What Are My Chances of Making the Champions Tour (Or at Least Hitting the Golf Ball Really Far)?

Despite the fact that I am not very good at golf, my secret fantasy is to someday play on the Champions Tour, the professional golf tour for fifty-somethings. As I approach my 44th birthday, I realize that it is time to get serious in this endeavor.

The right way to spend my time if I really wanted to make the Tour, I suppose, would be to practice more. My friend Anders Ericsson popularized the magic number of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Depending on exactly what you count as practice, by my rough calculations I have logged about 5,000 hours of golf practice over the course of my life. Given how mediocre I am after the first 5,000 hours, however, I’m not so optimistic that the next 5,000 hours will lead me anywhere good.

So instead, I spent some time today figuring out how just how much I will need to improve. The best PGA tour pros tend not to have regular handicaps, but are said to be the equivalent of Plus 8 on the handicap scale, i.e. eight strokes better than a scratch golfer. I claim to be a six handicap. That means that, to a first approximation, if I played 18 holes today against the best players in the world, I should lose by 14 strokes.

The probability that I will improve by 14 strokes in the next six years is easy to estimate: zero.

Fortunately, my goal isn’t to be the best golfer in the world, just to be the worst golfer on the Champions Tour. Surely, that can’t be so hard, can it?

So I set out to measure just how much worse that guy is than the world’s very best golfers. A direct comparison is hard to make because the bottom feeders on the Champions Tour rarely play against the Tiger Woodses of the world. The stars of the Champions Tour do, however, play an occasional PGA Tour event. I was able to find 19 players who competed on both tours in 2010. On average, these players had a stroke average of 70.54 when playing on the Champions Tour, compared to an average of 71.77 when they played PGA Tour events. This suggests that the typical Champions Tour course plays a little more than one stroke easier than the typical PGA Tour course.

The top players on the PGA Tour post average scores of a little below 70 strokes per round, meaning that the upper echelon of senior golfers are about two strokes worse per round than the best players in the world. The low performers on the Champions Tour score around 73 on Champions Tour courses, or about two-and-a-half strokes worse than the top senior golfers. If the world’s best golfers are Plus 8 handicappers, then that means the “bad” golfers on the senior tour are roughly Plus 3 or Plus 4.

That’s “only” nine or ten strokes a round better than me. Surely I can close that gap! If I can squeeze merely one stroke of improvement out of each incremental 500 hours of practice, then by the time I hit 10,000 hours, I will be a Plus 4.

With that goal in mind, I recently started taking golf lessons for the first time since I was 13 years old. One reason I chose my new golf coach, Pat Goss, is that he was an undergraduate economics major at Northwestern. I thought maybe he would understand the way I think.

On our first meeting, Pat first told me I swing like a character out of Caddyshack, and then asked me what my goals were in golf.

I responded to his question with 100 percent honesty: “I want to play on the Champions Tour. But if you decide I’ll never be that good, then I have a very different objective. I don’t care the slightest bit about what my handicap ends up being in that case. All that matters to me then is being able to hit the ball as far as possible, even if I can’t break 100.”

I guess he’s not used to getting an honest answer to this question, because he was so overcome with laughter he practically fell to the ground.

The good news is that six lessons later we are still devoting time to perfecting my short game, suggesting he thinks I can achieve my dream of making the tour.

Or maybe he’s just maximizing revenue. After all, he is an economist by training.


Tom McGee

As I turned 50, I tried to move from 2 to scratch for 4 years and ended up a 6. Invested much time and money. The pressure of improving just made me worse. I hope story ends better. I'm a 4.5 now, playing 9 hickory shafted clubs and having much more fun!!! Blessings!

noto

Perhaps qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur could be an intermediate goal before age 50. The winner gets an invitation to the Masters.

KenC

I think your analysis is pretty close. I calculated a bunch of years ago what I thought it would take to play the Champions Tour, and it came out to a Plus 2, then again, I realized that the limited fields, made it difficult to impossible to qualify. If you can get yourself to a Plus 2, you're better off entering US Open qualifying and trying to make a US Open, rather than trying to play the Champions Tour.

And, your instructor is correct. Work on your short game and putting. I think that's where the extra 5000 hours make the difference between the pros and the strong amateurs.

I would highly recommend reading the Physics of Golf by Ted Jorgensen, a physicist. He may help you gain a few yards. The other book I recommend is an oldie, the Search for the Perfect Swing by Cochran and Stobbs.

Lastly, if you like videos, I highly recommend the movies that Bobby Jones did on the swing. Borders might have them very cheap! Sometimes they appear on TCM, Turner Classic Movies.

Honestly, everything I've learned about the golf swing have come from those two books and that series of videos. Nothing has changed, other than yardages. The biomechanics are the same. Your swing if it's the Danny Noonan swing is a classic from the polyester-era. A reverse-C. It's fine, but not built for maximal yardage.

Strangely, a decade ago when I was looking to get out of consulting, I applied for a job with Golf Magazine, as their instructional editor. They interviewed me because they were intrigued by my economics background. I didn't get the job, but I really didn't expect to, seeing as I had never taken a lesson in my life and had savaged some of the methods being taught by their current experts! Good luck.

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Jonathan

You don't mention that the scores the top pros are shooting are with every pin tucked three paces from the edge over a bunker with the greens stimping about 11-12 Most handicaps are established with the pins in the center of greens rolling about 8 or 9. I caddied for a friend of mine in the Mid-Am one year. The kid that beat him birdied 8,9, and 10 in the second round of the US Open at Pebble Beach last year. I'm an 8 handicap.

