Golfers tend to gravitate towards extremes with how they approach the game. Some players are always on the search for new answers, and their game is one big continual experiment. Others stand completely still and stick with what they’ve got.
I want to explore why gravitating towards the middle is usually a better answer for all of you. Also, I’ll give you some tangible examples of what I consider to be healthy tinkering on your golf game. I think all of you are going to find elements of your own game in this discussion.
If I had to take an educated guess, my instincts tell me that most golfers fall into this extreme. Because the game can be so frustrating and challenging, a lot of players are always on the search for answers. So much so that they never actually take a moment to analyze their progress.
Whether it’s getting random advice at the driving range, or cruising YouTube and Instagram for endless swing tips – every week is a new experiment. Usually, it ends up being a vicious cycle. There is typically an initial “Eureka!” moment at the range, and the golfer declares that they have the game figured out. A couple of weeks later, after a few shaky rounds, they’re on to the next thing.
Making adjustments to your golf game can undoubtedly yield positive results, but there is definitely too much of a good thing. I always caution players to avoid becoming the golfer who is always buying new equipment, consuming new and different swing tips all the time, and never sitting still. At some point, you have to give whatever changes you make some time to develop.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the golfer that doesn’t change at all. They’ve been playing the same equipment for decades, and never made any adjustments to their technique or approach to the game.
While it’s a terribly overused quote at this point, and it turns out he may never have said it in the first place, it speaks to Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
At some point, as a golfer, you’re going to have to make adjustments. It may be your strategy, mental game, equipment, or swing technique. The game is continually changing on us, and it requires modifications from time to time. The challenge is that we never really know what the right answers are. It demands an element of risk-taking, which often scares players who don’t like changing (sorry if this is getting a little too philosophical).
So what are we to do?
I am not someone who likes extremes. This probably will not come as a shock to you from someone who named their website Practical Golf. I have found very little evidence of success in my own game and from observing others that gravitating towards a state of constant change or doing absolutely nothing is going to make you a better golfer. As usual, the answer to your own game is somewhere in between.
There are all kinds of small adjustments and changes you can make to your golf game that can yield small wins over time. Golfers are usually on the search for that “home run” change, but it doesn’t really exist.
Also, don’t assume that small experiments are only limited to your golf swing (technique). In a way, all of the topics I explore on this website (strategy, practice, mental game, equipment, expectations, etc.) are areas of the game where I am trying to give you new ideas to experiment with.
I’ve been tinkering with my golf game since I took the game up more than 20 years ago. Along the way, there were plenty of failures. But there were enough successes that stuck with me and comprised my current game.
Here is a list of what I consider functional experiments that I have done, with links to articles that explore the ideas more:
None of these changes required a complete overhaul of my swing or doing something drastically different. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need to make significant changes, especially with your golf swing. That’s why I always suggest working with a qualified swing professional to guide you through that process and give you a better chance at success.
But I do realize that most of you are on your own. And I do think that making small adjustments and performing experiments from time to time, can make you a better golfer. The only feedback you’ll ever need with these changes is your results. Is that little white ball flying where you want it to go a bit more? Are you seeing improvements on the golf course?
Time is also a crucial element. You have to be patient and give these experiments time to play themselves out. One or two rounds isn’t enough evidence.
Becoming a better golfer is a delicate balance of changes. If you do nothing and stand still with your game, it’s hard to expect better results. On the flip side, if you are always going to the drawing board and making changes, it’s challenging to find out what is working, or even give it a chance to develop. The gray area between the two is where the answers are for most of you.
If you’re looking for ideas, I’ve got hundreds of them on this site. But as always, I caution all of you not to do too many things at once.
One of the significant innovations in golf equipment in recent memory is driver adjustability. Almost every manufacturer now offers drivers (and other clubs) that allow you to change the loft, or move around the center of gravity with weights.
Like any technology, there are two sides to the coin. If a golfer buys an adjustable driver, and randomly changes the settings based on a few hunches, will that help them? Or can it hinder their performance?
In this article, I’ll explore a few concepts in driver adjustability that every golfer should know. Also, I’ve done some testing of my own driver using my SkyTrak launch monitor to show how much influence all of the settings have on ball flight.
When it comes to golf club performance, I’m lucky to have one of the best clubfitters in the industry at my disposal. To understand more about driver adjustability, I spoke with Woody Lashen. He is the co-owner of Pete’s Golf, which has been recognized as a Top 100 Clubfitter by Golf Digest. Almost every single OEM seeks out Woody and his staff’s opinion on golf club design because of their experience and expertise.
On the whole, Woody says he loves having more adjustability options with driver heads. As a clubfitter, it gives him more alternatives to fine-tune equipment for his clients.
He often compares driver settings to a medication prescription from a doctor. In his opinion, it’s best to get the proper settings (or your medicine) given to you by a professional who understands how they will perform for your golf swing. Trying to figure out the “dosage” on your own can lead to more problems than benefits.
Woody says that getting the loft setting on your driver is the most important. Modern drivers allow golfers to move the loft around by several degrees now. Increasing or decreasing loft can change how far you hit the ball and the accuracy of your drives considerably.
