Why playing more golf might not help your score

How good could you become if you had all of the time in the world to play and practice? Think about it?

Imagine if you didn’t have to work and could devote yourself full-time to lowering your handicap. Wouldn’t this be every golfer’s dream? To play and practice on world class facilities with regular lessons from a local swing Guru. You would have no option but to get better.

Right?

You’d think so.

Now imagine a talented young golfer with the above option. A dedicated young man with unwavering commitment. How long would it take for him to become a household name? A year or two? You would think (and hope) that he would be on the PGA Tour within a short time.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee.

James is a new client of mine and is the epitome of a dedicated golfer. He works out everyday, follows a strict diet, stretches before and after golf, practices for up to 10 hours most days and plays up to four rounds a week. He has been doing this for nearly seven years. You would think that with this work ethic James would have an impressive golf game and would be making a decent living from golf.

The reality is far from this. He cannot make his Golf Team, he has not qualified for the Club Championships for many years and he has been struggling to play to his ballooning 5 handicap. Sadly, his list of golfing achievements is a short one.

This has not always been the case. James was shooting in the 70’s before he was a teenager; he was a cocky golfer with a repeatable swing and could beat most of the players at his club. He shot an impressive 70 (2 under) as a 12 year old and this round still stands as one of his best. At 15 he lost the Club Championships to a much more experienced golfer in a play-off. James enjoyed golf and improvement happened as a matter of course.

What went wrong?

What happened over the years is sad and should be a serious warning to other golfers hoping to take their golf to a higher level.

Reflecting on his game now, James says that things started to slide not long after his impressive showing in the Club Championship. His performance did not go unnoticed, the club professional, who saw himself as a swing doctor, suggested James work with him and change his swing.

Working with this coach changed James’ objective. For the first five years of his golfing career he played golf. ‘By playing golf’, I mean he went out and tried to shoot the lowest score possible. Simple!

Then he became concerned with swing form and technique. He stopped playing golf and spent too much time thinking about it.

Most would tire of continual instruction and go back to instinct and intuition. James was stubborn. Determined to do as he was told he has spent countless hours doing swing drills, studying swing mechanics and hitting balls into a net. Slowly but surely he lost his natural flair, self-doubt set in and he lost the magic he once had. Worse still, the game become a chore and he started to dislike it.

Frustration…

James has reached some low points. He has shot in the high nineties. It was not uncommon for him to have days when he could not get the ball off the ground. The frustration of practising hard all week and then get beaten by a 12 marker in a club competition has taken its toll. He has told me that the game has brought him to tears and on more than one occasion he has considered giving up.

He still goes on…

It’s hard to imagine any golfer suffering a worse golfing horror. His persistence is inspirational!

How can this happen?

How can a talented and extremely dedicated individual can go through such a nightmare? I don’t have all the answers but believe that the start of the problem lies with the golfing culture’s obsession with swing technique. The sad thing is that James is not the only golfer I know who has suffered at the hand of this thinking. We don’t hear about these poor souls because they rarely make it to the elite level.

Golf has had its fair share of golfers who have had it and then lost it. Ballesteros, Baker-Finch and Duval are three of the most famous, but there are many more that have never escaped from this paralysing culture and remain in golfing oblivion.

James is slowly making progress. At 24 years of age he is starting to realise he has the talent inside him and he doesn’t need to concern himself with swing theory to play well. Every now and then he will hit a shot that gets him excited. I saw him hit a 235 metre two iron onto the green and hole the putt for an eagle! More importantly he is starting to enjoy the game again. He is upset that he has wasted so much time and effort over the years but is sure he has overcome the worst the game can throw at him and feels he can only get better. He is starting to put faith in his own learning system rather than someone else’s.

What can you learn from James?

The first is that concerning yourself with endless technique is detrimental to golf performance. Worrying about swing plane, elbow position and weight shift will only do your game harm. The more you get into swing mechanics and theory the more cluttered your mind will become.

Golfers have to learn to put trust in their own bodies and learning instincts. We do so much throughout our lives with little or no thought but golf is made harder than it needs to be.

Golf coaches have to learn to be patient and let younger players develop their skills slowly and surely. What is wrong with allowing a player to develop his or her own natural style? Is this not better than turning our golfers into technocrats with little flair and individuality?

James’ story so far is one lost opportunity and wasted effort. I hope that he can turn it around, I know that he is talented enough to do so.

What is more important is that this doesn’t keep hapening. I don’t think it’s good enough that talented and highly motivated golfers can slip through the system. These young guns need to be allowed to develop their skills naturally without golf coaches inhibiting their development. This is something that I feel strongly about.

A golf coach’s attitude is paramount. In my opinion, a good coach will draw out a golfer’s talent and allow them to develop gradually. Their job is not to fill those young minds with endless instruction and swing theory.

Does the talent lie in the coach or in the pupil? This is an important question.

A golf coach who believes he has all the answers will feel justified in bombarding the pupil with detailed and technical information. A coach with the other viewpoint will challenge, inspire and draw out the talent that already exists within the golfer. Not only will that golfer learn and have fun, the coach will be on a never ending journey of discovery and fulfilment. This is a classic win-win situation!

What will this change in philosophy bring?

At the very least we will see more natural and entertaining golfers. Golfers who show more spark and personality than many of the boring robots that we see today.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a superstar that breaks the mould?

A golfer that played on instinct alone. Who wasn’t scared to be himself, perhaps hit a driver off the ground or didn’t care too much for exact yardages. Wouldn’t this be great?

Imagine a great golfer that didn’t give the same answers at every press conference, who couldn’t be bothered with a swing coach or any of the other rubbish. Imagine a golfer who just played the game with his own unique style. Hit the ball…chased it…and hit it again?

Seve Ballesteros might have been the closest of the modern day golfers that have played like this. He helped inspire an army of golfers worldwide, until, like most natural golfers, he to was sucked in and spat out when he changed his approach.

The Seve’s and James’ of this world are important to learn from. There really is something wrong with the way we are taught to play golf. Too many young golfers end up on the trash heap…and it’s not because they’re not talented enough. The problem lies with the coaching.

I believe a change in attitude to this non stop technical instruction would help ease the destruction of golfing talent everywhere. And maybe, just maybe, the more golf you play the better you would become.

Note: I’ve changed the names and story details slightly for anonymity, but the underlying message is correct.

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2 Comments

  • Rick

    Reply Reply July 25, 2008

    I’ve been there too and its not pretty. Very accurate Stracks- great blog!

  • Cameron Strachan

    Reply Reply July 28, 2008

    Thanks Rick,

    I hope the golf is going well for you. It can be quite funny that you can play your best golf when you stop trying so hard. We can waste years by being too serious and practising too much.

    Cheers,

    Cameron

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