Truths Your Students Need To Hear

Truths Your Students Need To Hear

Golf breeds a certain amount of optimism in just about everyone who plays it, from the junior player who aspires to be a world-famous professional to the everyday golfer dreaming of shooting in the 70s. Some of this optimism is deserved; for others, it’s nothing more than a fantasy when you consider other realities.

If you’ve taught golf for a certain length of time, you will run across students who have certain goals and expectations for themselves that may or may not be realistic. They also might have certain expectations of their teacher or coach that also may or may not be realistic. Here are some things that students need to hear and understand, not only about the teaching and learning process but about themselves and how the game actually works:

Realistic expectations

If you work on what you were taught, you will improve. It might take some time, but you will improve. A lot of students seem to have this notion that they are in complete control of their bodies, and that if they are told and shown what to do, they will automatically be able to do it with no adjustment period. The fact is, it takes most people a lot of correct repetitions over several weeks, at minimum, in order to effect a change. Professional golfers who have made changes, such as Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, have been known to not see any improvement for 18-24months while they were working to fully implement the changes. Patience is the key.

You should be clear on what your plan of action is. Proper communication is definitely something you should expect from your teacher or coach. There should be no questions in your mind about the proper course of action laid out for you when you leave the lesson tee. If there is anything you are unclear on, ask! The teacher will not take offense, and instead will be glad that you are interested enough to make sure what needs to be done.

Your teacher or coach should be well-trained. Prior to the existence of the USGTF, apprentice professionals would be charged with giving lessons, even though they never received any formal training. They were expected to learn through experience with some input from the head professional. Thankfully, those days are for the most part over. Although everyone has to start somewhere and by definition there are inexperienced instructors, if they are well trained, such as through the USGTF program, they are qualified to give instruction. Prior to the existence of the USGTF, apprentice professionals would be charged with giving lessons, even though they never received any formal training. They were expected to learn through experience with some input from the head professional. Thankfully, those days are for the most part over. Although everyone has to start somewhere and by definition there are inexperienced instructors, if they are well trained, such as through the USGTF program, they are qualified to give instruction.

Unrealistic expectations

Your teacher, not your effort, is mainly responsible for any improvement. Nothing is more frustrating to a golf teaching professional to hear that the student practiced either sparingly or not at all since the last lesson. As mentioned in the previous section, it takes a lot of correct repetitions before a change becomes automatic. A belief that still exists among some is that it takes 60 correct repetitions for 21 days to create a new habit, but the fact is these are made-up numbers that haven’t held up to the scrutiny of motor-learning studies. Factors such as inherent talent, work ethic and complexity of the change all play a role in how long it takes to change or develop a new habit.

One lesson is all you need to fix your problems. Just as one chiropractic adjustment won’t permanently fix whatever your problem is, one lesson is probably not enough to fix whatever ails your golf game. Most people need to take a series of lessons or a golf school to see some lasting change.

You’re going to play the tour one day. Virtually everyone who has played the game has had this fantasy, and for a select few, it becomes reality. Then, there are those who are actually serious about his goal. But even for them, the odds are greatly against this happening. For the PGATour, there theoretically can be a maximum of 50 rookies a year, but in actuality the number is far fewer, because many of these 50 spots are taken up by former players returning to the Tour. If you aren’t one of the very best players in your state, you have no chance. As for PGA Tour Champions (for the 50-and-over set), it’s even worse. There are only five new fully-exempt members of that tour each year with another seven conditional spots.

You can learn to be as good as you can without the benefit of instruction. For some reason, golf seems to be one sport that has a fair share of participants who take great pride in being a “self-taught” player. Most people wouldn’t think of learning to play a musical instrument without a competent teacher, or playing in a team sport where there is no coaching, but in golf, this is unfortunately commonplace. If you want to get good as good as you want, you need to get instruction from a competent teacher and/or coach.

Golf is a great game, as we all know, and is the reason we came to the game in the first place. It’s also fun, but challenging, and to attain a certain level of competency requires a certain amount of effort. It also helps greatly to have a mentor in the form of a well-qualified teacher or coach, and combined with realistic expectations, a golfer will get the most out of the game that they can.
Nerves Exist But…Anxiety Doesn’t Have To

Nerves Exist But…Anxiety Doesn’t Have To

Can butterflies really turn into full-blown anxiety and create worry, doubt and fear? Years ago, I’d get ready to give a presentation and my nerves would pop up. For me, the nerves start with the physical manifestation and then move to my brain. It would start with butterflies in my stomach and an increase in heart rate. Then it would lead to me thinking all kinds of negative, irrational stuff.

What was the outcome? Inevitably I’d get on stage and feel nervous. I’d stumble through the first five minutes stuttering. Yes, stuttering.

Recognize Anxiety

When I realized what was going on (after much insight gained through my M.A. in sport psychology), I knew I needed to change what was happening prior to my presentations. It was time to develop a pre-presentation routine. I tried several things – music, movies and meditation. They all helped to a degree, but I still wasn’t feeling as confident as I would like.

My next step was to develop a mantra, something short and sweet that would calm the nerves and get me feeling excited about presenting. My mantra was and still is, “I am so excited.” I sometimes add, “I can’t wait to do this!” My nerves start the night before a presentation. As soon as I start to feel the nerves, I say my mantra, out loud (if I am alone) or in my head. Two seconds later, when the nerves pop up again, I say my mantra. Two seconds after that, when they are still there, I say my mantra again. It takes some persistence.

