THE MIND/BODY CONNECTION TO EXTRAORDINARY GOLF
Jim Waldron is an expert golfer, martial artist and philosopher who quotes Buddha, Nietzche and Hogan at the drop of a hat, hits driver 220 yards dead straight one-handed with his eyes closed, and has quietly built a reputation in just a few short years as a remarkably effective golf instructor. His golf schools are filled to capacity and you need an appointment often weeks in advance to get a lesson from him. Never heard of him? It's no wonder - he may be golf's best kept secret and let's put it this way - he's not your father's golf instructor.
He has lived for the past 33 years in a remote alpine valley in northeast Oregon's Wallowa mountains doggedly researching what for him is a fascinating mystery and lifelong obsession: the path of mastery in golf, including scoring, long game, short game, putting and mental game skill mastery. His students enthusiastically proclaim him to be the best teacher in the game. He's a local legend in the Northwest golf community, where he conducts the most unusual and perhaps the most effective golf schools on the planet.
At a Balance Point Golf School, "Total Immersion" and "Structured Deep Practice" training is the order of the day. The emphasis - by design says Waldron - is is all about effective learning of various golfing skills. Students engage in an intensive series of drills, ball hitting sessions, slow motion swinging in front of a mirror, exercises, lectures, video analysis, Q and A sessions and group discussion, seven or more hours a day, for one to five consecutive days.
Balance Point graduates claim this eclectic curriculum produces dramatic learning breakthroughs that make a real difference in their games. Waldron has developed ten different schools, each with a specific purpose. All utilize a totally unique approach to golf learning, the "mind/body connection model". Waldron calls this model the Third Wave in golf instruction, a groundbreaking alternative approach to the First Wave mechanistic model (1500 to the present) and the Second Wave "inner game" model (1974 to the present).
Great Shot!, his most popular school, is designed to improve the distance, accuracy and especially consistency of the student's ballstriking. This school is kind of a "boot camp" for learning the modern, compact, Tour pro model golf swing. Rip It to the Target! is a one day mental game school designed to help students overcome "paralysis from over analysis", focus their mind and learn how to "flinch-proof" their golf swings. The Ultimate Swing School is a seven day "boot camp" intensive on the golf swing fundamentals - both physical and mental, and is held only twice a year - during the winter months in Honolulu, Hawaii and summer months in Portland, Oregon. Three day "Short Game", "One Day Short Game", Advanced Short Game one day, three day "Advanced Players Swing School" , five day "The Complete Golfer" and two day " Breakthrough to Better Golf " golf schools round out the program.
Great Shot! is a real eye-opener for first-time students. They are exposed to an in depth presentation on the common fundamentals of great ballstrikers and the scientific laws that govern the golf swing. Students are challenged to examine their current ideas and swing habits, what Waldron calls "your comfortable old unworkable swing" in the light of recent rock-solid scientific research.
Great Shot students hit lots of balls while imagining their intended ball flight and target; they hit balls stork-like standing on one leg or with one hand on the club; they swing in super slow motion, often in front of a mirror; they throw heavy wooden baseball bats down the range in a drill designed to teach the mechanics of a proper pivot motion; they are taught to release the club from their body, not just their arms or wrists. Waldron employs the Socratic method of teacher/student intense questioning of golfing "common sense" to cut through the accepted axioms of golf instruction and arrive at the truth.
In Rip It! students practice Method Acting exercises to help them access positive "states of excellence" like Freedom, Commitment and Courage; and they are exposed to a carefully crafted mixture of psychology and philosophy that helps them to shoot lower scores while in a relaxed, carefree state of mind on the golf course.
Waldron claims that most golfers are not playing the true game of golf as it's Scottish founders had intended. For him, the very essence, the "heart and soul" of the game, has been corrupted by the media, technology and our popular materialist culture of instant gratification. This is a school with a twist, an attitude, an entirely different take on golf.
For starters, he's passionately opposed to: thinking about mechanics during the swing, the golf equipment industry hype that deceives golfers into believing that they can "buy a game", golf carts and no walking courses, traditional golf instruction with it's "fix it" mentality of tips and litany of "things to do" in the golf swing, the golf instruction Establishment's intolerance for new ideas, the over emphasis on scoring results in recreational golf, and what he calls "golfer's neurosis", the constant frustration, discouragement, humiliation, anger and doubt that so many golfers typically experience during a round of golf.
He says that most of us just aren't having fun out there, as the game was intended to be played. We've turned golf into more work, obsessing about our score and have neglected to concern ourselves with the process of playing the game. He calls the game that most of us play "flog", golf spelled backwards, symbolic of both how "contemporary golf has lost it's soul" and of the masochistic way so many of us play the game.
Jim Waldron began teaching golf professionally part-time in 1990 after completing a 20 year long research project on both the golf swing and the mental game. In 1995, he went full-time, opening golf schools in Hawaii and Portland, Oregon. Since that time, 185 of his students, both professional and amateur, have won tournaments. His typical new golf student is age 35 -50, who has played golf for three years or longer and still shoots 85 to 98 on average. Mr. and Ms. Average will drop six to twelve strokes from their score within six months of completing a Balance Point Golf school, and Waldron's got the testimonial letters from hundreds of former students to back up that claim.
In 1999 his Balance Point Golf Schools was cited by GOLF as one of the nation's best golf schools and one of only four "alternative" golf schools employing some form of mental game training in their curriculum to be so honored. GOLF states "...the most revolutionary advancement in golf instruction of the past twenty-five years...alumni of the schools told us that their experiences were overwhelmingly positive in helping them play better." He is a GOLF Magazine Top Regional Teacher (Northwest) from 2001-2008. In 2001-2002, and again for 2003-2004, GOLF Magazine selected his Balance Point Golf Schools as one of the Top 25 Golf Schools in the nation. His golf schools were also included in GOLF'S list of Best Golf Schools in America for 2008-2010.
Portland, Oregon is the golf school's headquarters during the summer season months. Palm Springs, California golf schools are held January through March and Hawaii schools are scheduled in December and for April through early May.
Jim Waldron is 61 years old, grew up in Chicago in the 50's and spent the 60's and 70's traveling in the third world and participating in the burgeoning human potential movement with it's cutting-edge explorations of the limits of peak performance. He is married, with two children and lives in a large, rambling house just a couple miles from the alpine wilderness. In that house you'll find a large library of golf books, his golf research notebooks that go back to the early seventies, and a tiny office with it's view of the snow-capped Wallowa mountains.
He is a lively, witty conversationalist and very funny, part stand-up comic and part golf guru. Waldron is currently completing work on two golf books, the first of ten in a series. His passion for the game is and his self-avowed "mission in life" is to change for the better the way golf is learned, practiced, taught and played. He believes golf can be a soul-renewing vehicle for personal development and spiritual growth and he believes every average golfer can learn how to shoot consistently in the 70's. But, he says, "first you've got to give up your addiction to playing flog."
Some of your golf students I have talked to seem to believe that you have discovered the secret of golf. Have you?
No! (laughing), there is no "secret" to the game, only proven fundamentals and effective strategies. It only seems mysterious and enigmatic when you are looking at the game from a very limited point of view. If you mean have I broken new ground in golf instruction, in both the so-called physical and mental categories, I would say yes, absolutely. A lot of what I teach, both in terms of the physical fundamentals and mental principles, is entirely new information never before seen in golf. I discovered that there really are answers as to why golf appears to be impossible to get really good at, especially in the area of consistency.
A wise philosopher once said, "wisdom is knowing what to do and when to do it." That kind of wisdom is sorely lacking in golf. It really is the starting point for any serious golfer's journey to lasting game improvement. There are rules, if you will, that govern human peak performance in any field. I've discovered how to apply those rules to the game of golf. When you follow the rules, positive results happen automatically. When you break the rules, your game goes south. This is an exciting new paradigm that delivers what every golfer says they want from their game: continual score improvement, consistent shotmaking and more enjoyment.
That sounds a lot like sport psychology. Most of us are used to thinking of a golf instructor as someone who talks exclusively about the mechanical side of the game.
No, it's really not sport psychology per se which I have found to be a somewhat academic, ivory tower, overly clinical approach to golf improvement. With the exception of Bob Rotella, who is really excellent, and a few others, I haven't seen many sport psychologists who impress me with a practical knowledge of the game of golf. And yes, we've all been brainwashed by the dominant mechanistic model to believe that a. the full swing is golf and b. that a simplistic mechanical swing key is the secret to game improvement.
