Among the thousands of stories about Moe Norman, the late eccentric genius of golf, is a nugget that exemplifies just how precisely he could hit a golf ball. Moe was playing with the late Ken Venning one morning in Florida. Unable to hit balls before they teed off, they hit three balls each off the first tee. As they made their way down the fairway, Venning said it looked like he was walking toward a mushroom in the middle of the fairway. As he walked on, he was shocked to see Moe’s three balls – touching. So, how did Moe become arguably the best ballstriker in the history of the game? Between the ages of 14 and 19, Moe worked obsessively on his swing, hitting upwards of 1,000 balls a day until he had his move “trapped.” He built up calluses so thick that he had to cut them off with a knife to hold a club properly. According to Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the runaway bestseller Outliers, Moe did what enormously skilled people have always done: he put in his time. To become a master at anything, Gladwell argues authoritatively that you need to put in 10,000 hours at that skill. So there it is: If your students really want to get better at this game, they have to put in the time. Not 10,000 hours, but improving does involve a significant investment in time. It’s that simple. This will come as relief to your students, but some researchers argue it takes 21 days to learn a new motor skill until it’s patterned on the brain. The original 21-day theory was developed by Maxwell Maltz, M.D., a renowned cosmetic surgeon with New York Hospitals. The reason for it, according to Maltz, lies in the brain, but it goes beyond the structures of memory and lies partly in psychology. As a plastic surgeon, Dr. Maltz found a link between self-esteem and the brain. “When you change a man’s face, you almost invariably change his future. You change his physical image and nearly always you change the man – his personality, his behavior, and sometimes even his basic talents and abilities.” Of course, most golfers don’t want to hear about the time that they must devote to improving. In fact, most don’t like to work on learning new skills because they move out of their “comfort zone,” a phrase Moe often used. Teaching professional Todd Graves has some insights into this. He says hitting a good golf shot sends a shot of pleasure to the brain. Golfers want that “hit” which is accentuated when they are playing the game. “When you’re trying to improve, it doesn’t feel comfortable, and it actually makes you feel bad,” says Graves, a close friend of Norman’s, and co-owner of the Graves Golf Academy based in Edmond, Oklahoma. “Moe said he practised so much because it made him feel good. It gave him joy,” said Graves, an expert in Norman’s single-axis swing. (Graves will coach the actor who plays Moe in the upcoming Hollywood movie about the legend.) But Graves says that golfers can improve: they just have to put in the time. According to Graves, golfers don’t need to hit thousands of balls to improve. Just putting in dedicated time– even at home or in the office – can make a mammoth difference. To overcome a bad habit, Graves says students have to reprogram their minds and bodies. Mainly, it’s a matter of moving into the correct positions. Graves advocates that his students isolate particular moves, and repeat them “over and over” for months – daily if possible. Eventually, they will “trap” the correct move, and it will integrate into the student’s overall swing which will gradually improve. “There is no quick fix,” Graves says. “Learning anything takes time and repetition.” Tim O’Connor is a journalist and president of O’Connor Golf Communications. He is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He can be reached at tim@oconnorgolf.ca.
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