Reality of Anxiety

Anxiety is something everyone deals with at some level. There are three important things to understand about anxiety:

1. Nerves, which we often interpret as anxiety, don’t have to get that big. Learn to let the nervous thoughts flow in and flow out. If you add to those thoughts, you make them bigger, and that’s when the thoughts grow and become full-blown anxiety. 2. Nerves will always exist. They are the way our brain tells our body that something big or important is about to happen. 3. You do have a choice how you deal with them.

Anxiety is a negative emotional state often characterized by worry, doubt, fear and nervousness. Anxiety appears cognitively through worry and fear. It also appears somatically through things like butterflies and increased heart rate.

There are many theories on anxiety. One is called catastrophe theory. Catastrophe theory states that low worry, increased arousal, and somatic anxiety are related to performance in an inverted U-way. With a lot of worry, the increases in arousal improve performance to a person’s optimal zone. If arousal continues beyond the zone, there is a rapid and dramatic decline in performance. Once a person’s performance has rapidly declined due to increased arousal levels, they would need to greatly decrease their physiological arousal before being able to regain previous performance levels.

Key Considerations of Anxiety

There are four key considerations to think about when it comes to anxiety:

1. Identify your optimal arousal-related emotions. Think of arousal as an emotional temperature and arousal regulation skills as a thermostat. Your goal is to find your optimal emotional temperature (under what conditions you perform optimally) and then learn how to regulate your thermostat. Regulating your thermostat is done by either psyching up or psyching down. 2. Recognize how your personal and situational factors interact. It’s important to understand the interaction of personal factors (self-esteem, state, and trait anxiety) and situational factors (event importance and uncertainty) to get the best predictor of arousal, state anxiety and performance. 3. Recognize your signs of arousal and anxiety. You can better understand your anxiety level when you become familiar with the signs and symptoms of increased stress and anxiety. Learn how to regulate the levels of symptoms based on your optimal performance level. The quantity of symptoms depends on the individual. It’s the quality that’s important to keep in mind. Try to notice changes in these variables between low-and high-stress environments and learn to make changes when necessary. Here are some of them:

Signs of Anxiety Cold, clammy hands, Butterflies, Feeling ill Frequent urination, Profuse sweating, Headache Negative self-talk, Cotton mouth, Increased muscle tension, Difficulty sleeping, Inability to concentrate

4. Develop your confidence and perceptions of control. You can develop confidence by being positive and putting yourself in positive situations/environments. When you are positive, you surround yourself with other positive people and positive situations/environments. One other way to develop confidence is by learning to feel okay about mistakes.

Deal With Anxiety

Self-reflection is a critical component of being a consistent athlete. After a performance, write down how you felt before, during and afterwards (positive and negative). Keep track of your thoughts, feelings, physiological symptoms, your perception about whether the performance was easy, moderate or hard; what importance did you place on it, etc. You can use this information to become aware of what helps you play well and what gets in the way of your performance. Self-reflection allows you to see the patterns and adjust the negatives to make a more positive change.

Other techniques to deal with anxiety:

Smile when you feel the anxiety. It’s difficult to be mad when you are smiling, and it takes the edge off anxiety-producing situations. •Think fun. Highly skilled athletes have a sense of enjoyment and fun while they are performing. Most of them look forward to the challenge of pressure situations. This does not mean they don’t get nervous. •Breathe. Breath control and focus produce energy and reduce tension. •Use a mantra. Saying and thinking personally-generated positive words or phrases can be energizing and activating. Some examples are: I can do it, push to the top, I can present this material as well as anyone else, etc. •Build confidence with a pre-performance routine. Once you perfect some of the techniques for dealing with your anxiety, you can incorporate these into a pre-performance routine. A pre- performance routine is a systematic sequence of preparatory thoughts and activities you use to concentrate effectively before performing. These routines help train your mind to focus on what’s important versus focus on the anxiety. By concentrating on each step of a well-thought-out routine, you learn to focus on what is in your control.

Don’t try these for the first time the day of your performance. All the above techniques for dealing with anxiety take practice. It’s something that you want to get in the habit of developing during less-pressure training sessions, so you have a fully developed, personalized plan for the big game day, just as you would do for the physical aspects of your performance.

Transform Your Anxiety Into Your Zone

Your performance can be hindered significantly by how far your anxiety pushes your level of arousal. At the lower end of the arousal scale, an athlete is not aroused enough to perform optimally. With a little psyching up, you can find your zone or optimal performance level. This zone is very small as compared to the lower and upper ends of the arousal scale. That is why it takes a lot of awareness, understanding and refinement to stay in that zone and not drop off the other side into the psyched-out zone, where performance drastically declines.

Remember, you aren’t going to change your anxiety levels overnight, but the great news is you can immediately begin to become aware of what your anxiety levels are and almost immediately figure out how to work on regulating your anxiety for optimal performance.