Not to denigrate the importance of the long game, it's clearly of supreme importance, and I do in fact spend more of my time teaching golf swing mechanics than any other part of the the game but it's still only a part of golf, not the whole, and if you can break 100 consistently, it's certainly not the fastest or easiest way to lower your score. The fact is that how you are prepared to learn, practice and play, your overall mindset about how to engage in the improvement process, has far more influence over the outcome than any actual mechanical content. I call this first of golf's fundamentals Preparation. A majority of golfers are not prepared at all and are in fact totally confused, perplexed even, by the game. Intelligent preparation strategies are a simple fact that have been almost completely ignored by the instruction Establishment and golf media. Ben Hogan himself said many times that the one of the secrets to his success, especially in winning majors, was simply that he was the best prepared golfer in the field. Knowing that you are the best prepared gives one tremendous confidence.
How would you describe what it is you do to someone who's not familiar with your work? It's certainly a radical departure from traditional golf instruction. It sounds strange at first but I know from firsthand experience that your students are achieving remarkable results.
It's only strange if you've limited your thinking about golf and game improvement to the unquestioned assumptions, beliefs and concepts of the dominant instruction model. The first step toward real game improvement is to step off that merry go round and stop doing what does not work. This kind of radical shift in thinking creates tremendous clarity about your game and helps you understand how to learn effectively and to play better immediately. The second step is to simply realize that every golf shot you create is a blend of influences from both your mind - thoughts, intentions and emotions - and your actual body motion.
The body motion itself is always a result of two things: a motor program that is sent from your brain to your body, instructions about how to move various body parts, and second a sensory feedback loop system that allows your natural athletic ability along with a deep understanding of your own particular swing tendencies to create an awareness of your hand/club location and speed, balance, tempo, rhythm and a sense of how your body motion is occurring. The feedback system allows for some "adjusting" to your body mechanics, balance and tempo in very subtle ways that can help you make a more effective golf swing.
You need both to be a great shotmaker. By the way, the direct commands of the motor program circuit are 100% unconscious - or should be! The sensory system feedback loop is from your feel sense - not thinking! You acheive success in golf by programming into your "computer" the correct pieces of the puzzle, that is the fundamentals, through learning and training. Then you learn how to trust that beautiful swing program you have created. You also learn to increase the accuracy and efficiency of the feel sense feedback circuit through lots of quality practice with an alert, observant, attentive, awake mind. In our instruction programs, we teach the swing program, the feel sense feedback loop and how to trust your swing. We also teach the very important skills of how to focus your mind during the golf swing and what to focus on, and how to swing with your mind's sense of time matching up your body's actual speed.
In 1996 I discovered what I truly believe to be the so-called "Secret" of an effective and especially consistent golf swing. I prefer the term 'missing link" to the word "secret" since it is more accurate. I call this breakthrough discovery The Arm Swing Illusion. This insight strips away all of the mystery, confusion and resolves all of the conflicting swing theories in traditional golf instruction. These are truly revolutionary discoveries that are breaking new ground in golf instruction.
As to my role in all this, first, I'm a game improvement consultant. Just as you might hire an outside consultant to come in and evaluate the effectiveness of your business, identify the weak areas and then develop an improvement strategy. To even begin the process of mastery in golf, you need an expert who is objective to take a hard look at your game and to focus in on the one key area that will lead to the most improvement, however you may define that term, score improvement obviously but also learning breakthroughs and enjoyment.
There are eleven major areas of game improvement we have identified. Knowing which one to key on makes all the difference in the world. If you don't clearly define a goal and an outcome from the outset and then create a strategy that will get you to your outcome, you don't stand a chance! .
I'm also a coach who teaches golfers how to improve their physical and mental skills. As coach, I help students with not only what to learn but most importantly "how to learn" it. Traditional instruction is almost completely lacking in that department. Knowing "what to do" mechanically without knowing how to learn it, to make it part of you, is worthless. Part of my job as coach is undertaking ongoing research into all aspects of the game so that what I am teaching will be facts, not opinions. That is why I continue to devote a large part of my time to ongoing research into discovering new and better ways to teach the game. And that's why I chose not to teach for over 20 years until my original research project was completed. Another part of my coaching job is to motivate students. It's all too easy to give up on practice since by it's very nature, golf is a difficult game and improvement often happens at a much slower pace than we would like.
That sounds kind of complicated. Aren't most golfers really looking for a simple way to play better golf? Your approach sounds perfect for the committed, passionate player. What about the social golfer?
You're correct, Balance Point Golf is not for everyone, in fact, it's probably not for the majority of golfers who I would describe as "casual golfers". I developed this model for serious people who truly love golf and especially for those who are passionate about learning, mastering golf skills and facing the challenge of continual improvement. That's maybe 25% of the golfing population. It's really about giving golfers a choice they have never had before. The dominant two models have had their day in the sun and, frankly, haven't delivered the goods as promised in terms of real game improvement. Playing golf can be simple once you've mastered most of your physical and mental skills but the process of skill mastery and game mastery is not simple at all. Wishing or hoping it were simple does not make it so.
How would you describe your approach to teaching? Having gone through a couple of your golf schools and taken lessons, it seems to be a method in some respects yet it doesn't have a rigid model for the student to conform to as so many golf teaching methods do...you also don't believe that there is some kind of magic move or secret to golf swing mechanics for example like several popular swing methods claim.
Yes, it's not a "method" like other instructional systems. It's a viewpoint with a set of very specific principles about how to learn, practice, play and teach golf. It's also a complete set of information about the physical fundamentals of the full swing, chipping, pitching, wedge and putting strokes. The two support and complement each other. That viewpoint is derived from very intensive research in the field of human peak performance. How do human beings learn? How do the mind and body work together to achieve greatness in sports?
Until now, golfers have used a very haphazard, and frankly, very dumb, "try this, try that" kind of approach. The basic premise behind that kind of thinking is really that golf improvement is a kind of mysterious, ephemeral thing, "here today, gone tomorrow." That's just nonsense. Golf is not different from other sports or any other skill-based activity, playing the piano for example, that requires instruction, regular practice, commitment, energy, and perseverance.
As for "secrets", most of this stuff is really just marketing hype. Golf has always been fertile ground for clever marketers selling gimmicks and false hope to gullible golfers who are desperate to improve. It's a bit like throwing defective life preservers to drowning victims - they will grasp at anything that may keep them afloat temporarily. That "short cut" mentality is not only not short in reality, it just leads the perplexed golfer in circles like a dog chasing it's tail. There's a very common belief in contemporary golf culture that "the only answer" to better ballstriking is in some supposedly new type of swing mechanics. Yet,when you look at the record, a lot of this stuff is just re-cycled information from decades ago.
It's a very seductive idea because golfers on the whole are demanding a simple answer to their complex problem. "I want consistency in my shotmaking and scoring and I want it yesterday!" And that kind of simplistic, instant gratification thinking drives both the instruction and equipment market. I understand it up to a point since a truly groundbreaking new view of the golf swing is in fact sorely needed. My Arm Swing Illusion and Key Move are indeed important breakthroughs in our understanding of the golf swing, but even they are just two of many fundamentals of the golf swing, not "the answer". Actually I rate body and hand awareness, balance and understanding how to learn far more important to mastering ballstriking than any purely mechanical skill. Mechanics are only a part of the equation.
How did you develop the Balance Point model? What influenced you?
Really just asking myself and others lots of questions. I could just never accept the kind of inconsistency - in shotmaking, scoring, even attitude - that seemed so rampant in golf, including in my own game. I actually quit golf at age 15 after shooting 67 one day and 82 the next. I just walked away from the game and never even touched a club until 12 years later. I learned a lot about human behavior, learning models and peak performance during those 12 years.
When I returned to golf, I made myself two promises. One, I would never blindly accept what tradition had said about the golf swing and about the game itself. I asked myself how an alien scientist would think if he came to earth to study the culture of golf. I observed the game as an outsider in a sense. I felt then and still believe that only objective facts could help me as both a player and a teacher.
Two, I would do research, intensively. I hit a lot of balls, testing various swing theories. I watched a lot of video. I was fortunate to meet a couple of well known instructors who teach some of the top players in golf. I learned a lot about the mechanics of the golf swing from them. I read a ton of books and articles on the swing and mental game. I looked into the science behind the swing: the Iron Byron model, the Golfing Machine system, Mac O'Grady's model (one of the best), the basic geometry, physics and anatomy.
I've been a big fan of Ben Hogan all of my life and have studied his swing and his ideas about practice and play intensively. Hogan did indeed have many "secrets" that he was reluctant to share with his fellow competitors for obvious reasons but later in life he took on a mentoring role to several young aspiring tour profeessionals and he did indeed reveal at least some of his discoveries to them. That knowledge was hard to track down but it is out there for the determined seeker to discover. This is stuff he did not include in his two books, Power Golf and Five Lessons. Mostly I just questioned everything I heard and read. I watched a lot of golfers, both good and bad, practice and play and talked with them about their attitudes, ideas, beliefs and the state of their games.
