July 14, 2021

Golf Smart: How to Think Your Way Around a Golf Course

Improving your game with swing changes, equipment and range practice are often thought of as the only avenues for lowering your score on the golf course, but there is another path that may be the most influential of them all: Changing your strategy so you can golf smart.

Most golfers don’t have a plan. They immediately grab driver when they come to each hole that isn’t a par-3. They find out what their yardage is to the flag and choose the club that matches the yardage. And most of all, they choose how to play a hole based on what they wish would happen, and not what is most likely to happen. 

All of this means that most golfers throw away several shots per round, not because of a poor swing but because they have no plan. 

You wouldn’t expect to have success in any other endeavor without a plan. Why would golf be any different? No matter what handicap or skillset you have, every player can come up with a strategy that makes the most sense. 

So how do you formulate a plan? For some this part may sound too intimidating, but there is a very simple method that even beginners can use. This is at the heart of the golf smart concept, a more detailed, understandable and effective method for thinking about the way this game is played at all levels. 

Assessing What You Have

The first step in golf strategy is assessment. In other words, who are you as a golfer? Write down where you are most comfortable and uncomfortable on the course. The more specific, the better. 

A novice may start by noting that they are more confident on the green than hitting a driver, or that a 6-iron is their favorite club. 

The more experienced you are, the more details you can write down. For myself, I would say that I am most comfortable hitting a driver on holes that bend right-to-left, using short irons (8-iron or less) when I can make a full swing and making short putts within five feet of the hole. From all of those areas, I am very confident. I don’t mind when there is a daunting hazard on the left side of a hole, but it makes me queasy to see one on the righthand side. My bad shots tend to go more to the right than the left. My least favorite shots are in the range of about 30 to 50 yards from the hole, but I am more comfortable from 100-120 yards away. 

Gather the observations you have. If it’s only a sentence, start with that. You can build along the way. 

Gathering Vital Analytics

The next step, and arguably the most vital, is to know the average of each of these: 

  • How far you hit each club
  • Where you are most likely to miss with each club
  • What your range is in terms of being offline from your target

This is where an analytics platform like Graff is key, because this information, paired with your likes and dislikes as a player, will form your strategy. 

Managing Expectations

You should not plan for hitting a shot perfectly. What the experienced player plans for is the 50th percentile of all of their swings. If a well-struck 6-iron goes 165 yards but the average of all your 6-irons is 156 yards, you should plan for it to go 156 yards, all other variables being equal. If the trend throughout most of your clubs is that you hit it short and to the right, you should plan for that possibility. And if you hit your driver an average of 30 yards offline compared to your start line, you should know that not every hole — a lot of holes, actually — will be receptive to that.

A lot of golfers get tripped up here. They visualize their best shot and plan to hit it, but the reality is that golf is a very hard game. You are far more likely to hit your average shot than the ideal one you are visualizing. This applies even to the best in the world. 

You have to manage your expectations while playing to the strengths you’ve identified. 

Once you have created a profile — your likes/dislikes paired with the hard data of who you are as a golfer — it’s time to take that information with you to the course. If you only have limited information, take whatever you have. 

Golf is a severely misunderstood game from a strategy standpoint, but understanding it doesn’t have to be complicated. At the core of the golf smart concept is the ability to take a lot of information and pair it down to its simplest form.

Choosing Clubs Off the Tee

You stand on the first tee of a narrow par-4 that is 350 yards. On each side of the hole, there are dense trees. In between, there is what you estimate to be a 40-yard window. On average you hit your driver 260 yards and are offline an average of 30 yards from your start line. If you hit a perfect driver, you would be left with a 90-yard shot in the fairway. 

The thing is, that is less likely to happen than your average. Your average driver, which only fits in a 60-yard window given the 30 yards on each side of your target, will put you in the trees. You are taking on far too much risk, all for the reward of hitting a 90-yard wedge shot that you may or may not be comfortable with in the first place. 

You look at your 3-wood, which goes an average of 220 yards while being offline by an average of 18 yards. This would leave you 130 yards, but your average shot will put you within the 40-yard corridor between the trees. 

Maybe your favorite club is an 8-iron, which you hit 150 yards. Taking a driving iron, which travels 200 yards on average and is only offline by 13 yards normally, will leave you at your favorite distance while taking on even less risk than a 3-wood. 

That is golf smart. It’s not about playing conservatively or aggressively — it’s about having a reservoir of data behind you, looking at all of your options and picking the one that makes the most sense for you. 

Changing Your Approach to Golf Smart

Picking clubs off the tee is one part of the plan. The other is approaching the hole. 

Most golfers use a rangefinder or GPS to find out how far away the hole is, but this is just one data point and often a misleading one. The golf smart concept wants you to look at playing golf a different way.  

The question is not “How close can you get to this target?” 

The question you want to be asking is “Where do I want to hit my next shot from?” 

If you are playing to a hole that is on the back of the green and you laser that it is 140 yards away, it’s likely that you don’t want to plan on a 140-yard shot. This is a flawed line of thinking. 

For every club you hit, there is a shot dispersion where you can draw an imperfect circle around your target. That imperfect circle needs to include as much of the green as possible, eliminating as much of the circle that falls outside of the green.

Prioritizing Greens Hit

We know from many years-worth of data that, for the average golfer, being on the green is the biggest indicator of shooting the lowest score possible. That may sound obvious, but most players are not planning for their average shot to hit the green. They are playing to get as close to the hole as possible, visualizing their best shot and not their average shot. 

So that 140-yard shot to the hole location in the back part of the green is not really a 140-yard shot for most players. It’s probably 130 or 135 yards, the shot that allows the greatest probability to hit the green. 

When you add in particular trouble around a hole — water to the left of the green, let’s say — this is where it pays to know all of the information we have talked about. If you tend to miss approach shots to the left, you need to move the circle further right. 

You are not a sniper. It’s more like you are operating a semi-accurate cannon. 

Of course, golf is not a game played purely by numbers. It’s played by humans. If you are not comfortable with a decision, or you feel particularly confident, those are decisions that can be made within your game plan. 

But at the end of the day, the golf smart plan asks you to assess who you are and give yourself the best chance to make the lowest score. 

That’s all any golfer wants to do. 

We will have more detailed articles on strategy coming in the future, but hopefully this provides the basis for how your profile and analytics combine to form a game plan. Check back with The Club shortly for more updates.

May 28, 2021

Spin Rate in Golf: How You Can Interpret Your Golf Ball’s Spin

When people say that golf is a game of control, they really mean that golf is a game of spin rate.

There are other data points that get much of the attention — carry yardage, ball speed and launch angle are three of the most highlighted, and we went over them in a broader analytics post you can find here — but an argument can be made that spin is the most underrated of all the variables in golf ball launch analytics. 

What Causes Spin?

Every golf ball has somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-500 dimples with most balls being in the high 300’s. The dimples are there to help lift the ball by forcing airflow downwards so the ball can be pushed upwards. This is a process that sends the ball spinning backwards after impact at thousands of revolutions per minute. 

The amount of spin in this process, which is called spin rate, is a major influencer of height and distance in a golf shot. With all other variables being equal, there are two primary factors that increase spin rate: 

  • More loft. A 7-iron would have more spin than a 5-iron, for example. A good analogy here is a tennis racket. If you wanted to hit a high-arcing shot where the tennis ball hits the court and stops, you would open the racket more towards the sky instead of pointing it perpendicular to the ground. The same principle is true in golf. The more the clubface is pointed up to you, the more spin you are likely going to apply. This is assuming all other factors in your swing stay the same. 
  • More clubhead speed. A stronger, faster player hitting a 9-iron will generally produce more spin than someone who hits the same 9-iron but swings slower. If you flipped a coin without much force, it may only go end-over-end a few times. With more energy, it can go end-over-end dozens of times. 

While more loft and clubhead speed create more spin, that’s not always a desired outcome because more spin makes a golf ball go shorter and stop faster. Adding spin could be useful in some situations and harmful in others. 

Understanding Spin Rate Numbers

So knowing this information, the obvious question to the spin rate equation is this: when you have just hit a golf shot and go to look at each data point, what does the spin rate number actually mean? 

Let’s start with a simple example. When the average PGA Tour player hits a driver, their spin rate is typically in the area of 2,700 RPMs. For a player who is a scratch handicap, their average is right around 2,900 RPMs. If you are a 10-handicap, you are probably around 3,200 RPMs. 

Of course the better players are swinging faster, but they are typically using less loft and stiffer shafts to produce a lower launch. They also have a shallower angle of attack into the ball and make contact higher on the clubface. All of that combines to make for less spin and longer carry distances. 

(Pro Tip: If you spray your driver with something that will create a film, like Dr. Shoal’s odor spray, you can see exactly where the ball is hitting the face. Anything low on the face will usually create a lot more spin because the ball rolls up the face during impact.)

During quarantine Bryson DeChambeau posted an Instagram video where he hit a ball 203 mph with a driver that had less than 6 degrees of loft, but the ridiculous speed caused the spin rate to go all the way up to 2,976 RPMs, which meant the ball went nowhere near its potential yardage. It was during this time that he was testing new drivers and trying to see if he could hit the ball that hard while still maintaining a low spin rate. 

“If spin rate was 2,000 (RPM’s), it would fly around 360 yards,” DeChambeau said in the caption.

Rory McIlroy was recently tested on a launch monitor and his spin rate came back at 2,297 RPMs. Being able to keep the spin that low while maintaining the other metrics is something players of his caliber are constantly checking. 

Key Takeaways

The lesson here? If you want the ball to go far, your spin has to get lower while your launch angle either stays the same or gets higher. A simple rule of thumb is that you want the highest launch possible with the lowest spin possible, trying to marry the two to keep them both happy. This is a bit of an oversimplification when you get deeper into the analytics game, but it’s a solid starting point. 

If you have a fast swing speed and your driver spin rate is something like 3,300 RPMs, it’s possible you are playing a driver with too much loft or you are using a shaft with too much flex. It can also mean a swing adjustment is necessary. One of the biggest adjustments is shallowing out your angle of attack into the ball and making contact higher on the clubface. This is where a PGA professional or trained club-fitter could be a valuable resource. 

Of course it’s possible to not have enough spin with a driver — a slower swing speed player hitting an extra-stiff shafted driver with 8 degrees of loft won’t have success because the ball would barely get airborne — but the average amateur golfer is guilty of too much spin off the tee. 

A recent study showed that the average golfer has a 3,275 RPMs driver spin rate with a 12.6 degree launch angle, when the optimal “robot in the lab” relationship is 2,300 RPMs of spin with a 14.7 degree launch angle. The difference is 30 yards lost off the tee. It goes to show you that most amateurs are launching the ball too low with too much spin. Getting to 2,300 RPMs of spin is a very low number and not possible for most. However, it’s reasonable to think most golfers could realistically take a few hundred RPMs off of their drives. 

It should be noted that abnormally higher spin rates with longer clubs also come with uncontrollable ball flights. For someone who hits a massive slice, it’s not uncommon to see their spin rate over 6,000 RPMs. This is a glaring sign of loss of distance and direction off the tee. 

This is key information when testing a driver as well. If you hit a ball with two different drivers and they both have the same launch angle but one has more spin, the one with less spin will typically go farther. It’s hard to overestimate the impact of equipment in this equation. A great swing with an ill-fitting club is not going to work very often. 

Spin Rate for Other Clubs

Moving down throughout the bag, here are PGA Tour spin rate averages for other clubs: 

  • 3-wood: 3,655 RPMs
  • 5-wood: 4,350 RPMs
  • Hybrid: 4,437 RPMs
  • 3-iron: 4,630 RPMs
  • 4-iron: 4,836 RPMs
  • 5-iron: 5,361 RPMs
  • 6-iron: 6,231 RPMs
  • 7-iron: 7,097 RPMs
  • 8-iron: 7,998 RPMs
  • 9-iron: 8,647 RPMs
  • Pitching Wedge: 9,304 RPMs

While these are professional averages, a normal player doesn’t generate the same speed. That means they would be likely aiming at spin rate ranges that are lower than a pro’s.

Unlike with the driver where amateurs have more spin than professionals, amateurs generate less spin with their irons than professionals. This is mainly because irons require more of a downward strike. For pros, a driver angle of attack is -1.3 degrees while a pitching wedge would be closer to -5 degrees. So the faster swing speed and increased loft combine with a more downward blow to create more spin. 

Of course, a pro wants their irons to stop as quickly as possible. That being the case, there is much less of an incentive to reduce spin. 

An Example of Iron Spin Rate

A pro swings their 6-iron around 92mph to get to 6,231 RPMs. Here are some ranges to keep in mind for more normal swing speeds: 

  • Swing speed between 84-91mph: 5,300-5,750 RPMs, launch angle of 15-17 degrees
  • Between 75-83mph: 5,000-5,500 RPMs, launch angle of 15-18 degrees
  • Between 65-75mph: 4,700-5,250 RPMs, launch angle of 16-19 degrees
  • Less than 65mph: 4,400-5,000 RPMs, launch angle of 16-19 degrees

This is just for a 6-iron, but looking at the PGA Tour averages and seeing what your swing speed is with each club, you will notice the typical amateur range is normally 300-1,200 RPMs or so below that, particularly for the highest lofted clubs. The more speed you are producing, the closer to the top of the range you would expect to be. 

Final Thoughts

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are looking at spin rate is that outliers are cause for concern. If you see an 8-iron come off at 4,000 RPMs, that would be cause to look deeper at your equipment or technique. There isn’t one set spin rate to reach for every club. However, getting within a reasonable range given your swing speed and marrying it with the proper launch angle is vital.

We will have a more in-depth look at spin rates in the future. Hopefully this intro is a good foundation for understanding one of the most important metrics in golf ball launch analytics. 

February 2, 2021

Golf Ball Launch Analytics 101: Understanding the Basics

For the average golfer, looking at a set of data after making a golf swing can be intimidating. Some elements of golf ball analytics are straightforward, but understanding how each piece works together is key to knowing what adjustments you may have to make in your game. 

You might not think that ball data that you see on the PGA Tour is relevant to you, but it is certainly an advantage to utilize technology in the modern era and break it down to simple, usable information. Accurate data for variables like overall spin, spin direction, launch angle and carry distance can allow a golfer to reverse engineer a golf swing to get the desired result. No, you don’t want to compare yourself to elite tour players, but having a range of quantifiable data to compare to gives you a solid idea about what to work on during practice sessions. 

Ball Speed and Carry Distance

The most basic component of golf ball analytics is ball speed. Ball speed is the measurement of the golf ball’s velocity just after impact and is the main component in generating distance. Carry distance, a direct relative to ball speed, is the total distance of flight produced by initial launch. 

For example, a player using a driver who has a ball speed of 150 mph will produce a carry of between 254-275 yards assuming there are no external factors like wind. A player using a 7-iron with a ball speed of 120 mph will generate a carry of roughly 162 yards. 

Higher ball speeds and longer carry yardages can definitely be advantages, but consistency is more important. During practice, you should aspire to have your range of ball speed to be within 1-3 mph with each swing. This will allow a player to have a better feel for exactly how far they can carry each club.  

Launch Angle and Spin Rate

While carry distance is a direct effect of ball speed, not every shot with the same ball speed carries the same distance. There are a couple of reasons for that. 

Let’s say one player uses a 5-iron with a ball speed of 118 mph and carries their shot 170 yards, while a stronger player uses an 8-iron and has the same ball speed of 118 mph. His ball, however, will only travel about 155 yards. 

This is because of launch angle and spin. In general, a club with more loft (in this case, it is the 8-iron) produces a higher launch angle and more spin. Launch angle is the initial vertical angle of ascent relative to the ground plane measured in degrees. Spin is the amount of rotation around the tilt axis that creates curvature and lift. 

Marrying the proper launch angle and spin rate has a significant effect on how far a ball travels. A player who carries his driver about 270 yards will want his launch angle to be around 11 degrees and his spin rate to be about 2700 rpms, or revolutions per minute. If the spin rate is too high, the ball will not travel as far and will be more susceptible to going off line. 

However, another player who has a lower swing speed and only produces a ball speed of about 140 mph with their driver would want a higher launch angle, somewhere in the area of 14 degrees, with a spin rate fairly similar to the stronger player. The less powerful golfer wants a higher launch than more powerful players because too low of an angle creates unpredictability — a 7-iron with a launch angle of 12 degrees will likely carry short of the desired distance and will be more reliant on roll. 

When it comes to irons and wedges, being able to carry the ball a certain yardage and stop it within a few yards of where it landed is paramount. Having a predictable ball speed, launch angle and spin rate will give you a solid foundation for knowing 

The proper launch angle goes up as you increase loft, with the exception of fairway woods. Faster swing speed players will want their fairway woods to be launching around 8 or 9 degrees while slower swing speed players who have ball speeds around 130-140 mph will want to launch their fairway woods at 10-12 degrees. Note that both launch angles are lower than the ideal launch for a driver. However, all launch angles continue to get higher as the club gets shorter from that point forward. A pitching wedge, for example, is likely to be launched in the area of 21-24 degrees. The slower your club head speed, the higher part of the range you will find yourself. 

While you could hit one hundred 5-irons and not see a drastic difference in launch angle, wedges and short irons are more susceptible to big jumps. Picture a wedge approach where you catch a shot high on the face, or vice versa. There can be a wide variability of launch, and a big part of learning about advanced analytics down the road will be knowing how to control a wedge shot that pierces the wind at 18 degrees launch versus a high-lofting shot that launches somewhere around 35-40 degrees. It is also great practice to know how high a player launches a wedge with half, three-quarter and full swings. You will find there that slower, more controlled shots have less spin. 

When you are talking about your average pitching wedge approach — that can be upwards of 10,000 rpms — knowing your spin variability has a massive impact in how far the ball travels. 

Other Golf Ball Analytics Terms to Know 

A golf ball can spin in multiple directions: the direction of flight (top spin), against the direction of flight (back spin) or to either side of the direction of flight (side spin).

Side spin, or the component of total spin that defines ball curvature or shot shape, is a key ingredient in understanding how reliable certain shots are. For instance, if you hit a fade that starts 15 yards left of your target and finishes 10 yards right of your target, seeing your side spin metrics decrease will provide evidence that you are molding a more repeatable shot shape. 

Offline, which is the end position distance left or right measured from the target line, will also tell you everything you need to know about your side spin. 

Peak height, or the apex of the trajectory measured from the ground plane, is a direct relative of ball speed, launch angle and spin. The higher all three of these are, the higher the peak height. The average 6-iron will reach a height of about 76 feet. If you are consistently well above or below an ideal peak height, going back to see whether your launch angle and spin rates are within the proper range will be crucial. 

Examples of Using the Golf Ball Analytics You Have

Let’s say you want more distance and have tried several things to make your swing faster but have not seen any meaningful results. Seeing a spin rate well north of 3,000 rpms would allude to the fact you are creating too much back spin and side spin. The harder you try to swing, the more you are compounding the issue of adding too much spin, which shortens the length of shot and gives the ball more of an opportunity to go offline.

In this case, you may need to look at your equipment — especially your shaft — to see if this is a swing problem or an equipment issue. Consulting with a PGA professional is always advised in these situations. Or perhaps your angle of attack, the descending or ascending path of the club head measure in degrees, is too steep. This means your swing needs to be shallower coming into the ball to reduce spin.

On the other side, if you are struggling to get height on your irons, seeing a lower ball speed and lower spin rate will be proof as to why the ball does not carry as intended. Many times more solid contact with the ball will alleviate both of these concerns. Too many golfers spend time trying to find height by manipulating their hands or trying to lift the ball up. This is the exact opposite of what you should be attempting to do. Changing technique, such as moving more of your weight onto your leading side, putting the ball position further back in your stance and working on drills that prioritize hitting the ball first and turf second will yield more spin and a higher launch. 

The reality is that having golf ball analytics allows players to investigate exactly what type of changes are necessary. Every player — from a novice to a professional — can get significant use out of knowing what type of contact they are making with the ball. The evidence you receive will send you on your way to becoming a more consistent player who understands their game at a higher level. 

For more information, you can listen to The Club podcast with Alex Fortey to gain more information on how golf ball analytics can impact your game.

January 27, 2021

The Bryson DeChambeau Odyssey

There's no doubt that Bryson DeChambeau is one of the most compelling figures in golf, but how long he will be able to maintain his pace of pushing the boundaries of what we know to be possible in golf remains a question mark. In this episode, host Sean Fairholm and fellow writer Jeremy Schilling break down Bryson from every angle and offer their opinions on what his journey means for the future of the sport.

1:50 — Sean answers a Q&A about bunker play and gives a neat trick on how to know whether you are using the bounce of your wedge correctly.

3:06 — Sean and Jeremy begin their discussion about why Bryson chose to transform his body and where he currently stands as a golfer.

6:25 — Is Bryson good or bad for the game of golf? Sean and Jeremy both agree on this one, but it may not be the answer or explanation you think.

8:53 — Will there be more Bryson DeChambeau imitators coming down the pipe line? There are two schools of thought on this, Sean argues.

10:42 — One overlooked piece of Bryson's game has been his short game. Sean and Jeremy take a moment to appreciate the fact that he has needed to putt well in order to win golf tournaments.

13:18 — What challenges lie ahead of him? First things first, will he be able to consume this many calories on a daily basis? Will he get worn down emotionally from continuing to bush the boundaries of what we know to be possible in golf?

15:30 — Bryson has admitted to having "frontal lobe issues"... is this a blip on the radar or are we concerned he could be his own villain? What about his longevity in the game?

24:24 — DeChambeau's use of analytics may uncover some data that all golfers are going to end up using in the near future.

January 8, 2021

Golf, Both Big And Small, Carries a New Era Into a New Year

As much as a golf nerd like myself hates to admit it, there have been some dark moments for the game in the 21stcentury. There have been times where the energy around the sport felt stagnant, like the humid and still summer air before an impending storm. 

I think back to the late-2000’s into the start of the 2010’s when the professional game, although sometimes buoyed by its two aging megastars in Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, was completely bereft of young, marketable and exciting talent. At the same time golf on TV felt stale, legions of courses were shutting their doors after far too many — and far too difficult courses — were built in previous eras. About 1.1 million golfers left the game in 2013. People were leaving in droves and there were days when few seemed to care. 

I think back to countless headlines of how the game was officially dead. If you were to quickly search “millennials killing golf”, you will find a never-ending slog of articles from several years ago that claim there is no way out for such a traditional and stuffy game.  

For most of my life as a 28-year-old PGA Professional who has played competitively, written about the game, taught people how to play or been glued to the TV for every second of my favorite tournaments, there have also been consistent warning sirens of how drastic measures need to be taken to make sure golf survives. 

In short, golf has made a living playing defense. 

Now, for maybe the only time I can remember, golf is playing offense. 

The PGA Tour teed off this week in Hawaii with a majority of its stars, and while there will be few fans watching the action in person for at least the first handful of months to the year, the energy heading into 2021 is palpable. For one, the top spot in the world is up for grabs to a handful of players who are in the prime of their careers and have each won a lion’s share of significant events — Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka are all deserving of being the best player in the world. 

Johnson, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, has just won his second major and threatens to be an even more dominant force. Rahm is desperately searching for his first major and continues to fight the drama around whether he can manage his emotions in big moments. Thomas has flashed brilliance each year of his career and is on the precipice of a 5 or 6-win season where the golf world revolves around his swag. McIlroy is the one hoping to regain the glory of when he won four majors from 2011-2014.

DeChambeau is the shiny new toy who may do the unthinkable in becoming the first PGA Tour player to average over 330 yards per drive in a season, a goal he would easily crush if the year came to a close today. Schauffele is the wild card, a player with no weakness and the propensity for showing up time and time again when the spotlight is brightest. And then there is Koepka, a villain to some and  the “cool guy in a leather jacket with a cigarette” to others; is his run of brute force in the majors a thing of the past or have injuries simply caused a detour that is bound to subside now that his hip and knee are healed? 

While all of these are exciting, I am particularly inspired by the next generation after them. Collin Morikawa has already won a PGA Championship, Matthew Wolff is coming off of a top-5 in the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, Viktor Hovland is a two-time PGA Tour winner and Sunjae Im seems to play (and contend) every week. 

Golf is always better when its victors are young and energetic like these four players who are barely drinking age. And those standouts have plenty of company. Consider the stat below: 

Percentage of PGA Tour Winners age 25 and Younger

2005 to 2008: 7.9%

2009 to 2012: 8.8%

2013 to 2016: 17.4%

2017 to 2020: 24.7%

The youth movement is real, and it has a new generation of fans excited about the game. Golf on TV, while still a niche sport in comparison to giants like the NFL or NBA, has been a major success story throughout the pandemic. For example, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, an event with a great field but certainly not at the level of the Masters or a U.S. Open, beat every NBA game it went up against in ratings at that time. And when ESPN took over the PGA Championship last year, the first round saw its best ratings in five years while the second round saw its best ratings in 10 years. 

Of course the TV market will always revolve around Woods, and he will likely play about 10 events this year if he stays healthy. Anything golf receives from Tiger (and Mickelson, for that matter) at this point in his career should be considered gravy. 

But the real reason for optimism as golf launches into 2021 goes far deeper than the thriving professional game. As we all know, the pandemic has brought the silver lining of additional family time, increased savings due to lack of travel and a desire for fresh air. While the entertainment and restaurant industries, to name just two, have been in freefall, golf has been an unlikely hero to many during this time, and the numbers are eye-popping.

I recently opened up this email from the National Golf Foundation, an organization that works tirelessly to track how the golf industry is performing: 

“Rounds played in October came in 32% higher than last year, according to Golf Datatech’s latest report, raising the national year-to-date filgure to +10.8%. Several multi-course operators we checked in with recently told us that the surge in play continued in November, putting us on track for an annual increase of somewhere around 50 million rounds over 2019. Pretty amazing. Record setting? Not quite.

Can you guess the last (and only) time we had an increase bigger than that? It was Tiger’s breakout year – 1997 – when the number of rounds jumped up 63 million over the year before. Rarely has coming in second place felt so good.” 

Not only were far more people heading out to play golf, but golf retail sales surged to levels we have never seen. As an example, overall sales this August were at $331 million — up 32 percent over the same month in 2019 and far greater than the previous record of $287 million back in 2006. 

The pandemic is eventually going to come to a close and, as the saying goes, water will find its level. However, there have been millions of people introduced or re-introduced to the game since last March and I believe they will stick with the game even when masks have returned to closet drawers and social distancing is a remnant of the past. 

That is where Graff comes in. We are a part of a revolution within the game — and I don’t use that word lightly — where golf is transitioning from the days when a scorecard and pencil were the only tools considered to enjoy the game. 

Now we are in a time when practicing or playing a round no longer has to be a frustrating and vague endeavor with little understanding of why you performed the way you did. You can gain immediate feedback, served directly to your phone, whenever you want it. And when patterns emerge within your game, we are going to help you discover the most streamlined and effective ways to come out on the other side so you can enjoy this incredible game. Here at The Club, we are building a podcast, as well as Q&As and other columns, that delve into how to improve in the age of analytics by talking with the brightest minds in the game. Here you will find answers, interesting discussions on the latest trends and a new appreciation for how to golf smart. 

As more people discover golf and the professional competition side of the equation hits a golden age, it doesn’t matter how good you are or how long you have played. The door is open and the possibilities are limitless. 

To all of the above, I say this with unbridled enthusiasm: there has never been a better time to love this game. 

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