What new data says you have to do to beat your scoring goal.
By Kyle Morris with analysis from Mark Broadie• Photographs by J.D. Cuban
One of the ways businesses like mine, The Golf Room, thrive is by keeping track of the things that really make a difference to the bottom line. These KPIs (key performance indicators) are the ones successful companies watch to help stay profitable.
You should treat your golf game the same way. There are things you do – and things you can work on – that have way more impact on your score than other things. These KPIs are specific to your skill level, which means that if you want to reach a better level by the end of the month, season or year, you should be working on a specific set of indicators to get there.
What should you work on? My friend Mark Broadie invented the strokes-gained statistics used by the PGA Tour that identify exactly how players perform in each area of the game relative to their peers. They’re incredibly detailed and valuable tools to reveal the truth behind pro performance. Similarly, using data from rounds of more than 10,000 amateurs of all skill levels, Mark developed a set of KPIs that reveal what is required to break the most common scoring barriers, from 100 to 90 to 80. He even ranked them, so recreational golfers like you can focus on the areas of the game that will make the quickest impact to lowering your scores.
Of course, you still need to know what to do to make those KPIs better. That’s where I come in. I’ll show you what to work on so you can spend your practice time more wisely. I’ll also give you a goal-oriented plan so you can monitor your progress [see “Game Plan” chart].
Just like my in-person students or the players I work with online at thegolfroomeverywhere.com, I’ll teach you a smarter approach to success on the golf course. You will know exactly how to get to where you want to be.
Let’s get to work.
KPI 1: Cut down on the clunkers
Mark Broadie’s research shows that players who don’t break 100 hit at least six duffed shots per round – tops, chunks, skulls, grounders, airswings, anything that fails to advance the ball significantly from the fairway or rough. These shots often are the result of holding the club deep in the palms, which prevents the wrist hinge needed to swing down on an angle that produces ball-first contact. A better grip is one where the club lays across the base of the fingers. More control of the clubface will cut down on clunkers, too, and that starts by making sure that the back of your top hand on the grip matches a square face when both are pointed at the sky [above].
KPI 2: Get your pitches on the green – anywhere on the green
From 60 yards and closer, Mark’s statistics reveal that golfers who shoot more than 100 miss the green 4.3 times per round. Poor technique is usually the culprit. Here, I’ve set up a station with a pool noodle resting against my trail shoulder at address [above left]. When I swing, I don’t want my head to move back and push the noodle [above middle]. I want to make sure to turn and pivot away from it [above right]. This action helps ensure I make clean contact. If you’re ambitious, you can build this station and practise with it, too.
KPI 3: Make your first putt better
Players who score in the triple digits leave their first putt farther than three feet from the hole nearly seven times a round, and that makes it a lot harder to two-putt. You can get the first one closer more often with better speed control. Practise with a ruler next to your ball, and take your putter back at different distance intervals on it [above]. From each distance, feel like the putter “falls” into the ball purely from gravity and note how far the ball rolls. Only backswing length should determine how fast the putter moves and how far the ball goes (this one went four feet). Your job is to make the right-size stroke to get it close (or in!).
KPI 1: Clunker frequency
Hit no more than a few tops, chunks, skulls, airswings and grounders per round.These are defined as any clunker shots outside 60 yards – excluding tee shots on par 4s and 5s. A shot hit out-of-bounds counts as two clunkers.
KPI 2: Pitching performance
Miss no more than three greens from pitching distance. Pitching is defined as any shot 60 yards and in, no matter the technique (bump-and-run, lob, etc.).
KPI 3: Putting proximity
Leave no more than four first putts outside three feet from the hole per round. You can measure this distance by taking one full stride towards the ball from the hole. If you reach the ball, you’re OK.
KPI 1: Cut down on the ones you drive off the map
More than six drives per round end up in real trouble for 90s-shooters, Mark’s data shows. One reason? If you align your body to your target after you’ve stepped in to hit, this viewpoint can create an illusion where your target shifts from its location. Adjusting to this illusion [above left] puts you in position to hit a drive off-line, even if you make a good swing. Instead, pick your target while standing behind the ball and then, to verify that line, hold your club’s shaft out to that target at address [above right] and align your body accordingly.
