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The dark side of too much change

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In 2010, I wrote a book called “You are a Contender!” that highlighted a key characteristic of high performers called high achievement drive. Achievement drive is essentially your ability to set your own personal standard of excellence and not be constrained by the expectations of others.

Athletes with a high achievement drive set their own standard, and this is how they can separate themselves from the pack. They have little concern for how others are doing, and a singular focus on their own abilities. Obvious examples are Tiger Woods winning the 1997 Masters by 12 shots, The Open Championship in 2000 by 8 shots and the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots. Recent examples are the runaway major championship victories by Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

But can this pursuit of achievement be taken too far? Can achievement drive actually damage your game after a certain point?

Golf’s law of diminishing returns

Having experience consulting to world-class athletes, I often see achievement drive taken too far and misdirected. Some athletes believe that making big changes will always create big results. Change is healthy and change is good, but I can tell you it can be overdone. It can sometimes lead to an obsessive search for perfection that can inevitably lead to performance decline and frustration.Results-vs-Effort-e1337318296352
You are likely familiar with the economic principle of the law of diminishing returns. It basically states that the tendency for a continuing application of effort or skill toward a particular project or goal will decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved. Very simply, if you reach a certain level in something, there comes a point where the quest to perfect it no longer creates important returns for the time invested.

The law of diminishing returns applies in everything, including golf. At some point, as we are currently seeing with Tiger Woods, the investment in trying to constantly improve swing technique and ball-striking does not generate better results.

You know and I know that it isn’t reasonable to expect to hit perfect golf shots. After all, we are surrounded by imperfection, and it is a fact that nothing in golf or life is perfect. The human body isn’t perfect, and neither are golf equipment or golf courses. So to expect to reach a level of perfection in striking a golf ball is an unreasonable goal.

I think you would agree if you saw Tiger Woods in 2000 that a golf ball has rarely been struck with the precision and power that he demonstrated at that time. And through 2005, Tiger won most of the events he entered. He owned the game.

Is it reasonable to think that a ball could be struck, or the game could be played, that much better than Tiger did it in 2000?

The greatest hitter of a golf ball may have been Ben Hogan, who worked and worked to perfect a swing that would not hook the ball. Hogan did this through necessity; a lack of control in his early days as a young pro led to disappointing results. But even Hogan admitted that he only hit 5 to 6 shots in every round round that were exactly what he wanted. The rest were expected misses.

Less science, more art

Golf is a subtle mix of art and science. In the pro ranks, we see extremes of both. At one end of the spectrum there are “technical” players who focus mostly on their mechanics. At the other end of the spectrum there are “feel” players who play primarily by instinct. In the period of time from 2000-2005, Tiger Woods may have been the perfect blend of art and science. His fundamentally sound, fluid golf swing created great speed and precision, and his mechanics were blended with an instinctive genius and courage to create and invent shots around the greens that others might not have attempted. And, to top it all off, Tiger was also arguably the Tour’s best putter!

Some golfers forget, however, that once the basic, fundamental science has been achieved, the development of the art becomes the key. Creativity, feel, imagination, decision-making, life balance and other little details continually help a golfer develop into something better and more consistent. Jack Nicklaus seemed to understand this. Like Woods, he also had prodigious talent, but he knew his limitations. He continued to refined his game, had great life balance and became the most consistent golfer in history.

Tiger-Butch

A golf ball can only be struck so well. When science becomes the obsessive focus, the art part of the equation suffers. In continually trying to be more technical and more perfect with the swing motion, the genius within players can be diluted and other areas of the game, that have been reliable strengths can suffer.

Achievement drive is important, but proceed with caution

Achievement drive is important in golf and everything else in life, as is the ability to set a personal standard of excellence. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to take on new challenges is key, but you must also remember the law of diminishing returns. Because perfection is not attainable or possible, at some point in your development the pursuit of art should be more of a priority over the unattainable, seductive goal of perfect science.

While swing coaches, short game experts and putting gurus are all important to develop your capabilities and are key to building your skills, don’t forget to pay attention to instinct, the object of the game, simplicity and other less scientific factors as important factors to continue your development as a player. Exercise caution when you think about changing what already works.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Scott Thomson

    Sep 6, 2015 at 8:16 am

    In other words, “Golf is not a game of perfect”. Took me years as a young player to understand this phrase and now I spend every day explaining it to others. Excellent read John.

  2. martin

    Sep 3, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    All heroes will die in eventually. There is no miracles out there to stop the declining process. It is just the way the life, as we know it, works… But Go Tiger! You will beat Sneads record, but Jacks record will stay unbeaten… “This is The End, my only friend The End”…

  3. Mat

    Sep 3, 2015 at 9:27 am

    An argument could be made that the graph should actually be an upside-down U.

