How the world’s best tennis players can help your golf game

The Australian Open Tennis has been fantastic. Some great matches, well worth staying up passed midnight for.

From a coaching point of view, there is also some stuff we can apply to our golf game. Here’s some stuff that I’ve noticed.

They play one shot at a time: I know it’s a cliche, but whether you’re playing tennis or golf, you really must be able to play one shot at a time. And the tennis players do this well. After each point they follow a routine (usually towel down and adjust their strings) and refocus for the next point. And they do the same thing over and over – they’re highly predictable but it allows them to play their best.

Free flowing: This is one of the things I like most about the tennis. It’s really free flowing. The players are not tight and controlling as they exchange backhands and forehands. There’s a real flow to how the shots are executed and it’s this that enables them to hit hard and accurate shots.

If they became analytical they’d have no chance to play with precision and power. There’s also little time to do so, so a flowing mindset rules the day.

Range of styles: There are so many different styles and nobody seems to notice. Where in golf a funky style gets commented on, in tennis nobody seems to care. Here’s some of the differences I’ve noticed.

– single handed backhand versus double handed backhand
– serving style, no two serving styles are the same and almost all of them incredibly unique
– power style versus craftiness. Have you noticed that the really big power players don’t dominate? It’s the same with golf. While we would all like to hit the ball further, it seems the real power players lack the skill to play at the highest level.

They don’t have coaches: Tennis players are all alone once they get on court. They can peek up to their support group but they’re not allowed to receive any coaching. I know golfers don’t have their coaches walking around, but they do have a caddy.

I think sport would become a little more interesting if there were no coaches on play day. The lack of a coach doesn’t seem to stop Djokovic, Federer and Nadal playing some unbelievable tennis.

They warm up: They all warm up but they don’t work on their techniques like golfers do. Warming up is just that, getting your body ready to perform. It’s not a time for trying to find a swing or a serve.

They never give up: Tennis is a unique sport in the fact that it’s never over until the last point is won. So a player can come back from the impossible. As a result they never seem to give up – they keep trying right to the end.

It’s an admirable attitude that allows for the remarkable to happen every now and then.

They play the game: I’m convinced the best player’s mindset is on playing the game. They are not thinking technique or even too much strategy. Their focus is on hitting the ball and if you ask me this is really all you should be doing.

The commentators are not worth listening to: Commentating on the tennis couldn’t be easy. There’s only so much you can talk about, and with many matches lasting five hours, you’ve got to be talking about something.

But I’ve been continually frustrated at the lack of insight the commentators give. They seem excellent at stating the obvious or are excellent after the fact. Here’s an example that occurred regularly.

Player A is winning easily. The commentators are banging on about how good player A is and what player B needs to do to get into the match.

Player B wins a few more of the bigger points and snags a set. In less than 10 minutes the commentators have reversed the roles and now player B is doing everything correctly and player A has, “lost confidence”, “lost concentration”, “needs to serve and volley more”, “needs to attack more”.

This kind of thing repeated itself throughout the event. The annoying thing is the commentators really only came out with this stuff after they knew the result. They rarely came out with anything profound prior.

It might seem I’m being unfair to commentators and I probably am. But if you watch tennis (or golf) and take too much of what they say as gospel, you’ll get yourself into trouble. Commentators typically aren’t coaches and are there to entertain. I wouldn’t be taking in too much of what they say if you’re keen on improving your sport. To be honest, most of what they say is hot air.

Some other points about the tennis.

Line calls are impossible: If the world’s best players, who have incredible eyesight and a feel for the game, can’t accurately predict if a ball was in or out, how much chance does an overweight and middle aged linesperson have? Surely there is a technology that can do this without players having to guess and making the poor line people look stupid.

The ball is travelling too quickly for any human to do it. It’s time for a change.

Can someone tell me why the players take 3 (and sometimes 4) balls prior to serving?: This seems like a complete waste of time and offers nothing positive.

And finally, The Australian Open Tennis is proof that world class athletes will travel to Australia to compete. Golf administrators need to learn from tennis and somehow get a quality golf event Downunder. I know we’ve just had The Presidents Cup, but it’s time for a yearly 72 hole event.

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  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply January 31, 2012

    Thanks Cameron, plenty to think about here. The bit about remaining free flowing is especially occupying my mind at present. In one of your earlier posts you talked about how this is especially important in the short game where golfers tend to try to be much more careful than they would be with say a normal full shot. That really hit home to me and made me look closely at my chipping. You’re right. When it comes to the little shots around the green all the free flowing dries up and it becomes all studied and “trying” for me. Its definitely the weakest part of my game and so figure I’ve got nothing to lose by throwing caution to the wind for a while with these and see what happens. I’m just going to look, think and then step up and hit ’em a la Brandt Snedeker (check out the classic video of him chipping in with this approach). I also heard Christopher Smith talking about John Daly’s putting and saying that he (Daly) thinks a lot of what we do on the green is totally unnecessary and he prefers to just look at them and hit them.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply January 31, 2012

      Hi Grayden,

      I have struggled with this chipping too. For some reason I’m able to remain relaxed and flowing with putting, bunker and full shots. But chipping still gives me some issues.

      Managed to sneak in a game yesterday (Peregian Springs – pretty good course) and for the most part played well. Got to the 16th hole in good shape – was left with an easy chip and managed to get myself in knots. Thought too much about HOW and didn’t flow. Completely stuffed it up (was a terrible shot).

      This flowing approach takes some practice. I have found if you walk out onto the course with the “Snedeker” (thanks for the vid – like it) approach you’ll overload your system. But once you get comfortable with flowing chipping you’ll unlock the magic – it really becomes no harder than throwing a ball to someone.

      • Grayden Provis

        Reply Reply January 31, 2012

        Cam – not sure what you mean “if you walk out onto the course with the Snedeker approach you’ll overload your system” (?) Can you elaborate? Thanks, GP

        • Cameron

          Reply Reply January 31, 2012

          Grayden: I have found if one plays quickly without an understanding of the automatic process the fast play hinders rather than helps.

          So the golfer needs some time to practice this way before success out on the course. This has been my experience with the Baddeley Look and Shoot method also. Some time needed in a non-competitive environment so you can settle.

  • Mike Divot

    Reply Reply January 31, 2012

    Cam asks: “Can someone tell me why the players take 3 (and sometimes 4) balls prior to serving?”

    They want to serve with the newest balls, for a bit more “zing” and maybe score a free point or two.

    It’s like a bowler in cricket choosing the ball with the most shine on it (on those rare occasions where they get the chance).

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply February 15, 2012

      Mike: I know they’re trying to get an advantage but it gets tiresome after a while. Each point it’s the same thing. Also, the balls are all replaced every 7 or 9 games so they’re all new. I’m not convinced it makes that much difference – just wastes time.

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