A lot of the written instructional material was just terribly wrong information, completely lacking in credibility. I discovered that there are a lot of myths, misperceptions and fallacies about both the physical and mental sides of the game that are commonly accepted as true among players, teachers and sport psychologists. Things have improved the last decade or so among a small segment of the teaching population thanks to video and more progressive and science-oriented instructors but there is a long way to go.
What exactly makes up the model? Can you be more specific?
The model has two basic divisions: the content, or the "what to learn" - the research results from biomechanics, geometry, physics, or the fundamentals, mechanics, etc. and the process, or "how to learn it"- the psychology and philosophy part. It's a blend of Eastern psychology and concentration methods, Neuroscience, Western psychotherapy, including cognitive therapy and depth psychology, Neuro-Linguistic Patterning, a powerful learning model, martial arts philosophies and learning models, peak performance principles, nutrition and fitness, yoga, human anatomy, neurophysiology, modelling of great golfer's physical and mental skills and a very comprehensive research project's results on the scientific laws that govern the golf swing, chipping, pitching and putting strokes.
Why do golfer's struggle so much with their games, especially with ballstriking. What exactly is the one thing you teach them that seems to improve their ballstriking so quickly?
There isn't just one thing. But if I had to pick one thing I'd say that golfers fail to learn good swing mechanics primarily because they are thinking, trapped inside their heads and listening to their own internal voice yelling out commands to the body. The problem is, the body doesn't listen to conscious mind mental commands, unless you are moving in super slow motion. You need to feel how your muscles and joints work. If you can't feel it, if you lack the skill of body awareness, you simply cannot learn. We help our students learn how to feel their bodies, from the inside out. When that happens to the student, light bulbs start going on like crazy about the golf swing.
On the physical side, when we show our students the Arm Swing Illusion, it really blows their minds and opens up a whole new understanding of the golf swing for them. They start to truly "get" the concept of hitting the ball with a fast un-winding motion of your body - hips, belly and torso. (We include the shoulder girdle as part of the torso).And NOT hitting the ball with ANY kind of independent arm or elbow or wrist motion.
One of our Thirty-two Sensory Illusions is called the Straight Clubhead Path Illusion, which means the common sense notion (common sense that is incorrect in this case!) that for the ball to fly in a straight line, the clubhead must move in a straight line just before, during and after impact. Once this illusion is dispelled, and the student realizes that the clubhead is moving in a circle, elipse to be more precise, and never at any point is it moving in a straight line down the target line, he or she can start to "get" the notion that the tour pros all understand, that you do in fact hit the ball with a circular body motion, with passive arms moving as a unified Triangle by the body motion.
We teach a radical concept, that no other teacher in golf is espousing, which is that the proper forward swing is 100% an active body pivot motion with ZERO independent muscle-powered arm motion. Zero - imagine that? You don't need to use your arms to hit a golf ball well, in fact, the more you attempt to hit the ball with some degree of independent muscle-powered arm motion, the worse you hit it. Just as the discus thrower and the shot putter are not using that kind of independent arm muscle power, yet can throw the discuss and shot very far.
There are many Illusions and swing myths and swing mis-perceptions that are already programmed into most golfers that make it very difficult for this insight to be deeply and clearly understood. It's almost like we are hard-wired as humans to approach the mechanics of golf in a way that guarantees failure. We help our students to see through the illusions and myths so that they can stop relying on their arms and learn how to use their bodies effectively. And a big part of that process is getting in touch with and using the Core muscles of the belly, including the transverse abdominus or deep and low belly muscle that provides stability during the golf swing to keep you in balance and in good posture or spine angle, also the oblique belly muscles that start both the back and forward swings and really generate momentum and power in the golf swing, the low back muscles, glutes and hamstrings and the muscles on the inside of the thighs.
Some of these are for stability, some for power, and some do both jobs. One thing I have discovered over the years is that not a single high handicap golf student of mine has ever used these Core muscles in his or her swing.It's usually just a lot of flailing motions with the arms with a little hip action and shoulder turn thrown in almost as an afterthought!
Once we get their Core muscles turned on and activated, we show them the Triangle or the concept of unified but passive arms. The arms working as a team, with no dominance of either arm in the swing motion. When they have the Core concept and the Triangle concept, we show them Posture or Spine Angle and how that helps to create a stable, repeating motion.
Another thing that creates near instant improvement in student's ballstriking is learning to stay in perfect balance throughout the swing. And you can't underestimate how effective a mind that is truly focused on just one thing during the duration of the swing can be. And I would add on the mechanical side a very clear understanding of the swing plane concept along with the concept of proper sequence of motion during the forward swing, including arriving at Impact with a forward leaning clubshaft and a lagging clubhead.
What about the golf swing though? Don't golfers need a model of some sort?
Absolutely! If you think you can master the incredibly difficult skill of ballstriking without a model, you're just fooling yourself. As far as the golf swing goes, I use three models, a beginner and "training wheels"model called the Golfer Swing, and two playing models, Player and Professional models, learned in sequence ideally, although we place intermediate and advanced players in the model appropriate to their current skill level. We also fine tune the mechanical instruction of each of the three models to fit the individual student's unique body type, degree of flexibility, etc. I don't believe in one exact swing pattern that fits all golfers. Having said that, however, the basic template is the tour professional model. We teach our amateurs to swing more or less like the best players in the world - as a model to base their own individual and unique efforts on. It doesn't matter if you will never hit it as long, as solid or as accurately as Tiger. It's an Ideal in the Platonic sense to give the student a blueprint to gauge one's progress.
I do however believe that there are universal fundamentals that MUST be executed within specific parameters to achieve good results. When you lack one or more of the fundamentals or you exceed the parameters, that's when you get into trouble. Golf is a physical game and if your mechanics are off the charts, your game will suffer and you won't really be able to enjoy your time on the golf course to your fullest extent.
I'm very proud of the swing models we have created. There are no "missing pieces". This is the most complete and scientifically sound explanation of the golf swing in the history of the game. When you finish learning the theory behind the model, which you can do in three days in our Great Shot! school, you will achieve 100% clarity about the golf swing. For the first time in your life, the golf swing will make perfect sense.
We have identified precisely what must occur with every muscle, joint, body angle, and club position within 10 different swing segments from takeaway to finish. We especially focus in on four key segments: takeaway, transition, impact and followthrough. Most importantly, the parts fit seamlessly into one unified whole motion. We've also explained the supreme importance of the five non-mechanical yet still "physical" fundamentals: Balance, Flow, Coordination, Swing Plane and Shape, and Dynamics.
And we've put it all together in a program of step by step learning units, in the correct sequence, so that the golfer can learn how to actually do the correct swing motion without having to think about it. Our students learn how to "own" their golf swing to the level of dominant habit so that they couldn't do it wrong if they tried.
So what specifically distinguishes the Balance Point Swing models from other instructor's ideas on the golf swing?
First, we've solved the 500 year old mystery: why is the full swing impossible to master to a high level of consistency for the average player? The answer may surprise you. There are several optical and feel sense illusions that feed the golfer's brain completely wrong information about the shape of the swing, power, target location, mechanics and sequencing of the body mechanics. What both your conscious and subconscious minds have accepted as "obviously true" is in fact false. This totally incorrect Swing Concept cannot consistently - 80% of the time at a minimum - create the mechanics that science proves must occur to hit a golf ball long and straight.
Actually learning good mechanics is fairly easy, once your understanding is correct. Understanding the correct mechanics is very hard, really impossible, struggling on your own, because the illusions fool you every time. You need a teacher to dispel the illusions. Coordination of those mechanics is where the real hard part, "the work" is in mastering the long game. That takes a lot of practice. The relationship especially between the mechanics of the torso pivot and arm swing is the key to the puzzle. Students need to understand the vital importance of the swing plane concept and that to really master the art of ballstriking, you need to get that clubshaft moving on or very close to it's address plane angle relative to the ground during impact. That concept is the starting point. Most of our new students have either no swing plane concept or an incorrect one when they first come to work with us.
The second principle we teach new students is the importance of a forward leaning clubshaft through impact or clubhead "lag". Again, very few have ever heard of this idea let alone understand how essential this is to proper impact. I always demonstrate these two principles at every school or lesson with new students by hitting about fifteen eight irons using a waist-high backswing with about a half wrist cock, and I hold my position at waist height on the follow through. Most of the balls fly about 120 yards, directly to the target, sound very solid at impact - yet the swing motion is very tiny with a very compact body motion. The students are blown away that one can hit the ball so far and so well with such a small motion.
