This past weekend, Viktor Hovland won the Mayakoba Classic — with a birdie on #18 no less — for his 2nd win on the PGA Tour. But it wasn’t his win as much as how he described his mental game that caught my attention.
In Sunday’s post-round summary, Viktor didn’t recite the usual mantras spoken by almost every Tour winner. In fact, his comments suggested he was able to succeed without getting into a zen-like trance that peacefully and powerfully anchored him into one shot at a time mode. Rather, Viktor said, “I don’t feel like I’m very good in those pressure situations … I was shaking there at the end … I don’t feel comfortable in those moments at all.”
Give a listen to Viktor’s actual words here:
Personally, I found Viktor refreshingly honest. And more. His words shone a light on what seems to be a fundamental tenet of golf psychology: To play your best golf, you must establish a calm and confident mental state and remain there for 18 holes.
As a mental coach and an avid tournament golfer, I don’t buy it. In fact, I see it as a myth. And as evidence, I point to Viktor Hovland. If a peak performance mental state was essential for success on Tour, there’s no way he would’ve won at Mayakoba. By his own admission, he wasn’t in the zone on the back nine. He actually sounded like a guy who was closer to morphing into Jean Val De Velde than closing the door with a birdie on 18 … especially with Aaron Wise on fire and literally breathing down his neck until the final putt was holed. But despite his nervousness, Viktor got it done. He drained the final putt and walked away with the equivalent of over 10 million Norwegian Krone.
Perhaps there’s more to an effective state of mind than meets the eye …
With that said, let me invite you to consider a contrarian possibility.
For some golfers, attempting to develop the standard suite of mental skills — becoming more positive, more decisive, more able to lock into your target, and trust your swing under pressure — is embarking on the wrong path. Simply because an approach is right for many players — and endorsed by PGA Tour stars — doesn’t mean it’s exactly right for everyone. In fact, I’d go as far as saying if you’re attempting to incorporate the wrong toolkit into your mental game, you’ll harm your overall golf experience and suck the joy out of tournament play.
Here I’m not suggesting I’ve got a solution for everyone. But if what I’m about to say hits the bullseye for you, what follows could offer you game-changing insight.
You see … if you tend to react to pressure the way Viktor Hovland did this weekend, the key to unlocking your A-game, when it matters most, is using your mind the way he did. To put it bluntly, you’ve got to stop trying to control or refine your mental state and learn how to execute golf shots despite what you may be feeling.
Let me explain by inviting you to reflect on a self-evident truth we all encounter every day of our lives — people are different. Some people are mechanically inclined and seem innately able to fix anything broken. Some people can’t hammer a nail. Some people are musically gifted, and some are tone-deaf. Some people (introverts) gain energy by being in solitude and lose energy because they feel stressed when part of a large group gathering. Some people (extroverts) get antsy being alone and feel energized and alive in a group setting.
When we take the concept of personal differences into the arena of sport, we can identify an important aspect of the mental game: Every athlete has unique subconscious characteristics that shape his/her athletic persona.
For example, some athletes are driven to win. Some are driven to avoid losing. Some athletes are externally motivated and need feedback from a coach to progress. Some athletes are internally motivated, and their personal conclusions will always matter more than what any coach can ever say. In my work as a coach, I’ve noticed a third subconscious category that directly impacts your physical ability in pressure situations … some athletes are inclined to be performers, and some are inclined to be players.
A performer loves pressure. He or she naturally gets calmer, more engaged, and more focused when the heat is on. In fact, an athlete who is strongly inclined to be on the performer side of the equation will often require the big stage to inspire total interest and muster up their best effort. See Reggie Jackson and Tom Brady. In golf, look no further than Jack, Tiger, and up until his recent bout with injuries, Brooks Koepka.
A player doesn’t like pressure. He or she can often find “the zone,” but it typically happens in practice or less-meaningful competitions. On the big stage, such a player gets easily overwhelmed and often shrinks from the moment. After a choke job or two, they will seek help to overcome what is perceived to be an inner flaw. In golf, see Greg Norman at Augusta, and most recently, I suspect, Rickie Fowler.
