In my last article, I disputed the term “golf instruction,” because I feel it is too broad of a description. If that’s true, then just what is it that I, and 28,000-plus others, do for a living?
There is an endless debate in teaching golf with regard to methods, system, theories, modes of correction etc. Teacher A thinks this is best, teacher B thinks that is best, Teacher C has a completely different view. So, it’s no surprise then that teachers hear their students say things like, “well so-and-so says this” or “I read a book which suggested…I’m so confused.”
In other words, the students have a general view that one teacher said something that another contradicted, so what are they to do? But here is where it all gets quite intriguing: Teachers A, B and C may all be right. Or all be wrong.
In my experience, there is no such thing as “golf instruction.” Collectively. There is only golf instruction by one particular instructor during one particular session. That same instructor is likely to give his/her next student completely different “golf instruction,” or in my opinion, should. It’s often been said that golf swings are like snowflakes, no two are alike.
So we have to ask the obvious question: How could “golf instruction” not vary from student to student? You show me one “fundamental” of the swing, and I can likely find a great player who did not execute that particular fundamental (other than solid contact of course), but I’m referring to the method one chooses to get there.
Of course, there are parameters by which we are all guided. Teaching golf is not some willy-nilly random act of calling out suggestions with no basis in fact. They must be based on certain principles of course, but mostly they must be relevant. That is why I argue there is no such animal as “golf instruction” per se.
So, what principles are directing these individual sessions? Well, let’s start at the beginning. And the end. Impact! The only purpose of any golf lesson is to help the golfer hit the ball better and more consistently. There can be an infinite number of ways to get there. No one way is necessarily superior to another. We have “classic” swings and “quirky” swings on the PGA Tour all making a great living playing golf.
As to the lesson itself, the great John Jacobs used to say a lesson is conducted in three distinct parts: Diagnosis, Explanation, and Correction. One can substitute their own words for those segments but clearly here is what he meant: The individual swing flaw(s) is recognized, then it is explained to the student, and lastly teacher/student work on correcting it.
Now, here is where the debate may ensue and clearly where the student confusion is likely to arise. Teachers may have their unique style of explaining and their own individual tool kit (lesson plan) for correction, but there is little room for debate about the diagnosis. If there is an impact flaw, the swing is either too shallow or too steep, the clubface is either open or closed, and the swing direction is either too much to the left or too much to the right of the intended line.
In modern golf instruction, we have the aid of several diagnostic tools we did not have some years ago, but even with the advent of video, TrackMan, Boditrak etc, we still have to start at jump street: ball flight. What is the golf ball doing, and why is it doing it for that particular student? When a golfer develops a swing pattern, the ball flight characteristics are predictable and consistent. Nobody goes from steep to shallow or open to closed, or inside to outside from swing to swing. If they did, our jobs as instructors would be maddening. Golfers all fall into patterns; once the pattern develops, the misses are predictable.
The problem can be caused by several different things, and the teacher may have a preference for which one he/she wants to attack first. They may also have different drills or training aids used to help correct the flaw, but again, the goal of the lesson remains the same: correct impact to achieve better results. This is the tangible expression of “golf instruction.” It is the common ground where all teachers meet. All systems and theories of “golf instruction” are thrown out the window when the teacher is standing behind a golfer who is shanking four out of five shots. The challenge is clear here: help him/her find the face, understand why they tend to shank and what to do to avoid it.
The legendary Bob Toski told me recently that 80 percent of the golfers he worked with over his illustrious career were middle-to-high handicaps. This is true for probably 99 percent of the people teaching our game. It is for me, I know. The vast majority of my students are not seeking optimal golf, they are looking for functional golf. Our students are not looking to play on the PGA or LPGA Tour, or even to win the club championship. They just want to hit the ball better, theories be damned!
The great teacher Jim Hardy has said we have two different kinds of golf lessons: correction and creation. We are either trying to correct an existing move (90 percent of the time) or build a whole new swing. Teachers avoid the latter like the plague for two reasons: It is usually futile and often takes forever. I usually reserve it for brand new players, where the objective is to create a swing from scratch. But once a pattern is set, I have found it most effective to correct within that pattern.
Over the years, I have had any number of students. particularly seniors, who say something like, “Well, back when I first learned, they were teaching this or that.” I am always quick to ask in return: “Who is they?” See, again the student is making a collective reference-not an individual one. The list is endless—golf is a left-sided game, golf is a right-sided game, turn in a barrel, square-to-square, Stack and Tilt, the A-Swing, the Natural Golf swing—are likely all good-for some. But they are not a panacea.
When teachers write books or instructional articles, they are type-cast into a mode. This is exactly why magazine articles and now the internet are double-edged swords. The articles can be interpreted in such a way, it may appear that the book is all that teacher teachers (I recently had a student who read or heard a tip on getting his swing wider. The problem was his swing was already wide. Now it was so wide, he was hitting a foot behind it! This is not unusual). The reality is that any teacher who is on top of their craft handles each student differently My approach, for example, is: Let me see what you’re doing, because then and only then can I make an accurate diagnosis, and set a lesson plan. When I’m asked, “Do you teach this”? My response is “Well, let’s see.”
So, what is “golf instruction” then? Perhaps we could define it like this: A meeting of student and teacher to solve an individual problem, at a particular time to create, in that player, an awareness of their individual tendencies. Just as your equipment has to be fitted, so does your lesson.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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