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A modern blueprint to breaking 90

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In May of 2017, I contributed an article that generated a lot of interest from GolfWRX readers:  “A Modern Blueprint to Breaking 80.” I recently got a call from Jeff Isler, a long-time client who runs a successful golf academy in Dallas.  Jeff enthusiastically uses my Strokes Gained analysis program (ShotByShot.com) with all of his students, and also uses my breaking 80 goals as his “road map” with aspiring elite junior golfers.  Jeff wondered if a similar roadmap could be created for golfers attempting to break 90. Certainly!  In thinking about it, I believe there are also the number of interested golfers in this scoring range in the vast GolfWRX.com world.

Want to break 90?  Here is my blueprint

The game is a puzzle and all the pieces fit together. Each round is a mix of good shots, average shots and bad shots or errors. The challenge is to find the piece of your game’s unique puzzle that is your greatest weakness so you can target your improvement time and money 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 7 fairways, and limit your driving errors to 2 – preferably of the No Shot variety (see Errors below).

Distance:  I will ignore this and assume that you are playing from the appropriate tees for your game.

Fairways:  Hitting fairways is important as we are all more accurate from the short grass.

Errors:  Far more important than Fairways hit is your FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of misses. ShotByShot.com users record THREE types of Driving Errors:

  1. No Shot:  You have missed in a place from which you do not have a normal next shot, requiring 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:  5 GIRs and 1 Penalty/2nd (see below)

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

Short Game

(Shots from within 50 yards of the hole)

Chip/Pitch: If you miss 13 greens, you will have at least 10 greenside save opportunities. Your goals should be:

  • % Saved:  20% (two saves)
  • % Errors:  15% shots that miss the green (approximately three every two rounds)

Sand:

You should have 2 greenside save opportunities.  Your goals:

  • % Saved:  10%
  • % Errors:  30% of your shots miss the green (approximately 1 in every 3 attempts)

Putting

You need 36 putts.  Aim for:

  • 1-Putts:  3
  • 3-Putts:  2

Good luck and please let me know when you are successful!

For a complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to:  shotbyshot.com.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Myron Miller

    May 7, 2019 at 10:33 am

    His comment that distance is ignored because you are playing the correct tees. On some courses, I can play the up tees and can still not reach the greens in regulation. I am a super senior (over 70) disabled and cannot consistently hit any longer than 150. Par 3s of 160 or more ( even from the up tees are almost impossible to reach in 1). Par 4s of 330 or more (and I’ve seen 350-370 a number of times) cannot be reached in two.

    With highly exceeding the rest of his suggestions, one cannot score below 100 period. Personally I can break 90 most of the time, if my approach game is reasonably decent and my short game is pretty good (at least 70% from 20 yards on the green within 20 yards). And I only mishit 2-3 fairway woods. Due to my short driver, I hit a lot of fairway woods as my second shot (and I’m playing the up tees). His suggestions to me are a load of crap. I could never break 110 or 120 if i followed them.

  2. Bob Jones

    May 6, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    Are we talking to people who are on the verge of breaking 90 but never do? If that is the case, I would say learning how to play the game better will do it. Golf is more than hitting good shots; it’s also about hitting the right shot at the time. Leaving the driver home should help, too.

  3. Johnny O

    May 6, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    I shoot in the 90s and I keep stats: tee shots, approach shots, GIR, putts, dropped shots and eff-ups. Dropped shots are penalties, like OB, re-tees, water. Eff-ups include the dropped shots and other duffs and stupid hits that cost a whole shot. I can tell you that when I get some sleep and play well and shoot in the 80s, the key stat is the eff-ups. A reduction in stupid mistakes, shots I’d never hit again if I placed another ball and repeated the attempt. I don’t suddenly become a dead straight driver or genius green reader. Yeah, if you have a bunker phobia, then you know you need to work on that. But if you’re just generally ordinary, then reducing errors will also get those other target numbers into line. 7 to 9 good drives and 5 or 6 GIRs sounds about right.

  4. dj

    May 5, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    “If you think 18 handicappers have the patience or commitment to do a rote breakdown of their round by sifting through GIRs, penalties off the tee, and 3 putts.”

    Anyone that wants to improve should keep stats to know where to improve. I’m not 100% in agreement with the topic but believe GIR are king. If you don’t know where you are losing strokes, you’ll never improve. Most people have a false sense of strokes lost/gained.

  5. Leezer99

    May 5, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    No offense but this is a joke of a blueprint. The Brady Riggs Breaking 80 plan actually gives you a step by step plan over time to improve your game.

  6. Eric

    May 5, 2019 at 11:37 am

    This is not the best way to break 90. If you think 18 handicappers have the patience or commitment to do a rote breakdown of their round by sifting through GIRs, penalties off the tee, and 3 putts.

    A more practical approach includes hitting the shot you know you’re capable of and never putting yourself to a difficult decision on the subsequent shot.

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Instruction

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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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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