Systems & processes for golfing excellence

Welcome to the third instalment of the golf insider challenge – 12 months to see how much we can accelerate your progress towards golfing excellence.

Your progress shouldn’t stop after a year. Instead, I’m hoping this series gives you all the tools and ideas you need to have the most fun playing and improving your golf game throughout your life time.

In part one we set golfing dreams and started tracking our stats. In part two I showed you how to use to golf stats to work out what you should practice each week.

In part three we’re going to look at a critical part of achieving your golfing dreams – systems and processes to optimise your rate of improvement. I think I could write an entire book on this, but for now, I’ll try to max out the actionable steps for you in one article.

Essentially, goal-setting by itself is an empty promise. We need exceptional systems and processes in place to achieve greatness. I think the quote below sums up sport performance in practice:

We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our training.

Golf Insider quick thanks: This article draws from my work in elite golf, but also the many clever people I’ve had the joys of work with in elite soccer, rugby, cycling, gymnastics and many other sports. I’ve ‘borrowed’ so many good ideas from these individuals – a big thanks.

The golfing greats are so mystical

When we look at elite golfers on TV it’s very easy to assume they are from another planet. However, what we see on TV is just a snapshot – the tip of the iceberg. What we miss are the many years of excellence that have led up to that one tournament or golfing moment. We have all heard the following famous quote…

“It took me 10 years to become an over night success”

When you work with the players moving towards the top of the game you realise that the journey towards elite performance is made up of many little bumps forward. At an elite level each nudge takes around 6-months of high-quality, diligent work. If the players are doing the right things every season they become slightly more refined and robust as players.

The same process applies if you too are aiming to be world number one, become a scratch player, a single-figure golfer or break 90 for the first time.

Golf Insider tip: The great news is that the lower your current standard of golf, the quicker the gains will come. That is if you practice effectively. In motor learning this is known as the law of diminishing returns. Your first effective hour of practice as a novice gives you a big jump in skill. As you progress to higher levels of skill, the time investment you put in leads to smaller and smaller returns. Hence, it takes elite players up to 6-months of effective practice to see a small change.

The only two things that change from being an elite pro to an aspiring amateur are 1) Your starting level of skill might be lower and  2) The amount of time that you have free may be less than the average tour pro. What stays precisely the same is this:

To develop as a player you need to have high-quality processes and systems in place. These will ensure you do the right things week in, week out.

Hopefully that gives you a sell on why this topic is important for you as an aspiring golfer. Now let us jump into what I mean by systems and processes and create some actionable steps to improve your golfing systems for excellence.

What are systems and processes?

Every morning I get out of bed and get ready for another day of work / fun. I have a system, or a routine, for getting ready. I shower, get dressed, then I make a cup of tea (so English) and have breakfast. I flick through my schedule for the day then finally I brush my teeth and pack.

This system ensures I’m ready for the day. It is made up of smaller processes and procedures (brushing my teeth, packing etc.).

Is this system perfect? No. It could be further optimised. When I’m crushing life it also contains some stretching and exercises. However, it does the job – I don’t tend to leave the house half-naked many days.

Now, tell me your weekly systems and processes for improving your golf…

Write down the systems you have in place to make sure you’re optimising your performance each week.

… How about your annual systems to check how your year went?

… If you’re like most aspiring players this will be an entirely alien concept to you. Even most mini-tour pros only have a rough idea of what they do each week and why. This is where I feel our headline quote comes into play.

Many golfers set great goals, but they lack the systems to hit their dreams. As such, they don’t rise to their goals, they fall to the level of their non-existent systems. 

This is good news, it means you have a wonderful new area to develop and increase your rate of learning. I personally feel there are three key systems to have in place on a weekly basis, and two additional systems for more elite players.

System 1- Reflection on playing performance
System 2 – Core weekly practices
System 3 – Developmental practices for current areas of weakness
System 4 – Physiological development (optional)
System 5 – Psychological development (optional)

The systems above should be rated on a scale of 0 to 100 for how effective they are. I’m not saying they all need to be 100 by next week, but to begin with you need to be aware of what you’re doing each week and why.