Then I do the same exercise with a half-speed swing and ask them to notice how the clubshaft never leaves the original shaft plane angle and that my hands are leading the clubhead during impact. Then the question in the student's mind is - "I got it! I know what the club must do for the first time in my life! Now - how do I do it?" That is the starting point of the learning of Mechanics, Balance and Coordination, our three Master Fundamentals of our golf swing model. How do you train your body motion so that the club motion - especially plane angle and lag - (there are a few others but those are the two really important ones) - is effective? Training your body to perform the proper Mechanics, in rock solid Balance, with good timing, rhythm and tempo - or Coordination, is the real challenge.
The second thing that distinguishes our way of instruction is that we use the new mind/body connection paradigm, which is a science-based worldview that explains the relationship between brain/mind and body. This new model alone removes 80% of the confusion and so-called "mystery" from golf. The two older models are the mechanistic approach which views the golfer as a machine with no influence from the mind/brain and personality and the "inner game" model which focuses exclusively on feel, awareness, trust, confidence, etc.and denies the importance of physical training. Both models are severely limited in scope and effectiveness.
Why are these two models so popular if they don't really work?
They dominate golf instruction today because of blind adherence to tradition in the case of the mechanistic model and because of both the trendy popularity of New Age ideas and plain old human laziness in the case of the inner game model. When you take a long, hard, scientific and objective look at their basic premises, those two traditional approaches reveal several major weaknesses in their approach to game improvement.There are many reasons why this is so. We live in a culture that has been strongly influenced at every level by a perceptual illusion for over 2,000 years - the so-called split between mind and body. In reality, these are two aspects of one process. Any division of golf teaching into strictly mental and physical categories is bound to fail, especially when applied to learning the skills of ballstriking, short game and putting.Which is not to say that some golfers don't improve using those two methods.
Some do, but the question we should be asking is, how much more would they have improved using the kind of mind/body connection approach that we advocate? And how much faster, too! And how many golfers fail to really achieve significant improvement in their games with those two methods? The fact that half of all new golfers quit within one year of taking up the game and cite "too difficult" as the primary reason should tell us something. Not that every beginner golfer takes instruction, but many do, and some just don't see postive results. Some of this is due to the inherent limitations of the traditional models and some is due to the fact that golf is a very difficult game to get good at.
What is the one area that your students have the most difficulty with in terms of mastery of the physical skills of ballstriking?
There is both a mental and physical answer to your question. The one mental thing that frustrates every golf student, our students as well as other instructor's, is that if they don't see immediate ball flight improvement, they incorrectly conclude one of two things: either they can't learn it, or the information we gave them is wrong. Everyone in golf is mesmerized by trial and error learning based on ball flight. The truth is, you should never use ball flight results as the basis for learning the basic fundamentals. That is just a huge mistake that nearly everyone in golf is making, both players and teachers.
Refinement of mechanics for advanced players, yes. But never for learning the Basics. Why? Because good ball flight is just an effect. The cause is the fundamentals. Only after you've mastered a single fundamental, (which takes some time, a few days to a few weeks, depending on the fundamental), will the ball flight truly improve, and it won't "go away". Its permanent improvement. Really bad golfers are bewitched by the ball and what it is about to do. If you're obsessed about impact and ball flight, mastering the art of shotmaking will forever be a mystery to you. This obsession is the basic premise behind the quick-fix approach. I say it's totally illogical thinking and not very effective, especially in the long term.
Jim Waldron in mid golf swing.
This means just one thing - you have to learn to trust your teacher and the information he has given you. He knows the fundamentals, he's seen them work in his own game and many, many students. You probably don't know the first thing about this incredibly complex art, this skill. Why would you "trust" your own ignorance and skepticism over his demonstrated competence as a player and teacher? It's crazy but I and every other golf instructor I know run into this problem everyday.
The physical answer is learning the proper mechanics of the arm motion, and how very little independent arm motion is required on the backswing and how none whatsoever is required in the forward swing.. Golfers just find it hard to understand that the arms/club triangle stays in front of the body throughout the swing. The most important mechanical fundamental in the golf swing is the synchronization of the arms swinging up and down in front of your chest - on the proper angle relative to your shoulder girdle on both the back and through swings - with the coiling and uncoling motion of your torso and lower body. The Arm Swing Illusion makes almost everybody in golf want to move their arms sideways and around their torso. And that is the Number One Mechanical Flaw in the swing since it contributes to a large degree to most of the many other very common swing flaws.
Do you find that some students are incapable of trusting?
Sure. I interview every student before agreeing to work with them. If I sense in any way that they are "tinkerers" or control freaks, golfers who are not really serious about improvement, I won't waste my time and their money by taking them on as students. That kind of player is not looking for a learning breakthrough or skill acquisition, he's looking for The Answer.
Some people will say, "this is just another one of many instruction systems that have claimed to be the answer to every golfers problems.. Why should we trust your way?" How do you respond to this kind of skepticism?
I understand it. You can't entirely blame the student who thinks that way. This is part of the problem with the traditional perception-based instruction model, the total lack of consistency among instructors. And I'm certainly not suggesting blind trust and naively putting your game in the hands of just any teacher. You need to be an intelligent consumer of golf instruction, you need to ask around your community, who is getting positive results with his students? That's the person you should talk to. Interview the teacher and find out a little about his or her basic philosophy. If it doesn't make sense to you on both a head and gut level, look elsewhere.
My answer to the overly skeptical student is, well, I can hit it great eight out of ten times, you can't yet. That's a skill I acquired the hard way, by going through the very same learning and training process you are about to begin. There was a time when I hit it just as poorly as you are today. I got better using a logical approach that works. I've also taught a lot of players how to be better ballstrikers. I think the fact that I can do it and that I can teach it to others proves that I am entitled to at least a modicum of trust and respect.
I don't buy into the trendy New Age, "inner game" notion that the teacher and student are equals. That's ridiculous and creates a dysfunctional learning environment. Yes, there has to be a mutual "meeting of the minds" for the teacher/student relalationship to work. But the student must rise to the level of the teacher. The teacher should never lower himself to the level of the student, that is, the teacher is making a big mistake if he "dumbs down" his instruction to fit the egoistic needs and wants of the student. The student's ego always wants the learning to be fast, painless, simple and easy. It just doesn't work that way in the real world. Not in golf, other sports, music, martial arts, dance and certainly not in life! You've got to pay your dues.
Golf evolved as a sport of the super rich and the teaching pro, in the early days, came from the lower un-educated classes. The teaching pro is not going to risk losing his job by pointing out to Mr. Rockefeller that his golf swing sucks and that if he really wants to improve he must make some long overdue changes. This power and wealth imbalance between teacher and student is the main reason why even today most golf instruction is overly simplistic and "dumb downed" to fit the demands of the marketplace. "You say you want a simple solution to your swing problems? Great! Send $199.95 today for our amazing new - golf club, training aid or swing method video."
I never ask the student to blindly accept the truth of what I am saying regarding the physical fundamentals, however. Mental principles of learning, training, creating and performing, yes, I expect a certain amount of trust in my expertise in those areas since there is practically zero probability of any golf student already knowing anything about that very important part of the process.. Mechanics are different - the student must see clearly the true from the false or he will never make the necessary commitment to both the material and the training process.
I show them the irrefutable scientific proof. If they look with an open mind, the truth is self evident. The bottom line is, at some point, you really have to get off the fence, drop your skepticism, and trust the teacher. This is at least as important as the information that your instructor is giving you. Find a good teacher and some kind of model and commit to it, mine or any other teacher's, and you will improve.
I also often compare the way golf is taught to the way karate is taught. In karate, no student would ever think of questioning the sensei's skill, knowledge of the mechanics or ability to teach it. Trust and respect are implicit in that relationship. You practice your front kick the way he showed you because a. you want to learn how to do it well, b. you suck at it and his front kick is awesome and c. you're surrounded by all these higher ranking brown and black belt fellow students, all of whom were taught their front kicks by this very same sensei and all of whom possess an awesome front kick! It's a no-brainer. You stick with it because you know eventually you'll get it. And it's no coincidence that the martial arts have by far the best record in all of sport for turning out highly skilled students.
In golf, it's exactly the opposite - golf has absolutely the worst record in all of sports when it comes to students mastering the basic skills of the game. The basic premise is that golf is a level playing field, all of us rowing that same sinking ship of inconsistency, confusion and frustration about our games, weekend golfer, scratch amateur and even tour pro. This explains why one of golf's greatest champions has been seen asking his hotel doorman for swing tips on the morning of the US Open!