Here’s what you must understand: You can’t change the way you’re wired.
Now don’t get me wrong. You can leverage your strengths and change your habits. Every day, people make significant changes in the way they live their lives. But our subconscious tendencies are akin to our height, basic body type, and the color of our eyes. They arrive with us at birth and remain with us until the end.
If you’re wired to be a player, and you function in the mold of Viktor Hovland, you’ll be a player forever. Don’t fight it. Work with it. Just because you don’t relish pressure like Michael Jordan in his prime doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. It simply means you must develop mental skills that are right for you. Instead of trying to become someone you’re not, become the best you can be.
These four principles will help your cause:
Your mindset is a factor in your game, but how you think/feel isn’t a direct cause of your score. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of finishing a hole where you’ve striped it down the middle, hit your approach tight, and drained the birdie … and been standing on the next tee brimming with confidence … only to hack your subsequent drive into the crap.
Conversely, I’m sure you’ve been so frustrated with a run of bogeys that you’ve given up the ghost in disgust, only to find yourself hitting a wonderful shot or making a brilliant 40ft putt.
Good golf — and now and then, great golf — doesn’t require a perfect state of mind. You don’t need a flawless mental game any more than you need a flawless swing. As Viktor showed, you can feel nervous and doubt your ability to get it done … and … you can still execute golf shots down the stretch.
If your subconscious tendency is to be a player, your challenge on the golf course isn’t dealing with your dominant thoughts. It’s dealing with your dominant feelings.
In other words, it’s emotions that threaten to overwhelm you, and it’s your method of handling emotions that stand between you and your best golf. The thoughts you think are along for the ride.
Of course, thoughts and emotions are interwoven. But make no mistake, the two are distinct internal processes.
Once you can successfully place your awareness on what you’re feeling instead of what you’re thinking, the next step is observing the truth of what happens when you begin to feel nervous, or anxious, or uptight, or afraid, or whatever word you use to describe your emotional experience.
Suppose you have an upcoming tournament; great. Use it to be a better inner observer.
If you don’t have an upcoming tournament to practice this awareness level, go back in your memory and call to mind the last time you experienced your emotions as a problem during a competitive round.
Relive the memory as best you can, and note how you sense your emotions in your body. Do you get sweaty hands? Are you feeling “shaky,” as Hovland described above? Does your stomach get queasy? Your throat gets dry? Whatever it is, simply become aware of it.
The idea here is observation … without judgment… and without the intention to change or alter what you’re feeling. The term in psychology is dissociation, and it means being able to step back and witness your inner experience mentally.
After you’ve become adept at observing how you feel without trying to change or eliminate your emotional state, it’s time to put trust to the forefront of your game.
Next time you’re in a tournament and notice yourself feeling nervous, it’s important to observe the feeling and talk to yourself in the 3rd person.
Here’s the internal dialogue I recommend. Say, “I’m feeling nervous right now, and I’m able to focus on my target and execute this shot. Or, “I’m noticing that I’m walking faster right now, and I’m able to focus on my target and execute this shot.” Or, “I’m starting to feel the way I feel when I choke, and I’m able to focus on my target and execute this shot.”
Notice this — your focus begins with the truth of your emotions and then moves onto what you see in the external world.
It’s essential to focus your awareness on your feelings first because, as a player, that’s your natural inclination under pressure.
Observe the feeling, or if you’d prefer different words, give the feeling some attention. Then, use the energy you save by not trying to control your emotions to shift your focus onto something outside your skin — preferably your target.
And don’t merely peer forward in the general direction of where you want you’re able to go. Look at your target the way a hawk looks at its prey.
Just remember — pay attention to your feelings first, or they’ll make you pay attention!
So there you have it … a process that’s honest about the reality and power of personal emotions and ends with a focus on the shot at hand.
If you’re a player, I hope you give the four steps above an honest consideration. And I also hope you can look back after a tournament that’s meaningful to you and say, in words resembling Viktor Hovland’s at Mayakoba, “You know … I didn’t feel totally comfortable there at the end … and yet, I got it done.”
