Chasing Improvement

So I’ve just started watching the DECADE foundations stuff, and one of the things Scott talks about is the dispersion of professional golfers. It’s a big circle. Everything, from driver to putter, has a decent amount of variance at the pro level.

Scott’s point in this is how to set better expectations and pick better targets. It’s great, and I’m excited about the DECADE app, but this isn’t a DECADE Infomercial (I’d like to thank my sponsors!).

If the pros have large amounts of variance after a lifetime of practice, how do we stand a chance to get better? Obviously better targeting and strategy are a huge part of improvement for us mortals (seriously, thanks to my sponsors. They’ve been great. Buy the DECADE app)… but I’m curious as to what people have done to actually improve at the game. I assume it’s a game of incremental improvements, but I’m curious as to what people have done that has actually improved their game.

For instance, I wanted to get better at putting. This isn’t really a goal as much as a mission statement… I wasn’t sure WHY I was so bad at putting, but I was determined to get better… A fitting and a new putter later, and I’ve realized that TEMPO is what I had been missing… My stroke was an inconsistent mess and having some drills has helped me tremendously. My distance control has noticeably improved… I don’t have the data to back up my claims thus far, but I’m hoping my putting average is lower this season.

So my question is: Those of you who have improved, how did you do it? Chasing specific improvements or just playing more rounds? I don’t believe their is a secret weapon to improving, but I do think there are better ways to get better. I’m curious as to what others are doing.

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Quick bio:
I’m 52; 5’10” and about 185-190 pounds with a 0.6 index who plays 70ish rounds a year while living in Canada so I only get to play 7 months a year. I had been a 2 to 4 handicap most of the past 35 years with little to no improvement until the past year. I hit it longer off the tee than most people my age (around 270-280 usually and occasionally I get a runner out near 300) but I can’t keep quite up with the good 18-35 year old players anymore at my club. I have a great short iron, wedge, pitching and chipping game (except for putting) and I’m only so-so from the bunkers.

What did I do to improve:
Firstly, I’ve always been able to look at my own game (strengths and weaknesses) with an open mind. For about the last 5 years I have been giving myself a “report card” in middle of June (a few weeks before my major tournaments start) and again at end of the season. I give each part of my game a letter-grade which (for the mid-season report card) allowed me to change/re-focus my practice on where I needed it heading into the meat of my tournament season. For the end of season report card, it gave me something to think about during the off-season (I typically don’t touch a club from Nov thru end Feb) then in March I’ll hit the simulators and ranges a few times to loosen up the golf muscles before getting serious at end of March working on something I need improvement on in anticipation of course openings early April.

For years, I was way too “score focused” (it’s what I called it anyways) where I always knew how many over/under par I was and I could almost always tell you what everyone else in my group was at within a shot. I always thought I was a smart player but in reality I was not and wasted too many easy shots (on penalties and short putts). Over the past 18 months I started consuming DECADE (never bought it but consume all of Scott’s tweets, you tube vids, etc…) and it all finally clicked late spring this past year. In addition to Decade, I started using the Shots Gained data charts that Lou posted on Twitter so that really helped in setting realistic expectations when practicing and playing. The combination of those two sets of info has made me focus more on executing my shots (not score) as well as keeping me in the moment and kind-of ignoring those of my playing partners.

Where the improvements came:
It wasn’t one big thing but a series of things I do a little better which made small improvements to multiple parts of my game which were now in my repertoire (or skill set) plus my emotional intelligence on the course also improved.

Here is a partial listing of the things I worked on and noticed improvements in my game.

