Thursday, January 30, 2014

Note to teachers and players – complex things do not always require complicated answers

I had a lesson today. It was a good one. It was also very easy. Unfortunately, I wish it wasn’t so easy. You see....

This person has had a ton of lessons with other pros. She came to me in a right state. I asked her to hit balls to warm up, and after a sufficient amount of time, I gave her a 10 ball test. She hit 9 shanks (extreme heel) and 1 pretty good shot.

She was obviously confused and stressed. Here was the dialogue;

Me;        Do you get that shot often?
Her;       yes, all the time.
Me;        What do you think happened?
Her;       My takeaway was wrong and I lifted my head and I moved my foot and grip twisted and I bent my left arm and.......
Me;        Woah, hold up. How did the club hit the ball
Her;       Badly
Me;        I am after something more specific. Which part of the club did you hit with?
Her;       I don’t know
Me;        Guess
Her;       (points at toe of club)

At this point I am thinking, “This poor woman. She obviously has no clue what just happened. In fact, it is worse than that. She thinks the complete opposite thing happened. Not only is she at a loss to fix things, but if she attempts to fix it and is successful in her attempts, she will actually make things worse (for example, if she tried to hit closer to the heel, as she thinks her mistake is a toe shot). Sometimes she hit it from the hosel centre, which produced a straight running shot, which she assumed was a top shot.

I pushed further;

Me;        So, what would you do if this pattern starts happening on the golf course
Her;       Walk off the course
Me;        (laughing) no, I mean, how would you try to fix it?
Her;       I go to my pro
Me;        And what does he tell you
Her;       Well, sometimes he fixes me, and sometimes he doesn’t. Last time he told me I need to get my backswing here (shows me position).

At this point, I realise that she clearly has no awareness for impact, and the fixes that her teachers make are always INTERNAL and there is no attempt to directly educate her on what is actually happening. The fix is always indirect, and an attempt to fix a correlation rather than at least identify the CAUSE of the bad result. Don’t get me wrong, you can fix someone temporarily by providing/forcing some kind of position, or giving some internal thought. But if they don’t understand the WHY you are doing it, it will be a fleeting fix and leave the player truly helpless. Worse still, they will need to come back to the pro constantly any time something goes wrong; great for the bank account of the pro, poor for the development of the player.

having your pupils come back over and over is great for the 
golf pro. But I would rather help my players become self-sufficient and
be able to coach themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good teachers out there. I converse with many of them on the forums I frequent, and in telephone conversations. However, there are also many who miss the true basics of this game; and I am NOT talking Grip, stance and posture. It saddens me to say that, the lesson today is such a common occurrence that it is genuinely frightening. I would say that over 95% of players I ‘interview’ in this manner always start by talking about what internal fixes they use. From my extensive testing of players, I find that the majority are actually better off with a more external thought to fix the issues at hand. Sure, there is a difference between learning something for the long term and just getting it around the golf course. But every player, no matter what level, needs to know how to correct a poor pattern in the quickest way possible if they are to manage their game on the course. This is not about ‘QUICKFIXES’, it is about managing yourself and your game in the right scenario.

Self-repair starts with awareness of what the exact problem is.
Trying to fix your car by replacing the 'car service' light is not the answer 

Not only do 95% of players think internally, but about 80% of those guys/girls can’t even identify what the real problem was, at its most basic level. If you can’t identify the problem, how the hell are you going to fix it? Sure, occasionally a blind squirrel finds a nut. But he will lose it, and he will die of starvation eventually. Last week, we looked at BALL FLIGHT LAWS. From these, we can identify what the major faults can be, in their most basal form

1. Did you contact the ground in the right place? Did you even hit it at all?

2. Did you hit the sweet spot?
3. Did you control you clubface/path relationship?

I’ll be honest, in my own game, that’s pretty much all I work on these days. Sure, sometimes I get a little more into ‘how’ to do it, and look at creating more consistency. But EVERYTHING you do in your swing should be linked to either

·         Improving the above variables
·         Improving your ability to ‘manipulate’ the above variables
·         Improving your ability to repeat the above variables

For example, you get told to shift your weight more to the target. Why? I hope you realise it is to get the divot in a better position. If you don’t understand this goal, your SUBCONSCIOUS CONCEPTS may kick in and you will be wasting your time. Movements should organically arise as a result of a goal oriented task. I.E. the goal is to get your divot in a better position, the weight shift should be supplemental to this concept driven goal. How you choose to do it is up to you and your coach – internal, external process, even neutral focuses can help things (especially consistency of movements). But if you don’t understand the goal, you will be screwed when it goes wrong.

Sure, you could hit the target by having someone give you commands
but wouldn't it be better to actually see the target?

What did I do

Hopefully you will realise, I showed her what was happening at impact. I videoed the impact and showed the hosel of the club clearly striking the ball at impact. She had absolutely no clue, and until she saw it live, she probably would have gone about fixing this with another backswing drill. Not every player has this lack of awareness for where they struck the ball, but you would be very surprised. A lot of good players may even mis-identify a subtle heel vs toe shot. I have coached tour players who have poor strike awareness.

So, I put a dot on her golf ball with a dry erase marker pen. She hit shots and now could visually see where the ball had hit on the clubface. We did another test; this time, only 1 shank and 9 good shots. But the pattern was still heel biased. She hit 3 from close to the centre, but the other 6 were heels.

