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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some Thoughts from Tom House

Monday I heard that Tim Tebow had been doing some work with a pitching coach named Tom House. You may be wondering... what does that have to do with golf?

House works with athletes in a variety of sports, helping them improve their mechanics. He did a brief phone interview Monday on ESPN -- primarily because he's working with Tebow and anything involving Tebow is news -- and he mentioned a couple of things that may help you improve your golf swing.

How long does it take for a new move to become... well, your new move? When does it become second nature? House said that research done on thousands of athletes from different sports -- and he specifically mentioned martial arts -- is that it takes 1000 perfect repetitions to master a new skill. I've heard the saying in a slightly form, that it takes 1000 reps to learn a technique and 10,000 to master it.

Still, this saying seems to match up with the idea that it takes anywhere from one to several months to "own" a new skill. If you made 100 swings a day -- and I'm assuming you took your time to make each one correctly, not just swinging a club rapidly -- it would take only 10 days to reach 1000 reps. You would reach 10,000 reps in only 100 days, just over three months.

And if each swing took only 10 seconds -- I'm allowing plenty of time to focus on doing each rep correctly -- your daily 100-swing routine would require 1000 seconds, or just under 17 minutes. Using that figure, it would take somewhere between 3 hours (1000 swings) and 29 hours (10,000 reps) to get that new swing motion down. That doesn't sound all that bad, does it?

Bear in mind that the figure assumes you focus on doing the correct movement each time. Tiger has said that it typically takes him 15 months or so to learn a new swing because, once he gets out in a tournament, he tends to slip back into the old swing. Then it takes extra time on the range to overcome the "backsliding" from improper practice.

House also mentioned that, at least when you're talking about throwing a football, inaccuracy to the left or right is usually caused by a posture problem and throwing too high or too low is caused by arm movement problems. Although I'm certain it's not nearly so clearcut with a golf swing, we do know that leaning backward can cause pushed shots and leaning forward (which happens during an over-the-top swing) can cause pulled shots because your posture has a huge effect on your swing path. And getting your arms out of sync with your body can certainly cause fat or thin shots.

What does this all mean to you? It sounds to me like short practice sessions spent making correct swings can get quicker results -- in a matter of weeks, in fact -- than hours spent smacking ball after ball with a sloppy swing. Work out when you're fresh and know you can make correct swings; quit when you start getting tired. And it also sounds as if you should focus on proper balance and posture during your practice if you want to make the fastest progress.

Just one more thought: It all sounds pretty sensible to me. But like I keep saying, golf isn't that difficult -- we just teach it that way. And while I know some of you think I'm crazy to say that, just think about this for a moment:
  • It's not hard to learn how to play a decent game of basketball. It's just hard to learn how to play like LeBron James.
  • It's not hard to learn how to play a decent game of tennis. It's just hard to learn how to play like Maria Sharapova.
There's a difference between developing a level of skill that lets you play well in an amateur setting and developing a level of skill that lets you play well in a professional setting. If you can agree with me about that -- and I think most of you would -- then it follows:
  • It's not hard to learn how to play a decent game of golf. It's just hard to learn how to play like Tiger Woods.
Most of you are capable of playing better than you do. It's just a matter of focusing on learning the basics and not judging your performance against an unrealistic standard.

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