So when you are working on a swing change or learning the basics, be patient and never give up. Poor ball flight results in the early stages is not a reason to quit. This is completely normal and should be expected. Which is not to say that everyone goes through such a stage before getting better. It depends on the student. I know some students who really "get it" conceptually and have no trouble integrating the new move into their overall swing pattern almost immediately. Others do struggle with it for awhile. Type A negative personalities who fear change take the longest to improve. Type B positives who embrace change but who also are willing to work hard improve the fastest. The key point though is that everybody improves - as long as they practice intelligently and regularly.
When I first took up karate at age 14, I probably did three thousand slow motion front kicks in a mirror over a two month period before I really had the form down correctly. Why should golf swing mechanics be any different? It's not. Mastering a skill takes time, practice and dedication. Giving up because you're not happy with the initial ball flight results is the dumbest thing you can do. You persevere, train, then you get the results.
So this is an example of "golfer's neurosis"? What other examples can you give of this neurotic behavior?
Feeling afraid and acting on it on the golf course is very common. I ask you, apart from professionals who play on Tour for a living, why should anyone ever be afraid of mis-hitting a golf shot or shooting a bad score? It's only a game. Your reputation and ego are NOT on the line, no matter what you may now believe. I don't see basketball players freaking out over missed jump shots or bad passes. They just let it go and get back into the flow of the game. Missing shots is just part of the game. Missed shots are also a part of the game in golf but somehow that very basic truth has gotten lost in today's game.
Fear is a totally inappropriate and irrational response. I'm always counselling my students that's it's OK to hit a bad shot. In fact, if you are too attached to the outcome of your shot, if your self esteem as a human being is on the line over every single golf shot during a 5 hour round, you'll be an emotional wreck by the time you finish and you will in fact hit a lot of bad shots and score really poorly. Why? Because that kind of self-induced mental pressure causes you to tense up and to flinch during your swing. It's just one more golf paradox - you have to be 100% OK about missing it both before and during the swing or putting stroke in order to hit it well.
Speaking of confusion, I was looking at a golf magazine the other day and in it there were two articles with completely opposite swing instructions. Why is there so much contradictory information on the swing out there today?
Here's the short answer. "If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there, does it make a sound?" The answer is, no it does not make a sound but it makes sound waves, a fact. A sound requires an ear/brain/mind to pick up the sound waves and translate the waves into sound - a perception. Fact and perception are not the same, but in traditional golf instruction, the confusion between the two is rampant.
Probably 80% of golf swing information is perception-based. The problem with perceptions is, they may or may not correspond to the facts. Science deals with what objectively occurs, in this case, with what the top ballstrikers are in fact doing with both their body and club and never with what those same great players believe about what they are doing. Science also seeks to discover the universal laws that govern how the material universe operates. We use both scientific approaches in Balance Point. It's always a shock for our new students to discover that the golf swing is not a "mystery", that there are indeed universal fundamentals common to all great ballstrikers and universal laws of geometry and physics that dictate the proper way to hit a golf ball to a target.
Most swing tips are perceptions that the well-meaning instructor's conscious mind made up to explain a highly complex motion that is performed by one's subconscious mind that takes place at high speed in less than two seconds. The subconscious operates at a processing speed of billions of bits of information per second and you use most of that capacity in the golf swing. The conscious mind uses only 4 to 7 bits of information per second, far too slow to form an accurate perception of what is really happening. The perceptions seem correct and so the instructor forms a belief that they are not only correct, but facts. In truth, they are just opinions. And there are thousands of different ways to perceive the golf swing, hence all the contradictory advice. The other reason for this conflict is that there are indeed more than one way to perform certain aspects of the swing and short game depending on the person's skill level, the lie of the golf ball, one's flexibility and strength.
Yet many of these perceptions seem to make sense when you first read about them. Can you give me an example of this feel versus fact paradox?
In one sense, all perceptions are equally valid. Therefore, anybody can make up a plausible sounding swing theory based on his or her individual perceptions, and in the history of golf, many, many perception-based swing theories have been proposed by well meaning instructors, tour players and even amateurs. And all of them "work" to a certain degree primarily due to the nature of belief and to the placebo effect, not necessarily because they are accurate depictions of the physical laws of the swing. I sometimes tell students that you can think about pink elephants as the key to triggering your swing and it will work just as well as thinking about your pivot, once you have in fact installed your pivot program into your subconscious memory bank.
Thinking and doing are not the same. You can think about maintaining your spine angle and still come out of it on every shot! Golfer A may focus on his left side on the forward swing and correctly perceive a pulling sensation. Golfer B will focus on his right side and feel a push. Both are correct because the left side of the torso is pulling and the right side is pushing - simultaneously. Notice I did not say the arms are pulling or pushing. They don't move independently toward the target through the impact zone. You could say accurately that the right side of the torso pushes the arms/club package through impact and the left side of the torso pulls it through impact.
What makes our method unique is that we have eliminated all perception from our explanation of the physical mechanics. I like to say we've taken an objective look at the golfer's body by cutting off the head! There are indeed scientific laws independent of the human mind that govern how both the body and club must move during the swing motion. The Iron Byron ball hitting robot is an example of a "person" with no "head" (brain), no eyes (therefore no hand-eye coordination), no personality with ego-based fears of failure (therefore no flinching), who is programmed to carry out the laws and gets 100% consistency to his golf shots. If you follow the laws, success is guaranteed. The fact that at this moment in time only a handful of golf instructors know what these laws are in no way minimizes their veracity or effectiveness.
Here's another reason: there is a 1/8 to1/10 second time delay on the downswing (at normal swing speeds) between what your hands and club are doing and what your conscious brain perceives to be happening. So when you think you are at impact, you really are in followthrough. This explains why so many teachers tell their students to swing their arms across their chest through impact. The arms do dis-connect from the chest at the start of followthrough but through impact, they are in fact tight against the chest. We are fooled by the time delay illusion.
So are you a "hands" teacher, an "arms" teacher, or a "big muscle" or body teacher?
Those are the three very limited dominant swing models of traditional instruction and represent an attempt to pigeon-hole the golf swing into simplistic categories. I'm an integrative teacher since all body parts contribute to an effective swing - although not necessarily to the same degree. Clearly, the modern body teachers are closer to the truth than the hands and arms teachers. Power, balance and control flow as cause to effect from inside to outside, from the core of your torso and feet to ground connection outward to eventually the clubhead. The arms teachers are simply wrong when they attempt to teach clubhead control as an isolated area and as a cause of good ball flight. The clubhead moves passively as a result of body motion, good or bad. I use the whip analogy a lot in my teaching. A bullwhip tip is the last part of the whip to move and it moves the fastest but how it moves is a result of how the whipmasters body and the whip handle move. Trying to control the tip end is sheer folly.
Again, the error of those other three methods is the mistaken belief, and I emphasize the word belief since we are talking perception here - not fact, that one body part can dominate the others and cause the secondary body parts to work properly. Here's just one example. The arms teachers say to swing your arms freely across your chest, then up and the body will respond correctly. There is no evidence for this - quite the contrary. Most golfers will swing their arms sideways across their chest and hardly turn their body at all. The arms get trapped behind the torso, out of proper position to begin the downswing so that the clubshaft can't return to it's original plane angle. Or they do the opposite and swing the arms up too vertically, again out of position. Feeling that your arms move horizontally across your chest and then feeling that your body responds is just that - a feeling or perception. In the case of great ballstrikers, the visual evidence and mechanical laws prove that it is simply false.
What about that age-old conflict, feel versus mechanics? Can you learn mechanics from a feel perspective?
Again, this is a confusion about fact and perception. You need both to learn any motor skill. Feel alone does not create good mechanics but you need feel to learn how to create good mechanics. But feel and mechanics are two separate things. For 500 years, golfers have tried to learn mechanics from feel using the trial and error learning model and it has flat out failed miserably to produce real improvement, especially for average golfers. For every gifted genius of a player like Hogan, Snead or Moe Norman who have learned from trial and error, beating balls, there are literally millions of golfers world-wide who have instead learned terrible mechanics from experimenting on the range.
You can use trial and error, (learning mechanics from associating what you just felt happen inside your body motion with a positive shot outcome), in other sports to a certain degree of skill, basketball for example, although I still would not recommend it because you will inevitably end up with somewhat flawed shooting mechanics. Not in golf. The mechanics are far more complex and the margin of error at impact is so tiny. For the past 50 years, we've also had the opposite problem - trying to master mechanics without feel.
There is this crazy notion that I see everyday in teaching students that just knowing the correct mechanical information will make you a great ballstriker. The truth is, "you" (conscious mind) can know it and your body still won't be able to do it right away. It takes time for a learning process to be completed. That means lots of practice doing your drills to make that purely intellectual information a physical habit, a real skill. Swing changes are not a choice. They are not the result of will power or effort. To put it more simply, you learn good mechanics from "outside", from a teacher, and you then internalize the information, through your feel sense primarily, until it becomes a habit. This is the downside to the current high tech boom in golf instruction. Some instructors and schools are selling the notion that digital video, fancy new software, etc is somehow going to be the salvation of golfers and finally be the breakthrough we have all been searching for in golf instruction. That notion is simply nonsense.