Dr. Cleere is an Elite Performance Expert and can be reached through her website She can also be accessed on Facebook and Twitter.
Frequency Of Lessons

Frequency Of Lessons

By Cole Golden, USGTF Member, Wichita, Kansas

I was recently asked by a student how often he should take a lesson. I usually let the student take the lead on this type of conversation to get a feel for where their head is at, and how serious they are about improving their game. I carefully considered the student’s question to provide him with the best possible answer. While I would love for a student to take a lesson every week so that I could carefully watch and help them, is that what is right for the student?

I told this particular student that I would like him to practice at least twice between lessons. There is a “method to my madness.” It gives a student time to work on the recommended adjustments and comprehend any positives or negatives from the previous lesson. Maybe we are working on containing a good spine angle, and after a couple of practice rounds they feel like they can’t get through the ball.

Or maybe we have been working on a certain shot shape and they get it down, ready to move onto the next.

Giving a student a chance to work on drills outside of a paid lesson is a more efficient and effective use of your time and theirs. If a student doesn’t practice, it doesn’t matter how many lessons they take. While you want to help them along, they must have time to work on things prior to moving on to the next lesson. Some instructors offer ten-minute lessons that are good for students who don’t practice a lot. This is a “quick look” type of lesson and it serves a purpose.

Having a well-thought out, personalized game plan with your students shows them that you care about their progress as a player. It also helps you manage your schedule more efficiently.
Everyone’s Obsessed About Distance, Distance, Distance

Everyone’s Obsessed About Distance, Distance, Distance

Turn on Golf Channel or access virtually any golf media source, and one of the main topics of 2018 is “how far the ball is going,” or in other words, how far tour pros are hitting the ball these days. After years of saying there was no problem, the USGA and R&A are now claiming that something has to be done.

Jack Nicklaus has long advocated for rolling the ball back, and he was saying this 25 years ago when balata balls were still in use and the median driving distance for tour pros was 260.5 yards. For the most recent completed golf season, 2016-2017, that number is now 292.5. Based on 14 tee shots per round, that means tour venues today effectively play 448 yards shorter as compared to 1993. To keep up, that 6,900-yard course in 1993 must be stretched out to 7,348 yards to have equivalent approach yardages.

The gatekeepers of the game and media pundits say that golf architects today are “forced” to design such behemoth courses in order to “keep up with the ball.” That only makes sense if such courses are planning to host world-class competitions. Otherwise, there is really very little necessity in doing so. The average golfer hits the ball nowhere near 250 yards off the tee, the minimum distance a scratch golfer is expected to hit the ball, according to the USGA. Most courses have scratch golfers, not tour pros, as their best players, and you would be hard put to find scratch golfers who hit the ball much farther than 275 yards. A 6,900-yard course is more than adequate to test these golfers from a distance point of view.

What’s really behind this focus on how far tour pros hit the ball? Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said during his annual news conference at the Masters that the par-5 13th hole was designed by Bobby Jones so that going for the green in two was a “monumental decision.” Ridley pointed out that today’s players routinely have a middle or short iron into the green, and that the decision on the second shot is no longer “monumental.” He expressed confidence that “something will be done.”

Unbelievably, it could actually be inferred that all of the talk about how far the ball goes comes down to how the 13th and 15th (another par-5) holes at Augusta National are played by the pros! Think about it – those who run Augusta National are powerful figures who have the ear of the USGA and R&A, and yes, they are listening.

First, most players do not “routinely” hit middle or short irons into that hole. That is reserved for the longest hitters in the game, but right now, many of them are the top players, so naturally they are getting the most attention. If the average driving distance is about 294 yards today, that still leaves a 216-yard approach shot to the 13th hole, which is 510 yards. For most touring professionals, that is not a middle iron, but probably a 4-iron or even a 3-iron, contrary to what you may have been led to believe. And with today’s club lofts being stronger than in years past, that 4-iron and 3-iron are actually closer to the 2-and 1-irons the older fellows hit back in the day.

What are the options that the USGA and R&A have? Here are three of the possibilities:

Enact a local rule allowing for a tournament ball. This would ostensibly solve the “problem” of the ball going too far for touring professionals and at the same time allowing amateurs to enjoy the game. But this presents a myriad of other problems. Elite amateurs who qualify for professional events would have to either learn to play a new ball, or be playing it already but sacrificing his game to those who are not using the shorter ball. Players entering qualifiers for USGA national championships would have to adjust in some manner, too. The handicap system would be in chaos, because someone could use a shorter ball to establish a handicap and then use the longer ball in amateur competitions such as the city or club championship.

Chances of this happening: Minimal.

Roll the ball back for everyone. This would involve making the ball fly shorter than it currently does. Many ranges have limited-flight balls, and the high-quality ones do not feature a ball flight that is markedly any different, other than they go shorter. You can still work the ball left and right, high and low with such balls. Critics say that this will reduce the popularity of the game, for who wants to hit a 5-iron into the green where previously they hit an 8-iron? But it likely presents fewer problems than bifurcating the rules, as a local rule would do.

Chances of this happening: Possible.

