Tom Tucker is a World Golf Teachers and United States Golf Teacher Federation-certified golf instructor. He may be contacted via his website or at the Plum Creek driving range in Batavia, NY.

When the Buffalo Bills (I’m a diehard fan) announced that their CEO, Russ Brandon, would be taking full control of the team, that news was exciting enough, but what really rocked my boat was that he stated that he was going to develop and utilize an analytics staff to assist in all phases of the football operation.

Analytics are widely used in baseball (see the movie Moneyball), but some other sports have been slow to follow. Football has been slow for sure, but golf is getting up to speed.

The Bills news made me wonder how golf analytics could help the average player utilize his or her practice time wisely.

Most of you probably think I’m referring to analytics data gleaned from swing analysis simulators. That data definitely qualifies, but for this week’s article I dug a little deeper to review some of the stats gathered by the PGA Tour Shot Tracker for other relevant data.

I wanted to write about what activity a player should dedicate time to in a practice session, so I needed to find out what the stats say about certain shots in relation to how they affect scoring.

What I found out was a bit surprising.

Research done with Shot Tracker stats shows that for touring pros, the statistic that correlates directly with low scores is distance off the tee. The long game explains what the good scores are made of on tour. It accounts for a 67% differential in wins. Those that hit it the longest win more often than those that do not fall into the long hitter category.

For amateurs, the differential is 50%, probably due to the fact that long hitting amateurs don’t keep the ball in play as much as long hitting tour pros.

Here’s how you can take advantage of this information to spend your practice time wisely.

First of all, no matter what your age, everyone should go through a four week swing speed improvement routine every spring. The routine doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it does need to include the right components. I’ve had a few articles on that in previous issues, you can find them in my Newsletters Archive. 

Next, you have to be sure that your swing technique is solid. Developing good technique will definitely gain you distance off the tee.

Next, you need to realistically evaluate your potential for how much your own swing speed can be improved.

Keep in mind that your parents had something to say about this. If you have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers than slow twitch fibers in your body, you’ll naturally swing faster; the opposite is also true.

You also need to consider which aspects of your own game and your own body have the most potential for improvement. It might not be swing speed.

Here’s an example.

I’m 66 years old, and have been working on developing or maintaining swing speed for years. Chances are that anything I do along the lines of swing speed improvement is going to have a minimal effect, so I spend most of my practice time trying to hone my short game skills. I practice the area of my game that will yield the most scoring improvement for my game at my age.

Here are three scenarios for evaluating your swing speed potential and developing a practice outline:

  1. If you are young and healthy, make sure your swing technique is sound, then work very diligently in your off season on a serious swing speed improvement program. You probably have excellent potential for swing speed gains. Your range practice sessions should be 50% long, fast swings, 30% pitching and chipping swings, 20% putting.
  2. If you are middle aged and healthy, make sure your swing technique is sound, then devote four to six weeks in your off season to a swing speed improvement program. You can probably still make some gains in swing speed. Your range practice sessions should be 40% long fast swings, 35% pitching and chipping swings, 25% putting.
  3. If you are a healthy older player, and have been working on swing speed and technique each year, you have to accept that your swing speed probably won’t improve much. Don’t neglect swing speed training entirely – it will help you maintain what you have, but don’t obsess about it either. Your range practice sessions should be 25% long fast swings, 50% pitching and chipping swings, 25% putting.

You can also take advantage of simulator analysis by ascertaining that your swing and your driver gives you an optimal launch angle and an acceptable spin rate, factors which affect optimal distance.

I guess I also just gave everyone tacit permission to go out and buy that driver that’s going to get you 15 more yards off the tee. On a serious note, if a gain like that is really valid, I’ll be the first in line for the club! In this day and age, improved equipment really can equate to better performance if you have a sound swing.

On the other hand, as one of my students put it when his regular playing partner asked him if he bought new equipment, he said “No, I bought a new swing“.

Make next year your best golf year by doing something now!

Love your practice, enjoy your golf,