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U.S. Open qualifying and learning from a “bad” round

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On May 10, I competed in a local qualifier for the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. The local qualifier was held at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

You can watch every single shot in the video below.

Spoiler alert, I ended up having one of those disaster type of rounds with an 85 that was good for a missed cut and T-63rd out of 69th place finish. But rather than spending too much time crying over spilled milk, I decided to use it as an opportunity to not only learn something for myself as a pro but also to demonstrate for you some ways in which you might go about holistically analyzing rounds for your own future improvement.

Perspective & confidence

To start, remember to still pat yourself on the back and have some perspective.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, then to take rank with those poor spirits, who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” -Unknown

A friend sent me that after my round. Good friend.

Personally, I’ve shot tournament rounds in the 60s. So, an 85 for me at my level feels terrible. Feeling upset, angry, disappointed, frustrated, etc., can happen, but remember it’s important to be a good friend to yourself and do what you can to keep your confidence and attitude up and in a positive place.

If I step back from it all and look from a higher perspective, there are a few little things I can tell myself right off the bat to help me feel better about what happened.

  • In nearly every professional tournament, someone typically shoots in the 80s. Bad rounds happen to everyone. Even world-class players are not exempt.
  • I had a spell during COVID-19 where I didn’t pick up my clubs for about 6 months, and I hadn’t competed in a tournament for nine months. If tournament and general rust is a thing, this could have been a factor in my performance.
  • The conditions were very difficult. We had a 90-minute frost delay, it felt cold, the wind was gusting higher than in the forecast, and the course setup was challenging, with 6 pins cut only 4 paces from the edge of greens (which can lead to a lot of short-sided shots for those that are too aggressive). Normally, a 70 or better would get you through a local qualifier. In this case, no one in the entire field of pros and elite amateurs broke par. In fact, par 70 was the medalist. It was a tough day, and scores were high for everyone, not just me.
  • Unfortunately, most golfers will never break 90. Higher skilled players can do good to remember that. I’m reminded of seeing fellow pros on TV who hang their head on an approach shot but the ball still lands on the green and close to the flag, something that most people would be incredibly happy about.
  • Forgive and forget fast: It’s just a game and we are all lucky to be playing it!
  • “Fail” videos can be entertaining for others to watch!
  • Once you find ways to get a little personal perspective, it can be easier to look back at the round objectively and look for actionable items to take going forward to next time.

If you don’t have full round video like what I have above, you can still just think back about the round later that day or the next day or once you’ve calmed down and can assess what happened more clearly.

Anyway, here are a handful of things I’d tell myself in post-round analysis.

Pre-round

For the most part, I did a pretty good job with my pre-round work.

My bag had appropriate distance gapping between clubs, I had a good practice round (and holed out three times during the round), I slept okay the night before, I got to the course with plenty of time to spare to get ready and warm up, I was hydrated, I dressed warm enough for the cold, etc.

There’s not too much I’d change about what I did pre-round except for just getting in more practice/training.

For example, I had only hit balls for an hour a couple days a week indoors in March, and I chipped/putted a little plus played a few rounds in April. Despite not playing much, I was still shooting in the 70s and figured if I had a good day, I might still get through.

Still, more practice would likely have helped me shoot lower. That will be much easier once I decide on a good home golf base, now that my wife and I are getting settled in after our move from DC to Detroit last Halloween.

Off the tee

As you can see, I hit 11/14 (78.6 percent) fairways, which is much better than the PGA Tour average of 59.8 percent. On the three I missed, I was just off the fairway, and I was still in decent position with a clear shot to the green. So, my accuracy and target selection based on my personal shot dispersion patterns were fine.

You can’t tell from the video, but I will let you know that distance-wise I’ve been averaging about 106 or 107 mph with a driver on the course lately. That’s fast enough to compete professionally, albeit on the lower end of tour pro speed, but as someone who has competed and won events and qualifiers in professional long drive with peak speeds in the low 140s, I know there is a lot to gain by hitting longer again.

But how?

My drivers and ball are fine. I’ve tested those and more distance will not likely come from swapping those out.