Kent Osborne has a professional lifetime of experience as a mental coach for pro athletes and corporate executives. His current passion is golf. You can find out more about his coaching at scratchattitude.com, or on Twitter @scratchattitude
Since its release in the fall of 2018, the Titleist TS Driver line has been one of the most popular drivers on the PGA Tour and beyond. The TS drivers also firmly entrenched Titleist as one of the category leaders and finally shed their reputation of making “slow and spinny” drivers. Not surprisingly, Titleist now looks to ride the wave of success brought by TS as they introduce the TSi (Titleist Speed Impact). The TSi2 and TSi3 drivers are now available, and I have had a chance to test them out in multiple fitting sessions to see what kinds of golfers can benefit from the new technology.
The word from Titleist is that their engineers were focused on advancing ball speeds while making a “MASS”ive move in the forgiveness direction. Moving the mass…for forgiveness… Do you see what I did there?
With the TS metals line’s success, Titleist is greeted with the age-old problem of having a tough act to follow. So what to do? To quote another oft used phrase, they called in the “Big Guns” from a metal company called ATI.
ATI is a US metals company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, specializing in commercial aeronautics and military-grade metallurgy. The ATI website shows their products are used in everything from military-grade armor plating to reusable spacecraft. The ATI Logo is proudly inscribed directly on the face of the TSi drivers.
So what has ATI done for Titleist? The new ATI 425 titanium face insert used in the TSi metals boasts a 6% increase in strength and a 30% increase in ductility compared to conventional titanium alloys used in golf club construction. Ductility basically measures how much the metal can be manipulated without losing strength, in this case, thinned to create the fastest ball speeds possible.
Along with the face design, ATI contributed their aerodynamics expertise to reduce drag (15% less drag in TSi vs. TS) and thus increase clubhead speed.
*I’ll note that this is a challenging measurement to quantify in fittings. I’ve not personally seen a jump in clubhead speed I can attribute to the driver’s shape.
All of this sounds great, but when it comes to drivers, you must also have forgiveness when there is speed. The most often used metric for forgiveness is MOI (Moment of Inertia), which is the club’s resistance to twisting, specifically important on off-center hits. Simply put, higher MOI equals straighter and longer miss-hits. The key to MOI is weight distribution throughout the head.
Think of a figure skater executing a spin. If the skater’s arms are wide, they spin slower. Once they pull their arms to their body, they can spin much faster. Wider weight distribution equals less twisting.
With this higher MOI and the resulting deeper Center of Gravity, Titleist found more forgiveness and slightly higher launch. The new drivers will be available in lower stated lofts (8 degrees in both the TSi3 and custom TSi2) to address this. Combined with Titleist’s 16 positions Sure Fit hosel, you can play a TSi2 or Tsi3 as low as 7.25 degrees of loft.
Titleist is one of the first companies I’ve seen actually tout “Spin Stability” when talking about forgiveness.
When I fit a client, I go to great lengths to tune the head, loft, weight, and shaft to deliver optimal launch and spin numbers. Add high ball speed to the perfect launch and spin conditions, and you’ve got the perfect formula for maximizing distance. It’s infuriating when I have these launch conditions dialed in on center strikes only to see a mishit increase spin by 1,100 RPMs and leak 30 yards of potential distance out of a drive.
There’s all this talk in the industry about maintaining ball speed on off-center strikes, but truthfully, I don’t really mind losing 4 or 5 mph ball speed on a toe strike. As long as the launch and spin stay fairly consistent, the ball will still be in the optimal flight window, and the loss in distance can be as little as 10-15 yards.
Sounds good in theory, But how will it perform for you?
Like any clubfitter will tell you, you’ll need to hit them yourself to know for sure. But here are some of the results I’ve seen since I began fitting the TSi metals a few weeks ago.
While the distance numbers are important and, of course, almost everyone is after driver fittings, 4 of the 6 also showed significantly tighter dispersion and consistency in flight conditions. They hit the ball in the fairway more often and had a more consistent launch and spin numbers. This is a BIG deal in driver fitting.
