How can one explain how major championship winners like David Duval, Sandy Lyle, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Baker-Finch and Mike Weir (to name a few) all completely lost their games and were driven off the PGA Tour? The list of talented players, like these major winners, who tried to improve their games by changing their style of swing and only got worse is an unnecessary and long list.
Though I never won a major championship, I contended twice when I was 22, losing a seven-stroke lead in the third round of the British Open at Royal Troon and getting to within a stroke of the lead on the back nine on Sunday at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. After those losses, like so many before and after me, I blamed my style of swing. I thought my swing wasn’t good enough. I went to work to change it. I took lessons from style-based teachers, who were concerned with various body and club positions during the swing. I never contended for a major championship again and ultimately left the PGA Tour like David and Ian for a broadcasting career.
When I think back on that pivotal decision I made when I was 23 to change my style of swing, it makes me wonder now, what if? What if I had stayed with my old swing? What if I had worked with a coach who could have revealed to me how I was improving through measurable results? What if I had worked with a coach who would have let me keep my style of swing, isolated the variables of impact and focused on helping me improve those? What if I could have measured those improvements? I now know my career and countless others would have been saved and been even more successful.
Having recently retired from the PGA Champions Tour, where I played more than 200 pro-am events in my five-year career, it was evident to me that the leading cause of 4 million golfers quitting golf every year in the United States is not the cost or the time, but rather the FRUSTRATION. Like me and the before-mentioned major championship winners, so many of these 4 million golfers believed that by simply changing their style of swing they would play radically better golf. The style-changing lessons they invested in proved to be unsuccessful and their games never got better. Feeling like there’s nowhere to turn, so many of them simply put their clubs for sale on eBay and quit the game.
What exactly is “style-based” teaching? It’s a connect-the-dots approach to building your swing to achieve a certain look. One needs to have a certain grip, an exact posture at address, the club in specific positions at several check points on the backswing, a certain top of the backswing position, etc., etc., etc.
The only time “style-based” teaching can help your game is if and when it improves certain key aspects of your impact… but sadly it rarely does. Golfers can improve so much faster and more efficiently when they are able to isolate all the key variables of impact, measure them and work backward to modify elements of the swing solely for the purpose of improving their impact. Additionally, the mental or emotional state of all golfers is upgraded dramatically as a result of being inspired by the realization that their swing style is just fine. They begin to see tangible improvements both in their ball flight as well as in the key measurements occurring at impact.
Technology has now reached such heights in golf that we can zero-in on several critical measurements, offering very helpful insights regarding key performance indicators. Good teachers today know how to use this technology, how to measure impact and how to work backward from there to improve a golfer’s game by improving their impact variables.
Take a look at this picture of Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Shane Lowery at the top of their backswings. Everything is different, from the right knee bends, hip rotations, spine angles, left-arm positions, right-elbow positions, left-wrist positions, club-face rotations, swing planes (both angled and shaft plane), and even where their heads are pointing.
The golf instruction faction hasn’t yet made the transition, meaning style-based teaching is still king of the teaching world. But ask yourself — how can one explain the fact golfers like Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and many of the great champions of yesterday such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Fuzzy Zoeller, Hubert Green, Jim Thorpe, Miller Barber and many more had styles of swings that differed greatly from one another and were quite unorthodox, yet all worked so well? The bottom line is that each of them created great impact conditions that were virtually all the same.
Here are the top 20 ways to know if you are currently a victim of style-based teaching:
- Your golf instructor asked you which PGA Tour player you think has the best swing. You may have even taken a golf lesson where the instructor placed your swing on a screen side-by-side your favorite player’s swing and revealed to you the style differences.
- Your golf instructor explains the many key check points of the swing and the proper position of the hands, body and club at each checkpoint. Some instructors even give these checkpoints numbers.
- Your golf instructor explains that proper posture at address is key to a bio-mechanically sound swing. A strong movement exists today of “style-based” instructors using the new buzzword “biomechanics” to suggest the perfect swing style.
- Your golf instructor explains one correct backswing plane. Many instructors lead their students to create the perfect backswing plane, but it’s interesting how many differing opinions exist about what is the perfect backswing plane. Some suggest the shaft points above the plane at the three-quarter backswing position, while others suggest that the shaft should point at or even inside the plane. How much the vertical plane should shift in the backswing is another point of discussion among style-based teachers.
- Your golf instructor suggests the best top of the backswing position of the arms, wrists, club shaft and/or face angle. Many instructors prioritize how the club should look at the top of the backswing, that is, the club face is square and the shaft is parallel to the ground and parallel to the target.
- Your golf instructor suggests the proper degrees that the hips should turn on the backswing. Or they talk about “The X Factor,” which advises golfers to limit their hip turn on their backswing.
- Your golf instructor suggests the Vardon Grip. Meanwhile, PGA Tour winners and major champions have use various grips: interlock, 10-finger and even reverse overlap.
- Your golf instructor suggests you “keep your head down.”
- Your golf instructor suggests you “keep your eye on the ball.”
- Your golf instructor suggests you “keep your left arm straight.”
- Your golf instructor suggests you “finish high.”
- Your golf instructor suggests your swing is “too fast.”
- Your golf instructor discusses your “face angle rotation” on your backswing.
- Your golf instructor wants you to swing the “Stack and Tilt” swing.
- Your golf instructor wants you to swing the “A Swing.”