I'm sticking to engineering, and I advise you to stick to economics.

VB in NV

You forgot to factor in course difficulty...the PGA generally toughens courses for its events (and both Senior and LPGA courses are usually, but not always, not toughened).

GPO

I do agree that short game practice is quite important. That is the part of the game were most of us leak strokes. If you are a 6 you should not need a short game teacher. You just need reps. One suggestion, never practice a putt over 15 feet. You just don't make enough of them to matter that much. I suggest doing the old ladder approach. Putt from 3 feet until you make 10 in a row then move to 6 feet and then 9 feet.

Most importantly though it isn't soley about hours is more about how deep you practice. If you spend 2 hours practicing where it is more akin to screwing around that isn't even close to 20 minutes of deep serious practice. So if you are not serious when practicing then leave and come back.

Go read The Talent Code.

Lastly get your body in tip top shape. You won't gain the extra yards if you are not in shape. Work the core.

And play every tournament you can.

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DaveyNC

OK, first, with a 6 handicap, you are already in the 99th percentile of golfers.
Second, it's not just 10,000 hours of practice, it's 10,000 hours of purposeful practice. Not hitting a bucket of balls but hitting a bucket of balls to the left of the 135 yard marker and within 10 feet. Or to the right. Point is, have a specific purpose with each shot.

Do that and I think you make it. Now, as to how your economics career might suffer.....

wayne

Statistics just dont work in golf, what you think should be a plus 3/4 to make it to the champions tour is really a plus six in normal life, course set up, the pressure of actually playing for a living, the logistics of it all and then if you can handle that there might be 500 people just watching you put that 4 footer down a 12 stimped green, which is actually running close to 15 on the stimp, down the hill you are putting on! I am a 3 handicapp and i have played with Ross Fisher who has been number 23 in the world and to be honest he was so much better than me it was stupid, he shot 1 under on a course he had never played before ! This is something a lot of people forget playing your home course all the time is one thing, turning up at a venue you have no clue about and shooting sub par rounds is just a different level entirely. Best of Luck because you will need it......if you make it though let me know how,...i am 40 soon, maybe i still have a chance!!!! ;)

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Ed

Steven, your assertion that you are "not very good at golf" despite being having a Handicap of 6 is quite insulting to the weekend warriors like me! Oh, what I would give to shoot 6 over par just once in my life...

Stephen Beck

Steven,

As a fellow 6 Handicapper with the same ridiculously audacious goal I have just one piece of advice - enjoy the process of becoming the best golfer you can be.

On your analysis, I find it interesting. However, I wonder if a more telling analysis of the statistical probability of becoming the "worst golfer on the Champion's Tour" would be an analysis of the competition that exists for the limited number of spots that will be available. After all, David Toms is 44 years old as well, so the both of you will be eligible for the Champions Tour the same year. As for me, I get to compete with Jim Furyk for a spot! I'm not sure I like the odds - but the journey sure is fun!

I guess we can always take solace in the fact that you are a better economist than Toms and I am a better management consultant than Furyk.

Best,

Steve Beck
Managing Partner, cg42 | www.cg42.com | Effectively Create Demand

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Doug

Your chances are probably directly proportional to the number of hours you spend training in a meaningful way.

Nicholas

As a golf freak, I hope you periodically update us on your progress. It would be an amazing accomplishment. Good luck!

Andres Garcia

I don't personally play golf but I found this article very interesting. I have gone to driving ranges and putting greens but I have really honed the sophisticated skill of golfing well. I still consider myself an amateur but hopefully a couple rounds at mini golf might help.

Jason

Steven: Dan McLaughlin has the same idea. http://www.thedanplan.com/

10,000 hours to professionalism...

Chip Rich

Years ago, the legendary teacher Harvey Penick was approached by an Austin businessman who told him he was in his mid-forties, had several $million in the bank and wanted to dedicate himself to playing on the Champions Tour. Penick invited him out to the range and said: "You see that man at the end of the range; he's in his mid-forties, has several $million in the bank and also has dedicated himself to playing on the Champions Tour - He's Tom Kite.

Nick Chertock (@golfprogress)

Steven: Interested to hear how you're progressing with your goal. For anyone who doesn't know, Pat Goss is not just a college golf coach, he's also the pro for Luke Donald, current World #1.

I would estimate the odds of a 6 handicap who has already been playing golf for 5,000 hours to be lower than one who has been playing for considerably less time. But it doesn't mean that you can't have a few minor breakthroughs with your skills.

Have you attended any Champion's Tour events to evaluate your competition? These (older) guys are good!

claudio farrell

Hi Steven I just red your text and I felt that I'm not the only one in that situation ,I have been thinking about the idea of playing in the champions tour for the last couple of years, I'm 43 , I live in Argentina and I'm already a golf instructor, but since I do not do it for living, I think that I still have to work on my game to get rid of some silly strokes. Now the question is this, I would like to know what steps should I do to qualify for the champions when I'll reach 50? if anyone can answer me I'll really aprecciate it, who knows may be in some years from now we can all play at the same course. All the best to you and wait for an answer.

Jeff Rade

Two words: Bob Rotella

Jeff Rade

http://www.ehow.com/how_6388137_qualify-pga-senior-tour.html

TomK

Go for it! because I also am trying to see if I can make it to the Champions Tour by 2014 and I'm 60 with 7 handicap. Mental conditioning is top priority, in past I have play home field and done great and then joined local amater tour and just bombed because I was so freaked out by the pressure. I have improved on that since but still mental is more of the game then alot of players recognize...

Hope to see on tour someday and maybe if I last long enough we'll played together...