For all but the most gifted athletes, it takes many years to reach a high level of mastery in golf. Because of the challenge, it’s easy to get caught up in the fruitless search for a magic formula that can speed up the process. Although I can safely say that none exist, there are guidelines and preferred paths that golfers can follow to reduce their handicap or scoring average. My good friend Peter Sanders, who started and operates the statistical analysis program, ShotbyShot, has studied the results of players of all ability levels. He also has access to over 350,000 recorded rounds in his database. This data provides valuable insight on the preferred journey to lower scores.
In a recent conversation, Peter and I discussed what it takes to reach certain scoring thresholds. I’ll highlight this information because it begins to unravel the formula that most golfers, especially younger ones, can use to accelerate their improvement.
1. Reduce Scoring Average to 90
Progress is relatively quick at first as new golfers begin learning concepts and start practicing in between rounds. Breaking 100 is the first scoring target for most golfers who play with some regularity. To make the jump from 100 to 90 (bogey golf), golfers must practice and play with greater frequency, and have to increase the number of times they make solid contact. Errors, which are defined as shots that result in an extra stroke or more, must also be reduced. Golfers who average 90, typically do it by hitting half the fairways, hitting slightly more than one-quarter of the greens, and save par about one in five times when they miss the green.
2. Reduce Scoring Average to 80
At this point in the journey for most competitive golfers, progress begin to slow and becomes more dependent on improving specific skills. For example, golfers who are hoping to lower their scoring average to 80, need to hit twice as many greens and save par twice as often when they miss the green as compared to an average 90-golfer. This is the critical point in the journey where a good coach can make a huge difference because better technique is the pathway to enhanced skill. Unlike most adult golfers whose handicaps stall between 12 to 14, competitive junior golfers must find ways to continue to make progress in all areas of the game.
3. Reduce Scoring Average to 75
Only about 10% of all golfers ever get their scoring average down to 75. This is an important milestone for any competitive junior that wants to have success in high school. To get there, it takes hard work, more strategic practice, and a well-rounded game that includes course management knowledge, mental game skills, and at least average club speed. From a statistical standpoint, it’s harder to make significant gains in any one area so slight progress will be required in all aspects of the game (tee shots, approach shots, short game, and putting). At this point in their development, younger golfers benefit from competing frequently. The feedback from tournament play, provides important data and information that both a junior golfer and his or her coach can use to continue to lower scores.
In summary, the information offers a roadmap for accelerated improvement and lower scores, especially for younger golfer who wish to compete in high school and college. It also highlights the areas of the game on which golfers need to focus at various stages of development and the skills that need to improve along the way.