- Your golf instructor wants you to swing the “Square-to-Square” swing.
- Your golf instructor wants you to swing the “Natural Golf” swing.
- Your golf instructor wants you to swing the “Gravity Golf” swing.
- Your golf instructor wants you to swing the “One-Plane or Two-Plane” swing.
- Your golf instructor never discusses how swing changes are going to affect your impact.
My adversaries suggest I am writing these articles for self-promotion. Those who know me know I write these articles because I want to help the game I love and that has given me so much. Style-based teaching is nebulous, arbitrary, subjective, opinion-based, un-factual, unfounded and unproven. Impact-Based teaching is fundamentally the opposite. It is precise, fact-based, measurable, objective and results driven. That is why I retired from the PGA Champions Tour and chose to pursue my passion of helping golfers and instructors understand that golf is not an enigma nor a mystery that style-based methods leave one to believe, but rather a game of impact that can be measured and improved.
Here’s to better impact!
Mondays Off: Jon Schoepf, Director of Instruction and Master Instructor, Jim McLean Golf
Jon Schoepf Director of Instruction and Master Instructor of Jim McLean Golf School joins the show! He and Steve debate Sean Foley, and Knudson asks if a launch monitor is a necessity to be a great teacher.
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
Hidden Gem of the Day: Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa
These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!
Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member golfin8, who takes us to Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Located just a few minutes away from downtown Omaha, Dodge Riverside sits along the Missouri River, and according to golfin8, it’s a gem of a golf course that is well worth a visit.
“While it’s only 6,400 yards, it’s still one of the best-kept tracks in the area. Makes you work the ball left and right, has risk/reward decisions on almost every hole and the greens are always in great shape and fairly challenging.
It’s kept basically the same layout since opening in 1927, except for a reroute (only changing the start and end holes, the course still flows the same it always has) when the new clubhouse was built and a remaking of the 9th hole after the area had a flood a short while back.
It’s just a classic tree-lined fairway course that is in a town outside a larger metropolitan area that gets drastically overlooked when people think of golf in Omaha.”
According to Dodge Riverside Golf Club’s website, 18 holes during the week will set you back as little as $23, while the rate raises to $31 should you wish to play on the weekend.
How important is playing time in college if a player wants to turn pro?
One of the great debates among junior golfers, parents and swing coaches is what is the most crucial factor in making the college decision. My experience tells me that many students would answer this question with a variation of coaching, facilities and of course academics (especially if their parents are present).
I would agree that all three are important, but I wanted to explore the data behind what I think is an often overlooked but critical part of the process; playing time. For this article, I examined players under 25 who made the PGA tour and played college golf to see what percent of events they participated in during their college career. In total I identified 27 players and through a combination of the internet, as well as conversations with their college coaches, here are the numbers which represent my best guess of their playing time in college:
Player Percent of Events
- Justin Thomas 100%
- Rickie Folwer 100%
- Xander Schauffele 100%
- Bryson DeChambeau 100%
- Jon Rahm 100%
- Patrick Reed 91%
- Jordan Speith 100%
- Beau Hossler 100%
- Billy Horschel 100%
- Aaron Wise 100%
- Daniel Berger 100%
- Thomas Pieters 95%
- Ryan Moore 100%
- Kevin Tway 98%
- Scott Langley 95%
- Russell Hendley 100%
- Kevin Chappell 96%
- Harris English 96%
- JB Holmes 100%
- Abraham Ancer 97%
- Kramer Hicock 65%
- Adam Svensson 100%
- Sam Burns 100%
- Cameron Champ 71%
- Wydham Clark 71%
- Hank Lebioda 100%
- Sebastian Munoz 66%
Please note that further research into the numbers demonstrate that players like Pieters, Munoz, Clark, Reed, Hicock, Langely, Reed and Champ all played virtually all events for their last two years.
This data clearly demonstrates that players likely to make a quick transition (less than 3 years) from college to the PGA tour are likely to play basically all the events in college. Not only are these players getting starts in college, but they are also learning how to win; the list includes 7 individual NCAA champions (Adam Svensson, Aaron Wise, Ryan Moore and Thomas Pieters, Scott Langley, Kevin Chappell, and Bryson DeChambeau), as well 5 NCAA team champion members (Justin Thomas, Jordan Speith, Beau Hossler, Patrick Reed, Abraham Ancer and Wydham Clack) and 2 US Amateur Champs (Bryson DeChambeau and Ryan Moore).
As you dig further into the data, you will see something unique; while there are several elite junior golfers on the list, like Speith and Thomas who played in PGA tour events as teenagers, the list also has several players who were not necessarily highly recruited. For example, Abraham Ancer played a year of junior college before spending three years at the University of Oklahoma. Likewise, Aaron Wise, Kramer Hickok and JB Holmes may have been extremely talented and skillful, but they were not necessarily top prospects coming out of high school.
Does this mean that playing time must be a consideration? No, there are for sure players who have matriculated to the PGA Tour who have either not played much in college. However, it is likely that they will make the PGA tour closer to 30 years of age. Although the difference between making the tour at 25 and 30 is only 5 years, I must speculate that the margin for failure grows exponentially as players age, making the difference mathematically extremely significant.
For junior golfers looking at the college decision, I hope this data will help them understand the key role of playing time will have in their development if they want to chase their dream of playing on the PGA Tour. As always, I invite comments about your own experience and the data in this article!
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