Also, moving the center of gravity around with weights can affect the shape of your shots. A lot of drivers now come with fade and draw options. Woody says he is a little more hesitant to play around with the weights to move the center of gravity. He would instead pick a driver head that has the right center of gravity to begin with. Moving the weights around inevitably creates a sacrifice in performance in his experience.
Overall, Woody says that he cautions golfers to play around with the settings on their own. He’s seen plenty of players make mistakes. For example, one golfer came to him thinking he had increased the loft of his driver 2 degrees, but he had actually removed one degree of loft because he didn’t follow the manufacturer’s directions properly.
Also, most golfers don’t have the expertise or the testing equipment necessary to figure out if one setting will be better than another for their swing. Most times, they are taking a shot in the dark.
His main piece of advice is to work with a professional who can determine the optimal driver settings for your swing. Once that has been established, playing around with loft and moving weights around usually can cause more problems than it’s worth.
I know readers of the site love to see tangible examples of certain concepts. So I recently took my Callaway Epic Flash driver and played around with the settings. My goal was to see how much changing the loft and the weighting of the club would impact my ball flight.
All testing was done on my SkyTrak launch monitor, which gives me accurate measurements on key ball flight indications. For this test, I was mostly concerned with how much loft would alter my distance. Looking at the launch angle, spin rates, and yardage information gives me a clear picture.
Additionally, I wanted to see how moving the weights around to fade and draw settings would change the shape of my shots. Looking at the simulated ball flights as well as sidespin numbers help answer those questions.
As usual, I try to caution you all that my results are specific to my golf swing. The only way to figure out the answers for your own golf swing would be to perform similar tests.
If you are looking to maximize your driver performance, especially for distance, loft is critical. There are so many misconceptions amongst golfers about how loft actually works in a driver. For starters, there is no such thing as a standard loft in terms of its performance. I’ve tested a bunch of different drivers and found optimal performance with 12 degrees with one model, and as low as 9.5-10 degrees with another. A lot of it depends on the center of gravity. Long story short, there is no such thing as the right loft for all drivers.
Another myth is that less loft will increase distance. For many golfers, the opposite is actually true. Let’s take a look at my test results from my SkyTrak session:
|Driver Loft Setting||Launch Angle||Carry Distance||Total Yards|
As you can see, there is a fairly linear progression taking place. The more loft I add to the driver, the farther I can carry the ball. I’ve found that the 12.5 degrees setting on my driver works best for me to increase my distance (and control).
The relationship between driver loft and distance varies based on the golfer. For example, I am a very low-spin player. I need to get the ball up in the air quickly (increase launch angle) to get the most distance out of my drives. However, the opposite might be true of a player who spins it more with their driver. The increase in launch angle could rob them of distance.
So if you are in the market for a new driver or never really tested your current one with different loft settings – there might be some easy performance gains waiting for you. Having the wrong loft could be robbing you as much as 20 yards!
A lot of modern drivers come with settings that allow you to move the center of gravity horizontally. Moving around weights can favor more of a fade (left to right) or draw (right to left) ball flight.
While I know how much influence loft can have based on plenty of testing, this is an area I have not experimented with much. My instinct is that it can be a slippery slope. A golfer might be tempted to continually change the weight settings on their driver based on short-term results, which is something I don’t necessarily agree with.
My shot shape is very predictable. Because I have such an in-to-out swing path, it’s nearly impossible for me to hit anything other than a draw or straight shot. The only time you’ll ever see a left-to-right ball flight is if I strike it on the heel of the clubface, which is caused by gear effect. I explored gear effect more in this article. You should know that for a right-handed player, if you strike the heel of the club, it will impart more fade spin, where finding the toe of the clubhead will cause the ball to draw more.
I tested my driver with neutral, draw, and fade settings. I also made sure to eliminate shots that were not struck towards the center of the face, which could confuse the results. The outcomes surprised me. The primary measurement I’m looking at is sidespin.
If the number is negative, that means the ball is curving more right to left (draw). A positive number would indicate a fade, and the closer you are to zero, the straighter the ball flight. Typically, I struggle with the number being too negative, which means I am hooking the ball on more errant swings. I’m usually looking for a slight draw, which would be represented by something around -100 to -300 rpm.
|Driver Setting||Side Spin|
Interestingly, the fade setting actually got me hitting some fades. Almost 2/3 of my shots registered with positive side spin. Most recorded at around 400rpm of sidespin, but the average was brought down to 96 total because several swings did manage to draw still.
As expected, the neutral setting delivered results I’m used to seeing on the course, which is a slight draw when I’m hitting shots well.
Another surprise was that the draw setting did, in fact, make me hook the ball more. It was too much. Some swings registered over -1000 rpm of sidespin, which is dangerous territory.
Based on what I saw, I’ll continue to keep my settings at neutral. But no question moving the weighting around did alter my ball flight. That might not be the same for you. It will depend on your driver, and how much the weight can actually be moved around.
Driver adjustability can be a great thing for golfers. We have more opportunity than ever to fine-tune clubs to match a player’s swing tendencies.