  1. Driver - by hitting driver more often (from Decade), I realized I also needed a fairway finder swing as well as my full out driver because it was clear that I got better (avg hole score) results from hitting driver than laying up with a 3W or 2H. So early last season I worked on a 90-95% driver swing that was a hair shorter and bit more in to out where I could hit a 5-10 yard draw off the tee that I could hit on tighter holes - the funny part was that tee shot was often as long as my normal tee ball thanks to the run-out off the draw.
  2. Picking better targets and taking one side of green out of play - again mostly from Decade, I stopped looking at the pin if I had 7i or more into a green and just aimed at the Center of the green or 20 feet away from the pin. I made sure that when I missed a green, I left myself the best chance at making par - for me that meant, avoid bunkers and avoid being short-sided in the rough where I can’t spin it or have adequate green to work with.
  3. Give myself higher percentage birdie chances with short irons/wedges - for me this meant 2 things: really think about getting the carry distance right and also how much spin I wanted (or could get from the lie) which helped limit how many quick downhillers or downhill-sidehill putts I had to face.
  4. Improved putting from inside 5 feet - I’ve been an average to terrible putter for years and regularly missed a couple times a round from inside 5 feet. All parts of my putting game on the report card have ranged from C to F for a while then a few years ago I started working on lag putting (trying to reduce length of my 2nd putt) and this past year focused on the short ones. Still not as good as I’d like to be from short range but my lag putting is now great and overall the number of short misses has gone down. This year short putts will continue to be a major focus as I still have lots of room for improvement there.

Summary:
Understand your game’s strength and weaknesses - learn from your misses - focus on a couple areas of improvement (don’t try to boil the ocean - just do 1-2 things better) - work on adding additional shots to your repertoire (especially around the green) and the shots will start to come off. Don’t get dejected if you don’t see results instantly, build the process that works for you - I didn’t need to track every single shot/stat as I had a good understanding of my game; if you don’t, then definitely track stats and let that dictate where you focus your attention.

Sorry for the essay but this continual quest for small incremental improvements has been a passion project for me over the past couple of years as I have a goal to have a + index by the time I enter the senior (55+) ranks in the 2023 season.

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“Dig it out of the dirt.”

Not to be trite but no substitute, imo, for good old fashioned w-o-r-k!

Do something every day … doesn’t have to be a lot, doesn’t even have to be swinging a club nor even hitting balls … a few minutes eg. practicing body movement drills, swinging an Orange Whip, etc etc.

Practice putting a lot, and vary this too as much as you can.

Mix it up, keep yourself entertained … and enjoying it … 'cuz that’s when the learning happens. :+1:

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This is always the case, but I also want to work smarter… if you spend 8 hours a day practicing, you are going to get better… if you only have an hour a day, you need to make sure that time is used effectively.

Knowing where to dig, as it were.

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Man those were some GREAT first lessons you had!!!

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In DECADE terms I think improvement is about making your shot circles smaller. Scott would say it won’t change your target selection, but you’ll shoot better scores by hitting closer to your target more often. It’s basically that simple.

Side note re playing to a number. If you hit your second shot into a par 5 and you’re 40 yards away from the hole but there is a big tree right in the way and you can only chip out to the side or play backwards, would anyone (in their right mind) ever hit it back to 100 yards away? I think not.

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But if I played to 100 yards in the first place, knowing risk and reward that a tree was a 40% chance on the miss and 100 yds out was 98% shot of nothing going wrong…hmmm? Also your scenario…depends what my strength is. Look at Rory on #6 Sunday…that was McAvoy, Give me another ball…Lay-up is par per the great philosopher and Tango dancer Romeo LOL

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I’m with you on practicing smarter. I think the first thing is to know what you actually do on the course. For me, starting to use GolfMetrics a couple years ago was really eye opening as to what areas I needed to improve. Then I actually engaged @Adamyounggolf and he helped me build a practice plan with different categories (technical, exploration, calibration, games and tournament prep).

As of now, here’s my approach to my practice:

  1. 25-50 putts everyday. I use the Bradshaw Drill and putting over a coin for short range at home. Once courses open, I’ll go practice Bradshaw Drill then 3ft, 4ft, 5ft, 6ft circles to get my short putting really tight.

I took an AimPoint class this winter to improve my green reading and reduce the variability of why I missed putts.