On Titleist’s website, they make a fairly generic distinction between the TSi2 and TSi3:
“TSi2 Driver – Pure Distance: For players seeking incredible speed and accuracy across the entire surface of the face.”
“TSi3 Driver – Dynamic Distance: For players who create consistent contact and require more precise control over CG placement.”
It’s been interesting to see that the adage of slower speed, less skilled players play the “2” and higher speed, better players play the “3” no longer seems to be the norm. Digging deeper, I’ve made a couple of observations:
If you’re a numbers geek like me, here are some results from my fitting that put my gamer TS3 up against the new TSi which gave me 5 mph faster ball speed (Note: fitting was conducted outdoors at Valhalla Golf Club using Titleist ProV1 range balls).
As you can see, there were some significant upgrades in speed and distance with the TSi2 versus my TS3 driver.
Here are some more numbers from my first session, hitting my actual new TSi2 driver on Trackman at my store. As you can see, the numbers continue to impress. 22 shots, average smash 1.50… Wow.
Overall I’m extremely impressed with the Titleist TSi Drivers. The most impressive performance factor is, without a doubt, the stability of the head. Not only does it maintain ball speed on off-center strikes, but it’s also very straight and delivers notably consistent spin numbers.
These drivers have a solid, aggressive sound (notably, the sound was different between the TSi2 and TSi3) and still sport the clean, classic look that has become synonymous with Titleist Drivers.
The shaft choices are excellent and should provide plenty of good options without spending extra money on exotics. If you’re into high-end shafts, Graphite Design shafts are available at a reduced upcharge thanks to a special agreement with Titleist.
As is always my recommendation, schedule a fitting, ask questions, and don’t skip any steps. Getting the right driver for you is about chasing performance, not marketing. Happy Driving!
Greg Gibson is a Staff Golf Professional, Certified Clubfitter, Instructor, and Trackman Specialist at Golf Headquarters in Louisville, KY. He previously served as General Manager, Director of Golf, and Head Golf Professional at Shelbyville Country Club. To make an appointment with Greg contact the GHQ Louisville staff at 502-245-8600
Golf is a relative game, but still a competitive one. Whether it is prestigious tournaments, local club matches, or just competing with how you played last month, golfers are always looking for a way to measure themselves against other golfers. For many, a handicap provides this measurement. Which begs the question – what is a good handicap?
I think the answer goes beyond just a number, so here we’ll take a look at what a handicap is and add some context to create a better answer.
While commonly called a handicap, the USGA’s official terminology is a “Handicap Index.” The purpose of the handicap index is to give a measure of player ability relative to par. One of the unique things about golf compared to other sports is that the handicapping system allows golfers of different ability levels to compete against each other fairly.
It’s a fantastic thing if you think about it; after all, even if I’m given 20 points in a game of one-on-one basketball with LeBron James, I’m still going to lose. Give me 20 handicap strokes in a match with Tiger Woods, though? I might be competitive, making it a challenge for both of us. (author’s note: If you’re reading this Tiger, that’s an open invitation)
A player’s handicap index is different from their average score. Instead, the handicap index looks at recent scores and adjusts based on the course’s difficulty, expressed in the course rating and slope, two numbers that appear somewhere on the scorecard. Rating and slope are judged by a review committee, which determines what a 0 handicap index “scratch golfer” would usually score on the course and assign that as the rating. The USGA Slope Rating is a numerical value that indicates the relative difficulty of a set of tees on a golf course for a bogey golfer compared to a scratch golfer.
So score performance along with course difficulty goes into generating the handicap index. Instead, it is better to think of the handicap index number as what you can reasonably expect to score on a good day. Especially for golfers who play frequently and post many scores, what they shoot for a given round can be significantly higher than their handicap index.
Now that we’ve explained a bit about golf handicaps in general, let’s get back to the main question, what is a good golf handicap?
The most straightforward answer to what a good handicap is might be found by merely looking at the percent of golfers by handicap. Fortunately, the USGA gives this data for all golfers with official handicap indexes. Also, multiple shot-tracking companies are now sharing this data publicly, which offers a good opportunity to capture an audience that might not have an official USGA handicap.