As you saw in my test, playing around with loft, or the center of gravity can cause your ball flight to change. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could be losing distance or accuracy with the wrong settings.
My recommendation would be to listen to the advice given by Woody Lashen. If you want the best opportunity to maximize your investment in a new driver, work with a professional who can help you determine the optimal configuration. For most golfers, haphazardly changing the settings based on how you performed in your last round is not usually going to lead to better results. Get it done right the first time, and resist the temptation to keep tinkering.
If you want to see other tests I’ve conducted, you can read the following articles:
The personal golf launch monitor category has officially blown up. Over the past several years, there has been a slew of releases that I’ve tested. Recently, Rapsodo announced the release of its Mobile Launch Monitor
. At $500, it packs an impressive list of features.
I was excited to test out the MLM because Rapsodo is also responsible for the hardware of my favorite launch monitor, the SkyTrak. In this review, I’ll highlight the strengths of the Rapsodo MLM (there are quite a few). The unit also has a couple of drawbacks that you should factor into your purchase decision. I’ll also explain how it fits in with the competition in the $500 and below personal launch monitor category.
With any launch monitor, the number one thing I am concerned with is distance accuracy. If a company can’t get this fundamental feature right, then the product’s value is compromised.
It doesn’t matter if you pay $300 or $20,000 for a launch monitor – none of them are perfect. Every product has its strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the engineers who create launch monitors have to build inevitable tradeoffs. For example, I’ve had people tell me off the record that some of the most expensive launch monitors are more accurate with certain yardages or circumstances (indoors vs. outdoors), but struggle in others.
On the whole, the $500 category of launch monitors are getting better and better with distance accuracy. Some of the models I’ve tested are within a few percentage points of difference versus industry leaders like Trackman and Foresight Sports.
In the case of the Rapsodo MLM, the unit uses a mixture of radar technology and the camera of your cell phone to measure the initial ball flight to determine its measurements. Overall, I am very impressed with its accuracy. You can only use the MLM outdoors, which is an optimal environment for a radar-based launch monitor to take accurate measurements.
I found that shots 150 yards and in were pretty much spot on compared to the data I’ve seen from SkyTrak, Foresight Sports, Trackman, and FlightScope (all significantly more expensive).
On mid to long irons, I felt that the Rapsodo MLM was slightly underestimating my carry distances. However, with my driver, I was impressed with the relative accuracy in ball speed and distance. I would say the distance shown was closer to my total distance versus my carry distance, though.
I found that ball speed, clubhead speed, and launch angle were comparable (not perfect) to what I have seen on many commercial models that cost significantly more. Overall, the Rapsodo MLM did an excellent job of providing me with comparable metrics that I’ve seen from more expensive products.
In my opinion, the app that Rapsodo built is the most robust feature of the product. Right now, I’d say it’s the best in this category. I’ll try to summarize my favorite features, but there are quite a few.
When you first start your session with the MLM, you confirm your exact location on the driving range as well as the direction you’re hitting balls using your phone’s GPS. Going through this exercise allows the app to show a visual representation of where all of your shots went during your session, which is excellent information to have.
Additionally, each shot is recorded on your phone’s camera. You are instantly given a video playback with some cool shot-tracer visuals. Another feature I liked is that the phone calls out the yardage quickly.
When you are finished with each range session, you get access to a library of information that is very useful. The app has a big mapping feature which gives you your typical yardages with each club. You can see how you performed in individual sessions, or as an aggregate measurement. For example, if you were working on adding some distance to your driver, this would allow you to see your progress over time.
Perhaps my favorite feature is taking a deep dive into every session. You can see a visual representation of your shot dispersion with each club along with simulated trajectories.
Lastly, you can scroll through each shot. Some of the key metrics shown are distance, ball speed, and club speed. But they go a step further with some additional data that is not available from the competition.
Each shot is given a designation in terms of its direction and trajectory, which is broken down by this image:
For example, most of my shots register as straight, going to the right, or starting right of my target with a draw. Even more, you can review the video from each shot to confirm the shot shape using the tracer image of the ball flight. I found that the app did a great job of identifying my typical shot directions and shapes.
Another key stat is your launch direction. The Rapsodo MLM
is measuring if your shot started to the left or right of your intended target, and how many degrees offline it went.
If you are a golfer who likes data, you’ll be delighted with the library of information that’s available. Unfortunately, there is an added cost if you want limitless playback of your video recordings. They charge a $99 subscription to access anything past your last 100 swings.
Up until this point, I’ve talked about what I loved about the Rapsodo MLM. And there’s a lot that I do like about this product. But there are a couple of significant drawbacks that I should discuss.
First off, the Rapsodo MLM does not work indoors, or into a net. Because of the technology used, it needs to see the ball travel for 50-70 feet to perform its calculations. For someone like me, who does a lot of practice at home in the offseason, this lack of functionality is a bit of a letdown. I prefer working with launch monitors in a more controlled environment, but you may feel differently than me if practicing at home is not an option.
My main gripe is that the Rapsodo MLM relies on two pieces of hardware to work – the unit itself and your phone. My phone is where I ran into several problems with testing.