  1. Chipping. As it gets nice, I’ll go to the short game area and drop balls in random areas. I’ll walk up and stick a tee one to two paces on and try to land my chip shots at the tee. Improves my touch. I’ll finish with playing the Par 18 up and down game. The goal is 22 or fewer strokes. If I miss, I owe pushups or leave a dollar on the green for someone to pickup.

  2. Approach game - this is my strength. From Adam Young’s plan he worked with me on, I use the finger system at the range to work on my proximity to target. I’ll mark my dispersions on a notebook so I have a good idea of the pattern I have when selecting approach targets.

  3. Driving - I’ve got length and but this can get erratic. If I’m wayward early on in a round, I’ll reel back to 3w or 3h until more wide open holes present themselves. In my last practice post, I mentioned the wrist angle drill from Crossfield and I’m seeing a significantly smaller dispersion with my driver on the SkyTrak. I’ll be interested to see the difference on the course.

  4. I’m using Shot Scope this year to track all my in round data. Every 5 rounds, I’ll review my SG data and calibrate my practice accordingly.

  5. I’ll take a lesson every 6 weeks or so to recalibrate and make sure my setups or compensations haven’t gotten wonky. I’ll also do a couple playing lessons.

Using this approach the last 3 years has taken me from 9 to 2 and I think I’m primed for another leap this year.

Lastly, a really good blog is Par Machine by Sean Denning. He’s an engineer who committed to going from 3 to scratch last year and was successful. Very good blog and he lays out his process in detail.

Good luck!

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What’s an AimPoint Class? What people won’t think of. Go to my first post and I have never deviated from that circle drill and lag drill. Reading greens…well I know how to read grass, bermuda vs bent vs poa. Poa is the worst! I learned how to look at a green and know where it drains AND where it drains is how the putt will most likely break…a putt rarely breaks as green appears to tilt to your eye or even feel with your feet. I also learned to see, read and feel grain especially on bermuda. Miss some 3 footers for $5 often enough you will learn. I use dominant eye alignment and I stroke the ball with my dominant hand even though it looks one piece…First time I ever shared that with anyone! Here’s what I know, you’re going to miss putts, you’re going to miss alot of first putts, WAY WAY more than you make. However, the more consistent and confident you are with a stroke from 2-5ft you’re going to save strokes…ALOT of strokes. That’s the game. You want to see who’s going to win the golf tourney look at 3 things, GIR, Proximity to the hole on approach, Putting strokes gained on the field. Show me that and I’ll show you Win Place or Show. I mean pros who are in the 26-29 PPR range… that translates to you missed at least 8-10 times… Sounds like you will be very competitive this year though…all that information for me is WAY to much for me to have to think about. Keep us abreast if you can shave those last couple strokes off, take it from experience, it’s like losing weight, shaving that last inch or last pound is a battle…Good Luck!

My best stretch of golf was during a 6 month layover in between jobs… shot my personal best 74 (2 over) but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Just played 2x per week, usually for a little bit of money and was focused on getting the ball in the hole. My handicap dropped from about 15 to 10 the previous 12-18 months and then dropped down somewhere around 7 while I was playing a bunch.

I can tell you I am hitting the ball better today than during that stretch, but I only get a true 18 hole round in once per month (proper warmup and wife knows not to bug me for 5 hours). Tough to get all three phases of the game going on the same day. Two kids can squeeze out golf time quickly.

I am trying to commit to one practice session (1 hour) and at least 9 holes every week. Hopefully once or twice a month I can schedule a full 18. Goal is to get under 5 hdcp.

The low hanging fruit for me is:

  • keep it in bounds off the tee
  • Par 5 scoring
  • 3 putts and double chips

Most of the improvement available to golfers is in the full swing motion. Unfortunately, you still have to be competent chipping and putting. That is the tough thing for me. I am investing almost all of my time in the full swing as I think that is where the long term dividends are. I have just accepted the short game will be mediocre until I have more time to play and practice.

