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Bowden: Speed golf can help your game

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Jaacob Bowden runs on to the 7th green at Bandon Dunes during the 2012 Speed Golf World Championships

Mark your calendars.

Coming up on April 13 at 1:30 p.m. EST (Masters Saturday), CBS will be airing the Speed Golf World Championships from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where yours truly notched up a fifth-place finish.

For those not familiar with the sport, speed golf combines your normal golf score with the amount of time that it takes you to finish the round. For example, if you shoot 85 in 75 minutes, your speed golf score would be 160.

The rules of speed golf are basically the same as regular golf except you are allowed to putt with the flagstick in the hole to save time, and lost balls or out-of-bounds balls are treated more or less as lateral hazards. This was done because it was thought to be too severe of a price to pay to not only be assessed the penalty stroke but also the lost time from having to run back to the place where you played the original shot.

Elite speed golfers can shoot in the 60s and 70s in under an hour. Take a look on YouTube at my friend and fellow speed golfer Christopher Smith as he breaks 70 in less than 54 minutes.

[youtube id=”zQ43miMu0lw” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Obviously, speed golf won’t be for everyone. However, there are numerous things that regular golfers could learn from speed golfers to help them play better. One thing in particular that I’d like to bring up in this article is how to control your distances when you are between clubs.

You see, speed golfers typically only carry four to seven clubs in their bag during a round of speed golf. For example, in the World Championships, I used a driver, 20-degree hybrid, 5-iron, 8-iron, 52-degree wedge and a putter.

As you might imagine, very rarely will you encounter a shot in speed golf where you have the exact distance for a full shot with a particular club. For that matter, speed golfers usually don’t even bother checking the distances to their targets because it wastes time.

Playing this type of golf where you don’t know the distances isn’t new. As I understand, courses weren’t marked with distances as extensively prior to the 1960s, except for maybe a bush or something like that at the 100- or 150-yard marks. So back in the old days, everyone would have had to play like this.

But in our modern era with all the detailed course guides, distance markers on sprinkler heads, etc., and having fancy launch monitor technology like Trackman or Flightscope to get your yardages dialed in, I think the general mindset has trended more towards using your clubs only for their full swing distances.

Maybe you think of your 7-iron distance as 140 yards (or whatever else it might be), but really it’s 1 to 140 yards. There’s no rule that says you can’t use it for 80 yards, 120 yards or whatever other distance. Aside from technology, perhaps there’s also an aspect for some of us men with our egos and needing to show our playing partners that we took less club than them for the same distance shot. In any case, the skill of playing anything less than a full shot on approach shots seems to have become more of a lost art.

So how do you know how far to hit the ball on those non-full shots without knowing the distance?

There’s a number of ways to develop the skill, but one of my favorite drills to work on it is called the “all clubs all flags” drill. Basically, when you are at the range, take out every club from driver to your highest lofted iron or wedge and hit a ball to each flag that is within range of that club’s maximum distance.

For example, for the 75-yard flag at the range, I’ll hit my lob wedge, sand/gap wedge, pitching wedge, etc., all the way up to the driver. Then I repeat the same thing for the 100-yard flag and so on and so forth. I don’t consciously think about anything technical like how far to take my lead arm back. I just look at where I want my ball to go and instinctively react with a smooth swing.

It’s sort of like baseball. If an outfielder catches a ball in the outfield, he doesn’t suddenly whip out a range finder from his back pocket to laser the exact distance that he needs to throw the ball back in to an infielder. He simply identifies his target and intuitively makes the throw necessary to get the ball to the target. It’s the same mindset with golf.

What I suspect you’ll find is how relatively quickly you can get good at your distance control doing this drill. Once you feel comfortable on the range with it, try it out on the course for a few rounds too. You might even bring only your odd or even irons to force you in to have to hitting more of those in-between type of shots.

The first round trying this may be very scary. It was for me. But over the course of the round, it became easier and easier to trust myself. The more I trusted the better I got. After several rounds of doing this I became just as good at my distance control either with or without knowing the distances. In fact, these days I would say I’ve become better at distance control when I don’t know the distance to my target, which I’ve found interesting because when I first was taking on golf I was a very technical player.

