There is a great line in one of my favorite books, Golf in the Kingdom, where the protagonist Shivas Irons (one of the greatest fictional golf characters ever) says: “Our relationship to paradox is a barometer of our enlightenment.”
Golf is one of, if not the most paradoxical games in the world. Hit down and the golf ball goes up. Swing too much to the right, the ball curves left — too much to the left, the ball curves right, and so on. But that quote reminds us that we cannot improve at the game until unless we overcome the tendency to do what comes naturally. This is one of the reasons the game is best learned as a junior before we clutter our mind with “how to.”
One of the most common problems I see on the lesson tee is “coming over the top,” the dreaded outside-in swing path. It is so prevalent, I figure there must be a reason for it. Well, there are many perhaps, but the two most obvious are these:
Unlike other games, we do not face the target in golf. In fact, we face exactly 90 degrees to the right of the target. So from the start, it feels like we have to swing left of where we are facing (for right handers of course).
Then, in what would seem to be a total contradiction, we make a backswing and turn our back 180 degrees to the target. Now the target really feels left. And that position at the top feels so far from where we are trying to go, we are in a hurry to get back to facing the target. So we open the body early and swing to our left. Because that’s where we are trying to hit the ball, isn’t it?
It seems perfectly logical, but this is golf we’re talking about! And of course we swing to where we feel the target is, and that path causes the ball to curve well off to the right. “ Duh that’s what I thought; I better swing further to the left.”
There is a golf ball sitting on the ground and we have to get it in the air. It feels perfectly naturally to swing UP at the ball to help it get in the air. And then it rolls on the ground. “Ah I was right; , I do have to swing up at it;” OK, watch this!” And … well, you get the picture.
So when I tell people to swing more left to correct a hook and more right to correct a slice and they look at me like I’m speaking Martian, I can’t really blame them. But let’s get back to our friend Shivas, who reminds us that we must overcome the urge to do what we feel and learn to do what we should. Sounds like a lesson I learned as a kid growing up in Philly!
But it’s a fact that as golfers, we have to accept and somehow internalize the illogicality of the game. In order to improve you have to educate yourself further about the ballistics of impact. What makes the golf ball fly? What makes it curve? What causes it to launch in a certain direction and at a certain trajectory?
This scientific information is readily available from countless sources these days (click here to read some of my other articles). But it would behoove you to do some leg work here and be a more active participant in your learning. If you really understand the science behind what causes what, you will be less likely to do what comes instinctively.
Hitting down does cause the ball to go up, and swinging inside out can cause it to go left and so on. Raising your golf IQ and being more self-reliant in your learning can only help you improve more quickly. Total reliance on “how to” from the teacher will never completely overcome your skepticism.
The game is the ultimate counter-intuitive exercise, and by knowing a little more about it, you can take that leap of faith and make yourself a believer in what to do. Rely on the teacher for suggestions as to how, but real golf knowledge is the first step in your long road to improvement. That’s why I believe that good teachers provide learning opportunities: they don’t give “lessons.”
I suppose this means I may never be out of work as I am constantly helping people overcome instinct and do just the opposite of what it seems they ought to do. But that is yet another of the game’s myriad charms. If it wasn’t so “bloody difficult,” as my buddy across the pond calls it, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. And if I help a few along the way well, what a nice thought that is too.
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.
Dennis Clark is a contributing writer for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of GolfWRX.