Why golf can be hard

I found this site late last year and have been tossing up whether to write about Dan’s mission. I’m conflicted because to put your dreams out there, to tell your story, requires lots of courage. And sometimes it’s all too easy for others to be critical of what you’re trying to do. To keep going, when there’s external (and probably lots of internal) conflict does take a level of courage, commitment and discipline that many just don’t have. If more could step up to the plate and do similar, the Internet would be full of much more useful content.

The 10,000 hour rule was made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his best selling book Outliers. “10,000 hours” is based on the research from Anders Ericsson, citing that if one is able to notch up 10,000 hours of dedicated practice time, they will reach a level of performance worth remarking on.

Dan’s goal, if nothing else, is an admirable one. 10,000 hours doesn’t seem too hard until you do the maths.

10,000 hours = 416.67 days

So if it was possible (it’s obviously not) it would take you over a year of continuous practice to reach the goal.

A more reasonable figure might be two-hours per day of practice. At that rate you’d reach the mark in a little over 13.5 years. And keep in mind that’s 2 hours everyday. If you miss a day here or there it will take longer.

If you’re like Dan and have more time, lets say 5 hours per day, your mission time is now down to five and a half years. By now I hope you’re seeing how much of a difficult mission this is. And keep in mind this is not just turning up, deep practice takes serious energy and focus – you also shouldn’t be including travel and lunch time.

So my admiration goes to Dan. If he can stick with it, he certainly will be a better golfer than when he started. But from a coaching point of view, I think he is in trouble. 10,000 hour rule is a guide, it’s not an exact science. Those in the study (mostly musicians) who reached international level of performance averaged around 10,000 hours, more practice time than others who only reached a “good” level. “Averaged” is the key word here – some may have taken longer while others longer.

Plus, those researched didn’t specifically set out to achieve 10,000 hours. They went into their chosen art with passion, dedication and discipline to be the best they could be. They weren’t looking at the clock. Setting out to achieve a specific number of hours and then hoping your skill reaches a tipping point seems to be doing the hard work for the wrong reason. Where’s the fun for example?

But it gets worse for Dan. Take this recent post where he has published his slo-motion golf swing and is asking for feedback.

Here are some of the comments/lessons/instructions:

– hips sway off the ball during the swing

– I have come off of that line and hunched my back

– falling away from the basics that I worked on last year

– the hip sway and lower body in general needs to be addressed before it gets too out of hand

– Being very picky, I’d say it looks like you need to do a little more work on your thoracic (trunk) flexibility as the swing becomes a bit ‘arms’ with the trunk rotation done very early. Your right shoulder remains quite level as you rotate, not dropping under hence the flat swing that I would imagine could lead to you losing the ball as a cut to the left or a pull right on occasion: (wow)

– It appears that the trailing arm is releasing too late and too slowly (perhaps too lazily?)

– On page 191, a small fraction of a second later practically at impact, the trailing hand has come even with the leading hand with almost the whole trailing hand being able to “see” the target. The palm of the trailing hand “faces” fully towards the target. The trailing arm has straighten out quite a bit from the previous photo with the trailing elbow coming off the side of the body. The back of the leading hand has rotated inward, as well as the leading arm, and the leading shoulder. (double wow!)

– Waggling practice can develop these hand and arm actions of the final release to square up the clubface. Hogan’s book describes in fair amount of detail of practicing the waggle, as well as practicing mini swings of the release. A fair number of things are happening in the short time of the final release just before impact to square up the clubface at impact, which can be ingrained via waggling practice.

– Just one tip: The camera needs to be placed more “down the hands” from the down the line view.

– I believe the hips swaying off the ball is caused by your back leg straightening in the backswing. Check with your instructor, but keeping that back leg straight and keeping the weight set on the inside of your back foot during the backswing should remove the lower body instability

– The issue with the hands and arms reaching too far out from the body during setup is that just before impact, the leading arm and hand are swinging far away from the body at near maximum extension away from the body. This means that the trailing hand has to reach even further than maximum to get around the leading hand to get to square at impact resulting in either blocked push, or excessive action to bring the trailing hand to square with the leading hand.

– Does the club get a little behind you (rather than in front of your chest all the time)?

– I’m no expert but your swing seems very “flat” to me?

– One thing I do on the range is setup my stand bag right behind me, at setup the bag is about 1 inch away from my butt and then on the downswing I try and hit the bag with my backside.

Holy cow! This is just some of the information Dan is receiving/writing about and then presumably trying to incorporate into his game. He has no chance. Golf cannot be learned this way. He is getting information overload, and despite what all the experts are saying and the traditional mindset of golf coaching – this is not going to be helping him.

His blog highlights the real problem with mainstream golf instruction. It’s predominately technique and swing based and for the most part, poor golfers are being led down the garden path. I’m also not sure this kind of information overload is what the 10,000 hour rule is all about.

If Dan can make it to the PGA Tour with all this kind of stuff going on … well I’m just gunna come out and say it…

…it would be the greatest achievement I’ve seen in the game.

What sort of progress would he make if he wasn’t so obviously obsessed with his technique? Where would he be if he didn’t overload his system with so much? Where would he be if he played the game and hit the ball in a way that suited him? How would Dan be playing today if he had used his time to play with some fun, freedom and passion? Basically, what sort of player would Dan be if he’s simply played as much golf as possible without all this distraction?

The comparison is almost impossible to make because he has fallen for the traditional way of thinking…

… but I’d bet my last dollar he’d be a better player (way better).

