Anyone even halfway serious about golf has one goal in mind - to shoot a lower score. With the number of books, articles, seminars, camps and radio programs all dedicated to this one idea it's easy to tell that it's on everyone's mind. It all about better performance, and who doesn't want that?
So how do you get there? What's the secret? The answer is not as glamorous or shocking as some would like. It's quite obvious, really - in order to score lower, you have to get better. So what does that mean? Better at what? The easy answer here is better at everything, but that isn't very actionable. So let's break it down a bit.
First the bad news - everyone is different with a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses, so what works for one person may not work for another. To complicate things even more, people change over time, both physically and mentally - so what works for a player now may not work in the future. You don't need to look much further than Tiger Woods return to golf after his back surgery to see this.
Now the good news - it doesn't matter. That path to lower scores is not found in a bulleted list of tips and tricks, its a process. Fortunately, its a well-documented process with a proven track record of success that can be implemented by anyone at any skill level. In the simplest terms, its a strategically directed continual improvement cycle. Quite a mouth-full and a little "buzz-wordy", but it's the best way to get to that new lower score over and over again.
Several industries have different takes on strategically directed continual improvement cycles. There is Six Sigma, Kaizen and LEAN to name a few, and they have all transformed the companies that use them to drive up quality enormously. So basically, the same process that took Japan from the low quality, poor performing knock-off maker of the world in the 1950s to an industry leader in consumer electronics and automobiles today can also help you become a better golfer.
So what is a strategically directed continual improvement cycle, and how do you apply it to golf? Let's break it down.
First, it is a cycle - its a set of behaviors that repeat back on themselves. It's not an exercise in making charts or lists and then hoping something happens, it's a set of behaviors - actions done over and over again with purpose. Like any other behavior, it takes time and practice to get right and seem comfortable - just like a golf swing. Give it some time and persevere.
Second, it's strategically directed. The actions taken must satisfy a strategic goal - it has to have an actionable purpose. Setting strategy starts with intent. Intent is the "what" - what do you want to accomplish. Strategy is the "how" - how can you achieve your intent. Strategy is what makes intent actionable. You can tell you have a good strategy (in principle) if it can be measured.
So what about measurement? It's critical. It's been said that you can't manage what you don't measure and in golf, the same rule applies. Without measurement, your strategies are based on guesses and you have no idea if you have met or are moving toward your goals. Every continual improvement cycle requires a measurement framework in it to work - it's not really optional. This is the reason that Golf Stat Lab exists - but a pencil, paper, and calculator can also work (if you're good at math and statistics). The point here is not what measurement framework you have (although we prefer you use Golf Stat Lab), but rather that you have one and it's accurate.
The Steps of the Cycle
1. Set your intent
What do you want to accomplish? This can be anything from "Score Lower" in the largest sense to "Drive longer" or "Chip more accurately" in the smaller sense. Intent is about setting direction. Use your performance data to help.
2. Create a strategy
Remember that a strategy makes your intent actionable and measurable. If your intent is to "Score Lower", then answer by how much to make it a strategy - like "Reduce my scoring average to 70". It's a good idea to keep your goals small - if you're current scoring average is 85, don't set a goal for 65 - break it down into steps. Start with 80, then go to 75, etc. This is a cycle, so keep the cycle going with smaller targets instead of getting stuck in one long cycle.
3. Identify Baselines and KPI's
KPI stands for "Key Performance Indicators". There are many many golf statistics you can track - just take a look at our Golf Stat Dictionary. The purpose of KPI's are so you know what to look at, and just as importantly, what to ignore. Your KPI's should be directly related to your strategy. A baseline is what your KPI's are at currently. If your strategy is to "Increase drive distance by 10%" then one of your KPI's has to be Driving Distance and your baseline is your current average driving distance.
4. Create an action plan (tactics)
Armed with your measurable strategy, baselines and KPI's, you now need to create a plan of action to achieve your goals. This is another step where your performance data can help a lot. Having a golf coach also helps in this step immensely. This step is all about creating a list of specific actions to be taken to increase performance - basically, a practice and/or workout routine.
Another helpful planning tool we can use to help create our action plan is a variation of the SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats and is used in strategic planning to help create action plans as well as determine if a particular objective (strategy) is worth pursuing. The basic idea is to make some lists related to your strategy.
- Strengths: what are you good at
- Weaknesses: what are you not so good at
- Opportunities: what can assist you in achieving your goals
- Threats: what can prevent you from achieving your goals
For the purposes of our action plan, the really important parts are the Strengths and Weaknesses. By identifying these we can create plans to support our strengths and work on our weaknesses. The opportunities and threats can be helpful, but they have less utility in this context as they normally do in organizational strategic planning.
If you find it hard to come up with action plan steps or find your strengths almost non-existent while your weakness list is pretty long, it may be an indication to revisit your strategy. Sometimes a strategy is not specific enough to create an action plan from. If that is the case you can either change it or create sub-strategies by following the process using your Strengths and Weakness (and coach if you have one) to guide you.
Make sure to include reasonable "deadlines" in your action plan to both thwart the tendency to procrastinate and to give a predefined interval to reflect.
5. Put the plan into action
This step is both the easiest and the hardest - easiest to understand and hardest to actually do. This is where passion and commitment come into play because at this stage you are no longer planning but doing, and doing takes time and effort. Stay strong and work the plan.
An important part of this step is to consistently track your performance. Don't spend too much time analyzing just yet - that is what the deadlines set in the action plan are for. Ear to the grindstone and write down (enter) your data.
6. Analyze results
When you reach the deadlines set in your action plan, take the data you've collected for your KPI's and see where you stand. If you reached your goals, great! Set new ones and repeat the process. If you didn't reach your goals find out if you are going in the right direction. If you are making progress but haven't reached the goal just yet, set a new deadline, make some plan modifications and set back to work. If you haven't made sufficient progress (or any), something is wrong. Revisit the plan at each stage of the cycle to see what might be off. A coach can be really helpful here. Fix the plan (or scrap it and make a new one) and repeat.
- Intent: "Score Lower"
- Strategy: "Reduce Scoring Average to 75"
- Scoring Average - baseline: 82
- Score vs Par - baseline: 3
- Strokes Gained - baseline: 1.3
- Action Plan
- Driving Accuracy and Distance
- To many Approach Shots
- Poor Greenside performance
- Devote 15% of practice time to reinforce driving skills
- Devote 15% of practice time to reinforce putting skills
- Devote 70% of practice time to improve approach and greenside shots
- Intent: "Reduce the number of approach shots"
- Strategy: "Play a maximum of 2 approach shots on par 5, 1 on par 4 or less"
- Hit Percents (Approach) - baseline: 60%
- GIR Average - baseline: 51%
- Action Plan
- Approach shots 125 yards or less
- Good starting position from drive
- Practice with clubface alignment drills to correct left tendency
- Practice approach drills for longer distance shots
- Review progress in two months
- Go over KPI stats with coach