Niall McGill, Foremost Golf Professional of the Year 2017

Last Monday, my brother was voted the Foremost Golf Professional of the Year, one of the most prestigious awards of the year in his profession.

Niall’s been a Golf Professional for 25 years, but golf’s been a big part of his life since he was a small child. As an amateur golfer, Niall was outstanding. It was like he played a different game than the rest of us. He won a LOT of events, and it was no surprise when he decided to turn Pro. These were the days before mobile phones & the Internet, so no live scoring or twitter updates – we had to wait for a call from Niall to find out how he’d got on.

Fast forward to 2001 and after playing on tour for a few years, then living and teaching in Portugal, Niall took over the driving range at Noah’s Ark in our hometown of Perth. Straight away he put what he’d learned playing and working all over the world into practice. This was never going to be ‘just another driving range’.

A real student of the game, and blessed with an ability to explain a complicated game in simple terms (maybe something he inherited from our dad, who loved the game), Niall embraced technology and drove the sport forward. He’s now a respected coach, working with players of all standards from beginners to Tour players.

Despite the ‘Tiger effect’, golf’s struggled over the past few years, with some courses closing and clubs struggling to make ends meet. Not the best time to take over the running of a local municipal course. Yet, that’s exactly what Niall did back in 2014, taking over the running of the North Inch Golf Course in Perth, one of the oldest courses in the world. You can read more about how Niall’s transformed the fortunes of ‘The Inch’ here.

Through all of these years, Niall’s worked incredibly hard, often clocking seven day working weeks. He’s never had the normal weekends that those of us who work in offices are used to – golf’s busiest days are on the weekends. We don’t think about this when we rock up to the course or driving range, expecting to see the Pro there. We see them more at the weekend than their family do. For the Golf Pro, that’s just part of the job.

So, after 25 years in the sport, to finally be recognised for all of the work you’ve done, for all of the blood, sweat and tears, it must feel pretty damn good.

We’re all proud of you Niall, and I know that dad will be up there looking down more proud than any of us.

Re-thinking Golf Coaching

As readers of my blog will know, I used to play golf at a pretty decent level. Back then, I had a Coach, but that was rare for an amateur golfer. Not much has changed in the 13 years since then. 

When I started bike racing, pretty quickly I found a coach who could guide me on this new journey. I was expecting a cycle coach to be the same as a golf coach, but nothing could be further from the truth! Whilst the vast majority of golf coaches are really just giving lessons – it’s almost all about technique – in cycling it’s about a long term improvement plan. That plan will include some technique work, but it will also include fitness, strength & conditioning, nutrition & hydration, lots of data analysis, and race tactics. We’d sit down at the end of every season and review the year gone by. We’d set goals and objectives for the years ahead, short & long term goals, and then the plan would be built around how we would achieve those goals. Each month my coach would send me my training plan, we’d discuss specific sessions and there would be regular communication & feedback, particularly after races. I’d maybe see Ken physically 2 or 3 times a year, no more.

But as I said, golf’s not like that. What I’ve just described as an athlete / coach relationship would be alien to all but the most serious elite or professional golfers. Many amateurs will say they have a ‘coach’, but really it’s just the local pro that they go to for lessons periodically. In the vast majority of cases there will be no structure to this. That’s not an improvement plan, that’s just taking lessons.

However, there is a new generation of golf coaches, Pros who think differently about the game and who recognise that the old model needs to change and who are innovating. I’m proud to say that my brother, Niall McGill, is one of them. Niall launched his new Performance Coaching website today. With Niall’s Ultimate Plan, at only £30 a month (which is less than I paid for cycle coaching!), enlightened golfers can now work with a coach who will help them to improve in a structured way, looking at all aspects of their game and using our LowerYourScores stats system to analyse their on-course performance. 

Despite all of the technology in the game of golf, it’s still a very traditional sport that doesn’t like change. It will be interesting to see how long it takes golfers to adapt to this new way of playing the game. To me this is a no brainer. If I was still playing I’d sign up straight away.

Rolling the rock….

tiger_woods_puttingI spoke in my last post about the importance of putting in the game of golf. For someone like me, shooting 70-75, 40% of all shots I hit in a round of golf will be with the flat stick.