Grab a pad and pen and rate each system as it currently stands in your golf structure. Zero or NA is a perfectly fine score, at least you know you have lots of room to grow.

This ‘systems approach’ may seem a little abstract if you’re used to working on your backswing to become a better golfer. Trust me, this is the foundation of your golfing development.

Next, we’ll give you some details on the processes that make up each system.

System 1 – Reflection on playing performance

After each round of golf you play you need a simple system to rate and evaluate your game. There are many useful golf stats apps

The Golf Insider Performance Diary (below) is my way of bullying you from afar to build the right systems to improve your game each week. It just follows the three core systems we outline in this post. Below is system one in a page:
I designed the performance diary to provide a one-page picture of key information, directional data, with a small space at the bottom for ‘key areas to improve’. You can add more context in many ways. Above I’ve added the hole numbers to fairways and greens so that I can see trends throughout my round.

There are three key processes that make up an effective playing analysis system:

  1. Keeping track of what parts of your game went well and what didn’t.
  2. Ideally, adding directional information and context to your stats.
  3. Coming up with 1 or 2 key areas to improve.

Use the image below, or read the previous article for more details on working out your key areas to improve.

how to get better at golf stats.

Just like my morning routine, there are many finer details we could add in to optimise this system. But, if you wish to improve your golf ensure you master these three basic processes.

System 2 – Core weekly practices

As you develop as a golfer you should start to get a feel for what core practices keep your golf game in good shape. It will take a little trial and error. However, you need systems that will:

  1. Keep your driving and iron-play in good shape.
  2. Keep you dialled in with your wedge-play.
  3. Ensure your short game is sharp.
  4. Ensure you’re highly confident and proficient at putting.

Again, we can look at the processes within each system. To keep my driving and iron-play sharp I use an hour session at the golf range. I begin with a drill very similar to what Justin Rose describes below. I then use 40 balls to play Will’s range challenge. I finish off the practice session with 10 shots where I try to shape the ball and hit knock-down shots.

I find that completing these three processes each week is a key for me to consistently strike the ball and know where it will go during play.

Hugo, a pro I work with, is an excellent wedge player. For him, we use a combination of Flag-stick challenge (below) and a game called wedge challenge to hone his wedge play. These two games give a great blend of practice volume to refine control (Flag-stick challenge) and practice variability within an on-course environment (wedge challenge).

These systems are personalised sets of processes that make sense to that athlete.

I can’t build out specific systems for you all, but I challenge you to start building your own. If you would like some more ideas around this area have a read of this post on golf practice routines.

System 3 – Developmental practices for current areas of weakness

The last core system to have in place is to diligently work on your weaknesses. I’m going to write more about this in part four of this series, but for now I have the following advice for you.

Pick one golfing weakness and dedicate a month to it

If you are short of time to practice look back at your playing stats and choose one area that needs improvement. 

Drill down into what is causing your inconsistency – is it distance control and strike, or directional error? Are there a patterns? For example, do you miss the majority of your iron-shots short and right. Or do you frequently leave putts short, or miss putts left or right  from inside 6-feet.

Your aim is to then come up with a weekly system that can be completed each week to improve this weakness.

It should be easy to complete, and ideally have a skills game that allows you to keep a score. Nothing crazy, aim to build a set of processes that you can complete each week.

Golf Insider honesty box: When I say easy to complete I do mean  easy within the realms of your current life. My putting was seriously off form when I began this golf insider challenge series. I diagnosed where and when I missed putts then built a system to improve my putting basics. My system to improve my putting basics was simple: practice this putting drill once a week in my apartment (15 minutes) and then play 3, 6, 9 feet once a week on the putting green (15 minutes). This totalled 30 minutes a week, I frequently missed weeks, but I would just do my best to get back on track. Even this hap-hazard execution has led me to great progress within my putting performance. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just begin building a system that you can execute most of the time.

