Study the Stats to Define Expectations

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Coming soon to a grassy field near you: golf season! For us golfers, that first round of the year is like New Year’s all over again! Excitedly, we head to the tee filled with renewed hope, fuelled by our new golfing resolutions. Is 2014 going to be “your year”?

Many a New Year’s resolution has been derailed by unrealistic expectations and the same holds true of golfing resolutions. Your level of success on the course is greatly influenced by your state of mind. In turn, your state of mind is shaped largely by your performance relative to your expectations. Set them too high, and you’re bound to fall short of your golf improvement goals.

We’ve all had those early season rounds where everything just seemed to “work”. Our swing flows easily and we hit the ball as if winter didn’t even happen. Almost always, we look back on these rounds and say, “well, it was my first round of the year, so I wasn’t expecting much”. And almost always, the next time we go out, we expect more and seemingly deliver less. In reality, our overall performance is likely to be very similar, but relative to our new, higher expectations, we “sucked”.

When it comes to managing expectations, remember that golf is not about “perfect” or “spectacular”. Playing better golf is about staying patient and steady over the long haul. You’re going to hit bad shots – everybody does. You’ll hit your share of great ones, too. Over time, it pretty much evens out. The trouble is, many golfers fall into the trap of thinking they have to hit “great” shots every time in order to improve – that’s just not realistic, even for the world’s best players. When golfers put this undue pressure on themselves, they set themselves up for failure.

So how can we define “realistic” expectations? The stats section on the PGA Tour website provides some very revealing insights. For example, in 2013, Tiger Woods led the PGA Tour in accuracy on fairway approach shots from 150 to 175 yards, averaging 22 feet from the hole. Jason Day, another guy you may have heard of, averaged about 30 feet in that category. What about putting? Phil Mickelson is about average among his peers when it comes to putts in the 20 to 25 foot range. He makes about 15% of them.


Study stats to play better golf

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Overall, these are hardly “spectacular” performances! Yes, television highlights those truly spectacular shots and putts these guys are capable of – after all, that’s television’s job. But sift through the hard numbers for a while and you’ll find that for every spectacular shot we see on TV, there are a hundred “ordinary”, bread and butter shots played. When it comes right down to it, great golf usually looks pretty ordinary on a shot-by-shot basis – but remember, the sum is greater than the parts.


Let’s put it another way: statistically, a 150 yard approach shot that finishes within 25 to 30 feet of the hole is a “tour-calibre” shot. Hint: if you’re disappointed when you hit a tour-calibre shot (and you’re not one of the guys mentioned above), it might be time to revisit your expectations.