I’d like to look at something many of you will be familiar with - trying to improve your game using online tutorials from YouTube, etc.
A situation that many coaches, including me, often come across when first meeting a new player is that prior to seeking help from a Pro, they had been trying to fix their game from a book, magazine or by watching instruction videos online. Regularly the player will say that they ended up more confused than when they started and also that one set of instructions would seem to completely contradict another!
The first and possibly most important point I would like to make is that the information given is neither wrong nor right; it is simply one coach’s thoughts on a specific aspect of the game. There is some excellent information out there and certainly some great instruction videos, and in most situations the coach is giving information that, for the right player at the right time, could be very useful so let me expand on this point with a couple of examples.
Let’s say David has a slice, decides to Google "cures for slicing" and comes across a video by a Professional which talks about how important the correct lower half movement is in preventing a slice. David tries this out at the driving range but it feels awkward and is, in fact, making matters worse so on his return home he moves on to the next video! The next video talks more about the feeling he would need to develop to encourage more of a draw. This all makes perfect sense to David so off he goes again. Ten minutes in and David just can't get the feeling of the swing the second Professional described. Frustration kicks in and the range session is non-productive.
At this point David decides enough is enough and so seeks help from a PGA Professional. Lesson day arrives and, following a short conversation about his game, the Professional watches David hit some shots and points out the following . . . “At address your shoulders are a long way in front of your toe line so your centre of gravity is towards your toes. This makes it very difficult to use your legs in your swing and causes the swing to be dominated by the upper half; this is the root cause of the slicing motion.”
Together they get David into a balanced posture and David looks up at the TV screen where the Professional has the his original posture set up next to the new one and he can't believe how much better it looks - he even starts to think it resembles the Professionals he watches on TV!! As he starts to make a few practice swings he immediately feels a different movement, his legs are now moving differently and he no longer feels he has the out-in swing path that has plagued him for months! He begins to hit a few short irons and something miraculous happens . . . it all starts to make sense.
My second example is actually factual describes a lesson I taught a few years ago with a very nice gentleman then in his early sixties. He was, at that point, playing off a six handicap having recently gone up from five. This lesson has stayed with me for a couple of reasons, the main one however being that this gentleman had the worst case of the shanks that, even to this day, I have ever come across! He hit a few shots and displayed one of the best ball groupings I've seen but unfortunately they were about 60 yards right of his target – he was at his wits’ end but a very nice lady I coach suggested that he come and see me.
I could immediately see that whilst he was struggling hugely, he had a lot of good things going on in his swing. He stood to the ball like a good golfer and had a very nice backswing. Unfortunately, however, you don't hit the ball at address or in the backswing! Coming into that ball, his club face was wide open and the club also got outside the target line just before impact – the inevitable end result of this combination was a shank. As the gentleman had such a good set-up and an excellent grip, the club face position at impact was not what I had expected. I talked to him about what was happening and what we wanted to happen to see how this fitted in with his thinking and this was when we struck gold. It turned out that in his younger days he had been a very good badminton player, and someone had told him a few months earlier that his badminton experience meant that he used his hands too much in his golf swing. This made complete sense to me so I went on to explain the importance of the hands, and the role that they play, in the golf swing. He had literally kept his hand completely "dead" into his downswing which caused him to lose all control of the club face – this explained the wide open club face position and poor club path. Prior to this lesson the gentleman had spent some time trying to fix his swing himself using the different information available on how to fix a shank but no video was really going to get to the root of this fault.
You see, it isn't that the coaches on the YouTube videos were wrong – I am, in fact, certain they’re all excellent coaches. It is simply the case that the video can only ever offer a "tip" and cannot possibly take into account all the other factors in a player’s swing and thought process.
It doesn't matter who you are or what level you play at; if you can develop an understanding of your own individual method then you are on the path to better golf. This is where the problem will always lie in trying to improve through books and videos - there is a huge amount of brilliant information available, all written by some of the best coaches and players of the last 100 years; the difficulty lies in identifying which bit is for you . . .
Most of us can imagine both sides of the coin when it comes to the difference between a first class golfer whose swing is a thing of beauty - a fluid movement that’s the envy of thousands of aspiring golfers - and the weekend golfer whose rigid set up and jerky, snatchy swing looks more like hard work and an injury waiting to happen than anything close to natural.
Now, here’s an interesting point - have you ever wondered why, when kids take up golf they often seem to get the "knack" of it quite quickly, and in many cases quickly develop a swing that adults observe with envy? Adults, however, often find it all a bit of a struggle to start with and their swings don't seem to be anywhere near as natural . . . even after a few lessons.
Now I appreciate that in many cases adults don't, over the years, work on maintaining the flexibility we’re blessed with at birth. Instead we spend years sitting at a desk or doing the same things day in day out and, before we know it, a simple task such as sitting cross legged on the floor or touching our toes is beyond us. Whilst this is obviously going to have a big influence on the swing and what’s possible for us, in this article I want to talk about another area where we sometimes go wrong.
Let’s say we have an 8 year old called David and a 40 year old called Frank. Both have been playing for 4 weeks and come along for a lesson. The Pro sees that both would be more successful if they adopted a better finish position which could encourage them, in their downswings, to move everything (not just their arms) in a more co-ordinated fashion. So, the Pro gives a quick demonstration of the swing and finish position and asks them to copy it. David enthusiastically gets his club and, after a few swings, is developing a really nice finish whereas Frank is looking a bit awkward and stiff, and doesn't seem to be making the same progress as David. Why is this? Because Frank is using the power of thought to try to figure it out and David simply watched the Pro and gave it a go. Frank watched the Pro and had a flurry of thinking along the lines of . . .
"How do I do that?" "This doesn't feel right" "I must look like an idiot" "Am I ever going to get this?" "Maybe this Pro doesn't know what he's talking about!" "Is my head supposed to move?" . . .
The list could go on and on!!
Our ability to think is like the rudder of a ship that guides us through life, it’s a gift that everyone is given and one that serves us in so many ways. However, there are many times in our lives when our thoughts get in the way of us achieving what we want. You may be reading this and saying "but how on earth can I switch off my thinking?!" The answer is that you can't switch it off, but you can begin to understand what’s happening without revving it up still further.
We could give hundreds of examples of the role our thoughts play in causing problems for us. If you were to put a 50 foot long but only 1 foot wide plank of wood on the floor and walk across it, my money would be on you being able to do it pretty easily. Now let’s put that same plank of wood 100 feet in the air suspended between two buildings - how easy would it be now? It should, physically speaking, be just as easy as it was when it was on the ground . . . but your thoughts impact and make the task far more difficult.
I want to make a very important point here - you may say "but the plank is 100 feet in the air so it has to be harder!" I'm sure that if we tested this with a large group of people (hopefully this experiment doesn’t ever take place!) the final results would indicate that it is indeed more difficult with the plank in the air. However, you are experiencing that walk across the plank 100% in and with your thought. When those incredible wire walkers are in the air, do you suppose they’re thinking "don't fall off!" or "my life, that’s a long way down!"? Of course they’re not – their minds are quiet and calm and they are just doing it.
Sometimes when we want to learn something new, we really need to just do it or go back to being a kid again.
If you’ve been struggling with your golf and feel that maybe you’ve been over thinking your swing, try having a few sessions down the range or on the course where you “just do it”. Do whatever you feel like but don't try and figure it out. Accept your bad shots alongside the good and just keep doing it; you may well end up finding a more natural golfer inside.