The brutal reality for most golfers is that, despite improvements in technology, custom-fit clubs, course conditioning and swing knowledge, their average score never seems to improve year on year. They are stuck on a plateau and resigned to the fact that they have found ‘their’ level.
The good news is that all golfers can improve their scores by following a relatively simple 3 part process. The complicating factor is that along this path to improvement there are many dead ends and wrong turns. With persistence and trust in the process however, scores will fall.
How can I be so sure? Just over 12 months ago my average score was a smidge over 76. My current average is 73.5. I have improved by 2.5 shots whilst only playing on average once a fortnight. Through this blog I will outline the steps required for improvement and intersperse examples from my own process.
Step 1: Analyse your strengths and weaknesses
One of the elements that makes golf such a difficult sport to improve in is that there are several areas of the game that each require slightly different skill sets in order to become proficient. In this way, improving one area of your game such as driving, does nothing to improve another area of your game such as putting.
To analyse your game, first split it into 4 sections:
- Approach shots from 100-250 yards
- Short Game shots from off the green up to 100 yards
The best way to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses in these areas is through strokes gained statistics, which will measure your play in each area relative to a given base level.
For a detailed explanation of strokes gained, read the excellent and game-changing ‘Every Shot Counts’ by Mark Broadie. The ‘MyRoundPro’ app (which is free) offers an easy way for you to record and analyse your strokes gained statistics.
In January 2017, an analysis of my play through 2016 showed that I was losing shots to the field in Driving, Short Game & Putting relative to a scratch baseline. In contrast my approach shots from 100-200 yards were clearly the strength of my game.
This quantitative information gave me a great baseline from which to analyse further and dig deeper to find out where I could improve my scores.
Step 2: Key in the areas for improvement
So you now have a relative measure of your strengths and weaknesses across four areas of the game. The next stage of the improvement process is to break these areas down in more detail and get to the nitty gritty of exactly what you need to improve in order to reduce your scores.
Within each of the four areas, there are broadly three factors that affect your performance on the course:
Whilst you are the best judge of yourself, it can be useful to bring a PGA Qualified coach into the process at this point. Just make sure that they have seen you perform on the course under competitive pressure. Without this they will likely focus too much on the technical aspect, which may not be getting to the true cause of your weaknesses.
Putting: Detailed analysis of my putting showed that I was missing short putts both left and right of the hole and often failing to hit my chosen target line. The conclusion was that there were TECHNICAL aspects of my stroke that needed improvement.
Short Game: Strokes Gained Analysis through the MyRoundPro app showed that I was leaving the majority of my short game shots short of the hole. Given that I was striking most of the shots OK, the main weakness and cause of the poor results was determined to be MENTAL.
Driving: A couple of aspects to my Driving were discovered to be contributing to the relatively poor results. Firstly my ball-striking on the first few holes was often the worst of the round. This was thought to be a PHYSICAL problem. Secondly my Driving would often seem to let me down under pressure – for important shots even when I was going well. The issues here were concluded to be MENTAL.
Stage 3: Identify Marginal Gains to improve your scores
The final step in improving your score requires the implementation of identified marginal gains into your practice regime and performance.
This is the point where a coach can play a crucial role – beware though, of committing to large scale technical changes – whilst this may be the best and only way for some golfers to improve – it requires serious dedication with limited chance of actual improvement – better for most players to concentrate on simple changes across a number of areas for more instant wins.
Putting: The inconsistency in my stroke was traced to an excess of rotation in the clubhead through the stroke – sometimes it would rotate closed and I would miss left – sometimes I would release it less and it would miss right.
A change of grip from conventional to cross-handed helped this a little as it stopped my right hand turning over through impact. The real marginal gain came, however, with the implementation of a drill at home in my dining room.
By ensuring that the alignment line of my putter followed the straight edge of the wooden flooring throughout the stroke, the putter face remains square. With daily repetitive practice of just 10 minutes, my stroke improved and with it my putting performance, which currently rates as +1.18 strokes gained for my 2018 rounds.
Short Game: For many years, my focus when playing shots around the green had been on my landing area. This is fine but such a narrow focus seemed actually to increase my tension and anxiety about missing my target area.
By changing my focus to thinking about the target and trusting my instinct and experience to create the right amount of power it has allowed me to ‘free’ up my technique and improved my distance control, ironically by thinking less about the distance!
Strokes Gained statistics shows that I have improved my short game by around half a stroke per round in 2018, although I am still losing shots to the field in this area. I will reassess during a break in my season in August, when additional marginal gains methods will be considered.
Driving: Poor flexibility was determined as the reason for my poor ball striking early in the round. A specific stretching routine was designed that is utilised before the round and also 2-3 times per week between rounds. The routine focuses on my specific areas of weakness, particularly my back and left hip area.
My poor Driving under pressure was traced to the tension created by overly technical swing thoughts that made my anxious. By changing my swing focus away from technique to simply striking through the ball, my desire to control my swing is reduced and my strike is much freer under pressure.
These changes have combined to improve my strokes gained Driving statistics by just under a stroke per round and from a negative to a positive.
Whilst my strategies for marginal gains may not be applicable for all golfers, the principles and process is clear. Remember that not all of the thought out changes for improvement will work. There will be many incidences of false hope. Ultimately every failure helps you closer to finding the right path. Trust the process and find regular intervals to reassess and you will reach your goals.