In my first few sessions, I had a lot of difficulties identifying shots when I tried to switch clubs. The MLM would work for my lob wedge and sand wedge, but when I switched to longer clubs, it would not detect shots. The Rapsodo engineering team has been working on updates to the software that are addressing these issues, which include identifying shots in different lighting conditions. They told me to close out all of the other apps that were running in the background of my iPhone. Also, after reviewing my swing videos, they determined that I had placed the unit a little too far back. Once I followed both sets of instructions, the launch monitor seemed to work much better.
Aside from those problems, another challenge I faced was battery usage. I have an iPhone 7, which at this point is considered an older model since Apple loves to update hardware every 6-12 months. For a range session that lasted 30-45 minutes, I found that the MLM used anywhere between 50-70% of my battery. Even closing out all of the apps and lowering the brightness to its lowest level did not alleviate the quick drain. If you have a newer, more efficient model, this might not be a big deal for you. But it’s something that you should be aware of. Future software updates could alleviate these issues (but probably not eliminate them).
As much as I love the accuracy and the app, the phone usage and lack of indoor functionality are two significant tradeoffs if you are looking to purchase this product. You also should know that the MLM is only available for iPhones right now, but an Android version of the app is on the way.
Based on all of the testing I’ve done, I would say that the Rapsodo MLM
has inserted itself to the top of this category along with the Swing Caddie SC300. The FlightScope mevo is another popular product, which I tested as well, but found it a little more burdensome to use.
If you are choosing between the MLM and the SC300, I think the main difference is functionality. Both have very accurate metrics (especially outside). However, the SC300 does work indoors. Although I found the SC300’s accuracy better outside, it did work quite well when hitting into a net. So if indoor usage is important to you, the SC300 certainly gets the nod.
Another factor to consider is simplicity. The Swing Caddie SC300 works without any other kind of hardware. They do have a phone app that integrates with the launch monitor (and now provides spin metrics). However, it’s not required to use the app. I would say overall that the Rapsodo MLM has stronger app features such as showing your shot direction, shape, and video playback. But the SC300 app has very nice functionality as well.
Overall, the use of a cell phone to measure shots was a sticking point for me when evaluating both of these products. I would say if you want a more straightforward, headache-free experience, the Swing Caddie SC300 gets the nod. You won’t have to worry about your phone having enough charge, or losing it too quickly. But if the features such as video playback, and some enhanced shot data are more important, than the Rapsodo MLM might be a better choice. They’re both great products and offer significant value at their $500 price tags.
The Rapsodo Mobile Launch Monitor is a solid release. Its accuracy and app design are very impressive. I don’t love that it needs a phone to measure shots, but it’s possible that future software updates will address some of the issues I had. Also, the lack of indoor functionality might be a deal-breaker for some golfers.
But for $500, you can’t get it all! A product like SkyTrak gives most recreational golfers every metric they can imagine as well as simulation capabilities, but the price tag is $2,000. Taking into account all of the positive features of the Rapsodo MLM, I think they’ve done an excellent job of packaging a lot of value into a product that can appeal to most golfers.
You can purchase the Rapsodo MLM here
If you have any questions, please feel to post them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Here are other articles I’ve written on launch monitors:
Golf is a relative game, which is why it is so enticing to such a wide variety of skill levels. For one player, breaking 100 is a milestone that is worthy of celebratory beers and a bunch of text messages to friends. For another, it could make them question life in general (yes, we can all get a little melodramatic at times).
Whatever your relationship is with the game, it is a constant mental battle. In a sense, we are all in conflict with our past and future while we play. The sage advice is to stay present and focus on one shot at a time. However, it’s almost impossible to prevent our minds from wandering. Sometimes we’re fearful of a specific event in a prior round reoccurring. Other times, we see our scoring milestone in sight, but still, have seven holes left.
So how do you fix this? Can you even fix it? (these are rhetorical questions)
Recently, I received this message from a reader:
I struggle with staying present during a round. I normally start very very well, but around 9th hole I start thinking about winning or shooting my lowest round. Do you have any articles that address this?
It came at an interesting time in my own game. For the past couple of months, I have been trying to analyze a specific round that I had in competition. Despite making significant strides in my mental game over the last several years, I believe I made several errors with my focus.
In this article, I’d like to take you through that round. I’ll let you know what I was thinking (my real thoughts are a bit embarrassing). Also, I want to discuss how I’m working on this for the next time I get into a similar situation. I hope that all of you will see some connection to your own golf game and use some of these techniques to sharpen your mental skills.
I’ll warn you that this article is a bit longer than most that I write. It’s also more personal. I try not to talk about my own game that much because I don’t want to bore all of you. But in this instance, I think hearing about my experience, and my thoughts can help you.
For the past five years, I’ve immersed myself back into tournament golf. The New York Metro region has tons of amateur events with stiff competition. If you play well at qualifiers, you get to play some of the top courses in the world. I jumped right into the deep end at a U.S. Open Qualifier in 2015, and since then, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There have been some great moments, and some embarrassing ones as well.