So, if we want to define a “good handicap” based just on having a lower handicap index than most other golfers with indexes, we answer a handicap lower than 14 for men and less than 28 for women. Here are handicap distributions for men and women in the United States:
However, this answer gets more complicated if we try to use a “good handicap” synonymous with a “better than average” golfer. Only around 2 million of the estimated 24 million-plus golf participants carry a handicap index. It’s reasonable to assume that players who do have an official index are both more avid and perhaps more skilled on the whole than golfers who don’t. Fortunately, modern technology has given us more data on the question as many golfers are using apps to keep their scores and statistics outside of official indexes.
Here is what the distribution of handicaps looks like for Shot Scope users:
With a strong plurality of users in the 11-15 and 16-20 ranges, we wind up with a very similar distribution compared to the official USGA index statistics.
This theme remains consistent if we look at the current handicap range for users of theGrint:
In this case, the average handicap across users was 14.5, similar to the USGA information and just lower than Shot Scope. Another interesting data point we can pull from theGrint that’s not available from the USGA is a breakdown of handicap by region:
Outside of a few strange outliers, we can see a general trend in this information. Golfers in year-round golfing climates tend to have lower handicaps than short-season counterparts. So a good handicap in Maine might not be the same as a good handicap in California.
Additionally, even as we increase the amount of handicap data, we still cannot equate a “good handicap” to a “good golfer” as the vast majority of golfers won’t be using services like these. At this point, I think we have to add to the question. Instead of just asking, “What’s a good handicap?” we should be asking, “What’s a good handicap for an avid golfer?”
Even that question is missing a critical variable, so let’s look at that next.
One outlier in the average handicap by region data above that caught my eye was Florida. Florida is world-renowned for golf and a year-round golf destination, so why is the average handicap higher than fellow Southeast region-mates like Georgia? A possible explanation might be that the average golfer in Florida is significantly older than other regions given the high number of golfing retirees in the state. So how does age impact the average handicap? Unfortunately, the USGA doesn’t publish official handicap index statistics by age, but we can get some data from theGrint once again:
While I would question if the average 19-year-old is really a single-digit handicap (we’ll have to save vanity handicaps and sandbagging for another article), I believe the trend lines tell us an understandable story. Junior golfers who haven’t fully matured yet have higher handicaps on average than adult golfers aged 20-50. As we get older and the physical ability to play golf diminishes the average handicap increases. Now, instead of asking, “what’s a good handicap?” we probably need to ask, “what’s a good handicap for an avid golfer my age in the region that I live?” That’s not a question that most golf websites will have an easy answer for, but if you really want to know, then some of the data sources above should at least give you an idea if you really dig into them.
Still, I think the real question we are trying to ask with “what’s a good handicap” isn’t about the handicap index at all. Instead, we’re trying to figure out if we’re a “good golfer.” That is something I think we can give a clearer answer to.
It might just be my opinion, but I firmly believe that if you consistently break 90, then you have earned the right to call yourself a good golfer. The majority of golfers will never accomplish this, so even if the average USGA official handicap index is carrying male golfer scores a few strokes better than this on a good day, it is still a significant accomplishment to shoot 89 or lower.
For those of you who frequently break 90 already, congratulations! However, if you are always seeking to break 90 (or break 100 for that matter), I want to give you some good news. It is also my firm opinion that any golfer (playing the correct set of tees at a regulation course of appropriate difficulty) can break 90 through practice and proper course management. The Practical Golf Archives would be a great place to start as the site is filled with information that can help you achieve this goal. You can also find great additional resources among other readers in the Practical Golf Forums, a community dedicated to helping everyone enjoy and play “good golf” regardless of what their handicap index card says.
Cory Olson is an avid golfer and writer for Practical Golf, a website dedicated to being an honest resource for the everyday golfer who is looking to enjoy the game more, as well as improve. He is passionate about all parts of the game, from equipment to training, and especially the mental aspects of performing your best on the course.
