Why golfers don’t play as well as they should

A lot of golf coaches don’t like what I’ve got to say about golf instruction. As a matter of fact, I often get accused of being a renegade or a “rogue”. You see I’m convinced that all golfers, of all standards, could be playing better golf, enjoying themselves more and playing to their potential if they simply understood one simple principle.

Yet, I’m also convinced that most will never reach the potential they’re capable of because they are not being taught this “missing ingredient”. Coaches refuse to let it enter their psyche and instead rely on old-fashioned tips and techniques that have not been shown to work. What am I talking about here? It’s a natural given ability that I call automatic learning.

The problem is this…

… most golf coaches and the golf industry as a whole do not understand it. They keep preaching the latest swing theories and outdated methods. And, because they don’t understand automatic learning, their teaching is ineffective. And because this teaching fails they’re forced to keep coming up with new theories, ideas and teaching methodologies.

The result?

Golf coaching has become a merry-go-round of conflicting and confusing advice. And the problem here? You the golfer have been let down because those in charge have missed the key fundamental.

So what’s this “automatic learning” stuff and why has it been ignored? Let’s first discuss how a skill is performed.

A concept that seems lost on most golf instructors is that for all motor skills to be performed successfully we require our subconscious to take over. Sometimes this is referred as unconscious competence. No matter what it is called, for a skill to be executed optimally it must be done without conscious control or thought.

Somehow, through the last 100 years, mainstream teachers incorrectly believe that the human system is capable of performing fine motor skills with conscious control. They think if they give enough instruction that the client will be able to figure out what it is that needs to be done. Some coaches take this too far and continually bombard the golfer with so many instructions that they mentally implode. From this point good golf is impossible.

And it gets worse. Poor golf is cured not by simplification and understanding but by delivering more content. The worse you play the more instruction you are fed. And this cycle repeats itself, week after week and year after year. If you’re not careful you can miss out on experiencing the real enjoyment that the game brings. This ignorance of automatic learning is even more profound when we look at how we perform most other activities.

Riding a bike, driving a car or throwing a ball are all done with little thought about HOW. You are not actually thinking about how to do these skills – you are performing them automatically. And virtually nobody has picked up on this fact. The golf instruction world is stuck in first gear – too blind to see a better path. This outdated instruction is deeply ingrained, with many coaches reluctant to change.

Let me share a quick story that highlights this point.

A few years ago I got the job of my dreams. I was accepted as a trainee golf professional and I had my chance to pursue my love of golf teaching. But it didn’t turn out that way. My boss was a stickler to the traditional methods and wouldn’t hear of my ideas. He threw the book at me and told me to drink from the traditional golf fountain or get out. This was despite him knowing that normal methods weren’t working for me (or him for that matter).

So here I was. A young golfer, with a deep passion who was told not to rock the boat. Now this would have been fine except the system was failing me. I was getting worse not better. I was frustrated and not sure what to do next but it was obvious to me these golf coaches had been brainwashed into thinking there is only one way to teach and to discredit any challenges to that way. I think it’s time for a reality check. What needs to be hit home is this:

1. Even the most talented golfer in the world cannot perform under pressure unless he can automate his game. If this same golfer disrupts his learning system long enough he will get worse not better (if you’re thinking Ian Baker-Finch you’re on the right page). The simple point is this: If the best players can’t control their swing consciously then what chance do you have? If you’ve been playing golf for more than a year, but you still experience frustration and poor golf then it’s because you’re getting in your own way.

2. When coaches realise that the golf swing is not the most important thing, golf teaching (and learning) will take a step forward. The golf swing is part of the big system, it’s not the entire game.

3. And just maybe wouldn’t it be great if all the golf coaches realised that golfers don’t really care how pretty their swing is or if their golf swing conforms to some new swing theory. What golfers really care about is playing golf somewhere near their potential and enjoying the game – not be continually let down and disappointed

Everyone has the ability to play better golf. Learning is a natural phenomenon that is instinctive to us all. If we understand this and allow automatic learning to take place, the game gets easier not harder.

By the way, I know what you’re thinking. “This all sounds great Cameron but this stuff won’t work on me”. “My golf swing is wrong and I won’t do any good until I fix it”. Well this is the thinking I hear everyday. My only response to this is you’re not special, you do not have enough talent to bypass your learning system. Nobody does. Not even the great champions.

And speaking of them, if you listen carefully to all golfing champions they will give you an insight into how they perform. You’ve got to listen carefully because the media (or their coaches) claim it’s because of a swing change or something news worthy (like a new putter). All great performances are performed automatically and are free from interruption. Period.

Here’s a more subtle way of saying the same thing.

I don’t know if I can tell you how wrong you’ve been in this short space but I’ll try. Every golfer is a person. You’re not a robot and you’re made from the same skin and bones as everyone else. We’ve all got the same wiring and therefore the same potential to play golf to a higher standard. And here’s the kicker. You can’t find your real swing until you learn to automate. Conscious control gives you a mixed bag of results. You can’t play consistently because you’re getting in the way. And trying harder isn’t the answer either. You need a better way.

Here’s an example.

Steady came to me about five years ago. He was struggling and completely frustrated because he knew he had more potential. He lacked consistency despite trying really hard and spending a vast amount of time on his golf swing. But I introduced a new mindset to him. I told him about trying less, trusting his swing (and his learning system) and removing the straitjacket. Two years later he is a different golfer – just recently scoring 51 stableford points. Golf is no longer a mystery for him and he plays better golf without fuss or fanfare.

This new approach offers more. Steady now hits the ball further with less effort and there is little chance of strain or injury. When you unleash your instincts it’s almost like magic.

And don’t think I’m talking about airy-fairy methods like visualisation or meditation. I don’t prescribe or recommend you go down that path either. What I’m on about is playing golf like you do most other skills in life. Riding a bike and driving a car. It’s real world learning based on how we do everything else.

The Next Step

Promise me you’ll lose those preconceived ideas about golf learning and making the game harder than it needs to be. Stop thinking that your golf swing is the most important part. Stop thinking you have special powers that allow you to magically control your golf swing.

And most of all stop thinking that others have more of an idea than you do. Because, somewhere inside you there is a better golfer waiting to be let out. How can I say this? Because I’m willing to bet that you’ve already hit hundreds or maybe thousands of successful golf shots. Your problem is nobody has shown you how to tap into this talent regularly.

Do we have a deal? Are you ready to try something that has been proven to work?

To finish off: If you want your golf game to succeed on the golf course (where it matters) then you’d better start:

1. Finding your natural swing.
2. Letting your subconscious do what it really wants and is designed to do.
3. Learning to live with a lower handicap and playing consistent golf.

In my time as a golfer and coach I’ve seen and heard all the theories. And I’ve tried most of them and most of them offered very little. I decided many years ago that I’d walk my own path, that I’d do what felt good to me and forget about what the so called experts wanted me to do. The result was nothing short of remarkable. Best of all it was far easier than everything else I’d tried. Automatic learning offered me consistent, powerful and predictable golf. The hardest thing was realising I had the answers all along, not some swing coach or guru.

The next step is to go deeper. Get out there and play golf how you want. Stop thinking so much and let your real game shine through. It’s all you can do.

Please leave your comments below.

Resources:

If you want to see this approach in action check out The World’s Simplest Golf Lesson

The Golfer’s Nightmare – my golf book which expands on natural learning further

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