Golfer 8 - The Player Who Went from a 5 to Scratch

Michael Hutchinson is Arccos' Senior Director of Data Science. In a recent investigation of 5+ hcp golfers who reached scratch, one golfer's improvement really jumped off the page. "Golfer 8," as he was labeled in the dataset, was losing 3.984 strokes per round off the tee to a scratch golfer when he first became an Arccos member. Fast-forward 10 months to September of 2023 and he was gaining +1.387 per round. That's a swing of 5.37 strokes per round off the tee alone!

Now over to Hutch for the follow up of “Golfer 8”…

My first reaction was one of skepticism, assuming I made a mistake. Such drastic improvements in a single category are exceptionally rare, even among high handicap golfers who have the most room for growth. To see a 5 stroke swing in one category for a single digit golfer is practically unheard of, and to do it in less than a year is even more amazing.

As I dug into Golfer 8’s data and analysed his dispersion, a picture began to emerge. In his first 200 drives as an Arccos Member, Golfer 8 incurred 32 penalty strokes, with another 23 drives requiring recovery. Compare that to the 200 drives he hit between November and December of 2023 in which he had only 3 penalties and 11 drives needing recovery. The difference in Strokes Gained for drives 1-200 vs drives 1601-1800? 58.6 strokes!!

In the gif below you can see this change in dispersion over time. The shot pattern tightens dramatically and we see the number of penalty shots begin to dwindle. Not only that, he managed to add between 10 and 20 yards to his median drive distance.


At a certain point in this type of analysis we reach the end of what we can learn from the data alone. In this case, I was dying to find out what Golfer 8 had done to improve so dramatically. Did he get lessons? Was he a junior golfer progressing exceptionally fast? Did he make some radical change to his swing or the amount of time he spent practicing? I asked Arccos’ own Ciara Smith to reach out and see if this person would be up for a chat.

A week later I hopped on a video chat with Golfer 8 (aka AJ) and spent the next hour picking his brain.

AJ is an acquisitions and development director at a Los Angeles based commercial real estate firm and lives with his wife, Brooke. He played competitive ice hockey growing up and now at 30 years old, channels that competitive streak into his golf game.

There are a few noteworthy but unsurprising things about AJ’s improvement journey. 

In January of 2023 he joined a local club, giving him the ability to play a lot of golf on a familiar track. He’s athletic with a solid build and the hockey background translates into impressive swing speed. He practices consistently, has a putting station in his office, and uses his Arccos data to address the problem areas of his game.

Equally important are the things AJ does not do. He doesn’t go chasing quick fixes or dives down YouTube rabbit holes, preferring instead to consult his dad when he’s looking for swing advice. As a follower of Lou Stagner who has absorbed the “manage your expectations” mantra, AJ does not get too down on himself when he’s striking it poorly, and has learned to reduce the big numbers, accepting that when out of position, a bogey can be a good score. 


I expected most of this, but as I pressed AJ to dig further, he mentioned something that made my ears perk up. As we were looking through his charts at a trend line showing when his driving began to turn around, he mentioned “That’s probably about when I went to the shorter driver shaft”.

I asked him to tell me more and AJ went on to explain that during a trip to the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) in San Diego, CA, club fitter Joey Saewitz thought that AJ’s dispersion and strike patterns might benefit from taking some length off the standard driver shaft. He fit AJ into a TSR2 with a Fujikura Ventus TR 7 Blue shaft cut down to 43.5”.

Joey reasoned the shorter shaft would help him keep the ball in play more, but warned it might cost him a few yards. “That was the only thing he was wrong about,” AJ said when we chatted. “I actually ended up gaining distance.”

In theory, a longer shaft equates to more distance because it’s easier to generate more club speed. But if you’re having trouble hitting the center of the face, those gains are quickly lost. AJ struggled with a toe strike pattern that cost distance and resulted in more foul balls.

We can see the impact of off-centre strikes in the image below, originally posted by Lou Stagner. Lou took the GCQuad strike pattern data from 27 amateur golfers hitting 5,477 drives and calculated the average drive distance based on strike location. In the analysis, Lou found that a low heel strike, for example, resulted in a ~15% loss in distance compared to a centre strike. This doesn’t even take the resulting dispersion differences into account as an off-center strike is subject to more gear effect and a wider range of misses.

As most golfers know intuitively, it’s easier to hit the center of the face with a shorter shaft. Once again, Lou has some data to back this up, this time from a friend who compared his 45.5” shaft to a 42.75” shaft, both with the same driver face. The tighter grouping with the shorter shaft helped move the percent of shots >30 yds offline from 17.5% to 12.4%. On the course this would translate to fewer penalties and punchouts, and more greens in regulation.

For AJ, this new driver gave him greater confidence off the tee, and as he found the center of the face more often, both distance and accuracy improved. Over the next 10 months he worked diligently on his game and by the end of Summer of 2023, he reached scratch for the first time in his playing career.


Whether it’s the importance of consistent practice/play, reducing big numbers, or finding the right equipment, there’s a lot we can learn from AJ’s improvement journey. Some of you reading this may be tempted to head to your local golf megastore and take an inch or two off your driver, and if you’re struggling to keep the ball in play, it may be worth some testing. But I think there’s a more nuanced lesson to be learned. 

For AJ, the path to becoming a really good driver of the golf ball started with understanding his own data, through Arccos, and seeing where he had the most opportunity to improve. Rather than chase quick fixes on his own, AJ sought out advice from an expert club-fitter who was able to find a solution that addressed his particular issues, and importantly, knew which parameters to tweak to keep launch numbers optimised. Simply taking a couple inches off your driver is going to impact your ball flight in other ways that may not be what you need.

Follow Up for Arccos Members:

If you are an Arccos Member and end up shortening your driver shaft, shoot an email to Michael Hutchinson at with the subject “Driver Shaft Change”. 


  1. The email address tied to your Arccos account
  2. The specs of your previous driver / shaft (make/model/length)
  3. The specs of your new driver / shaft
  4. The date of the change (I’ll analyse rounds before and after)

If there’s enough interesting data the team will look to do a follow-up to see if there are any conclusions.