  4. JH

    Sep 3, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I was left a bit confused as to the message of the article. At first I took it as too much change is bad and you shouldn’t do it, as the title suggests. Then it goes into Tiger and how he has performed, followed by the law of diminished results, followed by something else. I’m sure they are all inner related, but I don’t understand the message. Is it to accept my own ability and when I see a peak in performance no matter what the score sheet suggest I should take that as the best and at that point will never play better? I think I kind of took the message that way, which leads me to think this is a dangerous article for the average golfer. The average golfer will probably read this and think oh that explains why I shoot in the 100s all the time. I guess I’ll accept that and realize I can never get better because of the law.

    If I’m off base let me know.

    • John Haime

      Sep 3, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Hey JH,
      Thanks for the comment – completely understand your thoughts.

      For everyone, the situation is different. For Tiger, reaching the pinnacle in 2000 – after years of developing his skillset – the law of diminishing returns applies to the swing motion. As you know, you can only hit the ball so well – does it really matter if you are in the middle of the fairway or almost in the middle of the fairway? In his case, completely changing the science instead of refining with the art – will only produce marginal returns – maybe.

      For the “average” player, based on their effort levels, talent, time put in etc. – will determine their point of diminishing returns. If an average player can keep the ball in play and generally hit the ball solidly – will the time constantly changing the swing motion generate return in their scores? Or, will effort to manage their game better, understand emotional trigger points, additional work on short game/putting and a better perspective on the game help them lower scores? I think each individual has their own point of diminishing returns based on a variety of factors.

      I am a big believer in change to improve and move forward. But, when achievement drive runs amok and change is done for the sake of change – and ego runs the show – this is when change becomes unhealthy. And, remember, that “other” change continues by improving the little subtle “art” parts of the game that can improve scoring.

      Hope this makes sense.

  5. Aren

    Sep 3, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Good article and in my respectful opinion on the money.

  6. marcel

    Sep 2, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    nice article and great comparison. however there is major difference between individual sports person and anonymous economic sphere. Tiger is going thru what every sports man will go thru – Decline in physical elasticity and recovery. More prone to injuries and longer time to recover. Tiger is no longer looking for perfection but rather to find what can he do best at the age and body he has. Tiger is still a stellar player by every measure… but there are these kids that play better.

    We are going to see decline in 30+ major winners and winners in general. I believe there was lots of performance juice in the game before… and now you can see that young bodies keep being consistent and old guys one good week in 2-3 months.

    • John Haime

      Sep 3, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Hey Marcel – thanks very much for your thoughts and comment.

      IMO diminishing returns applies in everything. There is always a relationship between effort and results in performance. At some point, athletes determine when additional effort does not produce additional results.

  7. other paul

    Sep 2, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Tigers initial changes with Haney were to try and take pressure off his knees. Then they just kept going. I am in the process of a huge over haul and can’t wait to have my new swing finalized.

  8. Christestrogen

    Sep 2, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Didn’t he win like 79 tournaments? Hard to argue with his formula.

    • John Haime

      Sep 2, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Good point Christestrogen – agreed.

      But, I think you’ll agree that the law of diminishing returns applies here as the swing motion has become less effective after 15 years of major changes. We all know Tiger is a genius and could have won (and did win) with a variety of swings, but imagine the long-term performance with the swing that had all 4 majors in 2000 with the addition of an incremental mastery in the “art” part of the game and emotional stability off of the course?

      Hopefully the article will make readers think about change – and the potential risks in performance.

      • Christestrogen

        Sep 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm

        Personally I think he was at his height at the 2006 open championship…hoy lake…
        Faldo was paired with him and said it was the greatest ball striking he had ever witnessed…and think of the people Faldo has seen hit irons…Seve, Jack(well late 1970s jack), Watson, Trevino, Norman and the list goes on….
        Faldos son was on his bag and nick asked tiger if his son could have the driver since tiger only hit it once over the first two days.
        Also Haney said that performance was the greatest example in history of the nine shot clinic…
        -great article but I find it incredibly difficult to argue with his results

    • Pugster22

      Sep 2, 2015 at 5:17 pm

      I agree it is hard to argue his winning formula. However, he changed the equation over the last four or five years and I think that is what the author is trying to express. At least that is my takeaway from the article.

  9. Frank McChrystal

    Sep 2, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Never underestimate the life balance. This game tests your heart and soul. If your personal life is in limbo, everything seems monumental under the pressure of a round. If your heart and soul are somewhat wounded, you have no chance of performing at your highest level. So quit wasting time. Get rid of the “gray” area in your life and then try this “game” again.

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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