Interestingly, this skill has other benefits as well. Aside from taking less time to play my shots and becoming more target-oriented with less swing thoughts, I also have found it more fun to play this way. To me, I feel like I’m playing the game more creatively like an artist.

And when I get in trouble, I have a nice repertoire of shots to choose from as well. For example, I remember one time when I posted 69 (3-under) in the first round of the Long Beach Open at El Dorado, I decided to take out my driver on the short and narrow 377-yard par-4 No. 15. I missed a little bit right and found myself just under a tree. I was inside 100-yards but I had no room to hit a normal shot. So instead I took out a 5-iron and hit one under the trees up on to the green right next to the flag and made an easy birdie.

Similarly, I’m not sure if it will get shown on the telecast, but the par-3 No. 15 at Bandon Dunes during the Speed Golf World Championships had the tees up and was only playing 131-yards. Using my 8-iron was my first choice since I only had six clubs in the bag and hitting my 52-degree accurately that far would’ve been difficult. However, as I was running up to the tee box I felt utterly exhausted and was too tired to even make the shorter length of swing I would have needed for my 8-iron. Instead I quickly decided to play a cut bump-and-run with my 5-iron up that funneled around the bunker through the front of the green and up to about 10 feet. I missed the birdie putt, but having that skill from the “all clubs all flags” drill gave me an additional option for playing my approach shot and I ended up with a great opportunity for birdie.

I hope you have fun with the drill and find it as useful for your own game as I have with mine.

See you at Masters Saturday in April on CBS!

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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!!!

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jaacob Bowden

    Jan 15, 2014 at 5:34 am

    Here’s a little clip of this “All Clubs All Flags” thing in action. Just step up and react to the target. With a little practice, distance control becomes good without even knowing the number.

    http://youtu.be/z3fvxyxJpro

  2. Jaacob Bowden

    Oct 23, 2013 at 12:46 am

    For those that want to watch, this year’s Speedgolf World Championships will be telecast at http://www.oomba.tv on Saturday and Sunday (October 26th and 27th) from 8am-12pm PST.

  3. Jaacob Bowden

    Jun 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

    For those that missed the CBS telecast, it’s up on the internet now.

    You can watch it here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NJr3bhI1WI

  4. JB

    Mar 27, 2013 at 1:28 am

    I can’t do this speed golf thing but I have played pretty fast golf. First guy out on the course and I’m done in 2 1/2 – 3 hours. You know what? I shoot my best scores whenever I play fast.

  5. Ryder

    Mar 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this is a very nerdy article. But I do know better, and this is an awesome article and topic!!!! Great stuff!

  6. Bruce

    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I didn’t see any ball marks repaired. I’m thinking he’s the guy that’s messed up my putting!

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 12, 2013 at 6:05 am

      Ha!

      Fortunately, Bandon’s greens are pretty good like that. It’s hard to make pitch marks in them.

      Plus, during the actual World Championships there were multiple volunteers stationed on each hole to help us with things like pitch marks, divot repairs, bunker raking, etc.

      • Jaacob Bowden

        Mar 12, 2013 at 6:06 am

        But in a casual round of speed golf, yes, you would definitely still want to do all the things necessary to take care of your course!

  7. Anthony

    Mar 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Yep…having no yardages is great for ones feel and intuition; a purer form of golf (not running golf).

  8. Marty

    Mar 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Yay! Was just YT’ing speed golf stuff last night, thinking about playing instinctively vs technically. Glad to see Speed Golf get its due on national tv!

  9. Forrest

    Mar 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for a reminder on this drill. It’s one that I really enjoy doing but haven’t in months. I’m going to use it this afternoon to get away from evil swing thoughts and make sure to incorporate the half bag of clubs into my next few rounds. I did that for 5 or 6 rounds last summer and found that I could score as well (and sometimes better) with half the bag rather than all 14 clubs.

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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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