post by Corey Lundberg & Matt Wilson



In our last post, we explored the importance of improving tactical intelligence while advocating for greater integration of decision training in our lessons.  Now we want to dig into how this might look in a practical setting and provide a model to help us develop ‘Golf IQ’ more effectively.

Fundamentally, we are driven by a mission to help our students shoot lower scores.  That sounds like a pretty obvious function of our job, but that objective can get lost as we dive further down the rabbit hole of enhancing technique.  Oftentimes, we have to look more closely at what happened before the swing – what the golfer perceives and how they plan to act.  We can’t separate decision making from physical performance– they are not mutually exclusive events. Did the ball go in the water because of the swing? Or was it because they made a decision and it didn’t pan out?

So how do we do make sure all of our players are supplementing technical proficiency with intelligent decision making?

By giving them the opportunity to make decisions in practice!

This a lesson we have learned from observing James Sieckmann in action.  He is the short game coach to a number of professional players, and when working with them, I’m always impressed with how much emphasis he puts on what he calls ‘processing skills’.  He is putting players in situations that force them to modify their technique based on variables in the environment.  He teaches how to recognize subtle differences in conditions and then how to modify technique to excel in any number of environments.

Like James, we need to advance beyond the traditional rep and correct golf lesson and deliver increasingly dynamic environments.  Asking questions like ‘How should you modify your motion to account for this lie?’ or ‘What trajectory or landing spot do you think would closest to the hole in this situation?’ And just as importantly, we ask them to reflect.  Golfers rarely take the time to consider whether an unsuccessful trial was the result of poor execution or poor planning.  They nearly always blame poor execution.  We can provide a richer, more holistic learning environment when we ask the performer to think, act, and reflect.

As straightforward as it sounds, creating exercises that challenges a golfer’s decision making and execution isn’t easy.  Joan Vickers’ work in coaching science, and specifically, her ‘Decision Training’ model is a really helpful guide for coaches (we use it a lot!) who want to help their players develop ‘golf-sense’.

The Model


Ok, great.  Now, how do we use it?

  1. Identify the tactic or cognitive skill that you want the golfer to develop
  2. Develop an exercise or drill that, using the tactic/skill in question, has ‘rules of the game’ that constrain the performer into making the most optimal decision.
  3. Ensure the training ground is adequately unstable to make the task more ‘like-golf’.

And, what might it look like?

Below are 3 exercises that we wanted to share (and hopefully you see fit to use), as they do a great job in adhering to the decision training model.  Moreover, the tactic/decision making pattern that the golfer executes on in each exercise, is rooted in much of information gleaned from performance analytics literature.


Strategic Concept: “Making Birdie isn’t as important as Avoiding Bogey”

Decision Making Trigger: Assessing approach shot risk by virtue of hole location and distance.

In his Pro Golf Synopsis, Rich Hunt makes a very interesting point: while there is a finite number as to how low a player can shoot on a hole – the lowest score is always 1 – there is no limit as to how high they can score on a given hole.  His research suggests that a player’s best year on tour isn’t the one where he makes the most birdies, rather, it is the one in which he makes fewer bogies.

In light of that nugget, it becomes clear that we, as coaches, need to help golfers develop the ability to assess risk, and become more skilled at processing situations such that the answer to make to the question of ‘how can I make the best score, while limiting the possibility of making worse than bogey’, is obvious.

One such skill is the ability to identify the safe side of the flag on approach shots.  Wherever this zone may be, is a function of where the flag is located horizontally (left to right) and vertically (back to front), as well as where the trouble is relative to the hole.

We also know that short sided shots are usually the most difficult and often lead to 2 stroke errors – missed greens on shots played inside 50 yards.   quote template

Next time you’re working on course or on the range, try the following game to help your players make better decisions into the green and avoid leaving themselves with short sided chips, pitches, and bunker shots.  This game is a staple at Stanford practices.


