Visit any driving range and you will see golfers engaged in a ritual as old as the game itself – hitting balls in hopes of discovering that secret move that will improve their game forever. At best, this method is inefficient. At worst, it’s an exercise in futility as very golfers will ever learn to play the game beyond a mediocre level and those that do will find their game infected by slumps, inconsistency, and surprised poor play. Just look at USGA statistics. Over the last 60 years golfers, as a whole have not improved their average score one iota. And for the non-professional very little, if any improvement is achieved after the first three years. This is not to demean those golfers who have drastically improved their performance over the years, but even professionals don’t score any better, as a whole, than their counterparts did six decades ago. This is tragic, given the fact that science and technology have helped today’s golfers hit the ball farther and straighter than any time in history. We also have video analysis equipment that can pinpoint exactly where in the swing golfers make mistakes. So what’s the problem?
I am firmly convinced that our lack of success is due to how we learn and practice – hitting balls on the range. I am also convinced that given the right practice strategies any golfer can play dramatically better or more consistent than they do now. Consider that to develop a fundamentally sound swing we must train our body to move in a very precise manner that is different than anything else we do in life, train our eyes to remain focused on a single spot, and learn how to focus our mind appropriately for the skill being executed. And we try to learn to do this all at the same time. Let’s examine why it’s difficult to simultaneously train our physical, visual, and attentional systems for golf. Let’s start with the physical.
Physically, there is nothing we do in life that prepares us to hit a golf ball long and straight. On a daily basis, we eat, drink, drive (if we old enough), write, use a computer, and so on. All of these actions use the muscles in our hands and forearms. In a fundamentally sound swing the large muscles in the torso and legs move the club and our hands and forearms just respond to that movement. Without the proper training techniques your hands and forearms will naturally take over and violate sound swing principles. Even if we know which muscles to move and how they are supposed to move but have the wrong focus we will still end up using our hands and arms to control the club. In addition to being unnatural, the golf swing is complex and over almost before it starts. There simply is not enough time during the swing to deliberately control the arms, legs, hips, back, and head with the precision necessary for success. The swing takes about 2 seconds and describing the swing takes at least a minute. Try to fit a minute’s worth of concentration into two seconds. Can’t be done!
Visually, we’re told to keep our eyes on the ball. That is not completely accurate. We don’t want the eyes to move during the swing until slightly past impact at which time they naturally move forward with the head into a good finished position. Trying to keep your eyes on the ball does not create a good swing and could actually destroy a fundamentally sound swing. Why do the eyes move and how do we keep them from moving without “trying” to keep them on the ball? We have to develop a new visual skill, which I refer to as visual separation. Professionals refer to it as a target orientation. You can’t develop a target orientation at the same time you develop the physical requirements of a fundamentally sound swing – at least not very quickly.
Finally, each skill (full swing, short putt, long putt, chip, pitch, and chip) require a different mental focus. That is, the focus on short putts is different from long putts, which is different from the full swing, etc. Because the practice range is far different than the golf course in that the range doesn’t have trees, bushes, sand bunkers, stress, rivers, ponds, OB once we develop sound fundamentals we have to find ways to practice that simulate the golf course. If not we will be distracted by these things when we play, lose our target orientation and hit the ball who knows where. These things can also create fear and concern which also distracts us from the proper focus and leads to our demise.
Over the next several articles I will provide readers with information and alternative approaches that I believe are more efficient and effective in developing requisite golf skills and success on the course.
photo credit: redjar