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How Data & Analytics Have Fueled My Golfing Success

Strategy   |   Martin Trainer   |   Aug 16, 2023

There was a time when golfers generally played every course the same. It didn’t matter where in the world it was located, what its physical characteristics were, or what the weather was that day. It was “hit and hope” in the classic sense of the phrase.

It’s safe to say those days are gone. We now live in a world where unbelievably detailed analytics are available to us. Our understanding of data can give us an edge, defining which side we’re on when it comes to the slim margin between success and failure. I wanted to share a little bit about how I’ve incorporated data and analytic insights to give myself the best chance for success.

Evolve for success

Golf has gotten so competitive in recent years, and the gap between the top golfers and the pack has closed considerably. Adaptability has become a critical component in finding a path to success. Each course is different, and each day on a specific course can be radically different, too, what with changes in weather. For this reason, building a data-driven strategy for success becomes paramount.

Each golfer is different too. What works for one may not work for another. Personalized training programs are key and they are only as good as the amount – and the quality – of the data that drives them. The training program I’ve developed with Alteryx uses innovative statistical metrics like strokes gained and advanced predictive tools. The insights and personalized recommendations I get from all of it give me the best chance to improve my performance on any course.

Revolutions in golf

Twenty-five years ago, Tiger Woods revolutionized the game of golf in the way that he approached physical training. (Players now all have strength and cardio coaches.) It’s easy to make the case that data and analytics have done the same thing. Are analytics now the biggest thing that helps players gain an edge? I think it is.

It started with ShotLink, which tracks the details of every stroke taken. The Strokes Gained system came along in 2007 and provided shot performance analysis relative to other golfers. It helped cement the ways in which we can assess what’s good and weak about our own game.

In team sports, it’s commonplace for coaches to have statisticians who track how their players are doing versus their opponents. In an individual sport like golf, it’s much different. We’ve had to build our own teams, hiring analytics experts to help us dig in and see what the data is saying about our game. Without that, we have intuition but very little objective measure of what’s going on. And it’s never far from our mind that a gained or dropped shot here or there can be the difference between 1st place and 30th and can significantly impact our earnings as well.

Tweaking my game

When I got seriously into data and analytics, it became clear that my iron game was weak compared to the rest of my game, and my driving accuracy needed a lot of improvement. So, I adjusted my practice regimen accordingly and focused on improving the mechanics of my swing.

That work paid off. I ultimately got to the point where I was hitting more greens and, hitting the ball closer to the hole. The impact was undeniable. All because I looked at the data that highlighted what needed improvement and what was the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of what I could work on.

My first tour win

When I was younger, there wasn’t much to work with in terms of golf data. Most of us tried to keep our own statistics on putting, chipping, driving, and more. It was all very basic and subjective in nature, and it was challenging to understand what aspects of the game we needed to work on.

But once I made it to the PGA Tour, I had access to a lot of sophisticated data such as ShotLink and ShotTracer. Every shot you take on the tour is tracked – how far it went, where it went, etc. A lot of metrics are made available to us as players to understand our strengths and weaknesses. We’re talking about detailed data on your putting and short game, your driving, and your irons.

When I won my first tournament – the 2019 Puerto Rico Open – I owed a lot to how that data helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses and adjust my practice regimen accordingly.

Me vs. the course

Another interesting thought about golf and analytics: sure, golfers compete against each other, but we’re also competing against the course. That’s why data matters so much when we approach course management. We can’t control what our opponents are doing; we can only focus on our own game. We’re always trying to figure out what works best for us and use data to determine what aspect of the game is at a premium on a particular course. This is especially critical because the margins have shrunk so much between the top and bottom players. If I can use data to knock .2 shots off my score here and .7 off my score there, it can add up and make a big difference.

Trust the process

What can people in the business world learn from my journey in golf and analytics? Maybe more than you think. I would say that the biggest lesson we can take from golf and transfer to business is to trust the process. It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to something or to become impatient while pursuing long-term goals. It’s harder to take a long view, but let’s be honest: making real improvements takes time. It can be a challenge to stay patient, but second-guessing ourselves in trying moments is just part of the deal. Stay focused and trust in what you’re doing, what the numbers are telling you, and – maybe most importantly– the concept behind what you’re doing. Once you get to those big moments, you’ll have the confidence to follow through, backed as always by solid analytics.
Martin Trainer is an American-French professional golfer.

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