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Teed Off (May.26 2013)

Update: May, 26/2013 - 02:00

with Robert Bicknell

Fifty years ago, most players couldn't break 100. Nowadays, most players cannot break 100. Worldwide the average handicap for men is about 18 and women about 29.

Why has this number not changed in 100 years?

We could argue that with more and more new players taking up the game, the curve is skewed and reflects more beginners. We could also argue that a handicap of 18-22 is ideal for sandbagging and winning bets so players have little incentive to post lower scores.

But, since golf is a game of honor, I will overlook any possibility of sandbagging on a grand scale. Also, while there are more beginners now than ever before - especially here in Asia - there are also new golf schools popping up everywhere to handle the influx.

As opposed to 50 - 100 years ago, we have new adjustable drivers that promise (every year) to have a bigger sweet spot, hotter face and longer carry with less spin and straighter flight. We have irons that have more feel, are easier to hit and get the ball in the air faster, go farther and straighter (every year). We have wedges that are more accurate, spin more and are also easier to hit. There are a bazillion putters that are easier to align, better feel due tuned inserts, have larger sweet spots and that encourage a more solid strike.

Yet, with all these technological improvements - many of which I happily use now in my old age - why are handicaps remaining the same as before?

Well, in my opinion, the first reason is that players are looking to technology to fix all their problems and while the manufacturers are trying their best to do this, the inescapable fact remains that no matter how good the equipment is, the weak link is the player using it.

If you suck, new improved equipment can help you suck less, but only you can help you play better and that means both proper instruction and better physical fitness.

But again, with all these new golf schools popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain, why are players still not making radical improvements and why is the average handicap not falling?

Could it be that what was being taught for the last 100 years is not correct?

(I'll pause for readers to shoot coffee out of their nose while wildly waving the latest copy of Golf Digest's fixes & faults over their heads and screaming "Heresy!")

To be fair, understanding of the golf swing has improved over the years. Teachers in the old days used to tell the player to "keep their head still", which lead to a whole new range of faults because later observation showed it wasn't the steady head that was important, but the spine angle which, when kept correct, did not cause the head to move.

Cause and effect was juxtaposed in the old days.

However, with the advent of Trackman, we have a whole new arsenal of tools to help us understand the golf swing, but a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and people have been known to take something small and go overboard with it.

One of the latest theories is what is known as the "D Plane" and the science behind it makes a lot of sense. To me, golf is really nothing more that physics, geometry and biomechanics, so the D Plane mathematical model fits into this quite nicely. How many average players would be able to actually put this knowledge into practice is another story and will rely on educated professionals to translate it into easily digested lessons.

My personal theory after 35 years as a professional is that most teachers today have been focusing on the wrong areas. They aren't to blame for this as what they've been taught has been conventional wisdom for the last 100 years, but as mentioned, it hasn't improved scoring averages or handicaps.

There has to be a better way to teach golf so that people can pick it up faster and be more efficient in their ball striking.

As a teacher, it is quire frustrating to watch players at the driving range bashing ball after ball in an attempt to get better, but without any idea of what they are actually doing.

If you want to play better, find a good teacher. — VNS

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