Time to turn golf coaching on its head

Learning golf the traditional way wasn’t much fun. Looking back now it definitely inhibited my learning and added years to my development. I’ve come to realise that “the system” has got things arse about.

Normal golf learning goes like this:

  1. Base the learning model on the best player of the era (or of the coach of the best player of the era)
  2. Devise a system based on this player.
  3. The pupil is required to remember all of the rules of the system.
  4. Student reminded and encouraged to focus on what they are doing wrong.
  5. Receive a number of drills and swing thoughts to fix any problems.
  6. Get told to practice and come back again.
  7. Repeat

This system has become so standard that golfers don’t think there is another way. I received a call this week from a guy who is a pioneer in his field. He has broken all the rules of the “system” and gone onto become a leader and have a successful career. He asked for a golf lesson so I could check his swing. When I suggested we take lunch and discuss another way he can get through his form slump he declined. He insisted he had a technical problem and needed me to “take a look”.

He can’t break the habit of traditional learning, despite proof it’s not working (he has been trying for a while now). I can’t help him.

I’m not bashing the coaches. It’s not their fault. New golf professionals are taught to follow, and not buck, the system. Every golf pro I’ve ever meet wants to help others and would do anything to assist you in playing better. They’re in a system that cannot work. For the same reasons you struggle with your game, they can’t become better teachers.

What matters is how we learn. It has nothing to do with the what. But traditionally we are overloaded with rules and regulations. Follow the system, do the drill, perfect your technique. It’s mindless garbage that makes learning boring and golf difficult.

The best way to learn golf is this: Find a way to swing that feels good to you. It’s not about your grip or your back swing. Swing the club and choose the shots that excite you. Persevere. Keep going. Most of all trust your system that it will work out whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Don’t be scared. Swing freely and don’t worry about the results.

And then repeat.

There’s really no system. It’s not possible to devise the perfect system, write it down and get others to follow. You need to explore, have fun and keep playing.

Sometimes you’ll fail. You’ll stuff up and think you’re hopeless. This is time to move on and try a different shot or just forget about it. Making mistakes and not letting them get to you is part of the fun. It’s how we learn.

But the best bit? This type of learning comes naturally to us. At least when we’re kids. This is how we learn to do most other things that aren’t quite as important as our golf swings. We try we fail. We try we fail. But we get there in the end. We’re not concerned with how we look but whether or not we hit the target, catch the ball or are playing the game.

Golf is hard not because you’re no good, lack talent or don’t have a golf swing. You make it hard by focusing on the wrong things. You’re more concerned about about your grip, stance and swing. You’re worried about making mistakes and not swinging “on plane”.

If this post resonates with you then it’s time to turn traditional golf coaching on its head. It’s time to start playing. Forget about what your golf swing needs to look like or what swing thought you should be using. It’s time to start thinking how you’d like to play and then start moving in that direction. It’s time to restore a sense of childlikeness. It’s time to play golf.

I know people will say, “but what if my grip is bad?” or “what if I have a slice?”. These are the usual questions and come from a traditional mindset. I can only say that my golf, and those that understand natural learning, has only improved when we’ve stopped worrying about the “what”.

Focus on how you’d like to play and go for it. Traditional instruction is holding you back. It’s time for a change.

This post was inspired by this article. It made me realise I had forgotten a thing or two and the same things affecting mainstream education apply to golf learning. I played yesterday after a little spell (busy at work, injury and others) with a different mindset and produced some of my best golf of the year. Golf is fun again.

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  • Steady

    Reply Reply September 7, 2009

    Hi Cam,
    really enjoyed the article on unschooling. Being a schooly myself it was a breathe of fresh air.
    On to your blog subject.
    The golf merry go round is built upon this premise. Build and tear down foundations. By that I mean if your foundation that you built is wrong then start all over again. One thing has to be wrong and they start again. Practice this part of your swing and you should have it down pat. Crap, our mind/bodies don’t work like that. Repition and thinking technique will create a good golf score is plain WRONG.
    Because on Sat I had a net 76. I didn’t hit the ball that badly. However I made mistakes that i’m not learning from. So I fell into the bad habit of thinking about my score, technique, playing an unnatural game for me. The Result 4 double bogies and some bad bounces.
    When you think you know the answers to your problem are a better swing, latest equipment etc these only are distractions to what you really need to do.
    Go and find what works for you. Not Tiger Woods, Ernie Els but you. Build your game around a solid foundation of creativity and distract your conscious mind will playing. Remember our true golfer is more that a handicap number.

  • Gregor

    Reply Reply September 7, 2009

    But surely there has to be some basics, even if they are your own unique basics.
    Steady’s post says ‘Go and find what works for you’. How do you find your own basics without experimenting and wondering what it is that sometimes produces good shots and sometimes bad ?

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply September 8, 2009

    @ Steady: Thanks for the reply. I thought you would enjoy the unschooling article.

    @ Gregor: There will always be basics like grip, stance and swing. These can be learned quite naturally without giving it too much thought. There is also no need to spend years searching for the “correct” technique – something many golfers get caught up with.

    You find your “own basics” by exploring, having fun and playing. Our learning system is more than capable of doing this.

    I’m not against experimentation – I’m against unnecessary analysis of golf technique. Here’s an example.

    A golfer wants to hit a ball over a tree located on the practice fairway.

