In other words, this will be the tightest dispersion of shots you could or would expect with the same club over time.

better4

The pink ring represents the edge of the green

What does this look like on the golf course? If this player was aware of his dispersion, more shots missing left than right, then he’d pick an 8 iron, use the aim line in the image and theoretically have a very high probability of not missing the green. I think intuitively we all are aware of aiming away from a flagstick that is next to water or a bunker. Using the dispersion of shots, be aware of your tendencies so you can use the information on the golf course to maximize your chances of hitting the green. In a one-off situation, you may need to birdie the last hole or alter your strategy, but over the course of a season, if you can save 0.25 shots per round — that’s one shot a tournament — and on the PGA Tour that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A friend of mine, Scott Fawcett, has done some great work in this area, and his players have already won a U.S. Junior Championship and an NCAA Division I stroke play title. He also teaches golfers on the Web.com and PGA tours. If you’d like more in-depth information about what Scott does you can check him out at playinglesson.com.

3. Execute and Repeat

You’ve got great statistical information about what is happening on the golf course from Birdiefire, great information about dispersion patterns and carry distances of your clubs with Trackman… now the last part is the most difficult. It’s executing your new plan/strategy.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood over a shot in a tournament, aimed 10 yards away from a flagstick and on the downswing decided to hold off the face or rotate it over to get the ball to go toward the flag I’m aiming away from. Sometimes it worked out fine, but many times I paid the price.

Remember, playing golf is very different than working on your golf swing fundamentals. The decisions you make on the golf course, the strategy you choose to implement, and the way you spend your time practicing all will have an impact on the scores you shoot. Don’t guess at what you can measure, and use those measurements to drive improvement.

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Rob earned a business degree from the University of Washington. He turned professional in June of 1999 and played most mini tours, as well as the Australian Tour, Canadian Tour, Asian Tour, European Tour and the PGA Tour. He writes for GolfWRX to share what he's learned and continues to learn about a game that's given him so much. www.robrashell.com Google Plus Director of Instruction at TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale www.touracademy.com

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Jul 9, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I just wanna beer after my 81.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Speedy,

      Maybe we can track which beer helps you play best in your next round, would it shape your beer choice? Big IPA fan personally.

      Cheers

      Rob

  2. mat69

    Jul 9, 2015 at 11:54 am

    any suggestions for a Uk version?
    Thanks

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 10, 2015 at 9:34 am

      Mat,

      Birdiefire works nicely in the UK as well, a little bit of work to get everything up and running, and from there you should get some great feedback. Good Luck!

      Rob

  3. Ken

    Jul 8, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Even if you had to make 18 photocopies of the image with all the questions on it, and fill one out with your scoring pencil while you’re playing each hole, it’d be worth it. And if you’re half-ways coordinated, you wouldn’t be “slowing down the game,” so there’s no argument there. This also takes away the excuse of “remembering all that info after a round.” Being manly men (for those of us who are men), putting pencil to paper a little more often in order to improve our enjoyment of the game should not be a big chore. I heartily approve.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Ken,

      Thanks for the vote of confidence on this one, at the very least, tracking your game forces you to reflect, or think, about what is really happening on the golf course.

      All the best with your golf!

      Rob

  4. Dave S

    Jul 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Biggest problem here is remembering all that info after a round. Unless you track your club on an app right after the shot (or hole) it’s tough. Gamegolf and Arccos both are good, but still in beta phase IMO… i’ve read about too many kinks in both systems to make me want to plop down $300 for either of them yet… but I have no doubt that’s the future of golf stat tracking.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      Dave,

      I’ve always looked at what the best teams and players are using most, two stat platforms stick out, Birdiefire, and homemade versions of Mark Broadie’s strokes gained data. No question you’ll spend a little bit of time entering rounds, I always felt going the little extra mile gave me an edge on the people I was trying to beat. Didn’t mean I’d beat them, I just felt like I was preparing better/practicing better, etc.

      All the best!

      Rob

  5. Peakation

    Jul 8, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Gamegolf will do this “automatically”. Same with other shot trackers out there like Arccos. Several apps as well. Gamegolf’s app is free. Nice web interface will give you all the stats.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Peak,

      All depends on willingness to use the plugs on the butt end of the grip, in my playing days would have been hesitant in using them, just my preference. Would like to see Game and Arccos report and analytics side.

      Rob

  6. Gary

    Jul 7, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks Rob. You can also try GolfLogix and GetRealGolfStats. Both those you can use as you play so you don’t have to enter it in later. I’ve also just purchased a Microsoft Band which is partnering with Taylormade (https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-band/en-us/support/health-and-exercise/golf-tile) to track all your golf shots without having to enter data. I’ve been tracking my golf status since the mid 90’s when I had created a Access program to capture it.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 7, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Gary,

      Thanks for the thoughts, the best feedback I’ve found comes from detailed work on compiling your stats. There is no easy way to get this done, it takes time and effort, and can’t imagine a better way to evaluate exactly what is happening on the golf course. Love that you used access, my first stat tracking program was a database through microsoft works. Good luck and keep tracking!

      Rob

  7. Mike

    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks Rob, I’ve been looking for something like Birdiefire. I’m a 7hdcp and am trying to get to a 5. I’ve been using GolfShot and the stats it provide are nice to look at but they aren’t actionable. An old timer at my club was giving me some advice the other day and he told me I needed to start keeping track of all my stats if I really wanted to improve. He showed me a little note book he used that had charts and numbers for every shot he took. He did everything by hand! Thanks but no thanks, I think I’ll try Birdiefire.

    • Rob Rashell

      Jul 7, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Mike,

      The information directly shapes practice and instruction and will have the greatest impact on your improvement. You’ve got a lot of work in front of you and any gains are going to be hard earned, you’re on the right track and good luck!

      Rob

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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