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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Percy Boomer on How to Learn the Golf Swing

Percy Boomer is a name many of you have never heard, but Ben Hogan was reportedly very influenced by him.  Golf Illustrated once said Boomer was golf's most influential teacher of all time. And you can still buy Boomer's landmark book On Learning Golf (first published in 1942) when more recent books are long out-of-print. Today's quote comes from it.

Percy Boomer in his backswing

Boomer's approach to teaching was revolutionary at the time because he sought to teach more by feel than technique -- as a series of sensations rather than mechanics. This quote, from a section called On Learning and Teaching, focuses on how he liked to approach teaching the game. I can't give you any page numbers since I'm using a Kindle edition.
Most of the teaching of golf is completely negative -- and a purely negative thing can have no positive value. Why do I say that golf teaching is negative? Well, we can all find faults in each other's game, millions of them, and we all start off to teach golf by pointing out these faults and "curing" them. I did this for twenty-five years, but I have now discovered that the right way to get a pupil to hit the ball satisfactorily is to watch for any good natural qualities that may be there and to build up the swing around them.

We all hit a good ball sometimes. Maybe with the beginner this is an accident, but the good teacher will use such an accidental shot, photographing it in his mind and starting away to build up controls around the qualities which made it possible.

In this way the beginner can retain his natural capacity to hit the ball and will gain confidence in his ability to do it -- and so go on enjoying his game and improving it. But if the teacher merely points out to him a dozen or more faults in his swing he will become perplexed, confused, and fed up. For that reason I never tell a pupil his faults (which is negative teaching). I notice the faults, of course, and suggest the necessary corrections (which is positive). So I never tell a pupil that he overswings and breaks his left arm, I explain width to him. That is to say I give him a positive conception and by working on it he actually cures his faults without even being aware that he had them.
Later on, he comes back to the same thought:
In finishing this chapter I will return again to the need to make your learning positive. Don't go out to find out what is wrong with your swing, go out to improve it. You will be none the worse if you start with a really big idea -- to learn (or re-learn) the golf swing at your first try. If that is your ambition do not tie yourself up with theories; stand up and give the ball a crack -- that is the most positive thing in golf.
Even today Boomer sounds a bit revolutionary: Don't worry about what your errors are; rather, learn what you should do and move on with that. Don't try to build the perfect swing; rather, take what you already do well and build on that. Boomer wass less concerned with "correct" mechanics and more concerned with getting the ball in play so you can have fun playing the game.

Perhaps we could all learn from his mindset.

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