Fortunately, I’ve seen incremental progress every year. In the beginning, the pressure of having to shoot a number at a one-day qualifier was probably too much for me. But the more and more comfortable I’ve become, my results have improved. Like anything else in golf (or life) – it took a lot of failing, reflection, and experience to move forward.
2018 was a bit of a breakthrough year for me. I got into several of the most significant events in our area and got a taste of what it felt like to play with the best players under even more pressure. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and in some regards, I’m a little addicted to the feeling now.
This year I couldn’t help but raise my expectations a bit. But for the most part, it’s been a season of near-misses. I’ve mostly played well, but missed cuts by one or two strokes. When you play against great golfers, the margins are pretty thin.
There is one event in particular that has stuck with me. My eventual goal is to qualify for the U.S. Mid Amateur. For those of you that don’t know, that’s a tournament that’s limited to golfers that are aged 25 and above. I can tell you from experience that trying to compete against college golfers is a tall task these days. So for someone like me who is 36 years old, the U.S. Mid Am is the pinnacle of amateur golf.
This year the U.S. Mid Amateur qualifier in my area was being played at Nassau Country Club. Last year I played in the Long Island Open there, and it’s a course that challenges all parts of your game. It’s demanding off the tee and requires precise iron play. Perhaps the most challenging part is the greens. Tom Fazio redid them back in 2012, and they can be terrifying in tournaments. The first time I played them in a competition, they were rolling somewhere around 13 (or above) on the stimpmeter.
It’s a bit of a tall task to make it to the big event every year. More than 100 talented golfers are vying for only six spots and two alternates. Depending on the conditions of the course for the day, it’s likely you need to shoot under par to make it. As you would expect, the USGA likes to challenge the participants. Mentally, the most challenging thing is trying not to think about the number all day, and focus on playing your game.
Teeing off on the back nine, I was quickly faced with some of the most challenging holes on the course. After an opening bogey, I managed to grind out a couple of pars with testy 10-foot putts that went in. A birdie on my 4th hole brought me back to level par and feeling comfortable.
Things were moving along nicely. I was hitting fairways and greens. On my 7th hole, I drained a winding, downhill 60-footer for birdie. In reality, I was hoping to two-putt, but when the putt dropped, I couldn’t help but think, “Is today the day?”
After a couple of gritty pars, I made the turn at one-under. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had one of the best rounds going in the morning session.
Going to the first hole of the course, I knew I was facing the tee shot that made me the most uncomfortable. With out-of-bounds left and the driving range to the right, there wasn’t much room for error. I took a deep breath and piped my driver down the middle.
At this point, I was starting to pump myself up even more. Unfortunately, my playing partner lost his tee shot after our three-minute search. I had to wait a bit for him to go back to the tee. The pin was tucked on the right, and I had about 145 yards, a perfect 9-iron for me. But I had quite a bit of time to think about this shot. I picked my appropriate target well left of the pin where there was plenty of green. But I whiffed the iron to the right and landed in a bunker. I was short-sided and had a terrible lie. My only option was to play well past the hole, and my shot went through the green.
My heart started racing a bit, and I began to wonder if this was where I would unravel. But I focused on the shot, got up and down for a bogey, and felt relieved.
After a couple of routine pars, I had a 20-foot birdie putt on my 13th hole. I felt good about the read, and my speed had been impeccable all day. The putt was tracking towards the hole with 5-feet to go, and I was convinced I made it. Then it took a 270-degree turn around the cup with one of the most vicious lip outs I had ever seen.
Par wasn’t a bad score, but I knew I was running out of holes even though I was even for the round. The next stretch was very challenging to manage pars, let alone birdies. Despite my best efforts to keep myself in a positive mindset, the lip out felt a bit deflating.
I bogeyed the next hole with a 6-footer that burned the edge. The 6th hole on the course (my 15th) is perhaps the most challenging tee shot. It’s a long, 450-yard uphill par 4 that I knew I couldn’t reach if I missed the fairway. I quickly picked up my tee as I saw my drive laser down the middle of the fairway. It was a bomb.
Walking up to my ball, I noticed it was in the middle of a deep divot. I took a little extra club to compensate for the 160-yard uphill shot, but I caught it a little heavy and landed short of the green. I missed another testy par putt by several inches.
At that point, I knew I would likely have to birdie two or three of my remaining holes to have any chance. Things happen quickly when you’re coming down the stretch under pressure. In all honesty, I didn’t feel all that nervous. I was undoubtedly a little dejected and could feel the round slipping through my fingers. But I stuck to my routine. Unfortunately, the birdies didn’t come. There were a couple more bogeys instead.
I finished with a 74 (+4) for the day. It was a respectable round considering the difficulty of the course and the pressure of the day. However, as I suspected, a round of one-under was required to get into a playoff between five golfers for the remaining four spots.
I wasn’t angry at myself. I played well and coming down the stretch; it was a matter of inches on several putts that kept me on the outside looking in. Who knows what would have happened if the birdie putt had dropped on 13? Overall, the pressure didn’t feel too heavy, and I enjoyed the pursuit.