Do nothing. Many who favor doing nothing say that the way to reign in tour professionals is to narrow the fairways, grow the rough and firm up the greens, all to prevent the pros from shooting low numbers. But they are missing the point. The pooh-bahs of the game are not concerned with the actual scores the pros are shooting; they are concerned with how the game is being played at that level, and Chairman Ridley’s statement is proof. They don’t want to see pros hit middle and short irons into long par-4s, nor do they want some pros to be able to hit 550-yard par-5s in two shots. That’s the crux of the problem for them, not the scores. They see the “integrity” of courses being challenged. But par is based on what the shortest-hitting scratch golfers can do, not what tour professionals can do. And if a hole’s original “integrity” is lost, a new challenge can take its place. For example, if we go back to the 13th hole at Augusta National, one pro made the insightful comment that the new challenge is now the tee shot and negotiating the bend of the fairway, where in the past no one had any strategic decision to make. They just hit it to the middle of the dogleg with driver, because that’s all they could do.

Chances of this happening: Probable.

The “Great Distance Debate” of 2018 will undoubtedly last for a while until a final decision is issued by the governing bodies. Until then, people will continue to play golf, and given the overall health of today’s game, wonder what exactly the problem is.
How to Get More Distance In the Golf Swing

How to Get More Distance In the Golf Swing

By Arlen Bento Jr. USGTF Member, Jensen Beach, Florida

If you play golf and love the game, at some point you will notice a loss in distance. Usually, this is due to age, just getting older, losing flexibility and strength.

Over years, many golfers just don’t realize how much distance they have been losing, because over time, they have been making adjustments to their equipment, changing shafts, finding better club technologies and switching golf ball designs. Ultimately, the loss of distance reaches a point where the golfer gets discouraged and starts to seek answers.

For over 20 years I have been helping people with their golf games, and the number one reason people come to see me is that they want more distance. Here is a plan that can help any player that is looking for more distance:

TIP: Learn to use your hips and legs properly in your golf swing to create more speed and distance.

Get your swing analyzed with computer video and fix your flaws. Sometimes, players just have bad technique and are giving away distance. Alot of recreational players that don’t have good golf fundamentals will notice a larger drop in their distance as they get older, because they have learned to use non-fundamental power sources to create speed. Look at older players like Tom Watson, who still generates lots of club speed even at age 68 and is still competitive on the Tour. Watson obviously has a good golf swing, but he swings with tempo, using his legs and hips as well as his arms to create speed. Most recreational players never learned to use their hips and legs properly in the golf swing, and this flaw becomes very noticeable with age.

TIP: Get your club speed, ball speed and launch data analyzed on a launch monitor regularly to make sure your clubs are correct for your speed.

One of the best things you can do as a golfer is to get your club speed, ball speed and launch data analyzed at least once a year if you play golf on a regular basis. Ultimately, it all comes down to physics, and if you don’t have the correct equipment, you are at a huge disadvantage as it relates to distance. Based on how fast you swing, the ball speed you create and how you launch the ball, you need equipment that matches your abilities to get more distance.

TIP: Start a golf fitness and stretching program.

Start a golf-specific fitness and stretching pro-gram to help your body swing faster. Your body is an incredible thing. You will be surprised how just a little effort in working on your body will have amazing results in your golf swing and the ability to generate more distance. Many people don’t understand that your legs have a critical role in the golf swing, much like jumping. When you jump, you use the big muscles of your legs, your core and parts of your body that need to be strong and flexible. I have a great little drill that I offer to clients that anyone can do. Just sit in a sturdy chair, cross your arms across your chest. Using your core and your legs, just stand up, sit back down and repeat8-10 times. Try to sit down slowly to keep your legs engaged. This exercise really helps use your legs and core, which will help your golf swing. If you have medical conditions, please speak with your doctor first before starting any fitness program.

If you are one of the millions of golfers that are struggling with losing distance, make sure to get your swing analyzed, have your equipment checked and start a simple golf fitness program.

You will be on your way to more distance in no time.

Arlen Bento Jr. is an award-winning golf coach, “Top100” world-recognized golf instructor and club fitting expert living in Jensen Beach, Florida. He operates his own indoor golf academy in Stuart and is the co-host of Golf Talk Radio on WSTU 1450 AM. You can listen to his radio show on Wednesday evenings from 6-7 p.m., or watch online at Bento can be reached for instruction at (772) 485-8030, by email at, or on his website
A Look At Old Vs. New Technology

A Look At Old Vs. New Technology

By Mark Harman, USGTF Course Director, Ridgeland, South Carolina

“Distance is ruining the game!” cry the purists.“All it is on tour is driver/wedge, driver/wedge every hole! Why, back in the day, pros were actually hitting long irons into par-4s!”

It’s helpful if we compare “back in the day” with the modern game in terms of driving distance. The PGA Tour began compiling various statistics in 1980, one of them being driving distance. Comparing the first three years of 1980-82 – when almost everyone used a persimmon driver and a balata ball – to the most recent three years (2015-17), we see that the median driving distance increased from 258 yards to 291, a gain of 33 yards. Some of that is due to the golf ball, some due to the driver, and some due to the stronger athletes now playing the pro game.

I decided to test the one aspect of this that I could, the golf club. At my disposal were my current driver, a 45-inch 10.5° Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 815, a 44-inch 9° Callaway Big Bertha Warbird from the early 1990s, and a 43-inch Wilson 4300 persimmon driver, given to me courtesy of USGTF examiner and good friend Mike Levine. Both Callaways have graphite shafts, while the Wilson has the original steel shaft that came with it. All clubs are standard length for their time, except for my current driver, which I cut down ½”.

