What you can learn from one high-handicap hacker’s month-long sprint to breaking 90

30 day challenge before swing

The 'before' swing, with LOTS to work on.

James Colgan

Welcome to the 30-Day Challenge sponsored by MedTerra, where one GOLF.com staffer leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of a simple goal — breaking 90 — with the hopes of helping you do the same. This is the first in a seven-part series detailing his no-holds-barred journey to the 80s — all in just one month.

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A few weeks ago, my editors approached me with a story idea that — even as someone whose day job it is to muse about professional athletes — seemed too good to be true.

“So, you’re going to receive a month’s worth of remote instruction, you’re going to play at least a round of golf every week, and you’re going to go to the range whenever you can.”

And the catch?

“By the end of the month, you’re going to break 90.”

I laughed out loud. Me? Breaking 90? With all due respect, I’m still using the irons I bought as a confirmation gift in eighth grade. I’ve received three golf lessons in my life. I’ve suffered from the hooks, the slices, the shanks, the skulls, and even (for a brief, forgettable period of time), the yips.

Sure, I’ll break 90. And while you’re at it, why don’t you shoot me into orbit to play a round from the surface of Mars?

But it was too late. As GOLF.com’s youngest (and highest handicap) staffer, my game was now a professional responsibility. A hunk of clay from which a proper, 80s-shooting golfer would be formed. All that stood in my way were 30 days and a whole lot of golf balls.

So, how does one shave 10 strokes off their golf game in 30 days? As it turns out, there’s an easy answer.

“An eraser,” my buddy laughed, referencing the famous line from Arnold Palmer.

But there would be no eraser. Instead, there would be a world-class instructor, a world-class club fitting and a world-class driving range bill. There would be a few blisters, a lot of shanks and a reasonable amount of doubt that I had improved whatsoever.

There would be enough CBD for a small army — enough to elicit a laugh when I opened the package from Medterra, our title sponsor. Little did I know, there’d be hardly enough to survive me through the month. Cooling cream that worked wonders on my aching joints after intense range sessions. Focus gum that worked so well, I began using it off the course. A roll-on cooling gel that saved a round from the depths of a tweaked back. And my personal favorite, a melatonin-infused tablet that provided the best night’s sleep I’ve had since the beginning of this hellscape year.

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And, at the end of it, there would be a different golfer altogether. With new clubs, a brand-new swing, and a new outlook on the game. There would still be the token inconsistency that plagues all high-handicappers, but the highs and the lows would be higher. The misses would be fixable. The mistakes teachable. The problems conquerable. Here’s how we did it.

Creating the 30-Day Challenge

To maximize my improvement, our instruction editor Luke Kerr-Dineen connected me with an expert by the name of Baden Schaff.

Schaff, who is an instructor himself, is the brains behind the virtual instruction platform Skillest, which connects golfers with elite instructors around the world. Through the Skillest app, golfers can send videos of their swing to instructors with the push of a button. In return, the instructors provide feedback, drills, and suggestions in much the same way as a traditional golf instructor.

For the 30-Day Challenge, Schaff elected to connect me with Steve Giuliano, a Malaysian-based instructor for a ton of high-level junior players. Steve (as you’ll see over the coming weeks), is something of an instruction guru, teaching both players AND other instructors on the best tips and tricks for straightening out your swing.

A monthly subscription to his coaching plan costs $400, but Giuliano’s commission is well-earned. He’s available seven days a week to provide swing advice at the drop of a hat, and a typical lesson cadence had me sending him my progress two-to-three times per week, far more than I’d ever be capable of affording traditionally.

To get started, I sent Giuliano a series of swing videos from the range (you can view my before sequence below), along with a detailed explanation of my struggles, frustrations, tendencies and goals. From here, Giuliano devised a lesson plan to help me solve my most basic mistakes. The fixes ranged from setup to follow-through, and the results were marked.

The ‘before’ sequence.

James Colgan

The ‘after’ sequence.

James Colgan

Typically, I’d take the week to work on drills (hitting, by my estimation, close to 400 balls per week at the range) and then implement those drills during a weekend round. This kept me honest, particularly as it related to scoring, and allowed me to keep a near-constant dialogue with Steve about my progression — all important things when you’re trying to make a significant improvement in an insignificant period of time.

I’ll detail the drills Steve and I worked on, and how working on a virtual feed actually made it easier for me to understand the concepts we were discussing later this week, but in broad strokes, our endeavor was wildly successful. My consistency (particularly off the tee and with my irons) has vastly improved, and I’ve added about a half-club length in distance without making any Bryson-esque adjustments to my swing. I’ve cleaned up a lot of the ugly, and have narrowed down my area for improvement to my short game.

Mostly, for the first time in my life, I have confidence about my golf game. I feel good standing over the ball, and I’m starting to think about scoring (and not just damage control) when I’m out on the course. Thirty days later, there’s a hell of a lot left to work on, but join me for the journey, because there’s a hell of a lot for every high-handicap hacker like me to learn.

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