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Opinion & Analysis

Is the secret found “in the dirt” or through instruction?

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Ben Hogan once wrote:

“I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me … adopting it if it helped … sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition.”

In the decades since Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind penned Five Lessons, golf instruction has been dissected, codified and homogenized. It has become a cottage industry comprised of swing gurus, bio-mechanic experts and mental coaches always ready to help golfers shave strokes off their score or plunge elbow deep into a swing reconstruction.

There really isn’t any reason why the average weekend player should attempt to dig it out of the dirt with a homemade swing — what I affectionately refer to as the “swing and hope” technique of learning. Golf instruction is ubiquitous. Being a serious golfer or belonging to a private country club are not pre-requisites for getting help.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

I’m like most people in that somebody else introduced me to the game. My father-in-law handed me one of his ancient Ping Eye 2 irons at the driving range and said, “swing away.” So swing away I did and from that moment four years ago I forged a love for the game and ingrained some nasty habits that I decided to break with the help of one-on-one lessons.

Working side-by-side with a PGA Professional is the most common and direct way to fix your game. There isn’t a sure fire way to be sure you and your instructor will form successful partnership — I’ve crashed and burned through three instructors — but there’s some rules of thumb that have to be followed.

Before you take a single lesson, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your goals? Be realistic about them. If you are 40 years old and just starting out, a spot on the PGA Tour is probably out of reach.
  • How much time do you have on your hands? Swing overhauls typically take one to two years to ingrain. Most people don’t have the patience or dedication of a Nick Faldo or Tiger Woods to take this on.
  • Is it your swing that really needs work? Sometimes an adequate swing is all a person needs. You might get more mileage from your golf instruction if you take lessons on putting or short game.
  • What type of learning do you best respond to? Some people are very analytical and every action needs to be explained; other people simply want to be shown what to do and don’t care about the causes and effects.

Of course, the average weekend player will probably disregard all sound advice. Messing around with one’s golf swing to wring out a few extra yards isn’t something only professionals do. I worked with “my guy” twice a month for the better part of a year on pretty much the same thing week in and week out — getting my body into a better impact position on my downswing. Lessons mainly consisted of my PGA pro grabbing me by the hips and shoulders and twisting me around like a G.I. Joe action figure with the kung-fu grip. For feedback, we’d watch the ball flight for answers.

Unfortunately, I felt like the answers never came, or like a shooting star, I might experience them for a brief instant before they vanished into distant memory. For a change of pace (translation: I wanted to hear the same things in a different way), I took a lesson with another instructor. I drove up to the golf course on a crisp, but not unpleasant October day and spent a half-hour laying sod over the ball. Don’t get me wrong, my instructor was a nice enough person and he was nobody’s fool. But the communication between us just wasn’t there. The brief and entire affair played out like that surfing lesson scene from the movie, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Instead of being told to “pop up,” I was asked to hit down. And yes, I was encouraged to “do less.”

In-person lessons being what they are (generally expensive, sometimes difficult to schedule), I decided to experiment with taking lessons online. Increasingly, this is becoming a more popular method of receiving golf instruction, thanks in no small part to the explosion of smart phones. If my 73-year-old father-in-law can take a video of his swing, chances are so can you. Once you’ve taken a video of your swing (you’ll need to film it both face-on and down-the-line), you upload it for analysis.

In my experience, you’ll receive feedback within 24 to 72 hours. Savvy golfers will quickly realize that in order to get better feedback it’s important to describe your swing issues in great detail. Don’t be embarrassed to treat your online lesson like a heartfelt submission to Dear Abby – after all that’s what these instructors are there for. However, do be prepared to accept that online lessons can’t take the place of the personal attention you receive with one-on-one instruction. If you end up feeling like a cog on the assembly line, well, it’s because you are.

That isn’t to say that online golf instruction is mediocre to it’s in-person counterpart. Some of the best golf teachers in the industry have turned to online instruction to cast a wider net and to offer students a less expensive alternative to taking an individual lesson. For those golfers who have always balked at taking lessons due to cost or time commitments, embrace technology if you haven’t already. To that end, embrace communication — it’s the common denominator in determining if your lessons are going to help or hinder, irrespective of how you take them.

To their credit, golfers are rarely shy about experimenting with any gizmo, swing tip or  school of thought that can help their games. Driving ranges are always packed with old and young, men and women, scratch players and duffers beating balls from summer to winter with unrelenting optimism in their hearts. Pause for a moment and take a lesson or two. Golf instructors are here to help with keeping that beat going.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ron Owens

    Nov 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    It’s in the dirt. Mr. Hogan was correct. However, you have to know what you’re doing or what to work on or you’re wasting your time. That’s where instruction comes in. Get your fundamentals right with proper instruction then work on them, as well as playing/scoring, in the dirt.

  2. joro3743

    Nov 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I have been teaching Golf for over 40 yrs and if anything I have found that instruction is usually over done by a lot of teachers who should not be teaching. They teach theory, they teach confusion, and the vast majority of “students” will reach a certain level and not go any farther. Progression depends on ability and to most it is limited by age, physical problems, athletic ability, mind acceptance, or by just no talent. Also there is the aspect of other priorities.

    I am not saying instruction is not a good thing, but it is limited to the basics and then talent and ability. “In the dirt” is a great description to get repetitive, play Golf and it will happen to those who can.

    Over teaching is not the answer, it is taking a person, being realistic about what you can do, and do it.

