TEED OFF: The trouble with teaching

Update: August, 26/2018 - 09:27

By Robert Bicknell

Whenever I go to the driving range to give a lesson, I am constantly amazed by how many different teachers are busy teaching different swings. Most teach the only swing they know – their own. However, the foreign pros teach a more standardized swing and can adapt it to fit the person, which is important because no two people are the same. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, body shapes and temperaments. All these things play a role in the type of swing a player can use.

Unfortunately, many teachers try to force a player into a certain type of swing and when that doesn’t work, they claim the student is unteachable. Yes, sometimes they are.

If a student pays money for the lessons, but doesn’t bother to practice the way they have been taught, most of the lesson has been wasted. You have to practice the drills if you want to change your swing or improve your game, it’s that simple.

Sadly, many students do not practice correctly. It takes roughly 10,000 correct swings to groove the new movement into your muscle memory (muscles don’t have memories, this is a misnomer, but your brain does and tells the muscle what to do). If you don’t put in the effort, you will not improve as quickly as you want, which leads to the students telling people the teacher sucks.

It’s a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

OK, so which swing is the best? If you look on the internet, you will be bombarded by a gazillion golf swing YouTube videos, each one claiming to have the “secret move” which will allow you to improve overnight. As you might expect, 99 per cent of them are pure bullshit, but they get a lot of clicks anyway.

To be honest, on-line golf videos, books and articles are the best sources of income for teaching pros because once you view and try them, you will have to come to a professional to get fixed after screwing yourself up. No matter how good a video might seem, if the instructor is right there showing you in person, you probably will screw it up.

Golf swings have been characteristically broken down into two basic schools of thought: swinging and hitting. Most of the players on the PGA Tour are “hitters” which mean they use a lot of right-side power. It’s a combination of centrifugal and centripetal forces.

Swingers, on the other hand, are mostly left side dominant and rely primarily on centrifugal force generated by the rotation. Phil Mickelson is primarily a swinger rather than a hitter, which is why his swing looks so smooth. Contrast that with someone like Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson who are hitters and the difference is readily apparent. Yet, both work without a problem.

Nevertheless, the golf swing has changed a lot over the years, partially due to a better understanding of physics and biomechanics, but also because the equipment has changed a lot.

Nowadays, equipment manufacturers design their clubs along a certain set of parameters and this means that some of the old styles of play (i.e. “working the ball”) is much more limited because the equipment is primarily designed to hit the ball straight.

So, given the equipment nowadays, players are pretty much forced to change their swings to get the best results from the equipment, but most of the important criteria of the swing remain in place.

No matter what style of swing a student learns, there are certain parts of the swing which must be done correctly to have any hope of success. The difference is how you reach those points.

To me, the most important part of the swing has been impact and, for myself only, I disregard the other aspects of it. As long as I can deliver the clubhead squarely through the ball with my weight behind it, I know I have power and accuracy. Unlike many other players, I do not use a full swing due to the physical limitations of my body at this stage of life. However, I still generate a lot of power with a half-to-three quarter swing, probably due to playing a lot of baseball and ice hockey as a kid.

Bottom line, if you want to improve your game, find a good teacher and practice what he tells you.