Golf Science – Top of the Food Chain

Golf Science – Top of the Food Chain

It is absolutely unbelievable that the number of high-quality golf research papers is as large as it is these days. Unfortunately, unless the researchers have a strong following within the golf coaching community, their results might never come to light, and thus never be utilized for the benefit of the group of golfers they apply to.

One really interesting, recently published (January 2023) research article is titled “Which specific golf skills are related to performance in skilled junior golfers?” In this novel study, the authors, Brožka, et al., put 16 skilled male golfers aged 15.6 years on average, through a battery of typical golf skills tests ranging from putting to driving. These were golfers who had been playing the sport for 8.1 years and trained for 15.8 hours per week on average. The mean golf handicap for this group was 5.1.

Participants were put through the following tests: putting (short putt success and long putt accuracy), short green-side shots (accuracy of shots from the fairway and bunker), approach shots (accuracy of short and long approach shots) and driving performance (driving accuracy and total distance). 

Short putts (six distances repeated three times each) ranged between 1 to 2.5 m (approximately 3.2 to 8.2 feet) and were considered to be successful if holed. For long putts, ranging from 7.5 to 12.5 m (around 24.6 to 42 ft.), the distance between the center of the ball and the center of the hole was measured. Ten short around-the-green shots were hit from five distances, ranging between 7.5 and 27.5 m (why would golfers not putt from a ball located 7.5 m away, which was 0.5 m or just under 2 ft. from the edge of the green?). A total of six bunker shots were hit from three distances – 15, 20 and 25 m from the hole. (How were these distances chosen – most green-side bunker shots are from shorter distances? Also, what if, as is quite possible, a golfer rarely, in real life, gets into a bunker in the first place?). See here; .

Finally, short approach (between 55-95 m), long approach (between 105 – 165 m) and driver shots were all assessed for accuracy. Driver shots was also assessed for distance.

The test results were then examined for relationships between one another and also examined for their ability to determine golf handicap. An age-wise assessment for all the golf skills was also incorporated into the study’s statistical analysis.

The three golf skills that predicted an elite junior golfer’s handicap the best were the accuracy of bunker shots, and the accuracy of short and long approach shots. The results indicated, according to the authors, that at this stage of a golfer’s career, putting, short shots from around the green in the fairway, and driving distance are not related to performance! Perhaps, opine the authors, those skills are not as important for the way golf courses are set up for junior events. Juniors might not require to train for driver distance on the shorter courses they are required to play on, for instance.

Another finding was that whether golfers were 30 or 80 cm (approximately 1 ft to 2.6 ft.) from the hole did not affect putting performance, as they would hole out equally easily from both distances. The green used for this study had a stimp reading of 10, so perhaps success of holing out changes when greens are faster or have more slope than those set up for junior events. 

The study found, overall, that the most useful skills for elite junior golfers was the accuracy of both short and long approach shots and of drives. 

How would these important skill sets help junior golfers to transition to adult competition, the authors wondered? They quoted from another research project that in 2013 the main skills for PGA TOUR players, as related to earnings, were: driving distance followed by driving accuracy, putting, approach shots with iron clubs, short shots from the fairway and finally short shots from the bunker. These differences make sense because, of course, older players play from much longer distances, so that there has to be a premium on driving distance before all else. Putting is
made far more challenging for older golfers, as well.

In conclusion, then, it might be said that what elite junior golfers need to focus on the most, for success during their junior competitive careers at least, is the accuracy of drives, as well as of short (55 – 95 m) and long (105 to 165 m) approach shots.