Over the course of two different sessions on two different days, I hit 12 shots with each driver each session, resulting in 24 shots with each driver. I used a Callaway Chrome Soft ball, and for measurement purposes, an indoor simulator using the GC Quad from Foresight Sports.

I eliminated the shortest 12 shots for each driver, to better measure the solid strikes as my goal was to measure the technology differences in regard to distance. I suppose using the overall averages could give a window into the forgiveness factor for each driver, but that’s another discussion.

A quick note for those of you familiar with Trackman numbers: The “smash factor” (ball speed divided by the clubhead speed) is lower than what is obtained with TrackMan. Why this is, I’m not exactly sure, but in doing some research and some comparisons, it appears TrackMan measures clubhead speed a little lower and ball speed a little higher than GC Quad.

The distance results are what you would expect: The modern titanium driver is longer than the 1990s-era steel driver, which is longer than the1980s-era persimmon driver. The distance results, at least in this simulation, are linear. In terms of clubhead speed, the longer modern driver is the fastest, while the shorter and heavier persimmon wood is the slowest – again, what you would expect.

What I didn’t necessarily expect was the smash factor for the Wilson persimmon driver was higher than the Warbird’s, and almost on a par with the Alpha 815’s. (For the record, I have tested my driver against the newer 2018 models and find no differences in terms of ball speed, spin rate and carry distance.) I remember reading advertisements and articles from the late 1980s and early 1990s claiming persimmon drivers went farther than the then-newsteel drivers, and this gives credence to that claim.

When we further examine the data, we can see that launch angle and backspin play a significant role in distance, as well as the obvious ball speed number. This is why the Warbird, with higher launch and lower backspin, provides more distance than the Wilson. Had I been able to launch the Wilson higher (which was tough given its low loft), I might have been able to match the Warbird’s distance.

Another unexpected development was the backspin rates of the older models. The Warbird had by far the lowest number, while the Wilson and Alpha 815 were virtually identical. As for the Warbird, a club that I used for six years, the original RCH 90 stock shaft splintered from so much use, and in its place is a ProForce XL, a turn-of-the-century shaft featuring a very stiff tip, so that may have had something to do with the low backspin rate.

Because of USGA limits on driver and ball technology, it’s highly unlikely, if not impossible from a physics standpoint, for equipment to provide any more distance gains in the future. Predictions of “everyone” at the tour level being able to hit the ball 400 yards, or even 350, appear to be greatly exaggerated. While long-drive competitors can attain those distances, they do so by making an extremely aggressive swing that is simply not built for competitive golf, rendering them too inaccurate. I suppose one day someone may be able to figure out a way to keep their 350-yard drives in play often enough to compete, but I doubt it. Currently, former long-drive champ Jamie Sadlowski is making a go of it in the professional competitive ranks, but so far he has yet to achieve any notable success. Dennis Paulson, winner of the 1985 long drive championship, did make it to the PGA Tour and in fact won an event in 2000, but he dialed back his distance significantly in order to do so.

In conclusion, I don’t believe the sky is falling in terms of excessive distance ruining the professional game. Instead, let’s marvel at these players’ skill and ability, and keep in mind that the element of human competition is the most important factor in making golf as compelling as it is at the highest level.

Ground Forces and Bobby Jones

Ground Forces and Bobby Jones

Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr., circa 1921, Heritage Auctions

By Thomas T Wartelle, USGTF Member, Washington, Louisiana

Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., or “Bobby Jones,” was one of the greatest competitive golfers of all times. He won 13 majors (4 U.S. Opens, 3 Opens, 5 U.S. Amateurs and 1 Amateur). He was also a very learned man with a degree in mechanical engineering and a practicing lawyer.

Bobby Jones was fond of saying that those who are golf instructors are continuously searching for a new way to say the same thing. I could not agree more! In today’s day and age, we have modern technology to analyze and dissect every movement of the golf swing. I certainly am fond of technology and biomechanical study of athletic movement. However, it amuses me to hear of all the “new” breakthroughs of modern teaching. One such example is the phrase “ground  forces.” Today, there are advanced analytical tools such as force plates that can measure the transfer of pressure throughout the golf swing.

Humans have been playing golf hundreds of years. There is nothing new to athletic motion, swinging a stick, and hitting an object. The great baseball player Ted Williams wrote one of the finest instructional books on hitting a baseball nearly 50 years ago. This was long before specialized equipment to analyze motion. Likewise, many decades ago Bobby Jones, among others, spoke about the importance of ground forces to powerfully strike a golf ball. Today, many fine players are examples of using ground forces, which in essence means ample use of the torso, hips and legs while maintaining a stable head or spine. One such Tour player is Justin Thomas, who creates tremendous clubhead speed for a smaller-stature athlete. Like many other Tour players, Bubba Watson is also a fine example of someone who maximizes these forces.

Bobby Jones knew and spoke about ground forces in the 1930s. The same can be said of Ben Hogan, who obviously understood the relationship of the clubface at impact to true ball flight laws and the “modern” D-plane theories. As teachers, we must learn to embrace modern technology; however, we must respect and give a nod to the past, as there really is nothing new to striking a golf ball. As Bobby Jones said, “Those of us who strive to explain the golf swing are continually searching for new ways of saying the same thing in the hope that some new slant will appeal to those who have missed the older explanations.”

