Golf can be infuriating at the best of times. However, a golfer making steady progress is a happy golfer.
If you reading this blog you’re likely a pretty committed golfer who is working on their fitness, swing technique and probably anything else you can think of to improve. This leads us to a critical question – How do you know that you’re getting better at golf?
In my opinion as an S&C coach, we often lose sight of that fact that you golfers are above all else looking to improve your performance on the course. Whilst we provide sound rationale behind our exercise selection and track progress in the gym, ultimately you don’t care about that – you want solid evidence of improvement to your golf game, on the course - where it matters. My opinion is that in golf fitness we often shy away from using true performance measures such as stroke average to test our fitness interventions and this needs to change – after if you aren’t measuring the impact of your intervention how do you know it’s affect?
With that in mind I’ve recruited the services of Will Shaw to put together a guest post to answer the question of how you know you are getting better. Will is an awesome golf performance coach and stats man who creates great metrics to give his golfers a black and way to measure progress. So I leave you in Will’s capable hands…
The question of how you know you're getting better at golf is one I love to ask professional players I work with, but the same question applies to golfers of all standards wishing to improve. Being able to answer this question confirms that you are doing the right things each and every week. Not being able to answer this question is not the end of the world. It just means that by making a few minor tweaks to your planning and practice you’ll be able to super-charge your progress towards your golfing dreams. The key to answering this question lies in goal setting.
What is goal setting?
Goal setting is the simple process of setting goals, and breaking these goals down into smaller sub-goals. Done correctly, goal setting is a simple, yet powerful exercise. Your goals should fall into three descending categories:
- Outcome goals
- Performance goals
- Process goals
Outcome goals are what you dream of winning or achieving. If you looked back on your current golfing year what would you dream of achieving? It might be lowering your handicap by two or three shots. You may wish to win your club championship, or break 90, 80 or 70 round your home course.
These outcome goals should excite you. You should smiles as you think about achieving them. They provide motivation to work hard, but also a structure for the next two levels of goal setting.
**TASK – Set 3-5 outcome goals for your coming season**
Once you have your outcome goals, you’ll need to figure out how to achieve them. To do this, you will need to understand how you currently build your scores. You can use an app, notebook or a performance diary pictured below. The idea is to build up a picture of key stats.
The golf insider performance diary allows you to keep key stats and directional data for every round you play.
How many fairways/greens do you hit? Is your chipping a bit ropey, or do you struggle with holing short putts. You’re looking to find out what you do well, as well as the areas you need to improve. The main advantage of using a performance diary, rather than an app is the ability to personalise your playing stats. I also love to collect directional data, as key trends jump out at you. Directional data explain the ‘how’, not just the ‘what’ in your playing stats.
Once you have collected two or three rounds of playing stats you have your baseline. This tells you how you currently build your scores. The next stage in goal setting is to work out what needs to change to maximise your chances of achieving your outcome goals.
If you wish to achieve your outcome goals, what would need to change in your playing stats? These are your performance goals.
Some of these performance goals will be simple. If you wish to lower your handicap by two shots, it could be as simple as having two less putts a round. However, some performance goals will require a more detailed analysis. You can’t predict the winning score of your club championship, but you can have a good guess that you’ll need to play 5-7 shots under your handicap to be in the running. Therefore, how will you be able to shoot five shots better than your handicap?
You may aim to increase the average number of greens you hit by two per round, and aim for over 50% up and downs for the greens you miss. These two changes may give you a good chance in shaving 5 shots off your score average.
Going through this process brings you one step closer to creating a grand plan. You’ve gone from distant dreams, to a focused set of areas you need to improve. Below is an example of outcome and performance goals set with a professional I work with:
Top 5 Europro going into finals
Win Europro Order of Merit
Make the cut at Q school final school stage
Win 2 professional events
Stroke average: -2 (<70.0)
Fairways in reg: above 68% (less than 0.5/round can’t get to green)
Greens in reg: keep above 70%
Up n downs > 60%
Putts/round < 29.00
Par 3 score avg = 3.0
Par 4 score avg = 4.0
The critical point to remember when setting performance goals is this - If you manage to achieve your performance goals, the outcomes should take care of themselves. You may not achieve all of your outcome goals, but you’ll be sure to get dam close.
**TASK – Set 4-5 performance goals for your coming season**
The last step in your journey to better golf is to work out the path to your desired performance. What should you do each week to push yourself towards your performance goals?
You need to come up with a simple plan and then execute it each week. It is that simple. I will confess that to optimise your weekly plan may take some thinking. You may also wish to enlist the help of a golf coach, and/or fitness specialist to help you with this process.
If your aim is to hit more greens, you need to break down how to solve that problem. Take a look back at your playing stats. When and where do you miss the greens?
Will a golf lesson help you correct these errant shots? Do you need to hit the ball further off the tee to help you hit more greens? Is it just your technique that needs work, or would you benefit from some strength and condition too?
Your process goals should be a weekly schedule that, if followed, gives you a simple path to achieving your performance goals. Process goals should include simple tasks such as:
- Practice 30 minutes short game a week.
- Play and keep stats once a week.
- Complete two strength and conditioning sessions a week.
- Play two driving skills games a week.
Building the perfect weekly plan is a highly individualised process, and takes time. However, here are my top tips to help you out:
- Ensure your process goals cover all of your performance goals.
- Make sure you include these three types of practice each week.
- Fit in small practice drills at home when you can.
- Play skills games and keep a track of your top scores.
- Use 20% of your time to keep on track of your set up, grip and alignment.
It is helpful to keep track of your weekly practice and achievements. By getting in the habit of journaling your practice games and scores you achieve two things:
1. You build confidence and motivation as you see your progress each week.
2. You optimise your rate of learning.
**TASK – Create 5 process goals for your coming season**
The benefits of goal setting
Goal setting is not a highly complex process. However, when done properly the results can be incredible. Large, unachievable goals can be broken down into manageable chunks.
As a player achieves their weekly practice goals, their confidence sky rockets. This adds fuel to the fire and super-charges their progress towards their golfing dreams.
A tool for better goal setting
The performance diary I created helps you follow this process. It ensures you take these simple steps each week:
1. Log your practice stats.
2. Plan your technique sessions.
3. Keep a track of the skills games you play and your scores.
4. Keep notes and feedforward into the following weeks practice plan.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this swift run through the basics of goal setting for better golf. If you haven’t already, I urge you to set out your own outcome, performance and process goals. Write them down and make them put them somewhere clearly visible. Each time you see them you will be reminded of your commitment to do the right things each and every week.
Will Shaw is a golf professional and performance coach, who lectures in sport biomechanics and motor control. You can find his blog at http://golfinsideruk.com and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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