As teachers, we all make mistakes. As we get more experienced at the craft, we make fewer, but the work is a human endeavor so we are prone to error. Where and how the error is made is most commonly in the diagnosis.
Let’s face it, instructors get an hour or so to solve a problem. That hour, in my lessons, is divided into three distinct parts in the following order:
- The diagnosis
- The explanation
- The solution
To me, the diagnosis is far and away the most important part of the lesson. It’s the part of the lesson where the teacher decides exactly what’s wrong with the golf swing. And the problem will always boil down to what I call “the big three:”
- Is the attack angle too steep or too shallow?
- Is the face open or closed?
- Is the path too inside or outside?
There may be a myriad of things causing the problem, but the problem itself will always be one of those things.
Teachers may disagree on the method of correction, but should never disagree on the diagnosis.
After deciding what the biggest problem is — the face, the path or the attack angle — the teacher needs to determine the causes of the problem(s). But here is the crux of the matter: If the diagnosis is incorrect, there is rarely enough time in the lesson to right the ship.
“No, forget that, let’s try this,” is the absolute worsT thing a student wants to hear in a golf lesson.
Technology has made diagnosing swing problems quite a bit easier, but the correct diagnosis is still elusive at times. And what can be just as difficult for teachers is choosing the proper sequence of correction once the diagnosis is made. Sequencing is crucial, because I want the first shot my students hit after a correction to be a better shot than they previously hit. If what I suggest has little to no effect on ball flight initially, a trust issue develops between me and my student.
As I teacher, I have to get a student’s attention as soon as possible in a lesson. If someone comes to me hitting ground balls and 20 minutes later they are still hitting ground balls, I have LOST that student!
You, the student, need to be prepared for these changes. If you’re not ready for what’s about to happen, you’re in for a surprise and it might not be a pleasant one. Often I’ll see a student lose sight of their first shot because they are looking in the wrong place. They’re expecting the same slice they have seen for 15 years, so a hook or draw might be a shock. But as a teacher, I have their attention.
In my early days of teaching, I went “by the book.” In other words, if something didn’t look right, I’d try to change it without really knowing how the suggestion was going to fit into the bigger picture. One day I had a student who was making a very abbreviated shoulder turn in the backswing, perhaps 45 degrees at best. It just didn’t look right. So I suggested a fuller shoulder turn. On the next swing, he missed the ball by a foot!
His attack angle was shallow, and when I asked him to turn more I made it really shallow; he was falling back and hitting up on everything. I blew the attack angle diagnosis and voila… a good 15-20 minutes was wasted in the lesson.
Nothing should ever be changed in a golf lesson because it doesn’t look right. For example, if Jordan Spieth sent a video to an inexperienced instructor, he might tell Spieth to strengthen his left hand grip or straighten his left arm, right? I mean those two things are obviously wrong, so let’s fix them straight away. Boom! You just made the best player on the planet an also-ran.
If you’re interested, here’s my analysis of Jordan Spieth’s swing is below.
The diagnosis is an overview; it’s an analysis of how the whole swing dynamic has developed and where it needs to go next. If that first critical phase slips through the cracks, the teacher is going to be playing catch up for the rest of the session and it may be too little, too late when he finally gets around to the right fix.
What does all this mean to you? It means you need to be proactive and participate in the learning process. You need to understand the whole dynamic, not simply accept what has been said as gospel.
Why did I top that shot? Why are you moving my hand over? The instructor is human and she/he is there to help; the two of you are working together in the process and that requires your full participation. If the golf ball starts behaving better, there’s a good chance you’ve been pointed in the right direction. If you feel you are doing what you’ve been asked to do (and you have the video and/or radar numbers to prove it), however, and the golf ball is still misbehaving, you may consider seeking advise elsewhere.
No golfer has to get worse before they get better.
You should get new results, not always great results, but the swing should feel and look different than before you made the change AND the ball flight should be better. If not, ask why. If the same old slice or shank is there after the entire lesson, consider another teacher. The next instructor may communicate more to your liking, or be better at guiding you through the learning process.
Remember, it’s your time and your money. You have the right to hold your teacher accountable. Believe me, you are NOT insulting an instructor by leaving his or her camp. It happens often. When you take the steps needed to be an active participant in your own improvement, if often leads to better results… and sometimes a different coach.
Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)
Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.
In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.
You have to understand your swing
The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.
We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.
It comes down to form or function, and I choose function
The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.
For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.
Sport coats and golf swings
Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.
Translation to improvement
Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.
We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.
How golf should be learned
With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.
Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.
Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.
This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.
To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.
From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.
After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.
Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.
Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)
Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.
As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.
Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.
All golfers can play well consistently
I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.
With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.
What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?
Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.
The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.
I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.
Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.
There are two key takeaways in this comparison
Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.
By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.
Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?
If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.
You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.
It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.
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