As golf instructors, we must continue to learn, acknowledge the past, and push on to the future. This will lead to more growth as a golf instructor.
Taking It From the RangeTo the Course

Taking It From the RangeTo the Course

“I can’t hit the ball on the course as well as I can on the range…I’ve won several U.S. Opens on the range…I’m a scratch golfer on the range but a 15 on the course…” These comments have been made by innumerable golfers over the years.

It’s one of the great mysteries of the game: How can someone hit the ball so well on the practice tee and yet so poorly on the course? Why do people lack the consistency on the course that they have on the range? Fortunately, there are solutions to help our students with this most perplexing of problems.

We must consider that the game as played on the course is completely different than what is happening on the range. On the course, we hit one shot every few minutes, and we’re using a different club each time (except for putting). A normal driving range session consists of using the same club for several consecutive shots, with little or no break between shots.

On the range, most people are using what is called a massed and blocked schedule. Massed means taking virtually no time between repetitions, and blocked means doing the same thing over and over. On the course, that schedule changes to distributed and random. Distributed means taking time between repetitions, and random means that something about the activity changes from repetition to repetition – different distance, direction, club, etc. So right off the bat, people just aren’t practicing the same way that they play the game, not to mention they aren’t practicing on the same venue. In other sports such as baseball and basketball, practice sessions take place on the actual playing surface, but in golf we practice on a practice green and a tee box.

Nevertheless, there are strategies to make practice more effective and mirror what is happening on the course, and we as teachers need to be aware of these. There are three areas that are the emphasis of focus, and utilizing all three are necessary to maximize our students’ ability to take it from the range to the course:

Use a distributed and random practice schedule.

Motor learning research shows us that a massed/blocked practice schedule will give us the best practice results, while ironically, a distributed/random schedule is best for retention of skills and performance, even if practice performance isn’t as good. Most people would think getting into a groove on the practice tee by hitting the same good shots over and over will lead to superior results on the course, but this isn’t the case.

Utilizing a distributed/random practice schedule on the range isn’t difficult. Our students need to change clubs with each shot and take their time between shots. Instead of having the bag right next to them, they can place it five to ten yards away so they have to walk back to the bag each time to get another club. This will help with the distributed portion of a practice session. Around the practice green, this means either using a different club each time, or at the very least, a change of targets from shot to shot.

Visualize on-course situations on the range.

Along with utilizing a distributed/random schedule of practice, it’s extremely helpful to visualize on-course situations on the range. Students should not only “see” a hole or a shot situation, they should also “feel” the situation. In other words, they should mentally place themselves there. Golfers who do this may be surprised at how their on-course mentality permeates their on-range thinking, which may lead to poor range shotmaking, but this is beneficial so they can learn to handle these mental aspects when they play. Some teachers like to recommend that their students “play” a hole or holes on the range, and this is an excellent way to take this to the ultimate level.

Use the same pre-shot routine on the range and course.

Most golfers do not use the same pre-shot routine on the range as they do on the course. It therefore becomes difficult to find a decent rhythm and sense of mental comfort on the course if someone is not using their on-course routine in practice sessions. Golfers on the range tend to rake-and-hit, rake-and-hit, while on the course they take far more time to hit a shot. It’s not necessary to use the same routine for each practice shot, but it should be used at least half of the time.

Golfers who use a distributed/random practice schedule, visualize on-course situations and faithfully use their pre-shot routine on the range and practice green will find that it will become far easier to take their practice performance to the course. Unfortunately, this is not commonly done today, but with our help, our students can be at the forefront of a practice revolution that one day may be commonplace in the game of golf.

…there are strategies to make practice more effective and mirror what is happening on the course, and we as teachers need to be aware of these.  
Developing A Confident Mindset

Developing A Confident Mindset

By Dr. Gerald A. Walford, USGTF Certified Golf Teaching Professional®, The Villages, Florida

“Tiger is so comfortable in it because he has done it so much. It doesn’t mean he’s not nervous. It just means he’s able to handle it better.” – Hank Haney, Tiger Woods’ former coach, 2008

Tiger Woods has no distractions, worries, or doubts about his next shot because he has done it successfully so often, he just simply does it. He is extremely confident. His past successes have taught him that that he should be successful again.

Continually missing five-foot putts reinforces in your mind that you cannot make a five-foot putt. Do this often enough and it becomes a belief, a strong belief, and a fear for future five-foot putts. You can continually talk to yourself (self-talk) to continually build up confidence and eliminate the fear of the five-foot putt, but past unsuccessful experiences have taught that you cannot make the five-foot putt.

Self-talk is putting your mind in the future, and the future has not happened. With the five-foot putt facing you, you must be in the moment – not in the future. Unfortunately, the moment is reinforced by unsuccessful past experiences. Continued misses reinforce missed putts and future missed putts.

The one thing that will build up confidence for the next five-foot putt is a succession of five-foot putts that have entered the hole, especially when under pressure. This proves to the mind you can be successful and gain confidence that you can make those putts in the future. Nothing achieves success like past successful experiences. The psychological trick in gaining confidence for making the five-foot putt is to practice until you can make the putt consistently. It is that simple.

