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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

Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!

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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!

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