When faced with a difficult hole, golfers often decide between hitting their driver or 3-wood. The conventional wisdom is that taking a shorter club will result in more accuracy and give you a better chance of posting a lower score. However, with modern analytics, we are starting to discover that many assumptions we’ve made about the game are just not right.
In this article, I’m going to share with you the following:
I think many of you will be surprised by the results!
Performance-tracking companies have helped dispel a lot of myths over the past few years.
Shot Scope, a Scotland-based company, has a popular GPS tracking system used by thousands of golfers worldwide. As a benefit, they can spot trends in their database based on millions of golf shots (you can read my review of their V3 system here).
Recently, I got a hold of their findings on golfers’ use of driver off the tee versus their 3-wood. The conclusions are interesting and dispel some commonly-held beliefs about accuracy.
The first table explores how far golfers hit each club by handicap level:
On the whole, you can see that at every handicap level, golfers are giving up distance with a fairway wood off the tee—nothing surprising there.
Here’s where things get interesting. Let’s take a look at fairways hit:
At every handicap level, golfers were only able to hit about 1% more fairways with their 3-woods versus their driver. You would think if fairway woods were that much more accurate off the tee, the number would be significantly larger.
And now, we can arrive at the critical calculation. If golfers are not more accurate with 3-wood but are giving up anywhere between 20-30 yards in distance off the tee, they are making it harder to score. I’ve used this image before from Shot Scope, and I think it’s worth another look. When you sacrifice about 30 yards off the tee, you lose almost 1/3 of a stroke per hole. That adds up!
One last point I’ll make is that hitting into the light rough is not as significant a penalty as most assume. It’s worth the equivalent in distance between the two clubs. That is why I’ve written before that sometimes golfers overvalue the importance of hitting fairways.
As a whole, we have been focusing too much on lateral dispersion (left to right), and not taking into account distance as much as we should have.
Understanding the fundamental differences between a driver and fairway wood is also essential. Every golf club has tradeoffs in performance, and it’s part of the reason we see the trends in the data.
Luckily, I’m good friends with one of the top clubfitting experts in the industry – Woody Lashen, the co-owner of Pete’s Golf in Mineola, NY.
When I shared the Shot Scope results with Woody, he wasn’t all that surprised. Based on his knowledge of how each club is designed, and the results he sees daily in fittings, he believes that a 3-wood is no more accurate than a driver when used off the tee. One of the reasons is that fairway woods are not designed to be exclusively used off the tee. When they fit golfers, their primary goal is to have a fairway wood that performs effectively when used on approach shots, which is what the club is mostly designed to do. However, he cautioned that there are exceptions, which I’ll get to later in this article.
From a design perspective, Woody spoke to me about the concept of strike patterns and MOI. Moment of Inertia (MOI) is a term you’ll often hear when describing how “forgiving” a golf club is. Without getting too complicated, MOI measures how resistant a golf club is to twisting at impact. When a golfer misses the center of the face and hits the toe or heel of the club, the clubface will twist open or closed. The result is twofold – the ball with travel farther offline (due to gear effect) and lose distance.
Woody told me that most modern drivers have about 2-3 times the amount of MOI compared to a 3-wood. That means that when a golfer fails to hit the sweet spot, a driver can help the ball travel farther and straighter. When you factor in the smaller face of a fairway wood, and golfers who generally struggle to strike it consistently, it’s not a surprise that a driver can produce straighter shots overall (or equivalent) off the tee.
Another concept that Woody spoke about is dynamic loft. Generally speaking, when you have more dynamic loft at impact, it helps produce a straighter golf shot. While he hasn’t tested extensively, his suspicion has always been that a driver and 3-wood have a very similar dynamic loft at impact when used off the tee.
Overall, Woody (like me) always urges golfers to test. Some players could hit a 3-wood straighter off the tee than their driver, but based on his experience, that golfer is an exception to general trends.
To give all of you more context, I decided to put my fairway wood against my driver. I’ve been custom-fit for both clubs (by Woody Lashen), so the shaft/head combinations are optimal for my swing. My results won’t necessarily indicate what you would experience, but my goal is to get you to experiment on your own and figure out the answers in your golf game. You can also check out my testing on irons versus my driver in this article.