Seeing exactly how Tiger does it perfectly and you alongside doing it absolutely horribly in twenty different ways does not magically allow you to suddenly swing just like Tiger. And for a student who is severely contaminated with analytical thinking during the swing, video can be downright dangerous. Now he's got sixteen more things to think about! Making even a single swing change takes time, commitment and perseverance. Video can be a great starting point and I use it with moderation in most of my teaching, especially for good players, but it is only that - a starting point. Now you've got to learn how to internalize the new move and feel it, repeat it thousands of times in slow motion to make it a habit.
A lot of teachers who evangelize about video and high tech don't know how to help their students take the next step, really learning how to do it, so the video becomes a very poor substitute for the teachers wisdom, knowledge and skill. So no, high tech will never be the answer. What can work to help students really learn are training aids that give you immediate feedback when you do a new move correctly or incorrectly. There are several on the market that do in fact work well although the vast majority are worthless gimmicks.
Give me an example of a swing myth or misperception that is still taught today by orthodox instructors.
Well, the "emperor has no clothes" simple truth that destroys the traditional instruction model is that the conscious mind does not really have voluntary control over the body during the golf swing. Setup routine, yes. In-swing motion, no way. Nearly every teacher in golf is teaching a total misperception. During the golf swing, your body only moves the way your subconscious brain tells it to. The body receives a set of instructions, much like a computer program, from the subconscious, whenever it is moving at high speed and/or whenever a lot of muscle and joint motion is involved. This is a basic scientific fact that has been know in the west for over 100 years and in the Eastern martial arts tradition for several hundred years. This is Physiology 101 level of basic knowledge yet it is almost completely unknown in golf instruction circles!
You don't consciously control your body at normal swing speeds. Golfers think that they do but this is a total delusion. Any attempt to control your body will result in some form of a flinch or tiny spasm of the muscles, which then ruins your swing. Your subconscious mind's concepts about power, force, swing shape, alignment and target and about the sequencing and function of your body mechanics not only influence, they create your mechanics!
I've heard you say time and time again that golf is not a hand-eye coordination game. That's a pretty radical statement.
First you need to understand that there are two distinct types of hand-eye coordination, static and dynamic. When Mark McGuire hits a 450 foot home run on a 95mph fast ball, it looks like the same kind of hand-eye coordination that Tiger supposedly uses on his 340 yard drives. In reality, it's a totally different thing. McGuire needs to use dynamic hand-eye because the ball is moving and every pitch is different. It's an instinctive response, not a thinking action. His subconscious computer picks up the ball just as it leaves the pitcher's hand and immediately performs an incredible calculation involving over 13 million bits of information processing per second: the angle of approach of the ball, it's trajectory, speed, etc.
Most sports involve the use of dynamic hand-eye coordination. Golf is different. The target's not moving, nor is the ball, and you don't move much either. You use that same 13 million bit processor in golf but with a different function. The eyes have nothing to do with it. If your setup, grip, aim and ball position are correct, and you maintain your posture and arm extension during the swing, and make a fundamentally correct body pivot, arm swing and wrist action, in balance, the ball gets swept away by the motion of the body moving the club on plane. There is no need to even look at the ball. In fact, most of my students are trained to look at a spot on the ground in front of the ball during setup and swing. They all report an immediate and significant improvement to their ballstriking as a result.
The best example of static hand-eye coordination is threading a needle, not exactly an athletic motion. Really bad golfers are trying to "thread the needle", the ball being the eye of the needle and the end of the thread being the clubhead!
So you're saying average golfers never really "get golf" because their common sense acceptance of what appears to be correct, static hand-eye coordination, just doesn't work? Then why do they persist in using it?
Partly because virtually all of traditional instruction is based on the hand-eye illusion. Golfers are trying their best with poor understanding. Also there are a number of what we call Irresistible Impulses in the golf swing that are hard to overcome at first. You must learn to inhibit these impulses. Hitting the ball with the clubhead using conscious mind hand-eye is just common sense but it is dead wrong. Common sense is a tough thing to question.
The thought process goes like this: "After all, the clubhead hits the ball. If my clubhead is missing the ball, then I must try even harder to directly control the clubhead, from conscious mind, using hand-eye manipulation, will power, etc." Yet my experience coaching and observing thousands of high handicap golfers over the years has convinced me that the more you try to directly control the clubhead, the more out of control the clubhead becomes. The more you try and speed up the clubhead using the arms or wrists, the slower the clubhead moves. Another golfing paradox! It's the old problem of trying to directly control the tip end of the whip while ignoring the rest of the whip and the body action that is the source of energy for the motion.
One of the first breakthroughs we help our students achieve is in understanding that the clubhead is passive during the swing. It only moves because the body creates forces that move it. The real cause of how the clubhead moves is how the body -torso, arms, wrists- moves, in sequence or out of sequence, in balance or out of balance. It's pure cause and effect. Focus on the cause and you get results. Focus on the effect and you get more problems. The traditional approach is concerned only with the effect. It's like trying to straighten out a huge knotted ball of string. There's just no end to it! It's only natural to focus on the effect, impact and ball flight, but this is the source of terminal frustration in golf.
How important is swing plane? I've always found it very confusing from reading Hogan's ideas on this and other instructors too. The lines drawn from various body parts down to the ground differ a lot and they never seem to adequately explain what the line represents.
Yes, this is truly one of the worst taught aspects of the traditional model. Hogan was referring to an image he used to keep his left arm from coming off plane by keeping his shoulder girdle pivot on plane. His lines don't represent in reality the plane of any body part or the club itself. It was a useful perception for Hogan and not a fact. But it confused the hell out of two generations of golfers. I can't go into too much detail in this interview since again, written words alone are likely to confuse the reader.
Let's just say that several body parts and the club, (some are much more important than others) each travel in their own ideal path and plane angle relative to the ground but that the starting point of all of our swing mechanics instruction is the shaft plane angle that you establish when you sole the club on the ground at address. The shaft plane angle runs through your belt buckle so that the top of the plane angle relative to your body is about waist high. We literally make this the first thing we teach new students, even before grip, since the club hits the ball, you don't.
You must understand that power, accuracy and consistency all come about because primarily because the shaft is moving on that angle from waist height on the right side of your body on the forward swing to waist height on the left side of your body. There are 7 other club control factors that influence impact and ball flight but this is by far the most important one since if you get it right, the other 7 are much easier to learn and for good players will tend to happen somewhat automatically.
How does golfer's neurosis relate to "random reinforcement" that we have talked about at your schools?
Random reinforcement is the most powerful psychological mechanism that prevents all golfers from truly improving. It lies at the core of the neurosis in traditional golf culture and is one of the primary reasons why so many golfers experience shame, frustration, fear, confusion, anger, doubt and often will quit a game they truly love. In a nutshell, the average golfer hits one out of twenty good full shots on the range and maybe one out of thirty on the golf course and says to himself "Man, I can really hit it!" He gets excited and the endorphins kick in. This can become powerfully addictive. He thinks,"Hell, I don't need lessons or practice. I just hit a 300 yard drive right down the middle! It feels great! I want to do it again. Let's see, on that last drive I was thinking about keeping my left arm straight, that must be the secret to hitting it long and straight!"
Of course, we are all familiar with what happens next: O.B., water hazard, 30 yard slice into the trees..."I thought I had the secret!"...and so it goes. Random reinforcement is the basis of both gambling and golf addiction. When any mammal, white lab rats or human golfers, doesn't matter, experience "success" on an intermittent basis, one out of ten tries works, the emotional payoff is much greater then when you experience success every time. That emotional "high" induces a false sense of confidence about your skills and your shotmaking and scoring ability.
You don't see your situation objectively anymore. You want more of that "high". When you come crashing down to earth on the next hole, next shot or next round, you go the other extreme. Now you're depressed about your game, now you're the worst golfer in the world. It's a very strange and very interesting phenomenon that is quite common in golf.
And that keeps us coming back for more punishment?
Exactly. The smart players who truly love the game eventually will "get it" and start taking lots of instruction and practice, which will break the cycle. Good instruction and lots of quality practice is what creates good mechanics that become permanent habits. That is the formula for real consistency at golf. But that requires first overcoming denial and facing the fact that you don't have a clue when it comes to shotmaking. That is when real learning can begin to happen.
How do you do you explain those one out of ten good shots then?
