Don't just play golf, master it with intelligence!

Don't just play golf, master it with intelligence!

“Drive for show, putt for dough!  Never up, never in!”

Twenty-five years of teaching and coaching have given me some perspective on statements like this.  You hear them in your Saturday morning game or when a friend wants to trash-talk you about some misgiving and needs a commensurate dig.  You might not like what I’m going to say, but those quips, amongst many others, don’t hold much weight.  And while we’re dispelling golf mantras, let’s dissect it so you can rationalize in your head what's true and false.

First, if you’re keeping track of fairways in regulation, greens in regulation, and putts per round – please stop.  I promise you can do better.  Second, if you’re not keeping any stats and want to improve this season, you should start.  Relax, it’s not hard – I’ll show you how.

As you contemplate your golf for 2024, I want to challenge you to get with what’s really going on with golf instruction and player development.  If you’re still just getting a “usual” lesson on the range, you’re likely leaving strokes on the table.  Why?  Because you might not be working on the thing (driving, approach, short game, putting) that has the greatest chance of lowering your score!  And, of course, how would you even know what that is if you’re not keeping the right stats?

Before I get to this, I posted an article on LinkedIn last year.  It was titled “How Data has Changed the Way I Coach Golf.”  Read it.  It will frame the articles I’m writing over the next year.  It also challenges you to challenge your instructor so your lessons have greater value.

So, how do I keep helpful stats?  I don’t have Shot Link like the PGA Tour…

The easiest way to keep your stats is to have a little cheat sheet (or even use a scorecard) that quickly identifies every shot you take during your next round.  The club you choose doesn’t matter –we’re not concerned whether you hit driver off a tee or not – all we care about are how far you are from the hole and what condition you’re playing from (rough, fairway, bunker, penalty).  The only other thing to know is that recording shots is done in yards except putting, which is done in feet.  Here’s what I do—

Hole #1 – Par 4, 399 Yards

F - 137

R – 8

G – 6

G - 1

Allow me to decipher –“ F – 137” means my second shot, my ball was in the fairway, and I had 137 yards to the hole (all I did was laser it); “R-8” means I was in the rough 8 yards from the hole (you could laser or guesstimate, no need to be super precise); “G-6” means I was on the green, 6 feet from the hole – a little less than a flag stick; G-1, well, you probably used logic to figure out that is on the green and one foot from the hole.

So, I made a five on this hole – a bogey.  Yes, you just actually kept real, meaningful stats.  What does it mean?  Well, read Every Shot Counts by Mark Broadie if you want to understand the math, but there’s an easier way to understand what you just recorded.

Draw More Circles is a fantastic golf performance and statistical App I’ve been using to track my rounds.  By simply inputting the data points above (condition of the lie and distance from the hole), I unlock what I’m doing well and things I can improve on.  Draw More Circles categorizes your data into Driving, Approach, Short Game, and Putting so you can see where you need to put in work and what you’re doing well.

Like any data set, the more you input, the better your understanding.  The “5” you wrote down on your scorecard for the first hole doesn’t tell us a lot.  However, suppose we take each shot and compare it against the average outcome of a PGA tour player, amateur, collegiate player, or even a five handicap. In that case, we suddenly get a clear picture of what needs work.  From there, you get your marching orders on what you should really be working on with your instructor.

Moreover, Draw More Circles breaks it down into bite-size pieces that are easy for you and your instructor to digest.  Picture this – you show up to your next lesson and tell the instructor, “Today, I need to work on putting from 7-22 feet because compared to a scratch golfer, I’m losing 6.2 strokes per round.”  A statement like that shows intent, organization, and attention to detail.  From there, a good instructor will diagnose why you stink from that longer range – is it speed, direction, mechanics, green reading, or a combination?

From there, assuming your instructor is worth his fee, you’ll be off and running on how you can most quickly lower your score.  And hey, if you keep tracking this stuff, and you’re not getting any better using the same instructor, it might be time for a change.  Alternately, if they can, let’s say, cut that number in half throughout a season, well, then you ought to cut them in on some of that extra cheese you’re winning from your group!

Folks, this is how you extract real value from your golf lesson.  If you do, you’ll Draw More Circles!

Good luck in 2024!

Rich Mueller, PGA, Director of Golf & Head Men's Coach at Columbia University

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