After the round was finished, I went through all of my shots mentally, as I usually do. Overall, I was satisfied with my strategic decisions. I also stuck to my routine very well. Perhaps the only significant error that occurred was on my 10th hole when my playing partner lost his tee shot.
What I was more concerned with were my thoughts between shots. When you play golf, especially if you are walking the course, there is a lot of mental downtime. Usually, I like to fill it by talking with my playing partners. That day I had a good dialogue going with the other golfer in my group.
However, despite the conversation, there were a few twists and turns that my consciousness took. If I had to categorize them based on the holes I played, here they are:
I went from doubt to extreme confidence pretty quickly. Then my ego went out of control, thinking about telling readers of the site about my eventual triumph, then to the realization that it had slipped away. All in the span of 4 1/2 hours! Isn’t golf a fun ride?
A day after the round, I called a friend of mine, Scott Fawcett. He regularly consults with elite amateurs and professional golfers with his DECADE strategic system. But in the end, most of his work ends up being psychological. I was candid about my thoughts with him. His analysis was that thinking about bragging to people how I had made it was the most detrimental thought of the day. I sheepishly agreed, and still couldn’t believe that’s where my mind went.
We also discussed expectations, and the distribution of my scores based on my skill level. One of my main questions was how to deal with the pressure of only having one opportunity to post a score at a qualifier event. For me to shoot under par, based on my handicap level, it’s probably only going to happen 10-15% of the time. So while I can do it, I also have to be realistic and understand that I’ll have to play my very best.
Like he had done many times before, he urged me to consider taking up meditation and mindfulness. So I finally did.
The conventional wisdom in any sport, especially golf, is something to the effect of “one shot a time.” The idea is not to think about the past or future too much, and only focus on the moment. In a sense, they are describing the concept of mindfulness. While there are many definitions, here is one that I found to be helpful:
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Great! But how do you do that?
In golf, I have found that going through my routine before every shot, as well as deep breathing, can be very helpful to alleviate nerves. However, I’m not perfect, and I want to get better at this part of the game. After exploring the idea of mindfulness a bit more, I think it’s a concept that many of us are doing already on some level, but it’s also a skill that can be improved through meditation.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to learn how to meditate. I avoided it, though, because it seemed like a concept that’s a bit “out there” for me. However, it’s becoming more and more popular. Millions of people are going through guided meditations on apps like Calm and Headspace. After doing about 30 sessions on one of the popular meditation apps called Waking Up from Sam Harris, I’ve changed my mind on the concept as a whole.
I’m far from an expert on this topic, but going through daily 10-15 minute exercises is yielding some interesting techniques. When you meditate, you acknowledge that your thoughts might wander and that it’s OK. But at the same time, you’re given methods to refocus your mind on what’s currently going on.
For me, focusing on my breath coming in and out of my nose helps tremendously. For others, it could be thinking about what sounds are currently surrounding you, or the sensation of your body resting on a chair. When you get it right, all of a sudden, you’re entirely focused on what’s going on in front of you, and it’s very refreshing.
Now let’s get back to the reader’s original question and my dilemma with my thoughts during moments of pressure.
First of all, let’s all acknowledge that we are all playing golf for fun. I know there is a competitive element to the game, but breaking 80 is not going to define your life one way or another.
On the other hand, I know exactly how important it can feel at the moment. All of you likely understand what it’s like to struggle with the stress and anxiety of your expectations on the course. I believe some tools can help.
I’ve stumbled across them myself over the years, and I believe meditation can further enhance them.
Here are some ideas for you:
There are plenty of other techniques that could work for you, but the main goal is to get your mind out of the past and future, and more on the present. You will never be perfect at this; no one can. But you can get better.
Pressure and nerves are all relative in this game. They are there for a reason; it’s because you care about golf. Those feelings will never go away, but you can manage them a bit better. I’m going to continue to explore meditation as a way to build these skills, and I encourage all of you to try it out yourself. Almost all of the apps available offer some kind of free trial, and plenty of others have suggested guided meditations that are available on YouTube.
Fall is officially here! With chillier temperatures comes a need for additional layering on the course. I’m always on the lookout for the interesting releases in the apparel category. So I’ve put together a little guide for all of you.
Here are some of my top fall golf apparel picks…
I first discovered State Apparel several years ago when I reviewed their Competition Pants, which are arguably the best cold-weather golf pants out there. All of their clothes are handmade in California, and they’ve added some nice pieces to their line this fall.
The Cypress Bomber is one of their new releases. It’s a great full-zip jacket that can be worn when the weather starts to get a little chillier. Some unique features make it a little more compelling than most jackets I’ve worn. Two different fabrics separate the arms and chest/back area. Your torso is kept warmer with a thicker layer that is more resistant to the wind and elements. However, the sleeves are made of a more flexible, lighter material that allows for a greater range of motion. The combination keeps you warm but doesn’t limit your range of movement when you swing.
Additionally, I like the casual look. I’ve worn this on and off the golf course with jeans or golf pants.
The Cypress Bomber is available in Pacific Blue or Stealth Grey on State Apparel’s website.