Those are just lucky shots. Luck and skill are not the same. Your natural athletic ability to compensate to a certain extent for lousy mechanics got lucky and "guessed right". It produced the right combination of compensatory moves in the 1/4 second from top of backswing to impact to hit the shot well, no different than gambling at the slot machines in Vegas. Nine out of ten times it "guesses" wrong.
Skill is talent that has been nurtured and developed over time through instruction and training so that one can hit great shots eight or more out of ten times. Most golfers are in fact hoping for and counting on luck to get them through the round without totally embarrassing themselves. They could learn the game properly and count on skill instead. That's what I am trying to help my students accomplish.
That is how we define real shotmaking consistency - eight out of ten. Can you imagine if amateur musicians only hit one note out of ten, how horrible their music would sound? Yet golfers are satisfied with one out of ten or twenty good shots. Why should they be? Is there something so inherently difficult about golf that prevents the average person from attaining even a moderate amount of mastery and skill? I don't think so. I think golf is unquestionably a difficult game to get really good at but it is not impossible to get good at. The violin is a very difficult instrument to get really good at yet the norm in the world of violin playing is success, not failure. Unfortunately, failure is the norm in golf.
I have many friends who have taken traditional lessons, the quick-fix kind, and gone to the range and beat balls, and just never improve. Why is that?
The records of the USGA and National Golf Foundation prove that the traditional golf instruction model has produced zero improvement for the average golfer over the past 50 years. Every other amateur sport records are shattered every decade or so yet golf alone among all sports has remained stagnant. The traditional golf instruction model consisting of conscious mind contamination, tips, secrets, magic moves, swing thoughts, quick-fixes, beating balls, trial and error simply does not work. It never has and it never will because human beings are hard-wired by thousands of years of natural selection to learn complex motor skills in very specific ways.
The traditional model violates those natural laws of learning. The average golfer has terrible mechanics, to put it bluntly. Because of that fact, he's in a constant state of uncertainty about his swing and his overall game. I always tell my students, until and unless you have taken the time to really learn the correct fundamentals, you should expect to hit lousy shots most of the time. If that is too painful for you, either quit golf or start taking lessons and especially start practicing more. The dumbest thing I see many golfers do is to whine and complain about how bad their game is but they just keep right on playing and hitting crappy shots. They never do one thing to really change the situation. Our students improve, most do so to some degree almost immediately, because they learn about how to learn new golf skills to the level of automatic habit. We unlock their natural ability to learn. It's that simple. We show them what works and what doesn't work.
The separation of learning from performance seems to be such a big part of your teaching philosophy. This is why you insist that no part of the mechanics of the swing be taught or practiced while the student is hitting balls. That's an extremely radical notion. Will golfer's buy into it? Does it really work as well as you and your student's claim?
Yes, it works extremely well and everything both science and my practical experience tells me about how humans learn reinforces this idea. Well, it's quite simple really. You cannot learn the basic physical mechanics of a sport while performing on the playing field. Think about it. If you only played the game of basketball in competition and never learned the basic mechanics of dribbling, shooting and passing in practice, you would end up as a terrible basketball player. The trouble with golf is, you are "performing" in a sense even when you are on the range hitting balls with any expectation of positive ball flight results. You are swinging the same way, at the same speed as on the golf course. There is no feedback other than the ball flight.
Except for the self-induced mental pressure one experiences on the golf course where score "matters", there really is not much difference from the standpoint of the physical mechanics involved. It's typically a solitary pursuit with a lot of guessing about what it is you are actually doing with your body and club. The swing takes about one and a half seconds start to finish. Every muscle and joint in your body is in motion. You hit a good shot and guess why. You hit a bad shot and guess why. There is no objective feedback It's really just speculation and guesswork.
You are using that one out of ten good lucky shots to randomly reinforce your old unworkable swing with all of it's bad habits. You are deeply imprinting the very same bad mechanics that create all of your bad shots. Here's another reason for taking the ball away. Learning by definition means change. When you change a golfer's mechanics, he may hit it worse for awhile than with his old swing. There are two very simple reasons for this. The new move feels strange and the student's mind is focused on this weird feeling, which causes a communication breakdown between the subconscious and the body, a flinch of some sort, which creates the bad shot result.
The second reason is that hitting a golf ball even moderately well takes a highly refined sense of timing. When you change the mechanics, the golfer's old timing pattern is temporarily disrupted, which causes the bad shot outcome. This timing pattern is fluid and able to adjust to the new mechanics within a few hours or a couple of days at most of practice. Here's the problem in a nutshell. As soon as Joe Hacker hits one bad shot during a lesson, his instinct tells him to mistrust the new move his teacher has been working with him on and to go back to his old, comfortable swing, because at least he has some idea where the ball is going with that old swing, even if it is that same old slice.
He gives up before he even really ever got started. And this is not an isolated phenomenon, this is the norm in golf today! Take the ball away and the student now has only one intention: to master the new move to the level of subconscious, automatic habit. There are no bad shots to catastrophize over and emotionally react to, because there is no ball. There is only learning, in it's purest sense. This results in very fast and very permanent learning of golf swing skills.
Effective learning requires four things: an accurate, objective set of fundamentals that function as a map to guide your learning, a swing model you receive from your coach and that you deeply understand at the insight level of your mind; a set of drills or exercises that will enable you to internalize the swing model, or "how to learn it; some form of feedback like a mirror, video, coach or training aid that lets you monitor your training so that you know you are practicing correctly; and lots of practice time to create a new motor habit through repetition.
So you do this by never thinking mechanics on the golf course?
Yes, but also you never think mechanics on the range either. You learn all of your pre-swing and in-swing mechanics away from a golf ball. I'm not saying you can't focus on balance, rhythm or tempo while hitting balls on the range, you can and must do that to learn how to hit a golf ball well, but these things are not mechanics like wrist cock, pivot, plane and arm swing. In-swing mechanics should only be learned one "piece" at a time, in the proper building block sequence, in slow motion in front of a mirror or with training aids.
Remember we are not using hand-eye coordination. We are using the laws of physics and geometry. You are training how to make a fundamentally correct body and club motion which will sweep the ball away toward the target.You don't try to hit the ball, the motion sweeps through the spot on the ground where the ball is resting. You train to make the motion correctly. You trigger the swing motion by allowing your subconscious first and then your body to react to your target picture, just as in every other sport.
You are not doing anything consciously at impact. Impact is the result of a prior cause. If your body mechanics, tempo and balance are correct and your setup, aim and ball position are spot on, you cannot fail to hit a good shot. Your goal is to make this athletic motion a dominant habit just like the dominant habit you've owned for many years of throwing a ball to a target.
You never focus inwardly on your body mechanics when throwing a ball. You trust that skill, that habit to work perfectly and automatically. Your focus is always external, on the target. The better your target focus, the more accurate the throw. Same thing in golf. Golfers think mechanics for two reasons only. One, they've been brainwashed by the traditional instruction model to believe this is what you're supposed to do. Two, golfers are afraid of mis-hitting their golf shots and rightly so because deep down they know that their mechanics are horrible.
Rather than acknowledge this, they cover it up by using swing thoughts as a kind of mental crutch. They are using superstitious or what anthropologists call "magical thinking" as a way of dealing with the uncertainty, doubt and fear. Think about it - if you really knew what you were doing with your golf swing, you would be totally free of doubt and fear. You would trust that wonderful skill you had developed. You wouldn't need a "swing thought", not for a minute!
That's really true. But what if you know that your swing is really bad. How can you trust it?
You can't. If you can't hit close to or on your target on the range eight of out of ten times, how can you expect to do it on the golf course? That's why I am always on average golfers to take lessons and especially to train. That's the ONLY WAY to get better. There are no shortcuts. But once you're finished with a round of training, and you now own a new skill, you've simply got to learn to trust it, to get out of your own way. This is why I created two different golf schools with totally opposite approaches. In Great Shot!, our swing mechanics school, you learn how to create a fundamentally correct swing motion. Breakthrough teaches you how to trust that swing motion, which is why we recommend Breakthrough for Great Shot! graduates or 15 handicap or better golfers.
What about the "inner game" approach to golf. They talk about getting out of your own way all the time. Is what you're saying any different?
Yes, because most inner game teachers maintain that the swing is "natural". It is not! They are confusing talent, which is your natural athletic genetically based endowment, with skill - something you develop over time. I say your ability to learn the swing is natural and your ability to athletically compensate to a degree for a bad move is natural but the swing itself is not natural. Is playing the violin natural? Of course, not, it's a learned skill. However, once you learn it, then you get out of the way. You remove the Interference Factors that cause flinching. When you flinch-proof a golfer's swing, the mechanics do improve immediately and significantly. Even better, when you improve their basic mechanics and then flinch-proof those mechanics, the player becomes the best that he or she can be.
Is that why everybody in our school hit the ball so much better and consistently so when doing the Decontamination drills?
