Two Questions to Simplify Your Game - Why Your Golf Ball has the AnswersBy: Tim MItchell, PGA
If Brandel Chamblee was here today conversing with a bunch of our fellow teaching professionals from around the region, he might have a hard time finding many of us wanting to sit down, socialize and talk shop over a cup of coffee. He has been very critical of our profession, especially of a time in our history where it was arguably more important to be the best salesman versus the best informed. This Dark Age of Golf Instruction, not unlike the actual Dark Ages, has recently evolved into arguably our Renaissance period. Passionate golf instructors now have the intuitiveness, the intelligence and the resources to actually understand what’s happening within the game of golf. It’s a wonderful time to be a teaching professional in our industry!
Here’s the ironic component to our industry’s journey into and out of the dark ages, in my humble opinion. We took everything intuitive and instinctive out of the game of golf and replaced our information with opinions that worked for the incredibly talented and experienced minority. Those elite players could make almost anything work, but unfortunately many other golfers with less talent and less time to train went down the wrong road to competence and enjoyment.
What I hope to reintroduce to the new teachers in our industry through this article is something that we all have encountered with other learning experiences in our lifetime. It’s the process of how we learned other skill sets throughout our life by applying that same process directly to learning the game of golf. We learn by responding to the absolutes (truths) of that skill set, not the preferences (opinions).
Where does this journey start? For me (and hopefully many of you) it begins with a trip down memory lane and sharing my first experience of learning how to play catch with my Dad. What did I do, as a young man, to learn this skill set?
First, I watched my Dad throwing a Nerf ball in my direction and then learned the basic idea of how to copy and implement that motion. Yes, throwing a ball is a significantly simpler task than striking a golf ball, but stay with me.
Second, after acquiring a basic idea of how to throw a ball, the immediate task became what information was the Nerf Ball giving me. Did I throw the ball straight? If not, what adjustments did I need to make to throw it to my Dad? If it was too far to the right, I needed to learn how to throw it more to the left. That could be accomplished by changing my alignment statically. That could also be accomplished by changing my dynamic delivery of the Nerf Ball. Or it could be accomplished with a combination of both components. My subconscious athlete did a ton of learning that first session of throwing, by observing what the Nerf Ball did. Not once did I think about arm mechanics. Not once did my Dad try to change my technique.
How can this organic learning experience be reintroduced into our golf instruction? It starts with making impact the most important skill set a golfer needs to learn. This is our absolute. By committing to this absolute, we can introduce a few basic questions very early in the learning process for every golf student. Asking and addressing these questions will be a much more effective way of learning how to play this game.
The first skill that needs to be learned is how does our student hit the golf ball up in the air. The corresponding question to executing that skill set is, “Did the bottom of my swing circle hit the right part of the golf ball?” I know this seems too simple, but it is the most important component in the game of golf to introduce and understand first. It’s not the grip, or how you stand next to the golf ball, although how you grip the club and stand next to the ball can make the task of controlling the bottom of the swing circle simpler or more difficult. I would argue that many different grips and stances are used at an extremely high level on all the major tours around the world. Learning proper impact while controlling the bottom of the swing is the true first building block for the game of golf.
Let’s discuss one example of how to investigate and provide a solution to the question of hitting the right part of the golf ball. If the swing circle was too high, which might produce a whiff, the student needs to learn how to lower the swing circle. What if we simply started with that observation, and asked our student’s inner athlete to make a non-thinking, athletic adjustment? I’m amazed how frequently my student’s athlete makes an adjustment that helps them lower their circle without any other direction and BAM, up the golf ball travels into the sky. Perfect! Problem solved, and with such simplicity! Unfortunately, not all athletes figure out a two second swing through experimentation. Our task as instructors is to introduce as many different possibilities as we can to make this student consistently lower the swing circle to hit the right part of the golf ball. Let the student try any one of the solutions you provide for 5 to 10 balls. If this solution is too difficult to do, perhaps there is an easier way to explain the task, or an easier technique to help your student achieve proper impact. The more solutions you provide the better opportunity you have to find the best fit for your student. Of course, you hope to share the adjustment that puts the least amount of stress on your student’s athlete as early as you possibly can. That’s the magic of a great instructor. Your student in turn gets to take ownership of the learning experience as well as discover the best technique that works for them, their goals and their physical capabilities. Confidence is a wonderful characteristic to have in the game of golf, is it not? And maybe more importantly, you are encouraging your student’s athlete to learn how to make a more instinctive, athletic adjustment to control their swing circle. Versus trying to have the student’s inner scientist embrace a swing concept that might paralyze the student’s athlete during the short, athletic event of a golf swing.
The second skill set that needs to be learned by our students is how to launch the golf ball on the intended starting line and make it curve or not curve. The parallel question to that skill set is, “Did you launch the golf ball towards its initial target? Did the golf ball then curve or not curve the way you wanted it to?” This question immediately gives the student an opportunity to understand how each component you provide them controls their golf ball more efficiently and actually affects their ball flight. When you change technique (through movement or static set up changes) one component at a time, how does that change affect the use of the tool? And how does the tool (the golf club) then change the student’s ball flight pattern? This is another true and organic learning experience for the student.
One example of how to control impact from a ball control perspective is noting how a student’s ball flight starts right of his intended target and then curves to the right. This golfer needs left introduced into his ball flight. Which component of left do you add? Do you change the club face position at address? Do you make the grip stronger at address? Do you change alignment at address? Do you prohibit forearm rotation on the backswing? Do you add forearm rotation on the downswing? Do you change wrist positions? Do you change the shape of a golfer’s swing circle? Do you release the golf club sooner on the down swing? Do you change the sequencing of how the body turns? The list of alternative solutions can continue on and on. After the student has found the simplest, most efficient component that affects his desired change, his task is simply to get life experiences to figure out what is the right amount of left he needs in his delivery of the club. Not unlike Goldilocks and the Three Bears, life experiences, and watching the ball flight, will tell this golfer what is too hot, what is too cold and what is just right.
In simplest terms, let your golfers react to what the golf ball is telling them about their delivery of the golf club. That’s the best way to let their athlete acquire the skill of hitting a golf ball more instinctively and efficiently. It’s also the way they have learned every skill set during their entire life. If they need to educate their scientist to help their athlete perform better, the scientist understands the technique of the golf swing by the absolutes that affect the skill set, not through someone’s preferences.