A simple drill that I use all the time. You can never get too good at this skill

I simply let her go at it, but with a stipulation. After each shot, she was to try and identify where she had hit on the face before she looks. I gave her a point for each guess she got correct. This is AWARENESS BUILDING. Soon, she will be able to identify heels and toe shots without the marker pen.

After a few more tests, she was definitely getting more shots from the centre, and the shank had disappeared. But the pattern was still heel biased (although moving more central). I gave her a task. How many shots can she hit from the toe? No information on how, or what body parts to move in which way. A simple task. This is DIFFERENTIAL PRACTICE

Within a few balls, she was flushing almost every one. Unfortunately, she didn’t achieve her goal to move the pattern more toe biased, but it didn’t matter too much to her. She was jumping around thinking I was some kind of magician as she had never hit it so consistent. Whilst I don’t generally like these overly excited reactions (the only way from there is down as the expectations go too high), it was simply another example of where simplicity really matters.

All the time while she is doing this drill, I am watching as better movements start to self organise. She improved her set up, even her posture and backswing looked more athletic. And I didn’t have to say a word. But something more important was happening. Something beyond the technical, and something more than you can see.

She was Learning.

She was learning how to control the ball directly. She was building co-ordination. She was thinking externally. She was building her own GOLFER’S TOOLBOX to manage her game.

Broken and fixed

I have used the word ”fix” a lot during this article. But this word implies that if something is broken, it can be permanently fixed. Well, whilst it is true that there are certain technical things which can greatly improve your odds of making effective contact with the ball, you will never EVER master them.

Keep searching buddy, because there is no answer to it. There is no one alive that has ever or will ever master golf. No one will ever be able to 100% master getting that club on the ball in an effective way. Even the top pros, who practice up to 12 hours a day for over 20 years, only get it even to the “effective enough” stage just over half of the time. That’s right, pros only hit the fairway around 60% and green in reg around 60% too.

So, in effect, we are in a constant state of ‘broken’. Fixing your game should really be worded to 'managing your game'. Managing your mistakes in terms of course management, playing percentage shots, ADJUSTED TARGETING and having your own TOOLBOX of fixes for impact faults.

But before this management can occur, we have to have awareness of what the fault was in its most basic form. From there, we can expand out into managing that fault. The process is

1. Identification of the fault.

                Was it a ground strike issue, a face strike issue, or a clubface/path issue, or a speed issue?
2. Develop a list of ways to manage this fault when it occurs.
                These could be internal, external etc
3. Understand how each ‘fix’ or ‘tool’ affects your pattern
For example, if my ball starts going left, weakening my left hand will provide a big change to the     pattern. Weakening my right hand provides a smaller, more manageable change to the pattern.
4. Implement the appropriate fix
This could be simply through a heightened state of concentration/ awareness of what is happening.

If you don’t have number 1 available to you, the rest is difficult to do. Everybody has their own process for this, but often people are poor at number 1.  For example, a player may slice the ball and have a couple of fixes they use. But without identifying that the fault is a clubface open to the path, they are just like our blind squirrel.

Teachers/coaches. It should be your job to make sure that your player understands the fault they are doing in terms of club/ball interaction. DO NOT take for granted that your player will know this. I have come across countless shankers who know what a shank shot looks like, yet are amazed when they actually are told where the ball is hitting on the face.

If you enjoyed this article, please share with others by clicking the twitter or facebook share buttons. Don't forget to add me to your twitter @adamyounggolf   and like my facebook page adamyounggolfcoaching 

Take home notes

  • The golf swing is very very complex. Impact variables are a mix of hundreds or even thousands of swing elements, all jostling for position to create an impact. The brain is very adept at co-ordinating all of these variables in a way which achieves your goal, but you MUST first identify the correct goal. This requires  awareness of what is going wrong and what you need to do to correct it as effectively as possible.

  • On course repairs require quick fixes often, but I prefer to think of it as Game Management.

  • You can improve someone’s performance and hence technique without touching it directly.

  •  Simple awareness improving drills/exercises can be vitally important for a player to go off and actually become self-sufficient and coach themselves. This should be a major goal of every player and coach.


  1. As usual Adam, another great article!!

  2. Enjoyed that Adam...well organized.

  3. so true and fantastically put Adam !

  4. You had me at... can they hit the ground in the right spot and know why!
    Absolutely brilliant!!.

  5. Why start with body members trying to produce a swing arc? Start instead by moving the club back and forward in an easy manner and feel how it behaves when you try to pull it off plane for instance, or try to hurry up the swing, or add a punch, or twist the wrists. Pull it back and forward just adding enough force at the bottom of the swing to keep it going. Emulate gravity by letting the club coast up to the top and wait for it to start down. In other words let the swinging pendulum club teach the body members how to act. Take note of what happens with differing grips, moving the head, or rotating the hips. The immediate physical feed back will validate the move or not. Use a full length mirror to compare your efforts with your favorite swing model and use a video camera. Learn to enjoy the swinging motion, clip some daises first then put a ball in the way of the swing. When satisfied take your stuff to people like Adam who can enhance but not spoil your personal basic development..


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