When I started this blog three years ago, there was no way to imagine what 2020 would look like. Globally and personally, we live in a completely different world. Handed an unprecedented opportunity to search inward and an auto-renewal on this website, I decided to revisit my pitfalls and refresh my approach.
First of all, I’m going to start to get more detailed in how data can shape improvement. What this is going to require is a much more involved analysis of my performance, peering into the numbers and translating them into the areas requiring attention. By now you’re probably familiar with me using GAME GOLF, but I’ll also start routinely measuring with Golf Stat Lab. It will be useful to find the biggest issues and break them down into specific improvement plans.
Additionally, I’ve taken on the responsibility to deep dive into learning the golf swing. While challenging, it has already opened my eyes to the way golf is interpreted. I’ll tackle this topic in an upcoming article, but what you should pay attention to is all the “exceptions” to the fundamentals of the swing.
One of my largest weaknesses is my avoidance of feedback. It’s easy to appreciate how uncomfortable real reflection can be these days. That avoidance has cost me dearly, but with good reason. The value of feedback is entirely dependent on the trust of the source. Except for previous lessons, I’ve been exposing myself to random, unsolicited feedback. Even unintentional social feeds and YouTube recommendations can draw me in.
Shaping a swing based on numbers is considerably stronger than an Instagram post on why you chunk pitches or your playing partner telling you on the 16th tee box that “it seems like the clubface is open at impact.” Was that not clear by the ball starting right and going right? My mistake.
Getting TRUE feedback in the form of analytics and measurable parameters is painful. It’s also entirely honest and bias-free. What’s critical is to not dodge these punches. This is one of the reasons why I quit my amatuer tour (sore loser) and why improvement has reversed over the years. Nobody wants to seek out painful experiences, but we absolutely have to in order to learn.
This past weekend was a perfect example.
Since the self-isolation period began, I’ve been working on my swing. I’ve been tracking my hours, reading deeply, and creating a roadmap to fix the flaws I’m finding. Due to the circumstances, I’ve become my own teacher (with the help of some authors). When I finally got to the range a couple weeks ago for the first time in months, I no longer had the excessive draw that had been plaguing my game before the break.
My motor pattern has changed, back to the days before lessons. Although concern could be raised about this regression, I believe this to be good for two reasons:
Number one, my swing feels like MINE again. This is something I built with my body and mind. There is a much stronger connection to the details. As problems crop up, it becomes my duty to address them. Not my instructors, nor my fitness coach, nor a psychologist. That alone is a powerful tool that will not only build my confidence but help me shape a swing for a lifetime. The key is to really take an objective look at what I’m doing with the help of cameras and training tools.
Number two, I’ve had this problem before and fixed it. That experience lets me have a different perspective on how to change it. Knowing I’ve overcome this obstacle gives me a huge advantage. Combined with owning my swing, I have no doubts I’ll come out on the other side.
The success of my process is going to need to rely on the validity of my information. Part of my quest for better golf is identifying what swing keys are opinion and which ones are based on factual representation. You could say I’ve been in search of a scientific swing, and that’s exactly where I started. There is indispensable knowledge in the years of experience from top instructors, but I get the feeling there are limitations to that application. How willing are they to evolve their teaching while verifying their beliefs? Even within my fact-based search, I feel there need to be reasonable parameters.
Take the kinematic sequence for example. Using 3D imaging tools, we can see further into the golf swing than ever before. How useful is that information to you? Are you going to be able to work on your kinematic sequence with real-time feedback at the range?
Lots of data is great! It helps us select an area to focus on and can reveal some serious issues (or strengths depending on what you’re looking for). The issue becomes when we lose sight of the forest for the trees. Goodhart’s Law cautions us that when we make a measurement the goal, it no longer becomes an effective measurement. By focusing on a result, we start to alter how we get there.
Yes we want to do things to improve our statistics, but we can’t change the inputs with a specific result in mind. Looking at it differently: it’s not “what can we do to make this better”, it’s “is there a positive result when we do it this way?”
You can see it’s a fine line, so maybe a better example is on the course.
Say we have a golfer who struggles with hitting fairways. He takes it upon himself to improve that statistic. If he wants to hit more fairways, maybe he decides to take iron off the tee box a few more times. His accuracy increases and he’s happy!
Unlikely. He probably set himself up to reach fewer greens in regulation and completely removed his chances to score better.
Another golfer sees she’s not hitting very many fairways. She understands that more fairways helps scoring but maintaining distance contributes even more. She’s not willing to sacrifice distance and instead works to reduce her heel strikes which cause her right misses and diminished distance. Focusing on this only slightly improves her fairways hit, but keeps her closer to the short grass and she finds herself scoring slightly better.
Two different approaches to improving a specific measurement; however, one has much better results.
Recently I sat in on a Zoom discussion with an instructor from Denmark. He happens to be close to the Trackman headquarters and has engineers stop in from time to time and hit balls.
He candidly mentioned how brilliant these people are and what their swings looked like. Imagine a group of data-oriented individuals trying to produce ideal Trackman numbers without extensive knowledge of the golf swing and body movements. This instructor’s point was that if we only focus on the result, we may not properly address the root cause (and also that his job is safe for now).
Here are my results from this last weekend, Strokes Gained compared to scratch presented both by GAME GOLF and Golf Stat Lab:
Like I said, I’m not dodging the punches this go-around. I shot an 89 (+17) and played miserably. The Strokes Gained methodology is slightly different, as is the entry style, for these two systems. It is still clear to see that my biggest issues right now are Driving and Putting. Approach categorically would be second and for sure needs work, but if I were to venture a guess, those issues are compounded by poor Off the Tee performance (Strokes Gained doesn’t show if I’m hitting from behind a tree). Not to mention working on my full swing should improve both Driving and Approach.
Putting, although comparison not shown, is only slightly worse than where I was a year or two ago. This is something that is consistent and will be addressed as the year progresses, but is within functional variability. If you remember from Mark Broadie’s book Every Shot Counts, putting only accounts for 15% of a difference in score. Several months without reading a green or putting on anything other than a practice mat at home means I’m not surprised.
As for my ball-striking: woof.
While I prioritize my full swing practice this week, I’m going to be paying particular attention to path and face angle at impact. Since my slice is back, I need to be aware which is the more severe parameter influencing my launch. My hunch is that the clubface is going to be the more troubling number. Even with my draw a few months ago, the ball started right.
Along with practice priority, I’m also reintroducing my stretching protocol. This is something that I recognized as correlative to my previously improved performance. A restricted right hip and shoulder started to really hinder my round on Sunday. With it went my sequencing, timing, and any potential at a reasonable swing.
I have been working on my fitness for the past month, though golf-specific exercises have taken a back seat. I will also say that my swing speed is down around 10mph and will need to be addressed in time, as well.
My goals are going to continually change. I’m not sure what they will be, though I am starting to look at competitive golf again. All I know for certain is owning my swing and my process is the only way I’ll be able to learn.
As I go along, I’ll start to compare rounds to the averages I’m seeing and share with you the scope of problem solving your own swing issues. The more data I collect, the more I’ll show you how to break down statistics into actionable practice sessions. Maybe you can’t get to a range yet, or the courses aren’t opening anytime soon, but you can still use this time to keep your muscles fresh, your brain focused on the big questions, and build a new appreciation for the day you can get back out there.