One of the cornerstones of any golfer’s wardrobe is quarter zips. In the fall, they make an easy layer to add over your golf polos to give you a little warmth. Rhoback is one of my favorite brands for golf shirts because they have some of the best performance fabric in the industry. Their soft, flexible materials hold up incredibly well when temperatures rise.
They’ve been adding a ton of quarter-zips to their lineup lately, and I got a chance to try out their Smitty Q-Zip. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the best I’ve tried to date. It’s soft, stretchy, breathable, and comfortable to swing a club in. I think it’s worn best in milder fall temperatures since the fabric is thin. If the weather gets much colder, you’ll likely want to add a vest or perhaps a light jacket layer. Overall, Rhoback nailed it again.
Anyone who reads Practical Golf knows that I’m a bit of a Linksoul junkie. Their clothes have taken over my closet over the last few years. The main reason I love their line so much is that it’s more of a lifestyle brand. While most of their clothes have top-notch fabrics that perform well and look great on the golf course, you can also wear them to work or in casual situations.
I’ve grown to love vests when I play golf because they keep my body warm without adding to much bulk to my arms. I can’t stand swinging a club with outwear that doesn’t fit my arms properly. The Kirkwall Down Vest is one of Linksoul’s newest pieces from their fall line. It has a lot of warmth despite being very lightweight. You can easily layer up with it on the golf course, or combine it with just about any of your other clothes. As usual, Linksoul blends the line between golf and casual nicely with this vest.
You can purchase the Kirkwall Down Vest on Linksoul’s website here (Practical Golf readers get 20% with code practicalgolf)
One of my main frustrations with golf apparel is pants. It’s difficult for me to find a pair that fit correctly. Bonobos started their company to solve this problem, and it’s why they’ve become one of the most successful apparel brands in the world. They’ve built out an impressive golf line, and many players took notice of it when they signed Justin Rose to a sponsorship deal earlier this year.
The Highland Pants from Bonobos are an excellent option for all golfers. They’re not too dressy or casual, so they can accommodate several different looks on the course. More importantly, they have tons of sizing and color options available. Bonobos golf pants have four different fits (tailored, athletic, slim, and straight. Also, they offer more waist and length combinations than pretty much any brand out there.
I picked up a pair of their Highland Pants in Indigo recently. They’re comfortable, match well with plenty of different colors, and, most importantly, fit perfectly.
You can purchase Bonobos Highland Pants directly on their website here.
The club you select to hit off the tee can have a significant impact on your expected score on any given hole. As golfers, we are continually challenged by the course and our own abilities to make the optimal selection. For many, the choice comes down to what they perceive as safety or aggressiveness. In this article, I want to explore selecting to hit an iron off the tee versus driver, and how that can alter your expected score.
Recently, I conducted a test on my SkyTrak launch monitor to help me answer a few questions about my own game.
After years of studying statistics, measuring my own game, and observing others – I’ve changed my mind a lot about club selection off the tee. I have found golfers sometimes place too much value on safety and hitting fairways. It’s why I believe fairways hit is a very misleading statistic. Additionally, we make assumptions about our club performance that often times aren’t accurate.
I think my results will surprise you a bit, and hopefully get you thinking about your own game and doing some testing of your own.
Over the past several years, I’ve conducted a lot of interesting tests using my launch monitor. It helps shed light on topics like driver dispersion, how ball position can affect your ball flight, and how often you should change your wedges. Granted, these are hardly scientific experiments. But I know many readers have found value in me exploring these topics. My goal is always to get you to experiment on your own, and figure out the answers in your golf game.
For this test, I hit 30 shots with my 4-iron and driver. If I’m looking for the ultimate “safety” tee shot, my 4-iron is the club I use off the tee. I want to see the difference in choosing a very conservative approach on a hole that has a tight fairway versus hitting my driver.
Using my SkyTrak, I’m trying to track several parameters. I set up an imaginary 25-yard fairway with the software.
I’m paying attention to the following data:
For a long time, I avoided hitting my driver in favor of safer clubs off the tee. On holes that had tighter landing areas, I often chose a club like my 4-iron. I never stopped to think about the relationship between accuracy and distance, though. Was I that much more precise with an iron? Was the amount of distance I was giving up costing me strokes?
In my session on the SkyTrak, I thought I hit my iron reasonably well, and it was an accurate representation of the kind of performance I see on the course. Here are the pertinent stats:
Overall I was surprised. I thought my dispersion would have been much tighter with an iron. Additionally, while 57% on a tight fairway is not terrible, I was expecting I could hit somewhere around 70% of fairways.
Looking at my distribution pattern, you can see that I miss the fairway on both sides despite having a draw pattern on every ball flight.
This is typical of many other tests I have done, and it’s why you should never assume that one side of the golf course is out of play because you tend to work the ball in one direction.
Over the past several years, I’ve put a lot of work into my driver. Where I used to consider it a liability off the tee, I view it as one of the strengths in my game now. That’s not to say I’m perfect with it every round, but my overall performance is far better.
I knew that there would be a significant difference in total distance compared to my 4-iron. But I was more concerned with my misses; were they that much worse than my iron? Let’s take a look:
I’ve done a lot of tests with my driver, and these numbers are common, especially my dispersion.
