What I Learned on My Quest Improve My Golf Game Through Analytics

As a golfer, I’m constantly beseeched by snake-oil salesmen and their magical gadgets and gizmos—swing straight jackets, reverse claw-putting techniques, even CBD oil—promising the ultimate cure-alls to improve my game. At this point, I think I’ve pretty well run out of self-improvement options. So where else can I turn to better my golf game?

Ours is a data driven world—and golf is no different. So why not give analytics a shot? I took a long, hard look at my golf game for all of last season, round by round, analyzing and data crunching as I went. Here’s what I learned:

1. Gimmee putts—whether tapped, kicked, raked or pool-stick cued—always go in. The same length putt to win a skin always lips out. Meaningless putts for a score of 7 and 8 always go in, regardless of the length.

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2. On a hole with a water-hazard, the chance of an aqueous conclusion is inversely proportional to the cost of the ball. My data also suggests Pro V1’s are designed to swim rather than sail.

3. Even during the worst round, I always seem to play the 18th hole well.

4. At the 19th hole, the guy who wins the most money will be the first one out of the clubhouse before the bar tab is settled.

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5. Trees are mostly air—except for that solid wood part, which I hit squarely a good percentage of the time. An added corollary: The best shot you hit all round is usually the one that would’ve been amazing if not for that one small pesky branch that got in the way.

6. At some point every season, I’ll play well enough to think I should be on tour. (I didn’t say the professional tour, did I?) And I’ll play poorly enough to want to give up the game for pickle ball.

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7. When it comes to pace of play, the group in front is always playing too slowly. And, of course, the group behind is playing too quickly.

8. After two failed sand shots in a row, the third one is as good as anything Phil Mickelson could hit. Especially if hand wedges were legal.

9. The best part about playing with a new golf partner is the chance to dust off tired golf-isms. Things like, “That was a son-in-law shot.”

10. Every golf story you’ve been told usually has two layers of fabrication. With just a pinch of truth.

11. The better I hit the ball on the driving range before a round, the worse I’ll play on the course.

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12. The guy in your foursome who lives the closet to the golf course will be the one rolling in one minute before tee time. It never fails.

13. The players assistance ranger always seems to be the least helpful person on the golf staff. So maybe analytics aren’t quite as helpful as I hoped. Like most golfers, I’ll continue to search ways to improve everywhere I go­—taking practice swings in hotel lobbies, trying to read the break in my living room carpet, testing wind direction and speed while I’m walking the dog.

Golf legend Gary Player described it best: Golf is a puzzle without an answer. In my case, its a puzzle with a few missing pieces.

By Jim Finnegan. Published as “All in the Numbers” in the 2020 Golf Guide.

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