For the test, I set up a very difficult fairway on my launch monitor. I also set the turf conditions to firm to be even more challenging to hold a ball in the fairway. I hit 25 shots each with my driver and 3-wood. Currently, my handicap index is a +.3, and I consider myself an above-average ball striker.
I’m paying attention to the following data:
Here are my pertinent stats with my fairway wood:
Overall, I’d say these results are pretty poor. The one thing I noticed is that my mishits with my fairway wood suffered quite a bit in terms of distance and accuracy. When I did miss a fairway, some shots went only about 225 – 230 yards total. If you look at my dispersion in both directions, it was more erratic than my driver – a couple of major “foul balls.”
Here’s where things got interesting. You would assume that my fairway wood would be more accurate than my driver, but it wasn’t the case.
Here are my driver stats:
It wasn’t a surprise that my driver went about 30 yards farther than my 3-wood, but my dispersion was tighter, and I could hit more fairways. Usually, when I do these tests, my driver dispersion is about 65 yards, so I would say this is an above-average session, but I didn’t see any evidence that my fairway wood could outperform on accuracy.
As a reminder, you might see different results. But I would say these are consistent with what I notice on the golf course. Generally speaking, I only use my fairway wood off the tee when I am looking to decrease my distance (if the driver would bring penalty areas or other big trouble into play). I believe this is a strategy most golfers should employ as well.
The aggregate data from Shot Scope and my launch monitor results paint a reasonably clear picture. Hitting a fairway wood off the tee does not seem to produce more accuracy, and combined with the loss of distance, it doesn’t seem like the right strategic play. You have to take into account the loss of distance and weigh that against your left-to-right dispersion.
However, every golfer is unique. You all have different tendencies with each club in your bag. You might be more erratic with your driver, and a 3-wood could keep you out of big trouble. The goal of this article is two-fold:
Often, our memories and the truth don’t match up very well. You might assume trends in your game are accurate based on what others have told you, or based on your hazy memory of rounds. This is where performance-tracking comes in handy.
Using a system like Shot Scope to track all of your shots can reveal trends in your games. You might find the same results – that your driver is more accurate than you think, and your fairway wood is not the solution on difficult tee shots. Or it could be the opposite. You won’t know until you gather enough rounds to see your trends.
Launch monitors can also benchmark your performance to give you more information to make smarter decisions. More and more teaching golf professionals are offering these sessions to golfers to figure out trends amongst their clubs.
If you’re interested in discussing further, join the conversation in this thread in our new community.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less focused on how my swing looks holistically and more focused on how it looks around impact—what Bobby Clampett called “the moment of truth.” Specifically, I’ve homed in on the concept of face stability—that is, the ability to deliver the clubface with the intended alignment at impact. I’ve been blessed/cursed in the fact that I’ve always had elite clubhead speed. Even today, at 40 years old, I average around 117 mph with the driver. At that speed, however, even a slight misalignment of the clubhead at impact can send my ball deep into the trees or even out of bounds. I’m convinced that learning to have more control of my club at the bottom of the swing is one of the keys for me to break through from being a middling state amateur to competing in national events.
For the past nine months, I’ve made significant improvements in my clubface stability using the Tour Striker PlaneMate
. But like many swing aids, I have found success using it in a slightly different way than its makers intended. Let me explain.
The PlaneMate is marketed as a tool to help you shallow the club on the downswing. Shallowing helps golfers keep the face stable through impact—to be honest, I’m not quite sure how, but it seems to be a generally accepted principle among swing instructors.
Here is a video from Andrew Rice explaining the concept further:
I’ve always been quite steep on the downswing, so the PlaneMate seemed well-suited to help me improve my clubface stability. A former college teammate of mine recommended it to me last summer. I sat on the fence for a few weeks as it is not cheap (it sells online for just under $200). But I was hooked after I saw a video of Rory McIlroy practicing with it last winter.
— The McIlroy Legion (@RoryLegion_GC) October 7, 2019
My ultimate goal when I bought the device was to learn how to “exit right”—the left-handed equivalent of leaving impact with low hands that rotate to the right around my body. Traditionally, I “throw” my clubs down the target line, which leads to a very “flippy” release.
