By David Vaught USGTF Teaching Professional, Bradenton, Florida
So often, average golfers struggle on the golf course after taking instruction. This can be frustrating for the student and the instructor alike. Therefore, how do we address this issue, understand it and eliminate some of the golf course struggles that arise when it comes time to hit the links?
Let’s set up a common scenario for the golf instructor and their student. An obvious change needs to be made for the golf swing or stroke to produce higher quality shots. The instructor uses his or her knowledge to identify an issue and attempts to implement the change to the student’s motion. So far, an easy situation. The challenge comes when the student plays the first few rounds after taking a couple of lessons. In our theoretical situation, the student understands the issue and can implement the change while working with the instructor. The student then goes out to play, and sure enough, informs the instructor they played horribly and had a miserable time. Aren’t lessons supposed to make the game more enjoyable?
Here is the issue: Focusing intently about movements, especially small muscle movements, interrupts the natural pathways, or flows, from the brain through the central nervous system. From the first movement away from the ball to the millisecond the clubhead strikes the ball, the total time is less than 1 second (.92) for good players and slightly more than 1 second (1.15) for the average golfer. The last 3 feet of clubhead movement just before impact takes only .03 to .04 seconds! Talk about quick thinking!
In a controlled learning environment, with the guidance of the teacher and with no pressure to perform, it is possible to hit good shots while focusing intently on a muscle movement. But out on course, everything changes, as most of us know all too well. The student that attempts to force or think their way through a motor-skill change will make poorly-timed, bad rhythmical swings, often resulting in a worse result than they were experiencing before the instruction. Can you imagine mechanically thinking your way through throwing a ball? The result would not be good!
Therefore, what is the remedy? Some swing changes take time and some changes can be implemented much quicker. The solution is to communicate well with your student. Train them to not think their way through the swing on the course and to allow time for the changes to take place naturally over time. Concepts like “think box/shot box” are very valuable to teach your student. A free flowing, non-thinking swing that is flawed will work better on the course than a mechanical, tied-in-knots swing. A simple think box/shot box concept can be practiced on the range. During a practice swing away from the ball, the student is permitted to think “mechanics,” but once set up to the ball (shot box), they will not allow themselves to think about specific movements or mechanics. The focus should just be the target or something simple like tempo or rhythm.
Some players can use a common concept referred to as a “swing key.” This is something very simple, involves only one thought and usually involves a “feeling,” not necessarily a very technical thought. A swing key is acceptable if the player can perform it without interrupting the natural flow of theirs wing. Some male and female tour players will make some very strange practice swings in the “think box,” but rarely will a successful tour player “think” their way through the swing while hitting a shot.
It is up to the instructor to monitor and teach their student the difference between a simple swing key and a robot swing that can make the round of golf miserable. Flawed swings have to be altered to produce better shots, but the process of change can take time. During that process, the student should be taught to play on the course with a clear mind. Save thinking for the practice sessions and play with a free mind. The game will be much more enjoyable.