  1. Any shot left on the short side of the hole is an automatic double bogey.
  2. Any shot left within 15 feet of the hole on the fat side of the flag is a birdie.
  3. Any shot between 15 and 35 feet on the fat side of the hole is a par.
  4. Any shot greater than 35 feet (or a missed green) on the fat side of the hole is a bogey

Range Procedure:

  1. Select 3 different targets; 1 from 75-125, 1 from 125-175, and 1 that is 175+
  2. Set cones to signify the scoring zones to either the right or left side of the flag.
  3. Hit 1 shot to each target, repeat 6 times for a total of 18 shots.

Course Procedure:

  1. Play 9 holes, logging the approach result on your scorecard using the scoring system provided.


Strategic Concept: ‘Length and accuracy are key to successful scoring’

Decision Making Trigger: Picking a tee shot strategy, based on combined distance and accuracy that maximizes scoring potential relative to the risk and reward inherent in the design of the hole.

Better golfers arrive at the green sooner than poorer golfers. This may seem painstakingly obvious, but there is more to it.  Shots that originate from closer to the hole, tend to finish closer to the hole.  Given that golf is a race to the bottom of the cup, being able to hit your tee ball further puts you ahead in the race.  However, fairways are also very important to scoring.  In looking at PGA Tour statistics, the median proximity to hole on approach shots from 125-150 out of the rough is the same as the median proximity to hole on approach shot from 175-200 yards from the fairway.  quote 2

Below is a game that we like to play that helps players develop more skill and confidence with their driver, and develop a secondary tee shot, consider using the following game:


  1. Any ball that finishes in the fairway is a half shot under par (-1/2)
  2. Any ball that finishes in the rough is a half shot over par (+1/2)
  3. Any ball that finishes in zone 1 is a half shot over par (+1/2)
  4. Any ball that finishes in zone 2 is a par (0)
  5. Any ball that finishes in zone 3 is a half shot under par (-1/2)


  1. Define three landing areas on a hole or on the driving range.  They should be 15-20 yards apart.
  2. The first zone should be easily reached by their 3rd longest club.  The second zone should be easily reaching by their 2nd longest clubs.  The third and final zone, must only be reachable by their driver.
  3. Have the golfer hit 10 tee shots with the intent of finishing under par (or at a score that is representative of their skill level).


Strategic Concept: ‘Missing the green from inside 30 yards carries close to a 1-shot penalty’
Decision Making Trigger: Shot selection that maximizes scoring potential and minimizes magnitude of scoring error.

When trying to quantify short game proficiency, we can measure a player’s average proximity to the hole on shots originating from within 30 yards of the green.  To do so we use a version of a short game assessment we learned from Cameron McCormick– simply have the player hit 10 various shots of varying difficulty and measure the end result while keeping a running sum.  If they hole it, subtract what you feel a reasonable number of feet would be, and if they miss the green, add 40-50 feet.  Why? A quick way to add strokes to your scores is to make an error (missed green) within 30 yards of the hole, as your chances of a) holing your next shot, and b) getting down in two from off the green, are significantly less than if you were on it.

In a similar vein to the approach exercise we mentioned earlier, an effective way to shape a player’s decision making is to set-up a scoring system that rewards good execution and a strategy that gives the player a good chance to get the ball up and in, while minimizing the potential of a missed green.  Below is a game that we use to help do that.


  1. For any shot that misses the green, add 1 shot to your score.
  2. For any shot that finishes inside of 3 feet, subtract half a shot from your score.


  1. Select 9 shots that originate within 30 yards of the hole.  3 easy, 3 medium, 3 hard, with at least 1 in the sand.
  2. Keep track of the total strokes the player takes, but add or subtract strokes based on the outcome of the initial wedge shot:

This exercise is really well suited to being conducted on the course as part of an on-course coaching session.  It becomes much more relevant to the performer when played under the most realistic conditions possible, as it can be easier to help the player recognize when they might be better suited to try and earn subtractions, vs. playing a little more conservatively, where they still have an outside shot a saving their par, but without taking on the risk of the 2-shot error.

Hopefully those exercises can provide a bit of inspiration as you look for ways to integrate the Decision Training Model in your coaching.  We would love to add to our database of tactical training tasks, so please feel free to share some of your favorite exercises in the comments.

In the next weeks we will continue to explore the idea of decision training as we seek out other experts in this area.  Stay tuned and good luck growing the awareness of your students for this essential element of high performance.


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