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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Method Behind the Madness

Every teacher has reasons for teaching the things he or she does. Generally these reasons are based in his or her beliefs about the best way to get results in a golf swing. I'm no different in that respect.

However, instructors often don't explain the rationale behind their approaches. It's been a while since I've tried, so I suspect many of you have begun reading my blog (and my books) without knowing why I sometimes sound like every other teacher... and sometimes I sound like I'm from another planet. I thought I'd take today's post to make sure you all know the whys behind what I teach.

First of all, there are LOTS of ways to hit a golf ball because teaching methods are designed to correct certain problems. For example, Stack'n'Tilt was designed to solve a different problem than Hogan's swing. If you don't have the problem Stack'n'Tilt was designed to solve, it may seem like a funky way to swing; if you do have the problem, it will seem like manna from heaven.

Likewise, if you don't have the problem a swing was designed to solve, that swing method may convince you that you can't play golf at all. There's a reason so many people who try Hogan's swing method struggle with a slice -- Hogan designed the swing to combat a duck hook and, if you don't already have a bad hook, his "corrections" can cause you to slice or at least push the ball. Unless your instructor removed the "hook corrections" from the swing he taught you, of course... but many don't know to do that. (God bless them, many don't even know that they should.)

But that's part of the reason golf is so frustrating. Which leads to my next point...

Second, just because there are LOTS of ways to hit a golf ball doesn't mean any of them are necessarily "right" or "wrong." That's not a cop-out -- all you have to do is compare Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, and Jack Nicklaus. You have three entirely different swing methods there, yet they account for 24 major wins. And before you ask, the fact that Jack has more than the other two doesn't mean he was "more right" than the other two. Jack was more athletic and his career was much longer than the other two as well.
  • Lee won five of his majors between 1968 and 1974 (7 years), with one more coming in 1984.
  • Nick won five between 1987 and 1992 (8 years), with one more in 1996.
  • Jack won 17 between 1962 and 1980 (19 years), with one more in 1986.
If you break Jack's career into 7- or 8-year stretches (and you can choose any stretch you see fit, it doesn't have to be just the first, middle, or last third of his career) you'll see that the number of majors each has is very similar. Each man had a swing that was right for him, and he may not have been as successful had he used a different swing. (You know this is true. Isn't the ability to win using different types of swings one of the reasons we're so in awe of Tiger?)

One of the guiding principles behind the method I prefer is that I'm writing for weekend players, people who don't have a lot of time to practice. Because of that, I focus on what I call low-maintenance swings. That actually shapes what I teach in a lot of ways.
  • I assume you don't have a lot of money for lessons. Some people think my books are cheap, but they aren't. I simply focus on one thing at a time and, with the exception of Ruthless Putting (which is a full-size book), I write very focused booklets covering a single skill in detail rather than large expensive hardbacks that give you a little bit about a lot of things.
  • I assume you don't have a lot of time to practice. I try to teach you the simplest and most natural way to swing I know. The easier it is to learn, the easier it will be to replicate on the golf course... even if you haven't been able to play for a while. I know it takes time to incorporate new things into your swing, but it shouldn't take months of practice to start seeing results.
  • I have really minimized the fundamentals of the swing. Different players do the same thing but get different results. For example, many pros dip their heads during their downswing; some of them hit the ball a long way and some don't. The ones who hit it a long way (like Tiger) spend hours practicing so they can hit the ball consistently. The ones who don't hit it a long way (like Paula Creamer) try to minimize the move, which also takes lots of practice. Since its effectiveness varies from player to player and it takes a lot of practice, I don't teach it as a fundamental.
  • My fundamentals tend to be big, multi-purpose moves. You'll read lots of instructional articles that focus on controlling some small move that has to happen during your swing anyway unless you mess it up. I focus on a handful of large moves that make other things happen automatically during your swing... and I teach them in a way that will stop you from interfering with those automatic moves. For example, I make a big deal of one-piece takeaways because if you do it right, you automatically get width in your swing, a good shoulder turn, a good start for a proper shoulder plane, and begin your swing with good legwork... and since those things happen automatically, they tend to stay automatic during the rest of your swing without thinking about them. Likewise, I teach that you don't consciously rotate your forearms during your swing because a certain amount of rotation happens automatically and I don't want you to interfere with it. If you're going to swing well, you need to have as few swing thoughts banging around in your skull as possible.
  • I recommend you have a filter. A filter is one teacher or player whose teachings you know work for you.(That filter needn't be me, btw. Most basic moves work with any teacher, whether they like to admit it or not.) Whenever you hear some new technique you'd like to try, check it against your filter. Will it work with the things your filter teaches? If it doesn't, don't even bother to try it because it will just mess up your swing. This goes back to the practice thing -- things that will work with your filter's swing should start working almost immediately.
So hopefully this gives you a better understanding of why I say:
  • Playing basketball isn't hard. Playing like LeBron James is hard.
  • Playing tennis isn't hard. Playing like Maria Sharapova is hard.
  • Playing golf isn't hard. Playing like Tiger (or Rory, or fill in the blank) is hard.
The difference is that nobody expects a weekend 3-on-3 baller to play like LeBron, or a weekend singles player to play like Maria... but everybody seems to expect weekend hackers to play like the top pros. It's ridiculous, and I think it's the biggest reason golf isn't as popular as it could be. That's why I teach the game the way I do.

And if you think that makes me crazy, so be it. At least now you know the method behind my madness.

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