“When I came to this seminar, I was confused. I’m still confused but on a higher level.” Enrico Fermi
I have worked with many great teachers in my life; men and women who really understood the nuts and bolts of teaching golf. Together we learned to correct golf swing errors. We learned that every golfer was unique, with their own personal learning style, swing problems, physique and habits. We understood there is no one way to play golf, and the more we allowed for individual differences, the more effective we were in helping them.
But the field of golf instruction is not unlike the academic profession, where the motto is and always has been “publish or perish.” Teachers feel the need to write a book, publish a video, or somehow get their message out to their devotees to be successful or to reap some gain, financial or otherwise. The result of this is often a deviation from their original approach to teaching. Authors choose a title, let’s say How to Swing or How to Set Up, and they set about expressing their belief in the best way to go about that task. When the same teachers are on the lesson tee, however, they’re dealing with a variety of ways to swing or set up, all based on the needs of the individual in front of them. And I think this problem is exasperated when the authors are former players, who are suggesting things almost entirely based how they achieved success at golf.
This is when instruction books and tapes are at their most vulnerable and, in my opinion, are least helpful.
Let me cite one very well-known example to make my point. There is perhaps no more famous illustration in golf books than Anthony Ravelli’s wonderful drawing of Ben Hogan’s grip. There is one very big problem with that picture, however. While Hogan’s hands are positioned perfectly for his swing, they demonstrate a position that may be too much to the left (weak) for many golfers. That grip can be very effective for those who fight a hook, perhaps 15 percent of the people who play golf. And of course, it is the way Mr. Hogan learned to hold the club to offset his own tendency to hook the golf ball early in his career. But the vast majority of golfers may very well slice from that “weaker” grip.
Ben Hogan was perhaps the finest striker of a golf ball who ever lived, very few people in our game would take issue with that at all, but by advocating his personal preference he is not taking into account many of the people who, of course, do not have his talent, his swing plane, his lag, his ball position and so on. And, what’s even more harmful is this: because the great man said it, it became the bible for many readers.
Alex Morrison said golf is a left-sided game, but Ben Hogan said he wished he had three right hands. Ernest Jones said swing the clubhead, but Eddie Merins said swing the handle. Jimmy Ballard teaches moving off the ball, but Andy Bennet wants you to stay on the ball. John Redman suggested a strong grip, but Tommy Armour a weaker one. On and on, ad infinitum… but here’s the catch. I’m willing to bet that every one of those great teachers would make exceptions based on the student that was in front of them on the range. That’s because in golf instruction, there is nothing that’s for everybody.
Some instruction manuals are decidedly more “choice” in their approach. Jim Hardy has always taken the more alternative approach in his work. “The Plane Truth,” criticized by some for taking an only-two-ways-to-swing approach, still offers a choice. In it, Hardy explains that IF you swing one way, THEN you should do this to to complement it.
John Jacobs wrote the seminal work on this subject in his book “Practical Golf” many years ago. Although science has gone on to disprove some of the findings in the book (the initial direction of the golf ball is NOT the result of the path of the golf club, for example), the information is still invaluable from an alternative approach to swinging the club.
If you are attempting to learn to swing from a method-oriented book, you must be very careful to get the whole picture before attempting to incorporate the method into your golf swing. This is one of the most common reasons I see players get stuck in the mud in their improvement. If you are reading a certain book and NOT getting anywhere, there is one of two reasons: the book is spewing misinformation OR you are not doing ALL the book suggests.
When the teacher becomes an author, he or she is entering another realm; an area often removed from the craft of teaching people to play golf and into an area of teaching golf. There is a quantitative difference between the two. Myself and many teachers like me teach people to play golf; we do not teach golf. If you read through my writings on GolfWRX or anywhere, really, they are always written in an if-then format. If you tend to do this, THEN try this… there is no other effective way, at least none that I’m aware of. And if anyone knows of one, I’d be happy to hear it.
Those of us who dare to teach must remain students of our individual disciplines, and our continuing education needs to be shared on a case-by-case basis. Offering universal prescriptions for individual problems is a dead end in my work, and unfortunately many golf instruction manuals are written in this way.
I have an online swing analysis program that many GolfWRXers have tried and enjoyed. If you’d like a diagnosis an explanation of exactly what you’re doing, click here for more info, or contact me on Facebook.