Many of the sport psychology books are step-by-step plans of “do this” and “do that” in an attempt to tell the mind to eliminate distractions, and to proceed confidently for the shot or the putt. This procedure often has the player thinking so much about the procedure that his mind drifts from the actual shot. The mental plan is not a mysterious, mystifying, enigmatic and secretive process. It is simple, as we shall see.

How does the player learn to cope with pressure and play instinctively through the subconscious mind? The answer is simple, but takes lots of practice– successful and determined practice.

If players want to get better, they practice. The repetition of the practice ingrains in the mind and then into the body for physical performance. In time, the repetition brings about the desired effects automatically through the subconscious. The desired effect will be learned under pressure situations on the practice range or while playing. Once the desired effect is learned, the player is now ready to perform. In learning, we go through three stages:

Understanding stage: Knowing the skill and what to do.

Practice stage: Practicing the skill until we can do it automatically.

Automatic stage: We perform automatically and with the subconscious.

The automatic stage is when we can “let go” of distractions and thought processes and let it happen.

In order for the mind to have confidence in the desired and needed shot, the player must have built up a confidence for the desired shot or situation through past successful shots. There is a saying among the pros, “Do not attempt shots you have not practiced or have proven to be no problem.”

This is why we practice. We practice to build up the confidence in our mind to transfer to the muscles for proper execution. The shot is in the unconscious mind because we put it there through our learning. If we let the unconscious mind execute the shot, we will be successful, because practice has taught us it will be successful. This is how we handle pressure. We may be nervous and excited, but the skill is in our subconscious if we let it perform.

Great golfers do this, and that is why they are great. Great golfers and good golfers know they are great and they are good. As a result, their confidence is overwhelming. When they are in a difficult situation, they do not think as to how to go about eliminating the pressure, because there is no pressure. They may be nervous and even show nervous or anxiety traits, but when it’s time to play the shot, their subconscious prevails and they execute the shot with confidence and freedom. They know they can handle the situation because they have proven it to themselves. Sometimes, their beliefs are so strong that when a bad shot happens, it is not their fault. It was the wind, or the ball, or the group, etc. They cannot believe that they actually made a mistake.

Now, how do we get to this stage for maximum improvement? As previously stated, it is simple. Practice, practice, practice all types of possible situations that can be confronted in golf, so that when the time comes, confidence prevails in the subconscious mind for maximum performance.

As proper practice prevails, we learn. As we learn, we get better. As we get better, we gain confidence we have proven it to ourselves. Sometimes we fear the situation, and this is okay. It is a fear of the situation that makes us analyze the situation thoroughly, so you know exactly what to do. After the analysis, our subconscious takes over and we execute. There is no fear.

Research by the American Psychological Association has shown that “self-discovery” is perhaps the most efficient way of learning. (Golf Digest, July 2017, Beall). Self-discovery is the natural way to mold your swing to your mental and physical capabilities.

Kids learn by self-discovery. They try and if it works, they keep it. If they fail, they try again with a few changes until they succeed. It’s a trial-and-error process. The procedure is the same mentally and physically.

The older pros never had psychologists telling them what to do. They learned by self-discovery. They knew the importance of sport psychology, although at the time they never called it such. They learned it with their physical learning.

Lee Trevino said, “If a sports psychologist can beat me in golf, I will listen.” This statement has merit. Jack Nicklaus says, “Sport psychologists just tell us what we already know.”

I have studied Zen, and their approach has strong merit. Nike used the old Zen saying, “Just do it.” Zen’s key to learning, in simple terms, was to practice and practice until the move of the skill was automatic, and then forget it. When the skill is needed, let it happen. The skill is there in the body and just needs to be released. Perhaps the slogan should be “learn it and then just do it.” This is what old golf pros did. They learned it and just did it.

When they asked Fred Couples how he aims, he said, “When I am playing well, I do not aim. It falls into place naturally.” This is Zen: “Learn it and forget it. Just let it happen when needed.”

If we are nervous over a shot, our mind is telling us something…listen. Maybe our mind is telling us we are not ready in learning or in “letting go” or “letting it happen.” Listen and then self-correct for the future.
Principles, Fundamentals and Preferences

Principles, Fundamentals and Preferences

The golf teaching profession has come a long way since 1989 when the USGTF was founded. Hi-tech tools that weren’t even a thought back then are now commonplace in many teaching circles, such as launch monitors and slow-motion replays complete with computer graphics, and the ability to instantly communicate with students electronically. We also have training aids and training programs that are state-of-the-art.

What  hasn’t  changed  are  three  aspects  of  instruction  that  are  important  to  differentiate,  and  they are principles, fundamentals and preferences. Before we continue, let’s turn to Merriam-Webster for some definitions:

Principle: “The   laws   or   facts   of   nature underlying the working of an artificial device.” In the  case  of  golf,  the  artificial  devices  are  the  golf  ball and golf club, and the laws are what we more commonly  know as the  ball-flight  laws: clubhead path, clubface angle, solidness of the clubface strike, angle of attack and clubhead speed. These five things are all the ball knows.

Fundamental: “Of or relating to essential structure, function, or facts.” In golf, fundamentals directly   impact   the   ball   flight   laws.   Through  experience  and  observation,  we  know  that  there  are  some  fundamentals  that  must  be  followed  in  order  to  achieve  certain  aspects  of  the  ball  flight laws.