After a month of repeating this system reassess your skill level. have your playing stats changed? Are you improving your skill game scores?

These are your small nudges forward that we described at the start of the post. They are such small changes that you’ll barely notice your progression, but repeatedly making these nudges each month really begins to add up.

Golfing systems for excellence: conclusion

I will be really interested to hear what you think about this approach to developing your golf. After many years of attempting to become an elite performer myself, and working with athletes across many sports I feel this is such a critical concept that is rarely discussed.

What you can start to see is that there are no pieces of magic. Just lots of little processes that you need to refine. This is the journey to excellence. A windy journey made up of many 1% changes. 

It’s so unsexy that it never gets discussed. However, all of the 1% changes discussed here are attainable for all golfer who is will to put in the work.

Aim to build the three core system discussed in this article into your golfing week. They will create the foundation of your golfing progress.

If you’ve found this article of use I would love you to share it with a fellow golfer or using one of the social buttons, or leave a comment below. If you would like an article like this one emailed to you each Monday come join the golf insider weekly post.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider

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A PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. I currently spend my time lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and working with elite athletes. In my spare time I build Golf Insider UK.

12 thoughts on “Systems & processes for golfing excellence”

  1. Thanks Will
    This is perfect! Just want I have been looking for.
    Currently 17.6 HCP, my goals by end of July 2019 as follows:
    1. Break 40 back 9
    2. Break 40 front 9
    3. Break 80
    4. HCP < 10
    I will achieve these goals using your Insider challenge & 10+ hrs per week.

  2. Hi Will

    My aims are to:

    1. get back to a 5 handicap or better (this was my previous best handicap pre kids / playing other sports. Been away for golf for approx 7 years until last 6 months – current handicap is 9).

    2. shoot nine holes under par (previous best for this year was level par).

    3. Get short game inside 30 yards to average 50 per cent up and down for 4 or more consective rounds.

    4. Drive the ball better and too full potential. Particularly too eliminate my current destructive driver shot of a big block right (currently i hit this once or twice a round) and to drive on course within the same solid range of distance I hit on trackman when swinging nicely.

  3. Hope I’m not too late to join! My goals are:
    1) Handicap from 2.4 to 0.0
    2) Win a local amateur tournament

    I just ran across your site recently, and I love the information. I’m very impressed. Thanks for sharing all of this!

  4. Hi Will,
    I am literally inhaling your posts since I came across them and wanted to thank you for sharing all your thoughts.
    I was selected for a minor league varsity team only lately, I am the only newbie for the upcoming season 2019 (Apr-Aug) so my goal is to show consistent preparational results to be on the playing team at least once – and perform when given that chance.
    Your texts trigger a lot of thinking so I am sure it will support my goal.
    Cheers, Constanze

    • Hi Constanze,

      Thanks for the kind feedback. I’m delighted there are other golf nerds like me out there. Lots more to come. I have some plans to extend past just articles on Golf Insider, but I just need to finish this PhD before I really get on to the fun stuff.

      I hope you keep up your fine golfing progress.


  5. Hi,

    Absolutely love your website and your articles!

    I only started golfing last February at 22 so I have many years of golf ahead!

    My golf goal for 2019 is to consistently break 100 (done it once) so I can hopefully play consistently to the 28 handicap I have to use at my works golf society!


    • Thanks for the feedback Andy, and delighted you’re making such good progress. I’ve added you to the wall.

      Keep up the fine work.


  6. Hi Will,

    My goals are to become a single figure golfer, my current handicap, is 12.5. The lowest I have been is 11.8 and now I see my handicap going the wrong way. I use Game Golf gps tagging system to measure and keep stats for my game with my driving being the weakest part of my game, despite lessons with different coaches. I’m looking to increase my FIR stat because when I do hit fairways I generally score from there, if I miss fairways my troubles begin.

  7. Hello! I know this is way past the deadline but if you’re still posting my goal is to be consistently shooting in the 70s by July 2020


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