Golf data, coaching and the NFL: In conversation with Brian Jacobs

Words by
Josh Coles, Community Manager
Golf data, coaching and the NFL: In conversation with Brian Jacobs

Brian Jacobs is a former public school teacher, motivational speaker, Top 100 coach and Lead Instructor at the Golf Channel Academy. He is based in Rochester, New York, within close proximity to his beloved Buffalo Bills. Having played football at college, Brian has both a deep affinity for the game and an appreciation of how it has harnessed data to drive performance gains. He operates a 'no data, no lesson' mantra in his extensive teaching practice, which includes several current and ex-NFL players among his clients.

Asked how NFL players differ from the golfers he teaches in terms of their relationship with data, Brian says: “They look at analytics. When do you punt? When you go for it on fourth? That's all they do in the NFL. It's a chess match with human beings based on tendencies."

Brian with Eric Wood, ex-NFL Pro Bowler and one of his current students. Photo: Brian Jacobs

During his college football career, Brian admits he became a "big film watcher", at a time when watching video of opponents wasn't as prevalent as it is now. "I always wanted to know tendencies," he explains. 

"I wasn't the most talented, so I had to find advantages. I was fortunate enough to have a coach in my junior year who played in the NFL for a number of years. He was a punt returner and a defensive back. Defensive backs generally have to know how every part fits. They have to know what's happening in front of them. The front end needs to know what the back end is doing. All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together. When I train football players, I just say, 'Hey, it's going to be just like your football experience, we're going to use analytics.'"

We’ve heard a number of the coaches in the Clippd Community suggest that a huge opportunity exists for golf to harness data to direct teaching and drive performance. Brian attributes the fact golf currently lags behind other sports in part to conditioning: “There's a sense that golf is leisure so why would I put anything into it? And then you're fighting tradition vs. progression.”

“The student has to be accountable to us, we have to be accountable to them. You have to set a pipeline of communication”

Brian Jacobs

“If you're not accumulating data, you can't show progression,” he insists. “I need to look at somebody and say, 'Look, here's where you were on October 1st. Here's where you were on December 1st. And here's where you are on April 1st.' When they say they're not progressing, you can show them that their putts per rounds have dropped by four, their handicap has gone down by three. I have to be able to show people.”

Although Brian is an advocate for data collection and firmly believes in its value, he’s also aware of the risk of over complicating things for his players. This is why he keeps his focus predominantly to four key aspects of a player's game – fairways in regulation, greens in regulation, scrambling and putts per green.

Brian at work with one of his students

He also believes that the player embarks on a specific journey in the process to betterment, one which follows this progression: inspiration (internal or external), self discipline, discovery (coach driven and/or self), confidence, competence, mastery and then win.

It is vital, he maintains, that there is accountability in the coaching process, which stems from the dialogue between player and coach. “The student has to be accountable to us, we have to be accountable to them," he says. "You have to set a pipeline of communication. I call my traditionalists, and I text my contemporaries. It's the way the world moves and we can't wish that somebody is a certain way, we have to make them that way. As coach, you're the leader. By being accountable to your students, they become accountable to you, and it becomes a very natural normal relationship between coach and player.”