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By Mark Harman
USGTF Level IV Member and National Course Director - Guyton, GA

"You can never swing too slowly on your backswing.”  “Keep the butt end of the club one fist away from the body for all clubs.” “When putting, the follow-through should be equal to the backswing in length.”

How many times have we heard these bits of instruction given as gospel? If you’ve been involved in golf instruction (either giving or receiving) for any length of time, you’ve heard them time and time again. In fact, many of you probably have said them and believe they are true.

Unfortunately, not one of them holds up to the scrutiny of research. One of the problems with golf instruction, even today in the year 2005, is that certain teaching beliefs persist despite the fact that research had debunked them. 

Why is this? I believe the problem is several-fold. For one thing, golf is a very conservative sport, and anything outside the mainstream is usually viewed with great suspicion. For another, golf teachers usually trust the information given by other golf teachers. They’re just repeating what other teachers have said, who repeated what other teachers have said, etc. 

Another aspect is that golf magazines are complicit. They take, on face value, what the so-called “top teachers” write for them instead of doing research or questioning whether the instruction is actually valid. This means many of these “top teachers” are guilty themselves, because some of them think that their way is the only right way, even though simple research and common sense may refute what they’re saying.

The following will compare certain teaching beliefs to what research actually says. Keep in mind that every one was culled from what some “top teacher” said, either on television or in print.

Teacher: You can never swing too slowly on your backswing.

Research: Most amateurs actually swing too slowly on the backswing. Professional golfers, for the most part, have a fairly quick backswing tempo, contrary to popular belief.  A quicker tempo aids in creating a gyroscopic effect, which helps to keep the club in the proper path. A backswing that is too slow is prone to getting off track very easily.

Teacher: Keep the butt end of the club one fist away from the body at address for all clubs, or, let the arms hang straight down naturally at address for all clubs.

Research: As the club gets longer, the hands should progressively move away from the body at address. If this is not done, the angle formed between the longer clubs and the arms becomes too steep. This forces the golfer to come out of his posture, at impact, to accommodate the straightening of the arms and clubshaft due to centrifugal force.

Teacher: When putting, the follow-through should be equal to the backswing in length.

Research: The follow-through is actually longer than the backswing by about 1.5 times, which leads to the following erroneous belief…

Teacher: Putting is a pendulum motion.

Research: In a pendulum, the back-and-forth lengths are the same. As we saw above, this is not the case for a good putting stroke. Also, a pendulum begins decelerating once it starts its upswing. A good putting stroke features an accelerating putterhead slightly on the upstroke at impact combined with a longer follow-through than backswing; therefore, a good putting stroke cannot be a pendulum motion.

Teacher: The head should remain still throughout the swing.

Research: You would think most teachers, by now, would know this is not true, and yet many prominent teachers still say this. Any rudimentary research will demonstrate that the best golf swings feature the head moving back on the backswing.

Teacher: At impact, the clubshaft should be in the same plane it was at address.

Research: Even for highly-accomplished players, the hands are slightly higher at impact than they were at address, resulting in a clubshaft that is slightly more vertical at impact than it was at address. This is due to centrifugal force straightening out the angle between the arms and the clubshaft at impact.

The hands and arms initiate the downswing.

Research: As John McEnroe once famously declared, “You cannot be serious!”  While this might be a valid swing thought for some, it does not reflect actuality in any way, shape, or form. Yet, some “top teachers” do indeed believe it is the arms and hands, and not the lower body, that initiate a proper downswing.

It might seem disappointing that so much incorrect information is still being passed around. However, the good news is that, by keeping up to date with cutting-edge publications such as Golf Teaching Pro, USGTF professionals don’t fall into the same traps other teaching professionals do. The USGTF technical committee works hard to ensure that USGTF professionals can have a definate advantage when it comes to the business of teaching golf.


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