KPI 2: Use your body to club down
When 90s-shooters are in the “green light” zone, a full-swing distance close enough to the green where they should hit it more often than not, Mark’s data shows they miss on one out of every two chances. To improve accuracy, get more turn in your backswing so you can swing down from inside the target line and hit shots with more power. You’ll be able to use a 9-iron where you used to hit an 8 (shorter clubs are typically more accurate). To train a better turn, try the “can opener” drill my colleague Mitch Farrer uses. Place the head of the club behind your lead knee and the shaft across your trail thigh. Use your thigh as the leverage point to pull your lead knee back [left]. Keep practising this move until you can do it without the club. Then use it in your green-light zone.
KPI 3: Down in three is just fine from around the greens
Up-and-downs get all the publicity, but Mark’s data shows you’ll break 90 if you can hole out in no more than three shots around the green 80 percent of the time. Being very deliberate with your process and intent will help. First, evaluate your lie. Then based on that lie, chose the trajectory of the shot you want to hit and identify the spot on the green where you want the ball to land that will help stop it close to the hole. Finally, choose the club that best matches with your intent (like a lob wedge for a high-and-soft shot or a pitching wedge for a low runner). If you get in the habit of following these steps for every shot in practice [above], you’ll build confidence when it comes time to do it on the golf course.
KPI 1: Big-miss frequency
Hit no more than a few drives that add penalty strokes or require you to pitch back into play. A big miss is defined as any drive where you have little or no chance of advancing the ball significantly on your next shot.
KPI 2: Greens in regulation
At least 60 percent of approaches from your short-iron distances should hit the green. Count it as a successful attempt if the ball stops on the fringe or is just off the green but easily puttable.
KPI 3: Down in three
Your goal is to eliminate occurrences where you don’t hole out in three shots or less around the greens. This includes starting from any short-game scenario, even putting from off the green.
KPI 1: Improve your sequencing to generate more driving power
It’s difficult to consistently score when you routinely have long clubs into greens, and Mark’s data shows that 70s-shooters hit the ball 6 to 10-percent longer than 80s-shooters on a typical drive. Example: if you normally drive it 200 from the white tees and want to break 80, you’ll really improve your chance by hitting it 212 to 220. How do you do that? You have to get more power from your lower body, so I’m standing on a balance board to help illustrate the proper weight shift needed for speed. I start with pressure on my lead foot at address [above left], and then transfer it to the back foot at the start of the swing while keeping my upper body from swaying outside that foot [above middle]. Now here’s where power really gets generated. Before the club reaches the end of the backswing, I shift pressure into the front foot, tilting the board down on the target side [above right]. Then I swing down and through. Think shift, then turn going back and shift, then turn going forward, and you’ll put a lot more pop in your drives.
KPI 2: Find the slot for accuracy
Even PGA Tour players aren’t knocking down the flag constantly from 125 to 175 yards. Their median proximity to the hole from from this range is 23 feet. The takeaway: to break 80, you don’t have to be as precise as you might think. The median proximity for you needs to be 40 feet for approach shots where you have no more than, say, a 6-iron in your hands. When I was a tour pro, Mike Bender taught me a drill that helps train a swing path for better accuracy. Before you address a ball, place a cone or other soft barrier two feet behind you in line with your toes, and stick an alignment rod in the ground outside the ball that points just above your trail shoulder [right]. The cone and stick are boundaries, and you should try to swing back and down without hitting them. When you groove this “slot”, you’ll hit more accurate shots.
KPI 3: Learn to roll every putt on line
To break 80, you should be holing your first putt on a green at least six times a round, Mark’s data shows. Practising with this tee station [above] will help achieve that goal. The two tees by the ball are slightly wider aball. Address a putt so you can see that the ball’s alignment line matches the putting line, then hit your putt. The clubhead should pass between the first set of tees, and the ball should roll between the second set. Note if the alignment line on the ball wobbles (bad) or rotates end over end (good). If you can hit every putt out of the centre of the face and put a true roll on the ball, you’ve got the stroke of a 70s-shooter.
KPI 1: DRIVING LENGTH
Seventy-five percent of your drives should be 6 to 10-percent longer than your current driving average. Or hit it long enough that you have a decent chance of reaching the green in regulation.
KPI 2: Approach accuracy
Your median proximity to the hole should be no more than 40 feet for approach shots where you’re using a middle iron or less. This includes shots that miss the green.
KPI 3: putting prowess
No matter the distance, hole your first putt at least half a dozen times per round. This includes putts from off the green.