If ever a device would help a golfer get the feel of shallowing out, the PlaneMate would be it. It consists of what is essentially a weight-lifting belt with a rail glued on to it. You attach your club to the rail using a stretchy cord (think resistance band or bungee cord).
When you get to the top of the swing, the tension in the stretchy cord pulls your hands down into a shallower position on the downswing. As you turn through impact, the device encourages you to “exit left” (for righties). If you throw your hands down the line you get tangled in the cord.
When you take the PlaneMate
off, your muscles retain the feel of shallowing, thus (in theory) helping you continue the movement pattern without the device. The device comes with three different bungee cords—a short one for wedges, a longer one for mid-irons and woods, and a “heavy-resistance” band made for home or gym training without a ball. The teaching professionals behind the PlaneMate offer a free, online 7-day protocol to help familiarize new users with the device. The protocol requires the golfer to start with little chips and pitches and progress over the course of a week to full shots.
Here is a demo of how the PlaneMate is used from its inventor, Martin Chuck:
The device is bulky and slightly ungainly. You will look a bit like what the Australians would call a “golf tragic” with it on (think Tin Cup in the scene after Costner develops the yips).
So if you’re an image-conscious golfer, you may want to work on the protocol at home with indoor golf balls so none of your friends can mock you on the range. Personally, I’m of a belief that golf is so hard there should never be any shame in experimenting with new ways to get better!
I followed the protocol to the letter and continued to practice with the PlaneMate for many, many hours after finishing it. But in the end, I found that I couldn’t get the “shallowing” movement pattern to stick.
As soon as I start adding speed to my practice regimen without the PlaneMate, I revert to a steeper downswing. Perhaps shallowing is just too foreign to someone who had swung differently for so long. I am tall with short arms, so perhaps my body just isn’t biomechanically suited to a “shallow swing.”
Perhaps I have physical limitations and inflexibilities that prevent me from shallowing— I have very limited internal shoulder rotation with my trail shoulder thanks to an old tennis injury, for instance. But whatever the reason, despite all the hours drilling with the device, my downswing is no shallower than it was when I started. So, despite all the hours invested in the PlaneMate, I’ve given up hope that it will help me learn to shallow.
I still feel the PlaneMate has done wonders for my game. The key has been the ingenious feature whereby you become tangled in the resistance cord if you get too flippy with the release. I learned that hitting dozens of wedge and half-shots with the PlaneMate without getting tangled up greatly improved my control at and around impact.
To be sure, I am not shallowing and “exiting right” like a left-handed Ben Hogan. But my “flippy” release has been muted and mellowed, as I explain in the below video (sorry for the wind noise!). And that’s made a huge difference to the consistency of my ball striking all the way through my bag.
I’ve since recommended the PlaneMate to three friends who also have steep downswings and flippy releases. All three have gone through a similar journey. After using the device for many hours, they still can’t “shallow” once they add speed to their swing. They are all quite steep on the downswing. But nonetheless, they feel that the device has helped calm their overactive hands at impact, giving them more control and making their “big miss” less disastrous.
So I can heartily recommend the PlaneMate for golfers who struggle with clubface stability at impact—particularly golfers who get steep on the downswing and throw the club down the line after impact.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the PlaneMate
will suddenly have you looking like Sergio Garcia on the downswing, nor Ben Hogan shortly after impact (Hogan was the king of “exiting left.”) But it may help you learn to be a bit more stable and less flippy through the hitting zone, and the result should be an immediate improvement to your score.
Eben Harrell is an editor, writer and competitive amateur golfer who splits his time between Colorado and Scotland.
Since 2015, more than 5 million golfers have visited Practical Golf from around the world. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with many of you directly and made a ton of friends. Now it’s time for all of you to meet each other and help build a community around our shared interests in the game we love.
Today I am launching the Practical Golf Forum! I hope to build a strong community, and I think a lot will be possible down the road (trips, special offers for members, giveaways etc.)
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