How many of us have ever had a putting lesson, or had a putter fitted? Yet we’ll hit thousands of balls in search of the ‘perfect’ swing and pay hundreds of pounds for a driver that promises us another 10 yards off the tee (or further into the trees in my case!).

You want to lower your scores? Have a putting lesson, then  put some hours in on the green. It’s not as sexy as hitting it 300 yards, but it WILL improve your game!

Until this week, I’d only ever had two putting lessons in my life from a PGA pro – albeit that’s probably two more than most amateurs. But in my second life as a golfer, and coming from a background in cycling, I’m all about the marginal gains these days. And so it was that I found myself in Billy Fyfe‘s putting lab at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre on Monday morning.

Billy recorded me hitting a dozen putts with the Quintic radar system, which gave us a tonne of data. We also got some video footage of my setup & stroke (is my hair really that grey?).

With this data, Billy was able to identify a few areas for improvement starting off with my setup. This was great, because I hadn’t been feeling comfortable with the putter since I started to play again. With the help of the GEL putting mirror, I now feel much better over the ball and know that it’s a much better setup that will help me stroke the ball better.

After dialing in my setup, Billy then checked my putter loft & lie – it needed tweaked from 68.5 to 69.5 degrees and immediately it felt better. Finally we spoke about my putting stroke – on the video my shoulders were moving a lot, creating an in to out stroke so we’ve changed this to a rocking style and again it feels good.

It’s now about putting some time in on the practice green and also working with the mirror at home to make the changes feel more natural.

Onwards!

Progress….

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated the blog, it’s been a busy start on all fronts to 2013!

On the golf front things are coming together nicely. I’ve been working hard on my swing with monthly coaching from Niall. I’m loving Flightscope, being a bit of a data geek – you can clearly see and measure improvement (or otherwise!). I’ve put in a lot of hours on the range, both at Noah’s Ark when I’m in Perth and at my new golfing base in Aberdeen, the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre.

As well as being a good driving range, PLGC also has some excellent short game facilities as well as a 9 hole par 3 c ourse and I’ve been making more and more use of them as the season approaches. My chipping and bunker play feels pretty good!

I’ve continued to work on my fitness with Steve Bonthrone, and I’ve actually developed some arm & shoulder muscles. That’s the cycling career definitely over then!

However, the biggest thing in the past few months has been my focus on putting. In a round of golf, almsot 40% of the shots I hit are going to be with the putter, but we spend all day long hitting balls on the range. Seems crazy, doesn’t it. Sure, I need to be able to get (and keep!) the ball in play, but scoring’s going to be done by the wedges and putter – one of the main reasons I joined PLGC was the short game facilities that they have.

Via twitter I heard about the AimPoint green-reading system and was intrigued. The appliance of science to something, which to me had always been guesswork, I liked that! After talking to my brother about it, I decided to give it a go.

AimPointLogo

After a bit of research and some emails back and forth I managed to get myself booked on an AimPoint Fundamentals course at Falkirk golf club at the end of March. Wow! It was like someone switched the lights on! I’m not going to give away any of the AimPoint secrets here – you can go on the course for that – but if you’re serious about improving your game then this is a no brainer. On the day, every putt I read seemed to go in the center of the hole – it was like magic!

Frustratingly, the first couple of weeks of the season have been delayed due to snow, however after not playing seriously for almost a decade another couple of weeks aren’t going to hurt. I’m excited to start playing, let’s see what happens….

It’s always been done this way…..

It’s now a decade since I last played competitive golf. I’d grown up playing the game, my dad was the club captain, and my brother, Niall, became a professional golfer. On his day Niall could be as good as anyone.

However, I started taking the game too seriously – as many low handicap guys do – and stopped enjoying it. And so I stopped. I just quit playing competitively, then I found the bike and that was  that. A decade in the golfing wilderness, finding excuses NOT to play. I limited myself to a couple of games a year with my son and my brother.

Being the competitive type, I ended up becoming a competitive cyclist. This was a whole new sport to me, I had no idea where to start, so I got myself a coach. With no preconceptions about how you should do things, I put my faith in Ken, and over the past few years achieved more than I ever imagined I could. And now I’ve found golf again.

It’s funny – the way that people play and practice hasn’t changed in the time I’ve been away. The average handicap is still the same, and the majority of golfers don’t have a coach. They want to improve, some even set themselves goals and targets, but then blind faith takes over. And funnily enough nothing changes. As someone once said “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”. Range1

With my experience from cycling, I’m now looking at golf in a totally different light. I’ve got myself one of the best coaches (my brother Niall of course!), but also in Team McGill I have a fitness instructor a nutritionist and a mind coach.

