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Looks or numbers: What makes a better golf swing?

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I have seen many things come and go during my 20 years on the lesson tee. But the two things that have stuck around and will continue to be a necessity for golf instructors are digital video analysis (the best is V1 by Interactive Frontiers), as well as club and golf radar systems such as Flightscope and Trackman. Those technologies have revolutionized the golf teaching industry and allowed golfers to improve faster and easier than ever before.

If you don’t think video and golf radar tools have made golf instruction easier, try to shorten a golfer’s swing without using video to show him or her the length of the old swing versus the new one. Or try and help someone to understand the ratio between swing direction, face angle and angle of attack without power of golf radar.

But all of the focus on modern teaching tools reminds me of a day on the lesson tee with a tour player I taught almost 15 years ago in Destin, Fla., named Don Reese, who said one of the most powerful things I have ever heard. Don and I were working on his backswing. I was trying to get his club and arms into a “more classic” position at the top, because it was my view that if there was less motion to the top, he would have an easier time with his transition and improve his consistency.

At the time, Reese was in his late 40s and had played professional golf for most of his adult life, so obviously he could play and didn’t need too much with his swing. But I wanted him to move into a much tighter position than he was used to at the top. As we discussed the new position and checked the video comparisons, Reese said that while he knew the new position looked better on camera, he “couldn’t play from there.” Since the player he has the final say, we moved in a different direction.

At that point in my instructional career, I incorrectly believed that if it looked “better” on camera that it MUST translate into better swings and better scores. This brings me to the current debate on golf radar and its merits or lack thereof when it comes to helping people play better, especially tour professionals. My question is this: Do better “looks” or better numbers always mean “better” swings?

Golf Video Analysis

Who knows if Nicklaus would have been better if he tightened his right elbow at the top, or if Tiger would have broken Jack’s record at this point in his career if his head was steadier. Would Phil have hit the ball more consistently off the tee if he shortened his backswing? Or would all these players have played WORSE if you they tried to correct these “flaws?”

I firmly believe that everyone has something in their swing that they always “fight.” Some golfers cannot get their grip right, while others can’t seem to get the takeaway on track. As always, there are many things that teachers and players can tighten up without too much work. But when I do so I am very cognizant that I keep the player’s individuality within their golf swing.

I do not believe in model swings, or forcing everyone into better “looks” or better “numbers” at all costs because my job is to take everything into account in order to make the best decision for the player in front of me. It is my job to maintain playability while improving the player’s overall motion based on his goals, not mine.

Trackman Screen Grab

All too often, inexperienced teachers formulate their ideas of how the student should swing instantly after checking the video or launch monitor. These teachers are only making sure the “looks” are there without regard to what the player feels or what the ball actually does in the air.

So in order to more effectively use the modern tools of video and golf radar, I suggest interviewing the player, figuring out his goals, gathering the video and data during the course of a few shots using different clubs and then discussing with the player what you suggest as the best course of action. I firmly believe the better the player, the more give and take there should be between the teacher and the student. It’s my thought that I am only on the lesson tee to facilitate the gap between what the player feels and what fundamental changes will move them in the best direction.

A final thought: Sure, in most cases as the look and numbers get in a more positive direction the player should improve to some degree. However, sometimes it’s OK to have a flying right elbow, a funky grip or slight head motion on video. You can win golf tournaments with a faulty angle of attack, a path that is too across the line or launch angles that are not quite optimal. It ALL must work into what the player and you decide TOGETHER!

Remember, golf instruction is not all about pleasing the machine or making everyone look the same. It’s about what works best for that particular player in the end.

Read More Tom Stickney II : What Flightscope and Trackman can tell you (and me)

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jack

    Oct 18, 2013 at 5:57 am

    From what I’ve seen with most amateurs, it’s easier to try to compensate for swing faults then to build a perfect swing. How many swings out there look like a computer model and is played by an amateur? I’d say a very small population. I’m trying to make my swing look good, but in the process I’ve lost the ball striking feel and free flow feeling in the swing. It’s much more mechanical feeling now, for better or worse.

  2. corey

    Oct 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    couldnt agree more, fit the swing to the player not the player to the swing. i think its important that a teacher find out what physical issues/traits a student might have: how flexible they are, any injuries, and also what’s their dominant side/eye

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The Wedge Guy: Manage your lay ups

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Having written a blog and responded to hundreds of questions about wedge play, one question I seem to get very often is something like this:

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I highly advise you to learn your comfortable full-swing distances with your wedges, dissect them even more with precise hand placement, and play to those yardages. You’ll see immediate results.

 

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