– he’d have more flow to his swing (his swing looks contrived – a bit like some typists I used to know)
– he wouldn’t have to spend so much time in front of a camera
– he wouldn’t need to think so much about what he was doing
– he could swing with freedom without worrying about doing something wrong (mistakes are good and being afraid to make them is BAD).
– he could spend more time playing and less time practicing
– he’d have way more fun and his mission would be less like a job

He’ll hit a roadblock soon. There’s only so far the technical mindset will take you. His improvement to date has been pretty good – but it’s not that spectacular to reach a low single digit handicap when you’ve got time to devote to the game. It gets hard when you get close to scratch. And this is just the beginning. A good scratch golfer is miles off from playing professionally. But a scratch golfer can eat 3 and 4 handicap players for breakfast. In my mind it could take years – maybe twenty or more and perhaps a lot more than the mythical 10,000 hours.

In future articles I’d like to explore this further and offer an alternative strategy. It doesn’t sit right with me to leave it here.

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Tony Lucas - February 6, 2013

Sounds too much like hard work to me I’d rather go out and play golf .
Cheers Lukey

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James Smith - February 6, 2013

The classical mindset is a prison. 🙁

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    Cameron - February 9, 2013

    agree. Worse, there’s no escape – it’s like Alcatraz…

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Cam280 - February 6, 2013

I started saying bla bla bla WTF!. But I do agree to master something it does take time and effort!. To many people want the result and forget the process which in my opinion is the journey. I played today with a 75 year old 12 marker who just enjoys every moment because he knows his last game is just around the corner. I reckon that old timer has notched up 20,000 hours +. It also makes sense why Tiger and Rory are at the top of there game, they started in there nappies. I reckon I have broken the back of 10,000 but still have about 5 years to go.

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Cam280 - February 6, 2013

Ok another 50 years I hope!.

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Cam280 - February 6, 2013

I reckon the 10,000 rule is a crock!. I was just watching the cricket and when they show someones career stats they dont peak after a certain time and stay there, its up and down for the average I guess the question is whats the bar for measuring the 10,000 rule?. The PGA, or your club championships?, or how many putts you make in a row?. For me I will never be able to hole every shot so I will never reach perfection, but I will try because im a perfectionist, or I have obsessive compulsive disorder?, not sure yet. My motto is “near enough, good enough”.

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    Cameron - February 9, 2013

    Cam280: you make a good point. Every professional sporting team and athlete aims for consistent performance – they employ specialist coaches, doctors, physios, mental coaches and all sorts of people. But for the most part, it doesn’t happen that way. The Aussie Cricket team is all over the place. Have been for years. It makes me wonder how beneficial all the analysis/thought/study etc really is.

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Cam280 - February 6, 2013

My advice for Dan is to devote his time to putting because thats where the game is at the PRO level, anyone can swing a club, but to be able to sink putt after putt, that for me is the difference. But then when you say and believe you can putt, well go and smell the roses!.

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    Cameron - February 9, 2013

    I think a golfer trying to get on tour needs,

    good ball striking
    enough distance to reach many par 5’s in two (these are the scoring holes)
    an ability to putt really well – like less than 29 putts per round
    no fear – can shoot low in competitions no matter the pressure.
    brilliant short game

    I reckon it’s more than putting.

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Grayden Provis - February 6, 2013

That was very hard (painful) to read. Especially the “helpful advice” section.

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Gregor McCulloch - February 6, 2013

If like most professional musicians/ golfers he was naturally gifted and starting at the age of say 8,had spent loads of time on the golf course, mainly because he enjoyed himself, then I can sort of agree with the 10000 hour rule. But in reality this sounds like torture. Play to enjoy and get as good as you can within your limits I say.

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    Cameron - February 9, 2013

    Nothing beats the internal commitment of a young kid who is driven to be the best. I agree Gregor, it sounds like torture to me and I would like to know how much fun he’s having – sounds way more like a job to me. But I think he has done a brilliant job to get this far. Maybe he is enjoying the process and loving every minute of it – hope he is.

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Cam280 - February 7, 2013

Just one more thing, I bet prescribing A.G, I will be on the PGA Tour before Dan da Man! & thats a fact jack. Mark my words or eat some hay by the bay, I just may….

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Grayden Provis - February 7, 2013

Sounds like the old false reasoning classic: “all Fords are black therefore if its black its a Ford”

Instead its “all experts have done 10,000 hours of practice therefore if you do 10,000 hours of practice you will be an expert”.

Hmm.

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    Cameron - February 9, 2013

    It’s adult thinking gone crazy. We tend to think that’s it a magical formula and we focus on this rather than the main objective which is playing the game.

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Troy Vayanos - February 9, 2013

Yes I think the 10,000 hours plan is just a very approximate number. There’s definitely no perfect science behind it.

The main problem for most people is they need to be able to commit to this sort of project and still make a living.

Dan’s golf swing is not too bad but he is very flat at the top. I imagine he hits a lot of lower smother hooks and fades at times.

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    Cameron - February 9, 2013

    Dan’s golf swing is not too bad but he is very flat at the top. I imagine he hits a lot of lower smother hooks and fades at times.

    This is traditional thinking and not something that is overly useful. We wouldn’t tell Matt Kuchar or even Ben Hogan they were flat at the top. Positional thinking just complicates an already difficult game.

    Another thought: If he all of a sudden found himself in a perceived neutral top of backswing position, would he start playing any better? My thoughts: it wouldn’t make too big a difference to how he played.

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MM - June 9, 2013

I wonder if dan has seen this?

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