Some advice on learning a better golf game

The best thing about this golf blog and writing about the game is helping everyday golfers from around the world. Yesterday alone I received a call from Japan and the below email from a newish golfer from the USA.

I’ve been playing for a year and just can’t seem to swing the club. Lessons from a half dozen pros or so; videotapes; endless hours on the range; lots of time on the course, lots of books and videos, lots of grip changes, some new clubs, and still can’t hit long or straight. I’m 59, good health, reasonable condition, fairly strong, average athletic ability. Some lower back and flexibility issues, probably worse than average but not all that exceptional. Problems seem to be out to in downswing, with body coming up, and very poor follow through. Result is I spend most of my time in the rough and can’t break 110. I’d say that one out of five shots is hit cleanly.

This is quite a common problem for guys and girls learning the game later on in life. Typically the person is/was a professional type (accountant, doctor, lawyer, engineer etc) and has been successful at most other things (whether it be professionally, sport, personally or all three). But for some reason golf becomes mission impossible. In an earlier work I called this the “Golf Phenomenon”. Golf drives these people mad, and unless they can learn a consistent game they either quit or have some unhealthy love/hate relationship with the sport.

Here’s my return email:

Your issues are fairly common and I have some opinion about what you should be doing. My thoughts are not mainstream and might take some digestion.

1. If you play the game and keep your focus on hitting shots your swing will improve.

2. Keep technique as simple as possible. Your grip is simply holding the club in a way that allows you to move the club with speed – so don’t worry too much about knuckles and grip pressure etc. Same with your stance – your focus should be standing in a way that allows you to hit the ball – thoughts on alignment and body angles can come later (if at all).

3. Your body (system) will find a way to hit the ball if you let it. Don’t fight your system.

4. More lessons are not going to help. You will be better listening to your gut and trusting that YOU will improve. Learning to hit a ball really is no harder than doing anything else. We make it hard by trying to take in more info.

5. Do what feels good to you – don’t force yourself into body positions that are uncomfortable.

6. The swing needs to flow – it’s like a dance, so don’t focus on specific positions, think of the swing as a whole. Hitting balls and other objects is the best idea. Working on say your backswing typically disrupts the process.

7. Find the simplest cue for each shot. i.e. “clip the tee” for your driver. If you can do this the rest of the swing will take care of itself. I have a number of training aids in design that help you learn a better swing, chip or putt. They are objective based tools that give the user a basic objective to achieve.

The temptation is to take in every bit of advice, To be honest, my stuff may only be adding to your confusion. The above steps came quickly to me and they may be improved upon, but if you simplify things and keep your focus on hitting that silly white ball then your learning system will take over. In time, you’ll find yourself improving and the game becoming easier.

This is the hardest thing for an adult mind to accept. We try and override what’s natural and fight the system. Let me know your thoughts or if you have any questions.

That was my quick response – my automatic brain took over and I didn’t analyse what I was writing. After rereading I think it’s pretty good advice for someone learning the game.

Here’s the return email that has just hit my inbox.

Thanks for all of this. I think there is much to what you say because I was hitting better last year when I began — before pros, videos, etc

Sums things up pretty well.

I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts to expand on this topic further. I’ll be covering my thoughts on starting out, learning a swing that works and overcoming obstacles that golf throws at you.

I’ve got no idea how many posts/lessons this will cover or the frequency of my writing (hoping to do at least one lesson per week). It should grow legs as the content develops and your feedback, questions and input is encouraged.

The easiest way to keep up to date with the latest lessons is to enter your email address here (because there will definitely be a randomness to when I post new articles) – this way you’ll get automatic updates sent to your inbox and you don’t need to keep coming back to check. It would also be great if you can pass this info onto any golfer friends/family that might find it interesting.

If you want to add any lessons or issues you want covered then enter them below.

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  • Lukey

    Reply Reply October 5, 2011

    I like what you have written here and it does make absolute sense
    Cheers Lukey

  • Ray C

    Reply Reply October 10, 2011

    Hello Cam,
    Would appreciate your feedback on the following question.
    Have recently finished reading Tim Galweys book The Inner Game of golf.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone if they get the chance to have a read. The bit that has me intrigued is the”Back Hit” exercise in the book, is that the same concept idea as singing or counting to distract the mind?
    Could you use this as your auto cue? I thought this was an excellent awareness exercise when the club head reached the top of the swing!

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 11, 2011

      Ray: Yes, it’s the same idea. It keeps the conscious mind out of the way for the duration of the swing. If you can feel the club throughout your swing then you’re in the moment. When you’re present you’ll play your best golf. It’s pretty simple really but most of us are stuck with the “gotta fix this swing mindset”. It doesn’t matter how good your swing is, if you can’t be in the moment you’ll never be any good for any good length of time. When all this made sense to me I focused my energies on the NOW and forgot about my swing – the improvement has been so great that I have never really wanted to go back to fixing my swing.

      The hard part about all this stuff is getting hundreds (or thousands or millions) of golfers to see the same picture. The traditional mindset is well ingrained and unlikely to change. There’s not much to do other than write one article at a time and help one person at a time.

  • Simon M

    Reply Reply October 16, 2011

    We’ve just recently had some new members join our local club, after giving them some helpful advice I have found myself giving them regular “lessons” from time to time. Its amazing the progress people make when you can get them to enjoy the moment. I found that the hardest part was trying to find ways to distract them from overthinking how to hit the ball. Its all worth it when they relax and swing. That solid connection of a well struck shot. I am interested to see how fast their golf games develop in the absence of technical lessons and videotaping. With the main emphasis on letting their natural swings develop and trying to start a mental bank of positive images from successful swings in order to build confidence.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 18, 2011

      Simon: New players tend to learn just fine if we let them. The tendency is for coaches to go in too strong and get in the way. I think you’re on the correct path. Sometimes it takes more courage for the coach to say nothing and let learning take place. I’d be confident that your approach would work better than technical and video lessons. Thanks for sharing and let me know of your results.

  • Simon M

    Reply Reply October 19, 2011

    So far so good, the male is progressing well. He is starting to regularly hit solid shots. I found that by demonstrating certain shots that appeals to him, he watches the attempts to recreate in his own way. He loves hitting high sand iron shots into the green, even though he knows he could probably get closer with 7 iron chip and run. His wife needs a little more encouragement, I found that sometimes by getting her to feel something, like playing several shots with ball above her feet, helps her move away from her excessively upright swing, without getting bogged down in technical positions or too many swing thoughts.

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