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The Wedge Guy: The difference between learning and practice

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I’ve long been fascinated about the way the golf swing works, from full driver swings to the shortest chip shots. I’m sure that curiosity was embedded in me by my father as I began to get pretty serious about my own golf around the age of ten. His philosophy was that the more you know about how something works, the more equipped you are to fix it when it breaks. He applied that philosophy to many aspects of life, but we’re talking about the golf swing here.

As I grew up in the game, my father and I spent hours talking about golf and swing technique, from the grip to positions at impact, to conceptual aspects of the game and swing that guide you to learning faster and more accurately. I’ve continued to have those conversations with knowledgeable golf professionals and players for most of my life. But back to my father, one thing he made very clear to me early on is that there is a big difference between learning and practice.

Learning and practice are not the same thing, but rather two very different aspects of getting better at this game. The learning part is that process of becoming aware of and understanding new thoughts about the process of a golf swing, the internalizing of that knowledge, and the application of it to your swing and game. The practice part of the equation is the ingraining of that knowledge – after it is learned – so that it becomes second nature. Let’s start with learning.

The only sure way to make progress in your golf is through swing changes; it is very rare to find an accomplished player who simply practices the same wrong things over and over. Whether it is something as simple as a grip alteration or modification to your set up position, or as complex a new position or a new move in the swing, any of these changes require first that you clearly learn the new stuff. Only after it is learned can you begin to practice it so that it becomes ingrained.

Let’s talk about a swing change to illustrate this.

If you are trying to learn and perfect an improved path of your hands through impact, for example, the first step is to learn it. That means starting with stop-action posing in the positions so that your muscles and mind can absorb your new objectives. You can then progress to slow-motion swings that allow you the time and coordination to feel the muscles finding these new positions and producing this new coordinated motion through them. As your body begins to get familiar with this new muscle activity, you can gradually speed up the moves with your attention focused on making sure that you are performing just as you learned. I firmly believe that THE GOLF BALL IS NOT PART OF THIS PROCESS!!

Once you get familiar with the new muscle activity, you can begin making practice swings at half speed, then 3/4 speed, and finally full speed, all the time analyzing whether or not you are achieving your objectives of the new moves. This is the first stage of the practice process.

Only after you feel like you can really repeat the swing motion with your new method do you begin to put it into practice with a golf ball in the way. And even then, you should make your swings at half or ¾ speed so that you can concentrate on making the new swing – not hitting the ball.

The practice element of the process begins after the learning process is nearly complete. Practice allows you to ingrain this new learning so that it becomes the new habit. And to make sure your practice its most effective, make several practice swings for each ball you try to hit.

I hope all this makes sense. If you separate the learning process from the practice that makes it perfect, and get them in the proper sequence, and this game will get a great deal easier.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. geohogan

    Dec 19, 2019 at 10:15 am

    In this target article, Gabriele Wulf reviews her long-lasting re-search on attentional focus and motor learning. The essential finding of the reviewed studies is the enhancing effect of an ex-ternal (= movement-effect related) compared to an internal (= body-movement related) focus of attention for motor learnin

    https://www.sportwissenschaft.de/fileadmin/pdf/BuT/hossner_wulf.pdf

    Experts in clubmaking should leave theorizing about , “motor learning” to the experts.

    Internal focus for complex movements, has been proven to be a waste of time and money.
    ie dont believe the charlatans.

  2. Sherm

    Dec 17, 2019 at 10:21 pm

    Id be curious to know if the new Ben Hogan company is profitable yet???

  3. yertu

    Dec 17, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    This line of thinking when it comes to practice has been preached for years and years.
    I think that most of the motor learning literature has actually shown that the “stop motion” drills are generally ineffective due to the fact that during performance of the full motor sequence, you are unlikely to actually hit those positions at all. The lack of context (what happens before and what happens after) in the pose position also has an effect which is ignored by stop and pose sorts of practice.

    The same applies to practicing at slower speeds. When you take a professional golfer swinging a driver at what they feel is 50% speed and compare it to a swing at normal speed, you will see a huge difference in the motor pattern for each.

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Flatstick Focus

Flatstick Focus: Interview with Joe Legendre – Legend Golf Company

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In Episode 26 Glenn is back and we interview the owner of Legend Golf Company, Joe Legendre.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole Episode 141: The (golf) show must go on!

