What I learned during a ball-striking challenge vs. my co-worker

There’s no one, perfect way to get better at golf — but it certainly doesn’t happen with ease by banging balls at the range without any sort of plan.

To really improve, you need focused, targeted practice. And, more importantly, you need feedback. Over the past few months, I’ve been among a handful of GOLF.com staffers who’ve benefited from both of these things. After a successful Room for Improvement campaign with GOLFTEC — in which several of our staffers across the U.S took lessons and chronicled their progress — we’re back for Year 2.

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This time it’s called the Room for Improvement Skills Challenge. The goal is to still get better, but this time we’re doing it head to head. Eight of us are competing in a bracket-style challenge with each matchup focusing on a different, targeted and important part of the game (driving, short game, etc). The winners keep advancing until we crown a champion.

My first-round opponent was Claire Rogers, GOLF’s social media manager, and our skills challenge was iron play.

The rules were simple:

(1) Pair up with a coach at a GOLFTEC location (Claire’s was in Cranston, R.I., and mine was in Minnetonka, Minn.).

(2) Take GOLFTEC’s irons skills challenge, which measures eight swings on a launch monitor and spits out a baseline rating based on your accuracy (or lack thereof) from four distances (two swings each from 120, 135, 150 and 165 yards).

(3) Try to improve on that number. Over a series of lessons, we’d aim to dial in those scoring clubs as much as possible, under the tutelage of our coaches. At the end of the regimen, we’d take the irons skills challenge again. Whoever posted the highest score would advance to Round 2.

The challenge

For starters, the baseline. As a 14 handicap, my initial score out of 100 was 76.3. Claire, a 16 handicap, scored 47.8. Since the challenge was simply who could score the highest, I was off to a great start. But this was no runaway competition.

“Right away, [GOLFTEC coach] Ryan [Galloway] noticed I switched my grip before I even start my takeaway, and that I bring the club way inside,” Claire said.

Claire’s hands started to more out toward the top swing plane line as she started her backswing before getting more vertical at the top.

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Me? I had my own problems. My swing still had a tendency to get too steep; so hand path was always something important for me to work on. My coach, Nick Pelle, brought out a noodle and a hula hoop to help me out.

“You are kind of using that noodle for your swing direction,” he said. “You are going to kind of pull your hands in along the hoop, and on the downswing, you want to try and get your clubhead to trace and follow the path of the noodle. If you hit the noodle that means your swing path got a little outside to in.”

This worked well for me, as did a Spiderman swing thought I already wrote about this year.

Over the next several weeks, we got to work, taking lessons, practicing and playing golf on our own time and trying to focus on the little but significant tweaks our coaches were helping us incorporate into our games.

After working a lot on her setup, address and hand path, Claire found some enormous gains when she returned for her second baseline test. Her new total? A whopping 73.5 — more than 25 points higher than her previous test.

I knew what I had to beat, but it didn’t start off well. For starters, I should have sandbagged more. When I did my first baseline test I hit my two shots from 120 yards to 10 and 16 feet, when the PGA Tour average from that distance is 20 feet.

I didn’t beat those numbers on my second go-around but still did well at that station. The difference came when we moved farther away from the target, as I got slightly better from all of those distances. From the last station (165 yards), for example, I scored an 81 compared to a 73 the first time.

The hula hoop helped Josh keep his swing less steep.

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I ended up improving too, going from a 76.3 to an 82, which was enough to edge Claire 82-73.5.

Now, if the competition would have been decided by who improved the most, Claire would have mopped the floor with me. (But I don’t make the rules!) But she deserves major props for some massive gains and being a good sport, to boot.

“I still feel like I learned a lot and my swing improved, so now when I’m on the course and things start to go wrong, I think I know my general tendencies, thanks to Ryan,” she said. “Where I can kind of say, ‘OK, here’s what I need to work on’ and kind of get myself back on track.”

Next up for me? I get to take on another co-worker in the semifinals of our office competition. We’ll face off in a short-game skills challenge, and the winner of that will head to the championship for one final battle. Wish me luck. And keep following along.

Watch this space for more episodes of the Room for Improvement Skills Challenge. To set up your own GOLFTEC swing evaluation or club-fitting, click the link below.

Swing Evaluation or Club Fitting for $125

60-minute fact-based swing evaluation with a certified coach Begin your GOLFTEC journey today!
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Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.