“Better than a thousand days of deep study is one day with a great teacher.”
It is quite possible that we have more knowledge of the golf swing than we have ever had before. Like any other field, new and advancing technologies have enlightened us about the biomechanics of the sport and what it takes to play better. There are things we know to be true that once were considered heretical, and others things we know to be erroneous that we once held as gospel truths. As a result of 3-D measurements and enhanced video techniques, there should be little to no guesswork in swing diagnoses any longer. This much can be said: There are several reasons professionals are playing the game at such a high level; not the least of those reasons is technology and the knowledge we get from it.
But what about the amateur player, the club golfer or weekend warrior? Are they getting better? Statistically we can’t say they are. And if they are, it certainly is not proportional to our increase in knowledge. If we accept this premise as true, and I believe it is, then we have to explore why. Why is the average golfer not improving, or improving much more slowly than perhaps they should? As a lifetime member of the golf teaching community, I think the answer lies in teaching itself, and particularly in the learning format: the standard golf lesson.
One of the most frequent things I hear as a teacher is: “When we had the lesson, I got it; but I couldn’t carry it the golf course. In fact, the corrections only lasted a little while; I guess I went back to my old habits.” One of the reasons for this recurring phenomenon is this: the student simply never had “it” in the first place. They had a brief encounter with better contact of the golf ball through a series of motions completely unfamiliar to them, as directed by an instructor. That is light years from “getting it.” The inevitable lack of retention soon follows, and we go through this whole process again.
What then is the reason for this vicious cycle? I believe we need a paradigm shift in the whole process of teaching golf. The standard 30- or 60-minute lesson format needs to become part of golf instruction history. We need to establish a student/teacher arrangement that goes beyond this structure and can provide more long-term learning.
The lesson as it now stands is perfectly suited to short-term learning. One hour can provide a quick fix for some immediate problem such as slicing or shanking, but it fails to convey a deeper understanding of one’s whole swing dynamic, so the corrections never last for very long. I am suggesting an arrangement that would allow you to see your teacher as often as is needed to develop a better motion. These sessions can be quite brief, but should be much more frequent. If you think of a lesson as 60 minutes once a week to change some 30 years of habits, you will see why I think a different approach is needed and can be more effective. In a GOOD hour I might see a few new swings: perhaps one in every five will have something a little new to it. But as soon as that person gets on their own, the ratio might be down to 1 in 50! If you think that estimate is exaggerated, come spend a day with me on the lesson tee. Golfers, like anyone else, find the most familiar ways to do things, not new ways.
Another thing to consider might be the way in which information is conveyed in a lesson. Michael Hebron, a PGA Master Professional from New York, has done extensive research in this area (which I highly recommend golfers read). Basically what Hebron is saying is this: The day of the “how-to” lesson needs to go away. Students need to be much more active in their learning with the teacher acting as their guide. Instead of “how-to’s,” the teacher needs to provide learning opportunities for self discovery on the part of the student. The only long-term learning stems from self discovery; the current lesson format lends itself to short-term learning only!
This is why I try to provide ways for my students to get the information on their own as much as possible. If I stand on the tee and show them “how” on every swing, by the end of the lesson they will absolutely hit the ball better. And by the time they are driving home, they will have forgotten (mentally and physically) everything I showed them. More “aha” moments are necessary! “Oh I get that now” feelings and thoughts are the only way to get it.
Golfers also need to find new ways to practice golf. The benchmark in Southwest Florida has always been how many balls a golfer hits, or how many hours they spend on the practice tee. To actually improve, you may want to use a different barometer such as:
- How many NEW SWINGS did I make?
- How often did I change clubs and take 3-to-4 minutes between swings?
- Did I hit driver and then 7 iron five minutes later as I might on the golf course?
- Did I practice from random lies as found on the golf course, or did I tee it up every time on a perfect lie as I never do except on par 3s?
If you can hit driver and then 7 iron several minutes later and continue to hit it solid, you might really be getting in the groove, not a false sense of the groove provided by quick repetition of shots where you can auto-correct after a few swings. I’ll tell you what, if you hit a small bucket from the tee and another one into the green and take your best shots, I’ll bet you shoot a pretty good score! After a practice session, you’ll typically remember the best shots and forget the unplayable ones (scrambles are like that, because no one leaves a scramble hitting it poorly because all the “others” are tossed out). That’s why hitting balls on the range can be very misleading.
I have written about this before on this site and elsewhere, and I will continue to do so until golfers (and teachers) get the point. Although we may be teaching enlightened concepts, instructing students the same old way is not going to change anything.
If you are a physically capable person with a 20 handicap, I can see no reason why you cannot cut that in half in one year with the proper practice and instruction. Although I am still in the 1-hour framework, I have been trending away from it, and soon hope to be away from it altogether. What motivates me on a daily basis is improvement, because I know it can be done.
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.
The value of video
In the age of radar and 3-D measuring systems, video analysis has somewhat taken a backseat. I think that’s unfortunate for a few reasons. First of all, video is still a great assist to learning, and secondly, it is readily available and it can be accessed continually.
Of course, it has limitations, that is a given. It is ultimately a 2-D image of a three-dimensional motion. The camera cannot detect true path, see plane, and can be misleading if not positioned properly. That said, I still use it on every lesson, because, in my experience, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
Things like posture, ball position, and aim can all be seen clearly when the camera is positioned exactly as it should be. In swing observations such as maintenance of posture, club angles, arms in relation to body, over the top, under, early release can all be a great help to any student.
But the real value is in the “feel versus real” area! None of us, from professional to beginner, can know what we are actually doing. The very first reaction I get upon viewing, is “wow, I’m doing that?” Yes, you are. You did NOT pick up your head as you thought you were doing, you ARE lifting well out of your posture, you are NOT coming “over the top”, your aim is well left of where you think you’re aiming, your club is pointing well right of your aim point at the top of the swing, your transition is excessively steep, your lead arm is very bent at impact, the clubhead is past your hands, your wrists are cupped or bowed and on and on!
Some of these positions may be a problem; some may be irrelevant. It’s all about impact, and how you’re getting there that matters. The chicken wing that is causing you to top the ball may very well be the result of a very early release, or a steep transition, or too much waist bend etc. The weight hanging back on the rear leg may be the result of the club so far across the line at the top, and so on.
I never evaluate video without knowledge of ball flight or impact. If one were to observe a less-than-conventional swing, perhaps a Jim Furyk, with knowing how he put matching components together, it might seem like a problem area. Great players have matching components, lesser players do not! IMPACT is king!
I have a video analysis program, as I’m sure your instructor, or someone in your area, does as well. It can only help to take a good, close slow motion look at what is actually happening in your swing. It takes very little time, and the results can be massively beneficial to your golf swing.
Davies: How control the right hand at impact
Alistair Davies shows you how to work the right hand correctly through the hitting zone with a great drill and concept.
Shawn Clement: Dealing with injuries in your golf swing, lead side.
Happy Father’s Day weekend and U.S. Open weekend at none other than Pebble Beach weekend! Whoa, cannot wait to see the golf action today!
In this video, we talk about how to deal with hip, knee and ankle injuries to your lead side as this one is PIVOTAL (pardon the pun) to the success of any kinetic chain in a human. This kinetic chain is a golf swing. Now, what most of you don’t get is that you were born with action; like a dolphin was born to swim. Just watch 2-year-olds swinging a club! You wish you had that swing and guess what, it is in there. But you keep hiding it trying to hit the ball and being careful to manipulate the club into positions that are absolutely, positively sure to snuff out this action.
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