However, I hadn’t been in the gym for 15 months prior to COVID-19 to do swing speed training. Granted there are some things one can do at home — peruse my articles here on GolfWRX for more about swing speed training, or visit Swing Man Golf — but quite frankly, I just wasn’t getting in the necessary training to swing fast enough for distance to be an advantage like it’s been for me previously.

That’s something anyone can change easily, though, including myself. It’s just a matter of some elbow grease and getting in some smart and consistent swing speed training — and you don’t have to put on 40 pounds to do it!

Technique-wise, I had been experimenting around with several things. Although I’ve shot well with minimal practice doing those things previously, going forward I do want to make some tweaks to get back closer to more of my old Mike Austin-style swing.

Without getting into too much detail, at a high level that would include:

  • Changing my grip back
  • Narrowing up my stance a bit
  • Keep my head from drifting around so much
  • Making a longer backswing
  • Leveraging more leg power through my skeletal joints
  • Using more of a rock-skipping “wind up and throw” type swing motion
  • Bringing back a bit more calm in to my game and what my wife described in my old swing as “fierce grace”

Approach shots

Despite hitting tons of fairways, I only hit 5/18 (27.8 percent) greens. That’s terrible by pro standards and nowhere near the 63.9 percent PGA Tour average. I’ve previously hit all 18 greens before.

So, what happened and how do I get those percentages back up?

Strategically, I think I did well. I chose smart targets based on my usual dispersions and only once did I deviate and not trust myself (watch the 15th hole in which 6-iron to the middle was the right play for a dangerous back flag but I greedily hit 5-iron and went long and got short-sided in the back bunker). Aside from that, unfortunately, I was just hitting it so much worse than my typical large sample dispersions that I kept getting short-sided anyway and was otherwise missing in the wrong spots far too much to score low.

As per above off the tee, more distance (and accuracy) from technique and swing speed training will also help my approaches. I’ve experimented playing as the bomb and gouger as well as the shorter accuracy type player. I can tell you from experience that it’s much easier to shoot lower scores when you’ve got power in your bag. Plus, it’s just fun to hit bombs.

Equipment-wise, I have a consistency advantage playing Sterling Irons single-length irons. However, I know from testing that for me I get tighter iron shot dispersions with Project X LZ shafts vs the Wishon Golf S2S Stepless shaft I currently have in my iron heads. I’ve been waiting to swap those out until we move forward with the second generation of Sterling Irons, though. Reach out to me if you are an interested investor.

Around the greens

Pros make 95 percent from three feet and that drops off sharply to 50 percent at around eight feet. So, it’s important to miss in smart spots to be able to hit shots around the greens close to save pars.

My bunker play was solid (watch holes 10, 12 and 15), save the one shot on the 5th hole that I hit a little too far behind the ball and left short. I was just in difficult locations that anyone would’ve had trouble getting up and down. Normally being short sided might come from too aggressive of approach shots, but that wasn’t the case today except that 5-iron approach on 15.

With chipping, I had some difficult lies (which are just part of the game) and was short sided quite a bit as mentioned.

Technically, I noticed I was sometimes “hitting” at my chips a bit. When you instead take a longer swing relying more on gravity and less on human effort, the distance control on feel shots is much more consistent day to day and week to week. That’s easy enough to work on.

I also wasn’t feeling the sharpest, which again could simply come down to just settling on a home course and getting in more practice.

Putting

Normally, I’m as good as anyone on lag putts.

But like my chips around the green, I saw I was “hitting” at some of the putts. As I said, that throws off distance control and consistency.

Getting some work in on being more pendular, per my usual, should take care of those things.

With my putter and ball, I’ve tested both of those and I’m fine in both cases.

Other

Aside from that, I did notice a couple other things I’d tell myself to change.

First, I’d say to drop about 15 pounds. Over my career, I’ve weighed anywhere from about 202 to 236. Currently, I’m sitting close to 230. I know from experience that, although I am healthy where I am, I still like it best when I’m around 210-215 and 13 percent body fat.

Getting back to that is as simple as a sustained caloric cut while keeping up my protein for a little over a month, but that’s easier said than done to commit to doing. I don’t know of anyone that likes doing fat weight cuts!

Lastly, my outfits could use a little work. I forgot to clean up my shoes and I thought they looked a little dirty on camera. I’ve also done focus group color testing and know that dressing entirely in dusty soft autumn colors (cardinal red, burnt orange, olive green, teal blue, turquoise, etc.) work best for me, and black doesn’t really do me any favors. Time to get rid of those old cold weather golf clothes!