As expected, I did hit fewer fairways – but it was only four less than with an iron. Interestingly, my driver dispersion is not that much wider than my 4-iron – the difference is about 20 yards in width. On most golf holes, 10 yards in each direction is not going to be that penal.
Obviously, the most significant difference is the total distance. I’m giving up anywhere between 55-60 yards compared to my 4-iron on most shots.
On the whole, I believe hitting an iron off the tee to gain accuracy would be a losing strategy in the long run for my game. The amount of distance I’m losing far outweighs the precision I would gain, which was less than I expected it would be.
Golf is a game of proximity. The closer you are to the hole, the lower your expected score is going to be. Modern statistical analysis has proven this to be true. Of course, there are exceptions when you take small sample sizes, but in the long run, it’s almost impossible to avoid.
Mark Broadie is arguably the lead innovator when it comes to this kind of analysis. His advent of the strokes-gained statistic and his book Every Shot Counts
revealed a lot of insights into how golfers separate themselves by performance in different parts of the game. His research has found that tee shot distance is more important for scoring than accuracy. Interestingly, he found that distance was even more critical for recreational golfers versus professional golfers. I also have learned a lot from Scott Fawcett and his DECADE strategy system, which has altered my tee-shot strategy as well.
Analysis of actual shot data from regular golfers has yielded the same results. Shot Scope, which is a popular game-tracking system used by golfers around the world released an analysis of their key findings. After looking at millions of shots across all different skill levels, they found that distance trumped fairway accuracy as well. For example, a driver that traveled 222 yards versus a 3-wood that landed 194 yards in the fairway would give a golfer a .3 stroke advantage on a hole. In my case, losing 60 yards with my 4-iron versus hitting driver would likely cost me over 1/2 a stroke per hole. Additionally, they noticed that landing the ball in the light rough was not as big of a penalty as they thought – it cost golfers roughly .3 strokes.
I even played around with an interesting calculator created by Lou Stagner from Golf Stat Pro. Using the data I found from my SkyTrak session I tried out a few different scenarios, and almost all of them resulted in a lower expected score with my driver.
In my case, I found that the shorter club wasn’t all that much better at hitting fairways as I thought it would be. Golfers have traditionally placed too much value on landing the ball in the fairway, and many times it causes them to be more conservative than they have to be.
I don’t want to suggest that all of you should hit driver off the tee every single time, swing as hard as possible, and be aggressive on every hole. The other key factor in tee shot analysis is avoiding big trouble. Eluding fairway bunkers, trees, deep rough, and penalty areas is just as important as how far you can hit the ball.
I choose to hit an iron off the tee when I know limiting my distance avoids big trouble. For example, the 5th hole at my home course, St. George’s G & CC presents an interesting decision off the tee. The widest landing area ends at about 215 yards off the tee, which is precisely how far I hit my 4-iron most of the time. Beyond that, the fairway narrows to about 25 yards and is surrounded by deep bunkers and fescue.
If I hit driver, I could potentially leave myself inside of 100 yards with my approach shot. But I know I cannot clear any of the bunkers on the fly. If I miss the fairway, I will land in the bunker, or have a treacherous lie in deep fescue, or many times fail to locate my ball. In other words, I will cost myself at minimum 1-2 shots if I miss the very narrow fairway. In this instance the penalty for missing the fairway with my driver is so severe, I believe that laying back with my 4-iron will allow me to play the hole with the lowest score in the long run because I know I cannot reach the bunkers and fescue.
However, let’s say that same hole had mostly light rough and fewer fairway bunkers – I would hit driver every time. Having an approach shot of 100 yards or less, even in the light rough would yield a lower score than having to hit a 150-160 yard approach shot from the fairway.
While some of the analysis I’ve done does apply to many golfers, your results might not be the same as mine. It’s very possible that some of you are so erratic with your driver, that it does not make sense to hit it on certain holes. My advice would be not to avoid it altogether. If you can learn to keep your driver in play more often, it will result in a dramatic drop in your scores. Practice more, get your equipment evaluated, or take lessons.
I always suggest that if golfers want to know more about their own game, then they should test themselves. For a long time, I played too conservatively off the tee using the wrong assumptions. I didn’t realize that laying back was costing me so many strokes. More importantly, I also didn’t know that I wasn’t as accurate with an iron off the tee as I thought I was. Adjusting my strategy off the tee has definitely lowered my scores, and this most recent test confirms what I suspected was the case. Having the data from my on-course performance and using a launch monitor has helped give clarity to my strategic decisions. It also has given me more confidence when I step up to the tee box, knowing that I’m making the optimal choice.
While I can’t tell you how to evaluate every single hole you play, I can tell you that your overall goal should be to advance the ball as far as possible while avoiding major trouble off the tee. Don’t fall victim to thinking that it’s fairway or bust. A tee-shot plan that is way too conservative can be just as costly as one that is too aggressive. When it comes to choosing an iron versus a driver off the tee, start taking those thoughts into consideration.
If you want to see some other tests I’ve conducted you can read the following articles: