Peter Kostis: A Big To-Do Checklist for Lower Scores
This past year was full of exciting developments that will be hard to top, like the emergence of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day as major winners to challenge Rory McIlroy atop the World Ranking. I looked back on a heckuva good season and came up with three things you can do to play better.
1. TRACK THE RIGHT STATS
While the use of statistics as a "Tour tool" has become more prevalent than ever, be cautious when applying them to your own game. The pros have access to an endless collection of numbers, which they use to analyze their strengths and weaknesses as well as develop on-course strategies. Beware, however, of trying to adjust your style of play just because the statistics say so. There are only five stats you should pay attention to: percentage of tee shots that you hit in play that leave you a reasonable shot to the green; the percentage of greens you hit (consider it a green hit if you're able to use your putter); your percentage of up-and-downs from 25 yards and in; your total number of putts and three-putts; and your penalty strokes. Those numbers will underscore your weaknesses, which you can then work to improve or even avoid. For example, if your putting is good but your chipping isn't, lay up to lob-wedge distance, get on the green and let your putter do the work.
2. DON'T BE A COPYCAT
The most compelling aspect of Jordan, Rory and Jason's emergence—and I'll throw Rickie Fowler in there, too—is that they aren't copying anybody else. Not Hogan, Nicklaus or Woods. Each player's game is unique to him. Jordan hasn't revamped his swing to hit it 20 yards farther. Rory hasn't cut back on driver distance to get more accurate off the tee. The top young players know their strengths and weaknesses, and they show that you can work to improve your swing without abandoning your natural tendencies. I wish I had a buck for every golfer who tried to copy someone else's swing. You almost always get worse.
3. PLAY MORE TO PLAY BETTER
Tiger Woods showed moments of brilliance in 2015—a few greenside shots he hit at Augusta were vintage Tiger—but he needs more consistency. That means he needs to play more, advice any of us could take. However, his announcement in September of a second back surgery all but eliminates our chances of seeing Tiger early in 2015-16. We'll have to wait until Torrey Pines in January (at the earliest) for his return—and more questions about his body. Assuming he fully recovers, he needs a go-to shot under pressure in order to find the winner's circle again. Until then, the state of Tiger's game will depend on the state of his back. As Yogi Berra said, "It's déjà vu all over again." Here's hoping he gets healthy and finds his form. That would make next season a sweet '16!