Why You Want to Be a System Golfer, and How to Do It
If you listen to the Sweet Spot podcast, you’ll often hear a common theme from myself or Adam Young. I value simplicity, removing variables, and functionality above all else in golf.
Too often, we complicate things. There are many reasons why, but much of it has to do with mismanaged expectations and trying to be too perfect at a game that doesn’t require anything close to perfection to have success. A lot of it has to do with all of the ideas thrown at golfers by the industry. I can assure you, more is not better.
That’s why I believe every golfer needs to create some simple system for themselves. I’ll try to clarify what I mean by “system” in this article, but most of it has to do with your strategy, the kinds of shots you play on the course, and a general approach to the game.
The great thing about golf is that everyone’s system can look different. Golfers fall victim to looking at other players’ games and thinking that the grass is greener and trying to emulate bits and pieces of what they like. I even hear it at the pro level. But your game should be as unique as your fingerprint if you want your best chance of success, which also looks different for each golfer.
Bryson Is a Prime Example (albeit extreme)
When most people look at Bryson DeChambeau’s game, there is a myriad of responses. Some think his approach is blasphemy to the honored traditions of golf. Others see it as brilliant and want to copy what he is doing the best they can.
I see a golfer who has created a unique system for himself, and because he is 100% invested in his own approach, he sees tremendous success. Of course, that is coupled with a tireless work ethic and tremendous talent. But there are some things to glean from his approach.
Now, I would never tell anyone to copy what he is doing. Playing single-length irons, using oversized grips, building a golf swing around one of the most complex books on the golf swing ever written, and leaving no stone unturned in analytics would likely destroy another golfer’s game. But all of this suits his personality and learning style; it seems like there is no other way he could approach golf.
Bryson’s game is the most extreme version of a system we’ve ever seen, but it is a system. I’d love for all of you to have a far simpler version and some of the same commitment. Because that’s what a lot of golf is about, being confident and committed to what you’re doing on the course.
Some Examples of What I Would Consider a System
Every article I write on this site is a starting point. I can’t account for where all of you are in terms of your experience and skill level. So I’ll give you some ideas on what I consider part of a system that any golfer can adopt. Usually, I try not to talk about my own game too much, but I want to give you some anecdotal references that will help illustrate my point.
Technique and Shots
I am a bit of a one-trick pony on the golf course. Outside of 100 yards, I’m pretty much trying to do the same thing on every shot. I don’t try to shape the ball in both directions (it’s always a draw). I don’t try to alter my trajectory too much (I can do that with club selection). For the most part, I’m stepping up to the ball with the same intention. Even with wedge play, I feel as though I’m not trying to vary too much from a stock technique or feel.
My golf swing isn’t all that pretty either. I bet if you showed it to 20 different instructors, not many of them could guess my current handicap (it’s +0.4). But what I do have is belief in what I’m doing.
For the most part, I can manage my swing because I’m not introducing that many variables. If something goes awry, I usually know the issue because there aren’t too many moving parts. Now I can’t always fix it completely, but it allows me to plug the holes on the “leaky boat” a little more effectively. Conversely, if I had a swing that was constantly in flux, it would be much harder for me to manage because I really couldn’t understand what needed to be fixed.
I’d love for more golfers to go in this direction rather than thinking they need to complicate things by adding different shots and swing thoughts.
To me, that’s a system.
Every golfer needs to find their own version of the golf swing. If you need help, get lessons. But my philosophy is that you should aspire to get as proficient as possible with one version of that swing and keep it as basic as possible on the course.
Tackling Your Weaknesses Head On
For most of my golf life, I’ve been a below-average putter relative to my skill level in other parts of the game. It’s largely because I had no process or system. From month to month, I would change my stroke, grip technique, alignment, or just about anything to feel better about where things were going. However, over the long run, I never saw much improvement.
I’m sure many of you can relate to that process with just about any part of your game. It’s a vicious cycle we all get trapped in.
There are three main skills in putting – speed control, face control (can you start the ball on your intended line), and green reading.
For the most part, my speed control was always pretty good, which I consider the most important element of putting. However, my ability to read putts properly and start the ball on my intended line was somewhat dreadful.
So I created my own little system, and over the past few years, I’ve seen dramatically better results. So much so that I actually believe I’m a good putter now. Here’s a quick summary of what I did (but realize this isn’t a blueprint for your own putting woes):
- I learned AimPoint – this gave me a straightforward process to read greens.
- Switched my grip technique: I now use a pencil grip, which has helped alleviate one of my main flaws: my right hand taking over and shutting the putter face at impact.
- Changed to a SeeMore putter: They have a unique alignment system, so now I feel confident that I’m aimed in the right direction when I stand over the ball.
- Fixed my alignment and setup: When I was going through a performance review for an article, the instructor noticed my shoulder alignment was very closed. So now I have a process of making sure it’s in check by using an alignment mirror and creating one final move in my pre-shot routine where I open my shoulders.
This process can be applied to any element of the game. I also went through something similar with intermediate wedge shots, and my driver – both used to terrify me. But the common theme is that I took a weakness, identified the flaw, and tried to create a system that would give me confidence moving forward. What I was doing beforehand was taking shots in the dark at a fix and not genuinely addresses the root cause.
Strategy and Targets
Perhaps the most important part of the game to have a system is with strategy and how you pick your targets on the course.
I’ve spoken at length about how I feel that targets on approach shots should be fairly straightforward for most golfers. Aside from convincing yourself that the pin is not usually your target, I’ve often referred to this simple strategy. When you know exactly where you should be aiming before you step up to the ball and confident that it’s the smart decision, it will help free your mind up a bit so you can execute.
Tee shots can be a bit more nuanced, and I’ve changed my mind on them quite a bit over the years.
I’m now taking a “driver first” mentality and making sure I am aimed away from the big trouble. Where it makes sense, I will take shorter clubs off the tee. The best system I have seen on effectively picking targets off the tee is either the DECADE Elite or DECADE Foundations.
Perhaps the most unique of all systems is how you approach the game mentally. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach because we all bring so many different personalities to the game. However, having a way to calm your emotions, going through a repeatable pre-shot routine, and your general attitude on the course is crucial.
While there are plenty of resources on the mental game, I think it requires a bit of introspection and figuring out your own unique way. But if you do want some help, some resources I trust are Kent Osborne and David MacKenzie.
What Will Your System Be?
Now comes the harder part. I’d like you to think about your golf game and think about what processes or systems you can add to it. It could be as minimal as putting or a general overhaul of your entire approach to golf. Either way, I believe when you use this mindset rather than a haphazard approach to the game, good things can happen for you!
Stephen Gunn says
Great article. Plenty of food for thought. Thanks Jon.
Jon, the link to The Golfing Machine is incorrect. It leads to a biography about Homer Kelley. The correct original book can be found here.
Really like the Sweet Spot podcast!