I’ve spent much of my adult life studying, researching and playing golf. Since my first golf lesson I’ve been fascinated with coaching and finding better ways of improving. I even got involved in a scientific study of the golf swing. I translated the data into a usable golf swing model called BioSwing.
Despite having a good understanding of the mechanics of the game, I still believe that golf mechanics and much of traditional instruction is not the best method for improvement. At the very least you should develop your natural swing first and worry about the mechanics second.
I like to call this natural swing flow. I first heard this term phrased by Joyce Brown. Joyce was a successful netball player and coach – playing for Australia and then later coaching the national team to many world titles. I heard her speak at a golf learning conference in Melbourne in 1998 and her speech definitely separated her from the other speakers.
On a day when we got bombarded with golf technique from pillar to post, Brown’s presentation was a breath of fresh air. She differentiated herself by encouraging the coaches in the room to teach less technique and theory and encourage golfers to find their natural and free flowing swing.
I describe a flowing swing as one with an absence of fear and manual control. Many psychologists have termed the phrase “let go”. Letting go is playing with flow. You are not concerned with the how, but rather, simply being in the moment and letting your natural swing and style shine through.
Spending time with Kendal McWade in Scotland taught me more about flow. Kendal was once a traditional golf coach but turned his back on the establishment when he realised that the technical approach had not helped his game. In what was a breakthrough for him, he learned that teaching others this same approach didn’t work either – that it had its limitations and there were better ways of coaching.
McWade encourages golfers to be more instinctive and natural. He gives his pupils certain objectives to achieve. For example he might ask, “how would you throw that club towards that target?”. You then need to figure out how to do it your way. This approach ties in with natural learning, doesn’t disrupt the learning process and allows you to keep flowing. Kendal is a genius in that he understands the correct technique, and allows others to learn that technique without telling them directly. He lets the correct swing sneak up and you – you improve without really trying. It’s fun and full of surprises!
Compare that approach to a more traditional one. Just yesterday I was warming up before I played and a father was instructing his young son on the basics of the game. It wasn’t long before the young boy had about ten things to remember. The rules consisted of the grip, stance, backswing, downswing, and follow through. The poor kid was a mess – any natural swing he once had was removed and replaced by over thinking and control.
I would do things differently. A more objective based lesson would go as follows;
“OK son, I want you to hold the club in a way that feels comfortable to you. There is no wrong way, just choose a grip that feels good and allows you to move the club quickly. Good. Now I want you to swing that club back and through. Imagine you want to throw that club down the fairway – how would you swing then? Remember, you can’t do anything wrong here. This is your swing, so everything you do is correct. Once that feels comfortable you can hit some balls. Start with a short club and have some fun with it. If you want to explore other options try hitting the 5 iron. Later we can have a go at the driver. If you get stuck go back to the short club and find that throwing swing. I’ll keep an eye on you from over there…have fun”.
This approach, in my opinion, works nearly every time. The golfer is allowed to explore their own swing. They are encouraged to discover what works for them and they actually learn. Forcing a golfer to take a certain grip from the start sets them up to fail. Providing too much instruction on the swing kills any chance of success and usually results in little learning taking place. This is where frustration can set in. From this point the frustrated golfer is given more instruction, only making matters worse.
The objective based lesson allows you to find your free flowing game. Sure, the golfer might adopt a strong grip or funny stance. But does it matter? I don’t think so. Strange technique that works is art. It’s much better than the alternative. Strive to find your own flow, allow yourself to learn over time and forget about trying to jam everything in at once.