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Been there, done that. But family is everything. Do you take them with u to the practice green? That’s what I used to do, then to Friendly’s! As much as people love to bash balls (i do my fair share) I really, really enjoy putting… so I have an indoor mat, I’ll go with the kids to the miniature golf course, I’d take my wife there… It’s mindless practice… and with all that practice, I still release the toe too soon sometimes

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There is virtually no shot out there where you have a 98% chance of successfully laying up and a 40% chance of winding up behind a tree if you go for it. The 98% success lay up shot doesn’t exist unless you’re 50 yards away from it and if you’re 150 out then you really need to work on your approach play.

In any case, the point of the laying up to a number is always given with the concept that you’re better from 100 than from 40, but you’re not (probably). If you’re saying it from the perspective of well it’s safer then that’s an entirely different point. So which is it? Lay up to a number or play sensibly given what happens if you miss?

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I wonder what Bill Bishop would say when he heard you bitching about your ball in a divot?

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9 to 2 is a great move… very nice

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My best golf and biggest improvement came when I ended up out of work right before golf season started…the silver lining lol. I had already started practicing more the previous season and I continued that and of course played more. Shot in the 70’s several times that summer and that was with just horrible putting.

I haven’t really put in the effort in quite a while and it shows. No excuses I just had other priorities like work and family. I love golf, but I already get up early for exercise and I’m not getting up earlier still for golf practice lol. I’m getting a bit sick of not playing as well though and I have a new job and 1 kid out of the house so I want to allocate some time back to golf practice.

I did work on putting the last few years and that’s gotten better. I got fitted and the pro put me into a longer putter that I like and I also got some lessons with some drills that have helped me. I’m not a great putter, but I have a lot more confidence now and I feel like if I keep doing the drills I’m on the right path.

Short game used to be a strength that’s been a weakness. I know I need to practice this. I did figure something out late last year and surprised it took so long. I realized I was too focused on the flagstick and not my landing spot. Once I focused on the spot I had picked out I saw immediate improvement; I just need to put some time in to ingrain it.

My full swing is probably the key this year. I need to get some range time in to be more consistent. I had scores from 81 to 98 last year and it wasn’t so much the short game that caused it. Too many shots OB, in the rough, etc. My shots seemed to be either great or awful with no inbetween. It’s setup, tempo and trust for me. It’s a really tough game when you have no idea where the ball is going.

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That’s where I was 2 years ago (though my short game wasn’t helping either)… That long slow grind back to a consistent golf swing. I can’t play good golf if I’m not playing golf consistently… I need to swing the club to keep my timing.

I’m not looking for shortcuts, I’m just interested what people do to improve when they have limited time to practice… I think it’s an interesting challenge, and from what I’ve seen there aren’t many people actively working on improving their games.

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That’s because people like us are freakin NUTZ. We are actually a very small group of global people…Remember I said Mr. Bishop said to me do you want to learn to play golf or do you want to learn to hit balls? Most people just want to whack the ball around and use a series of 4 letter words to explain to all of us what they are probably doing wrong and have no clue as to why, but actually think they do because out of 50 swings they find that special feeling of clocking one perfect by accident…LOL! I work on my putting everyday…I have a putting mat in my bedroom and I’ll have the TV on and practice my stroke from 8ft out…and I still miss my share of those! People like us aren’t like normal people…we are like on a personal quest…it’s spiritual! The funny thing alot of guys on tour would rather go fishing, and they are so talented they just do what they do… NOT US…we would like to bash balls with a purpose to find NIRVANA!!!

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And if you look at Bryson layup means he doesn’t win. Math has proven time and time again that closer is better in almost every scenario.

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If you have limited time to practice, dedicate half your practice time to the full bag and getting that swing/timing down and the other half of your available time to an area that needs the most improvement or is the most frustrating on the course to try to find some easy stroke savers (example of what not to do - I know a guy who is an 18hdcp who will skull 5 chips/pitches a round yet I’ve never seen him practice anything less than a full wedge. He could easily be a 12 hdcp if he spent half the time on his short game and developing a couple different shot options to just get the ball on the green).

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Being closer to the hole is better for everyone from Bryson down to a rank beginner.

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