Preference: “The power or opportunity of choosing; one that is preferred.” Preferences in golf are not fundamentals, but they are an individual golfer’s best way of executing the fundamentals.

Proper  fundamentals  are  necessary  in  order to   execute   the   principles,   while   preferences   are  an  individual  golfer’s  best  way  of  executing  the  fundamentals.  Some teachers may confuse fundamentals for principles (a minor teaching flaw), or  preferences  for  principles  (a  major  teaching  flaw).

Let’s  take  the  case  of  hitting  an  iron  shot  in  terms of principles. The clubface angle must be in harmony with the clubhead path.  If  the  clubhead  path  through  impact  is  down  the  target  line,  the  clubface  angle  must  be  square  to  the  path.  If  the  clubhead  path  is  to  the  right,  the  clubface  angle  must be angled to the left of the path at the proper angle, and vice versa. The ball must be struck first instead  of  the  ground,  so  a  descending  angle  of  attack  is  needed.  The  right  amount  of  clubhead  speed is required, and if all four of the previously-mentioned  ball  flight  aspects  are  correct,  the  ball must be struck squarely on the clubface.

(If  one  or  more  of  the  ball-flight-laws  aspects  are  compromised,  another  must  be,  in  effect,  “compromised” in order for the ball to finish close to the target. There are endless variations of this and beyond the scope of this article, so our assumption will be a normal well-struck shot.)

As for fundamentals, a golfer needs a grip that will reliably return the clubface square, a ball position and alignment that will promote a proper clubhead path, and a swing that allows the clubhead to give optimal results. For example, clubhead lag, where the lead arm and club shaft form a straight line  for  the  first  time  at  impact,  is  a  fundamental  because  it  allows  the  ball  to  be  struck  first  with  maximum  force,  as  well  as  honoring  the  laws  of  physics when it comes to levers.

Preferences might include the type of grip to be employed (interlocking, overlapping, or 10-finger), an  open,  square  or  closed  stance,  whether  the  weight  is  predominantly  on  the  front  or  rear  foot  at  address,  or  steepness  or  flatness  of  the  swing plane.

An  example  of  a  teacher  who  mistakes  a  preference for a principle would be one who insists students  must  employ  the  overlapping  grip.  They may also say all their students must use a perfectly square stance, when an open will likely be better in the case of a student who finds more consistency in fading the ball.

There can be a gray area between fundamentals and   preferences,   so   discerning   between   the two can be difficult, even for experienced and knowledgeable teachers. Bubba Watson’s footwork would never be taught as a fundamental, but it can be said that it’s his personal fundamental – another  way of saying preference.  After  Ben  Hogan’s  book Five  Lessons came  out,  it  was  considered  a  fundamental that the swing plane was determined by a line from the ball to the top of the shoulders. Yet today, we see all sorts of golfers violating this supposed fundamental, including Watson and Jim Furyk, among others.

Some  examples  of  fundamentals  that  teachers agree on for a good swing are the lower body leads the  downswing  while  the  upper  body  responds (leading   to   the   aforementioned   fundamental,   clubhead  lag);  position  of  the  grip  determines Clubface angle at impact; pressure shifts to the rear foot during the backswing, and finishing in a well-balanced position on the front foot. Examples of  preferences  would  include  a  strong  or  weak  grip,  backswing  path,  and  swinging  smoothly  or aggressively.

Teachers   almost   always   should   start   with   examining the principles of ball flight laws as they relate to a non-novice’s  game.  The  student  might be  hooking,  so  we  know  with  certainty  that  the  clubface is closed at impact relative to the clubhead path.  We  might  see  the  grip  is  in  a  too-strong  position,  so  fundamentally  we  should  probably  change the grip.

We then might see the student doesn’t transfer his weight forward correctly, leading to the arms and hands flipping the clubhead over too quickly. So  the  fundamental  here  would  be  to  have  the  student transfer weight forward, but the preference would  be  in  the  how.  Some  students  would  fare  better  firing  off  the  rear  foot,  while  others  might feel a pulling of the lead hip.

To   summarize,   teachers   should   examine  the  execution  of  the  ball  flight  laws  first,  then  ask  themselves  which  fundamentals  are  being  compromised  that  affect  this  execution.  Finally, they need to figure out which preferences best Benefit that particular individual in this particular instance.  Longtime USGTF examiner Ken Butler’s words are particularly relevant here: “Students have many locks.  We need many keys to open those locks.”

With novices, most every teacher will start with fundamentals  in  the  belief  that  this  will  lead  to  a  more faithful execution of the principles. However, there are times when non-novices need to go back to square one with the fundamentals, depending upon their goals. A 90-shooter who wants to become a scratch golfer really has no choice but to basically start over.

A trend that has returned in recent times is teaching to the ball flight laws. In the video age of the 1980s and 1990s, more attention was paid to technique in the belief it would lead to proper ball flight, but today an increasing number of teachers pay attention to proper ball flight in the belief this leads to proper technique. This is a way of saying that  a  much  wider  variety  of  student  preferences  are  now  being  tolerated  by  teachers,  as  long  as  they get the job done.

In  effect,  this  is  a  “back  to  the  future”  trend,  as  teachers  in  the  pre-video  age  depended  upon  proper  ball  flight  to  determine  technique.  It’s a trend that well may become a more permanent part of the teaching landscape; time will tell.