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Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions – GolfWRX

  2. Desi Arnez

    Jun 20, 2019 at 4:27 am

    Stop publishing this RIGHT now. I’m going to have to work MUCH MUCH harder to beat people.

  3. F

    Jun 20, 2019 at 1:19 am

    I would much rather do it the Ben Hogan way.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Reviewing TaylorMade’s P770 Irons and SuperStroke’s Wrist Lock Putter Grip!

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Finally, I have had a full set of TaylorMade P770 irons out on the course for the last few weeks. The P770 takes a bunch of DNA from the larger P790 and packs it into a smaller size. Don’t be fooled, the smaller size still gives you a bunch of distance and forgiveness! SuperStroke’s Wrist Lock putter grip is designed to help add stability and consistency to your putting stroke. It really does give you the feeling that the putter is locked into your stroke and won’t go anywhere.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: My thoughts on single-length irons

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One of the bigger stories in golf equipment the past few years – thanks to Mr. De Chambeau – is the development of single-length irons. So, are they right for you or not? That’s a question only a fair trial can answer, but let me offer some thoughts on how your set make-up might look if you do take that direction.

First of all, the concept is not about single-length clubs — the conversation is about single-length irons. No one is playing a driver or fairway woods at the same length as their irons. Probably not even the hybrids. The putter is typically not either. So, the question is where in the set does the “single-length” begin and end?

I’ve long espoused the concept that your set of clubs (excluding the very specialized putter) should be divided into three sub-sets: Distance Clubs, Positioning Clubs, and Scoring Clubs. And generally speaking, these subsets each cover a specific range of lofts.

The Distance Clubs are those up to 20-25 degrees or so. This subset begins with your driver and encompasses your fairway woods and maybe your lowest loft hybrid or two. Your goal with these clubs is to move the ball “on out there” and put you in a place for your “positioning shot.”

The Positioning Clubs then begin after that highest loft Distance Club and take you up to 38 to 40 degrees of loft. Generally speaking, this subset would begin with your 3 or 4-iron or hybrid and go up to through your 7- or 8-iron. The goal with these clubs is to set up a reasonable putt or chip so you can get down in no more than 2-3 shots. My opinion is that it is only within this subset that “single-length” might serve you.

The Scoring Clubs – those over 38-40 degrees of loft — are the ones with which your scores will likely be determined. Long ago, I wrote several posts about the “round club mindset” when 8-irons had a more curved topline than the seven – a distinctly different look, and those 8-irons were 38 to 40 degrees. These are the clubs designed for putting the ball close enough for a makeable putt, hopefully, more often than not.

So, most conversations about single-length irons should be limited to that subset of “Positioning Clubs,” from your longest iron through that iron of 38-40 degrees. While many golfers may not see the distance separation between clubs that you would ideally like to have in that subset, others might. I’ve long observed that the distance a club can be hit is a combination of loft AND club shaft length. I just don’t see how you can get the range of distances from the longest to shortest in the set by changing loft only. I have tried several of these sets and just do not experience the distance differentials I want from that subset in my bag.

But I can certainly assure you that you simply cannot be as accurate with wedges that are 37 or 38 inches in length as you can with those clubs being 35 to 36 inches. It’s simple golf club physics. With very few exceptions, the shorter the club, the narrower your distance dispersion is going to be.

Consider that a “wide” shot with a 45-inch driver might be 30-40 yards off-line, while even the worst “wide” shot with your 35-and-three-quarter-inch pitching wedge is not likely to be more than 15 yards offline. In between, your lateral dispersion is progressively narrower as the shaft length is reduced.

So, I just cannot see why anyone would want to make their wedges the same length as their 5- or 6-iron, 37.5 to 38 inches, and give up the naturally more accurate dispersion that the shorter shaft delivers.

I am looking forward to hearing from those of you who have tried single-length irons and longer wedges to share your experiences.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Sharing some time with one of the best PGA Professionals in America

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Meet Jimmy Stewart. From his early childhood junior days in Singapore and Thailand, to golf course and driving range operator in California. We talk Turkey, where the game was, where it is and to where it’s going.

 

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