Of course, I can perform well without changing either of those things (fat weight or outfits). However, there’s also something to be said about performing better when you are feeling confident and good about oneself.

Okay, hope that gives you a quick sample of helpful things to consider using for analyzing your own performances!

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the creator of Sterling Irons® single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Two of his articles for GolfWRX are the two most viewed of all time. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also shot the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has helped millions of golfers and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s amateur golfers and tour players pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons® here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – Millions of views!!!

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. J Taylor

    Sep 12, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Nice hair! You’re way too old to be sporting that f a g g o t! Talk about someone with self absorbed narcissistic tendencies. Pathetic.

  2. Sean

    Jul 19, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Great mental debrief to your round Jaacob. I have been working on the same thing. I realize that even the professionals struggle from time to time, so I can’t get too upset if I am having a poor round. Besides, getting angry/frustrated only compounds it. I find if I keep grinding, I can take some positives away from a poor round.

  3. Pingback: U.S. Open qualifying and learning from a “bad” round | Swing Man Golf

  4. McShooter

    Jul 5, 2021 at 10:18 pm

    That famous quote is from Teddy Roosevelt. Good post round analysis. However, weather conditions don’t matter since everyone is suffering, unless there’s a drastic change in the middle if day.

    • McShooter

      Jul 5, 2021 at 10:21 pm

      And spellcheck / auto correct is annoying…

  5. Ben

    Jun 27, 2021 at 11:21 am

    Thank you for this great insight. Would be happy To hear again from your experience and improvements (and the way you follow to reach higher standards)

    • Aaron Badds

      Jun 28, 2021 at 2:13 pm

      Wow, what a beautiful swing mate. And some serious clubhead speed to go with it. Can’t wait to see you tearing up the PGA tour soon. Cheers!

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One of the things that I think is very interesting and fun about this game is that there are a number of ways to play every hole you encounter. And sometimes a hole offers “better” ways to play it than you might think. Let me explain with a couple of experiences from my own golf life.

ONE. In my thirties and forties, I played at a club outside of San Antonio – Fair Oaks Ranch. The 18th hole was a tough par 4 with a very small landing area and a gaping bunker at about 175 out. The skinny fairway left of that bunker wasn’t more than 15 yards wide, and there was a little mott of trees on the green side of the bunker that you would have to carry with your mid-iron bunker approach. Tough, to say the least.

That hole drove most of us nuts, and double bogeys were more common than birdies, for sure. Par was always a great score and bogey wasn’t “bad” at all.

So, one day it hit me that if I hit 4-wood off the tee, I would have an elevated fairway look at the green from about 200-210, giving me another soft 4-wood or 3-iron to the green, and the fairway was about 40 yards wide back there. Being a good long club player, I began to play the hole that way. Doubles disappeared entirely, pars became the norm and I even made the occasional birdie. Hmm.

TWO. At my recent club, the ninth hole just didn’t fit my eye or my game. I play a fade off the tee most of the time and turning over a draw was just not reliable for me at the time. That ninth is a dogleg left, with a bunker on the right side of the fairway that runs from about 160-125 from the green, right where the prime driving area is. What makes this hole so tough for me is that the prevailing wind is left to right, and trees just 60-100 yards off the tee keep me from starting the ball out left and letting it ride the breeze. This is another one where birdies are rare for me there, and bogies and doubles way too frequent. So, it dawned on me one day, finally, that I could hit 4-wood right at that bunker and not get to it, leaving me a 5- or 6-iron into the green, rather than the short iron the rare proper drive would leave me. So, that became my new strategy on that hole. I’m a good mid-iron player, so I’m fine with that, and that damn fairway bunker never caught me again.

THREE. My new club puts a premium on accurate wedge play. Most of the shorter holes have the smallest greens I’ve ever seen, so distance control with your wedge approaches is critical. And I find that reasonably full-swing wedges are easier to control distance than those awkward 60- to 80-yard partial swings. So, I’ve learned to put a premium on club selection off the tee on those holes to leave my approach shots in the 85-115 range, so that I can “dial in” my approach shotmaking.

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