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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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Equipment

Should you be using a blade or mallet putter?

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‘Should I use a blade or mallet putter?’ It’s a frequent question, and here we will provide you with our essential guide to help you decide.

Blade vs Mallet: Which style suits you?

As far as golf equipment goes, your putter may be the most critical item in your bag. That’s why it’s crucial to know the key features of both blade and mallet putters and what they are designed to provide so that you can closely identify which style of putter your stroke and game require to help you lower your scores.

Blade Putter

Scotty Cameron Blade Putter

The traditional blade putter features a sweet spot positioned closer to the heel and designed to offer maximum feel to golfers on the greens

A blade putter contains a traditional head shape and is a favorite amongst golf ‘purists’. Blade putters are heavily toe-weighted with a sweet spot positioned closer toward the heel. This sweet spot position is because the shaft connects to the club head of the blade at the heel or sometimes center of the blade. This heavy toe-weighting and heel sweet spot means that blade putters will typically suit players who have an arc in their putting stroke.

Mallet Putter

TaylorMade mallet putter

A mallet style putter gives players stability and balance in their stroke.

The more modern style mallet putter is a flat-stick with a larger head. The heads come in various shapes and sizes, and because of the size, a lot of the weight is often distributed away from the clubface so that players find plenty of stability and balance in their stroke. 

The ‘game improvement’ style of the mallet putter means that the larger sweet spot will help players who struggle to strike the ball directly in the center of the face, and the added weight in the clubhead is designed to prevent the putter twisting during the stroke.

Mallet putters also offer additional aid when it comes to alignment, offering more prominent features than a blade such as longer or added lines and can also benefit golfers who struggle to hit putts hard enough due to its heavier weight.

Do pros prefer blade or mallet style putters?

With the 2020 season in the books, we can take a look at who were the top-10 performers in the Strokes Gained: Putting department for 2020 and see what style of putter they used:

  1. Denny McCarthy: Scotty Cameron Tour-Only FastbackMallet
  2. Matthew Fitzpatrick: Yes C-Groove Tracy IIBlade
  3. Andrew Putnam: Odyssey White Hot RX No. 5Mallet
  4. Kristoffer Ventura: Scotty Cameron NewportBlade
  5. Kevin Na: Odyssey Toulon MadisonBlade
  6. Matt Kuchar: Bettinardi Kuchar Model 1Blade (Wide)
  7. Ian Poulter: Odyssey Stroke Lab SevenMallet
  8. Mackenzie Hughes: Ping Scottsdale TR Piper C Mallet
  9. Maverick McNealy: Odyssey ToulonBlade
  10. Bryson DeChambeau: SIK Tour prototypeBlade

Blade style 60% vs Mallet style 40%

Should I use a blade or mallet putter?

Typically, this choice comes down to feel and stroke. Your stroke, just like the stroke of a professional, is unique, and your stroke will determine which style of putter will help you perform best on the greens. Like any other club in your bag, fitting and testing is a key element that shouldn’t be overlooked.

That being said, there are two prominent strokes and identifying which category you fall into can help identify where you fall in the Blade vs Mallet putter debate..

Square-to-square stroke vs Arced stroke

Square-to-square stroke

A square-to square stroke is when the putter face is lined up square to the target, and the stroke is straight back and through. If you possess a natural square-to-square stroke, you may be more suited to a mallet putter. The reason for this is that a mallet putter is face-balanced with the center of gravity positioned toward the back of the club meaning the club is designed to stay square to the putter path all the way through the stroke.

Arced stroke

An arced stroke is when the putter face will open and close relative to the target, and the stroke travels on a slight curve. Should you possess an arced stroke, then a blade putter may be more suited for you because of the natural toe-weighting of the blade-style putter.

Other factors to consider

Feel players will also usually opt for a blade-style putter, due to the desire to feel the way the ball reacts off the putter face which allows them to have more control over their putting and to gain confidence. Mallet putters make ‘feel’ less easy to attain due to the softer inserts on the clubface.

Don’t put aside the issue of aesthetics when considering the issue too. The look of a putter can inspire confidence, and each individual will feel different when placing either a blade or mallet-style putter behind the ball at address, so choosing a style which makes you feel comfortable is an important aspect to consider.

Hopefully, you’ve now got more knowledge as to how you can find the right putter shape for you and your stroke. At the end of the day, the right putter for you, whether it’s a blade or mallet, will be the one which helps and inspires you to make more putts.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Back to show #1 with Larry Bobka: Tiger Woods’ irons myths and facts

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In this throwback episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny and Larry Bobka chat Tiger, Duval, and Davis and put the Tiger’s irons rumors to bed once and for all.

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Opinion & Analysis

“There is no magic bullet in club fitting” – On Spec podcast

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On this week’s episode of the “On Spec” podcast on the GolfWRX radio network, the discussion was focused on all things club fitting and what it can and can’t do to help golfers.

One of the most important take-aways was about some of the misconceptions around how much a club fitting can help improve the results of a less than ideal swing.

“There is no magic bullet when it comes to fitting… It’s not to stop you from doing anything (in your golf swing) … But by going through a proper fitting, and process you can help reduce a miss (improving consitency)” 

You can listen to the full show below, the above quote starts at 41:38 

You can check out other episodes of On Spec, as well as the entire collection of shows on the GolfWRX Radio Network here: GolfWRX Radio on SoundCloud

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