Absolutely. Everybody hits it better. These drills take the hand-eye out of the swing, which removes at least half of the tendency to flinch, maybe more. They don't allow you time to "think" over the ball, to get "comfortable". Everyday I see students doing the Happy Gilmore drill, literally hitting the ball on the run, and hitting it better than their normal, contaminated, conscious mind swing. Golf is not a "make something happen to the ball, body or club" game, it's a "react athletically to the target" game.
Golf is not a thinking game except for the one area of course management. It's a game of instinct and passion and acquired skill, but you never acquire the shotmaking skill on the golf course. Playing golf well requires some tools to be in your toolbox - a fundamentally sound swing, short game and putting strokes. If you walk on to the first tee with no tools, like 99% of all golfers do, you are simply not going to play any where near to your full potential and you will not really enjoy the game to the fullest extent.
You use a lot of drills in all of your golf schools. Can you give us a few examples and explain how they work?
I couldn't adequately explain a drill using words. It would only confuse your readers. But I can tell you that we use different categories of drills, depending on the school. Swing Concepts drills are designed to change your swing mechanics for the better indirectly by changing the way your subconscious mind understands concepts like power, swing shape, sequencing of body part movement, etc. They are usually done in slower than normal speed without a ball. Direct Mechanics training uses 10 position sequences and specific movement patterns for each body part. Flow drills train the student in correct tempo, rhythm, freedom of motion and pace control.
Balance drills are very useful for improving the consistency of the strike since loss of balance is the number one cause of really bad golf shots, even more so than poor mechanics. I learned that fact as a kid from Paul Hahn, Sr. the famous trick shot artist. Perfect balance was the secret behind his amazing ability to hit the ball well with weird objects and with very unorthodox mechanics required by standing on one leg, sitting on a stool, etc.
Probably the most revolutionary and really useful thing I learned from you regarding swing mechanics was the Arm Swing Illusion. At first I didn't believe it but now I see that it really is true. Can you explain it to our readers?
No, there is simply no way to explain the Illusion in words. You have to see it and even then it is shocking and hard to believe at first! This is just one of several optical illusions that have prevented both players and teachers from really understanding the true facts of the golf swing for the past 500 years. It's like a magician's trick- it looks like he pulled a live rabbit out of his hat but it's an illusion. If he took you backstage and showed you how he fooled you and how he really did the trick, you'd be amazed and maybe feel a bit foolish for being so easily deceived. Yet you still cannot actually do the trick even though you've seen through the illusion. It is an important breakthrough and first step but it still might take you 6 months of practice before you can actually do the trick well.
The golf swing is a lot like that. What you are seeing when you watch Fred Couples swing is not really happening and what is happening you cannot see. You need a magician, a really knowledgeable teacher, to show you the illusions so that you can finally begin to understand what you must learn to do with body and club to hit a golf ball well. For example, Fred Couples looks like he uses zero muscular effort during his swing. That is not the case. Looks are deceiving. It looks like he merely drops his arms to start his downswing and gravity alone creates his incredible clubhead speed. Not true.
The computer models that both Cochran and Stobbs of the British Science Society swing research project and Dr. Jorgensen of the Department of Physics at University of Nebraska developed calculate that gravity alone accounts for only 10% to 15% of clubhead speed. Gravity alone cannot move 20 pounds of arm and club, over a distance of just six to ten inches, (the actual distance of the average gravity powered arm drop on the downswing), very fast at all. There just isn't enough time and space to build up sufficient velocity.
Plus gravity only works in the vertical dimension - as soon as the hands/arms/club move forward, toward the target, in the horizontal or rotary dimension, gravity acceleration ceases to operate. And from a pure power standpoint, this rotary dimension is far more important than the vertical. After all, you are not driving the golf ball down into the ground, you are applying power in a sweeping motion toward the back of the ball. Don't get me wrong, his arms do drop, there is no independent arm pull and there should not be any in a good golf swing, but his arms are in fact being accelerated forward through impact by the unwinding of his hips, torso, shoulder girdle and also by the rocking or tilting action of his shoulder girdle. These things generate a lot of angular momentum, which is literally invisible- you can only see it's effect, the 330 yard drives.
Muscles of the pivot action and the twisting against the ground's resistance along with weight transfer, not gravity, power the club but in Couples case, the illusion of effortlessness is created by a combination of several factors. First, rock-solid balance. You don't see the power being generated because he holds his body so still, especially his primary forward bending spine angle. There is no body "wobble" like there is for most Tour pros that betrays the use of muscle power. Second, perfect mechanics and coordination. He blends his primary power source, torso unwinding, with his secondary power sources, a very late uncocking of the wrists, forearm roll and right arm angle straightening, with such perfect timing and smooth application of power that you literally see only a super smooth blur.
As for the Arm Swing Illusion, most people don't believe it even when they see it since the optical illusion and the belief that has formed in the golfer's mind over the years of struggling with his swing is so strong. This is so very important because most of the killer moves in the golf swing are caused primarily by the Arm Swing Illusion including coming over the top, casting and flipping the wrists, pulling the left arm in through impact, coming out of the spine angle, etc.
Why has the golf swing been such a "mystery, puzzle, enigma, problem" as you write in your training manual for so many years?
Again, many reasons for this but I think two main ones stand out. The Arm Swing Illusion is one. The other is that the swing occurs in three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension and our conscious mind is capable of only one dimensional thinking. When we try to analyze the swing, we can't really envision the whole motion with all of it's component parts moving in the four dimensions simultaneously. So it's like all of the golf swing analysts throughout the ages have been looking at a giant prism with many reflective surfaces. You can look at one surface and say that it, surface X, is the swing, when it's really only one part or one sequence of motion or one milli-second in time. It's like trying to capture a flowing stream in your hands. Golfers have a desperate need to reduce this wonderful complexity to a simplistic, one-dimensional move or swing thought. Why? Because many golfers play golf to acquire a sense of control.
Human beings crave security and control but golf by it's very nature is a game that severely tests that need. It can give the bad golfer the occasional illusion of being in control because of lucky shots and random reinforcement. Mostly it mocks him and his need for control. The only way to really satisfy your need for control in golf is to understand that real control - over your ball flight, shot outcome and scoring - only happens when you give up control from conscious mind will power to subconscious mind skill-based execution. You surrender to a deeper part of your mind that you have trained in golf skills. You take the ego out of the equation. This is not New Age fluff but practical wisdom about how human beings perform well at anything!
Of all the many things that you teach, both physical and mental, what is the most important for average golfers to embrace that will give them the most game improvement in both the short and long term?
A great question and one that I get asked that a lot. I believe the number one requirement for success in golf is what I call "perceptual flexibility". This means an open, inquiring mind, a willingness to let go of old strategies that don't work anymore, of old swing habits, and to embrace the new. This is the heart of being an effective learner. Great golfers are great because they are great learners. Tiger Woods is such a fantastic player because he is passionate about golf, not only playing golf, but learning new golf skills. Dean Smith, who coached Michael Jordan at North Carolina, says in his recent autobiography that Jordan was nothing special when he first watched him play as a senior in high school and even as a freshman in college. What he did do better than everyone else on the team however, was to learn.
He listened, and he did what the coaches told him to do. He didn't argue with the coaches, if they told him to change his shot mechanics, he welcomed the new mechanics. He was constantly searching for ways to learn faster and better. Smith says that between his freshman and sophomore years, he has never seen a player improve so much. In my experience as a golf coach, this ability to embrace learning is the number one trait that my really successful students share. And it's no coincidence that the few students I have had who failed to improve, all shared a common trait - "perceptual rigidity" and an inability to let go of the old ideas, strategies and swing habits and to accept new information.
Golfers need to let go of fear, of worrying about their handicap status and score results, which after all, are just outcomes that happen as a result of a process. They need to begin to focus on the real causes of their performance results, not the results themselves. Immersing yourself in the process, whether learning, training, creating or performing, is where the real satisfaction, meaning and joy come from in golf. And the real game improvement as well.
Students must ask themselves. Are they skilled at ballstriking or just mediocre? Do they need to re-learn a fundamentally correct putting or chipping stroke? Maybe they need to learn how to develop an effective shotmaking routine or other "mental" skills. Are they having fun out there, or are they in fact fearful, confused and frustrated with their game? If you truly love golf, think about the fact that you've got the rest of your life to get really good at it. Think long term. You might as well start out right so that you "get it" right and make real progress. There is no hurry. It all begins with this kind of self-exploration and facing the real truths of what is going on. Real improvement begins when you stop playing "flog" and start playing golf.
Balance Point Golf Schools are conducted in Portland, Oregon in the summer months (May through October) and in Hawaii and Palm Springs winter and spring.