  3. Frank Dolan

    Nov 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    A very well written article which put out several different aspects of learning the game of golf. After playing golf for 25 years, I never thought of taking online lessons. Great idea – I’m going to give it a shot and hope it improves my game.

    Frank Dolan

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Opinion & Analysis

More Distance Off the Tee (Part 1 of 3): Upper Body Training

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If you read my previous story, Tour Pro’s Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up, you are well aware of the fact that improving your upper body power is one of three sure ways to increase your distance off the tee. If you have not, I strongly suggest you check it out to gain some context about what is to follow and what is critical for your golf game.

Through our testing and the testing done of many of the industry leaders in golf performance, we have found that the ability of golfers to generate “push power” from their upper body is critical to maximize efficiency and speed in the swing. The way that you can test your power is simple. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your back on the chair, chest pass with both hands a 6-pound medicine ball as far as you can. When you compare this to your vertical jump as described in More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training Plan, the number in feet you threw the ball should be relatively close to your jump in inches.

If you threw the ball and it went 5 feet, you have an upper body power problem. If you threw the ball 25 feet and jumped only 14 inches, your upper body is not the problem — you probably need to focus on your lower body. It’s not rocket science once you understand what you are looking for. What can be challenging is knowing how to improve your power once you identify a problem. That is where the rest of this article comes in. What I am going to outline below are three of the most common upper body power exercises that we use with our amateur, senior and professional golfers.

The key with any power training exercise is to make sure you are as rested as possible between sets so that you can be as explosive as possible for the repetitions. Try not to do more than 6 repetitions in a set to assure that each one is as fast and explosive as possible.

Med Ball Chest Pass on Wall

This is one of the most basic exercises there is for developing upper body push power. Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart and don’t be afraid to use your legs to help maximize the punishment you deliver to against the wall!

Med Ball Wall Ball

Watching the video, you may be scratching you head and wondering why this is in the upper body power article when clearly the athlete is using his legs. The reason is that in the golf swing, power starts with the legs.

Med Ball Sky Chest Throws

This one is simple. Laying on your back, all you need to do is push the ball up as high as you can, catch it on the way down and the explode it back up into the air as high as you can. If you incorporate this exercise into your routine even once a week, you will see huge gains in your ability to swing faster if this was a problem area for you.

That being said, power creation requires not only speed but also strength development. It is also important that you have a solid strength program to increase your ability to generate more force. While this is beyond the scope of this article, finding yourself a solid golf fitness expert will help you create your ideal program.

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Podcasts

GolfWRX Forum Member dpb5031 talks about the TaylorMade Twist Face Experience

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Forum member dpb5031 (aka Dewey) joins TG2 to talk about his Twist Face Experience at The Kingdom. Recently, him and 6 other GolfWRX Members went to TaylorMade HQ to get fit for new M3 and M4 drivers. Does Twist Face work? Dewey provides his answer.

Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Inside the Ropes: 5 things you didn’t know about playing on the PGA Tour

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Golf finds a way to take a hold on you… whether you become entranced by the skill of the world’s best professionals, fall in love with the feeling and beauty of a well-executed shot, or simply enjoy getting outside and having fun — the game is addictive.

I started playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros on TV dreaming what it would be like to play golf on the PGA Tour. When I earned my PGA Tour status for the 2014 season, that dream became a reality. And like anything, it’s not until I actually experienced that life did I have any idea what it entailed.

For those of you who are curious what it’s like to be on the PGA Tour, here are 5 things to describe it.

1) The Culture

Traveling the world to various cities can be fun, and it’s an underrated part of the Tour lifestyle; you get to see new landscapes and taste the cuisines that define different regions across the country and the world. Unlike some other professional sports, where players stay in one place for maybe a night or two, we get to stay in places for a week or more, which allows for plenty of time away from the course to see the sights and get a feel for what the cities and their cultures offer.

2) The Show

The setup and time that goes into planning an event — the grandstands, concession stands, volunteers, and the whole network that makes these tournaments run — is beyond impressive. We see the finished product at the event in the epicenter of it all, but the planning goes on behind the scenes all year. When it’s game time and the golf ball gets teed up, it’s time for us players to block all of that out, but we certainly appreciate all of the hard work that goes into putting on an event. It may feel like being in a circus at times, but performing in the show is a thrill.

3) The People

The game of golf in general brings people together, but especially so on the Tour. Thousands and thousands of fans come to watch the golf action and enjoy the festivities. The Pro-Ams are a great way for the fans to get an up-close look at what goes on at a Tour event, and they’re also a great way for us pros to interact with fans and maybe provide some helpful swing tips, too. In my opinion, one of the best events of the year is the Pebble Beach Pro-Am — a gathering of pro golfers, athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities. It’s a testament to how the game can bring people together from different walks of life.

4) Inside the Ropes

The Tour is almost like a private school of sorts. It’s a select group of a couple hundred guys traveling around playing these events. The jocks, the nerds, the geeks, the loners; you see a little of everything. As much as there’s a sociable aspect to traveling on Tour and getting to know these people, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is playing for their livelihood and playing privileges.

5) The “Pressure”

A season-long race can come down to a single shot making the difference — for some it’s between winning and losing a tournament, and others it’s between keeping and losing your card. The cameras, the grandstands, the noise… it can all be quite distracting. The idea is to block all of that out and pretend you’re playing like a kid, focusing with pure imagination for the shot. All the extra attention can help heighten the focus further, adding inspiration to “give the people what they want” and hit even better golf shots.

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