In cycling we always had a training plan, so I’ve taken that and adapted it for golf. I even have recovery weeks built in! Fortunately Niall is a modern golf coach – a lover of technology and someone not afraid to challenge the status quo. And of course I’ll have our software system, www.loweryourscores.com to provide my team with performance data just like Training Peaks did for my cycling coach.

Just because “it’s always been done this way”, doesn’t mean that’s how we have to do things! Stay tuned……

 

What is LowerYourScores?

As you may know, we’ve recently gone into beta-testing with our web app, www.loweryourscores.com

background

 

LowerYourScores is designed to be an in-depth game analysis system, which will give you detailed information on every part of your game.  There are several statistics programmes on the market that record basic stats like fairways hit, greens in regulation, sand saves, total putts etc, but unfortunately this is not detailed enough information to allow you to accurately identify what you should work on to improve your game.

The game of golf is made up of 4 main disciplines, driving, approach play, short game & putting, but overall stats of these disciplines are not enough – we need to delve deeper if we want to improve.

Do you miss more fairways right than left? How much more accurate is your 3 wood off the tee than your driver? How do your short, medium & long approach shots stack up against each other?  When you hit a green in regulation, how close are you actually from the pin?  Do you up and down the ball more from 30 yards than 10 yards? Do your putts miss more left or right, and how many putts do you leave short?  Do you hole out better from 5 feet than from 3 feet, and are you hitting your long putts close enough to take the pressure off your second putt?

Golf is all about marginal gains.  Small increases in performance across several disciplines amount to a much larger improvement overall, but just like everything else in life that is worth doing, it will take a little bit of time and effort. However, with the information that we’ll capture in LowerYourScores at least you’ll know where you should be focusing that time!

Practice Plans

When you practice golf, do you do it with a plan? Or do you just go to the range and whack balls. The majority of people in the UK fit into the latter category. They think they’re practising, but they’re not, they’re just beating balls. Nothing wrong with that, as range owners we love it! But if you want to lower your scores and improve your game, a plan is key.

In 1999 I started working with the late Adam Hunter. We had a lesson once a month, always followed up by Adam with an emailed plan for the next month. The spreadsheet he’d send would capture all of the stuff we’d worked on, the drills we’d done, and it had a four week progression for my driving range practice. This stuff works – over the 3 years I worked with Adam, my handicap steadily dropped, and I was capable of shooting sub-par rounds in the heat of competition. He helped me shape a game that I could be proud of.

Coming back to golf a decade later, having only played less than a handful of times a year since 2006, I’m going back to basics. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, I recently had a lesson with my brother using the Flightscope. Niall gave me some drills to work on and I’ve been doing those whenever I go to the range with Andy. Today was the first day I’d been able to go to the range on my own and hit 100 balls. So I went back to how I used to practice.

First off, I did a full warm-up. Hitting balls when you’re muscles aren’t ready just leads to bad shots and frustration. Then I hit 10 balls to loosen up, mostly with the wedges.

Now I was ready for the main part of the session – 8 sets of 4 drills & 2 full shots, thinking about the drills on each shot. I put in a quality session, taking my time and swinging smoothly. I have an image of Paul Lawrie in my mind when I swing – he has such a beautiful rhythm. Then I played 9 imaginary holes at the course I grew up on – the Island. It’s a great way to practice. You start off on the tee at the first hole and hit the shots you would play until you get on the green. Then you move on to the next hole. I do this as if I’m actually on the course, full pre-shot routine and visualise the shot I want to hit. My imagination is pretty good, so I can actually ‘see’ the hole in my mind’s eye.

After that, I’m left with about 20 balls and those are used for short game practice. How many people do you see on the range hitting wedges, chip shots, etc? Not many. But where do you make your scores on the course? Around the green. Adam always told me to finish with 20-30 balls just on the short game.

All in all, that took about an hour. It’s the first time since 2002 that I’ve done a practice session like that. It’s hugely satisfying – you know you’ve put in a shift, and that every ball has counted. I’ll be doing a lot more of this, with Niall’s help, over the winter. So that by the time March comes around, I’m ready….