    Should he be able to learn naturally with the objective “over the tree” or should he be thinking about his grip, swing plane and body pivot or while keeping his head down?

    The experimentation comes in by trying new shots and exploring possibilities (hitting the ball over a tree). You’ll learn all types of things with the “objective” mindset – open club face, ball position etc. You’re not getting stuck by guessing what you’re doing right or wrong – either you clear the tree or you don’t.

    Hope that helps.


  • Steady

    Reply Reply September 8, 2009

    In sport we have knowledge of results and knowledge of performance. Knowledge of results in golf is your score. Knowledge of performance in golf is that felt good/bad whatever.
    In finding what works for you, as example. On long putts I putt very dominated by my right. So i use my right hand more than my left.
    What Cameron and I are trying to say is that in 99% of golf instruction is a cookie cutter approach. That is one size fits all. Yet we all know that this approach hasn’t worked. The reason being is that the golf industry wants you on the merry go round. Keep coming back.
    Yes basics are important however they are not the things you focus on when playing golf. PLay golfyour way.
    Cheers Steady

  • DP

    Reply Reply September 8, 2009

    I recall when Greg Norman was asked how to play bunker shots, he replied:- Throw 50 balls into a bunker, go in, and learn how to hit them all out.
    What we need is ‘time’ to hit balls and work it out, but I suspect that most of us do not have time or are not prepared to spend the time, preferring someone to tell us the quick fix so we don’t waste our ‘precious’ time. Basically we do not want to spend our ‘precious’ time hitting golf balls badly while trying to find what works best.
    There is a definite social side to this attitude and that is that people with limited time would rather have a game of golf with mates once or twice a week and accept poor/average/frustrating golf, rather than heading off to the practise range and tonk golf balls.( I suspect that this scenario is where ‘automatic’ golf should seriously rear its head, as the golfer must accept that he is here to PLAY, not practise).
    I would love to have time to practise before my Thursday afternoon game but I am otherwise committed. The only Thursday this entire year when I had time to hit balls before lunch I won the b*&%dy comp!
    Life ain’t perfect.
    PS: Whatever, it is still the best game.

  • Gregor

    Reply Reply September 8, 2009

    So should you practice based on objectives e.g. low shot, high shot, draw, fade. What about on the course, should you have an objective for every shot. And then do you determine success by whether the shot worked or by whether you had an objective for it ? If you keep trying different types of shots will you notice a pattern of what works best ?

  • Steady

    Reply Reply September 9, 2009

    Hi Gregor,
    in response to your question. Yes you can practice on the range those shots that we want to perform while playing. eg high fade, low draw whatever. How ever you don’t think about the mechanics of that particular shot. The auto process will take care of that. Get behind the ball, pick what shot you want to play. Set up for a draw and fade whatever shot you want.
    Once aligned play shot with out conscious control.
    I hope this was a help.
    Cheers Steady

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply September 9, 2009

    @ DP: One thing people forget is that automatic/natural golf allows you to continually improve over time. You should get just that little bit better each time you play. Practice is completely overrated if you don’t do it properly.

    A quote from Greg Norman:

    “I made the dumb mistake of changing my swing and it’s taken all this time (four years) to get back my natural style”.

    @ Gregor: Yes, you should practice like you play. Never play like you practice. There’s a huge difference.

    Automatic golf allows your natural game to come through. Exploring, having fun and trying to hit new shots is fun and maximises learning potential. I often see golfers on the range hitting the same shot time after time. Boring, and not sure it helps that much.

    My advice? Break free, try something new and explore the art of the possible. Maybe playing with a low draw is best for you – but you don’t know if you never give it a chance.

    @ Steady: Yes, learning to react to the target, ball and environment will give you the ability to hit all types of shots. How’d you play yesterday?

    Thanks for posting everyone. Good golfing.


  • Steady

    Reply Reply September 9, 2009

    Hi Cam
    shot 3 over for 9 holes. Not bad considering it was windy. Learnt how to finally hit a draw by turning the toe of the club to the left. Could hit it high or low. Last 2 holes started hitting fades by opening the face. Didn’t have to change my alignment. Just opened the face and swing. Not too far incase I hit a shank or very bad slice.

  • DP

    Reply Reply September 10, 2009

    Had second practise session this year before playing as I was determined to find my natural wristy sometimes overswinging swing without worrying about anything but how it felt.
    Trusted it and definitely went automatic.
    Sank some really good putts, had 40 points, won comp. what can I say.
    Also suggested to fellow struggling player to try ‘Cameron golf ‘ later in the round – I feel he will be another convert in time – and it does take time – a fact I think needs to be emphasised. I know you have said it before but we punters need reminding.
    Cheers, and of course, thanks very much!

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply September 11, 2009

    @ DP: Another win! You better take it easy – you might just start lowering that handicap. Fancy that. Your natural and automatic style giving you a win. Who would have thought? Keep up the good work 🙂

    And yes, it does take time… but worth the effort.

    Thanks for posting DP.

    Good golfing,


  • Tony Lucas (Lukey)

    Reply Reply September 13, 2009

    I totally agree with what you have said and with steadys help and of course yours I feel at long last I am really grasping the idea of auto golf but due to work committments I am unable to get out there and just absolutely let it go as much as I would like.
    Cheers Lukey

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