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Host Michael Williams has breaking news on The PGA Merchandise Show going virtual in 2021 from Marc Simon of PGA Golf Exhibitions. Also features John Buboltz with the latest putters and irons from Argolf.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Ball rollback isn’t the right move to combat “The Golfer of Tomorrow”

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The announcing crew at the 2020 U.S. Open seemed obsessed with “the bombers”—players who drove the ball extreme distances with little regard for the occasional tee shot into the rough. TV has selected Bryson DeChambeau as their representative, given his length and victory.

I thought I’d wait a bit to see what the industry sources had to say. I can’t say it’s unanimous, because I haven’t seen everything, but the theme is: “Get Ready for The Golfer of Tomorrow”

  • 350-yard carry
  • Clubhead speed which tears through the rough allowing the ball to launch high and carry to the green
  • The ‘new’ instructor who teaches distance be it ground up or whatever new method is used
  • Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
  • And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf

At the same time the USGA and its organizational allies are planning meetings focusing on not if the ball will be rolled back, but when—clearly, influenced by visual evidence from a great Winged Foot course in our national championship.

Let’s look deeper!

A hypothetical: go back a few months. You are on the planning committee for the U.S. Open to be held at Winged Foot, one of America’s great venues. This year because of COVID-19 there will be no galleries, something never experienced at a USGA major golf event. I repeat, your committee is planning for the U.S. Open. That implies “Open Rough” a term that is significant on its own. You don’t play from Open Rough, you escape…maybe.

The nature of Open Rough is a thick chunky base with long tendrils reaching skyward. These make it very difficult to find your ball in the best of circumstances and when attempting to advance these tendrils wrap themselves around your hosel closing the face, sending your ball deeper into hostile territory. That’s if you can even find it, Open rough has “disappeared” many balls over the years and done so within full view of gallery spectators aiding course marshals. The rule of thumb for competitors has always been to find the most reasonable patch of fairway and get out.

But this is the year of COVID-19. No galleries. Marshals, but relatively few because of no galleries. Now, considering that normal U.S. Open rough will produce many searches where marshals are important, the shortage of them will cause endless searches—which don’t make for great TV viewing. So, a decision is made, cut the rough down so shots can be found. Still in the rough but sitting on the chunky base and very often can be played. A tough call for the purist but an objective economic evaluation leaves no choice.

The announcers regale us with astonishing distances and swing speeds that allow escape from Open Rough that used to be impossible! The golf publications jump on this theme and predict that the Golfer of Tomorrow will be “DeChambeau-like” not sweet swingers but physical hulks rewriting the book on distance strongly influenced by no fear of the rough.

My point here is those publications and instructors, jumping on the “longer and slightly crooked is better” bandwagon have added 2+2 and gotten 5 when using the 2020 U.S. Open as a premise.

DeChambeau is a great and powerful player, however, I don’t think he’s known for his putting. Now I may have dozed off but I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific, probably influenced his score! He is our National Champion, an unsurpassable honor. But his style has me betting that the USGA is working on dates to discuss changing the golf ball, as in making it shorter.

I’m 100% against such a move. Golf is a game where amateurs can go to the same course play the same clubs and given a huge difference in skill achieve some measure of affiliation with the pros. A birdie is a birdie, not a long or short ball birdie. From a business perspective, the overwhelming majority of those golfers financially supporting golf are over 50. And we want them to hit it shorter?

Well, Mr. Adams what would you do? I know zero about golf ball manufacturing, but keeping the distance the same I’d change the dimples to increase curvature—just enough so it doesn’t affect slower swings that much but very high swing speeds so it’s in the player’s head

More thoughts. As an admitted TV viewer, get rid of those yardage books. Fine for practice rounds but when the bell rings it should be player and caddie, not an “on green” conference. What’s next, a staff meeting?

I’ll conclude with a note to the PGA Tour and, importantly, an admonition. To the PGA Tour: The minute a tee goes into the ground on #1 every player is on the clock. Stroke penalties, not fines, will get their attention.

To the rest of the golfing world: Let’s not blindly pursue the Golfer of Tomorrow concept without considerably deeper study.

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