One of Ben Hogan’s most important rules of the mental game was Preparation. He meant the overall strategic approach a golfer takes toward game improvement, including how to both learn and practice effectively. Hogan understood the power of Intention, how clarity and a sense of purpose combine to focus a golfer’s energies in a positive direction.
One of golf’s most fascinating aspects is the subject of how one goes about learning new and better physical skills. And no, I am not talking in this case about the “content” that skill acquisition is concerned with, ie the usual technical information about plane angles and the mechanics of the hips, wrists, etc. All of that, of course, is very important and useful information. Rather I am concerned in this essay with the “process” of how to learn and how to train effectively. This issue is almost never discussed in the mainstream golf media, to the detriment of the average golfer.
Every golfer should know that there are several different types of physical skill instruction and that each of these has its’ strengths and weaknesses. Before I go through the list with you, let me start by describing one very common method that has quite a poor track record – golf “tips”. One of the reasons tips so seldom work at all, and never last more than a week or two, is because tips by their very nature are not meant to be an objective depiction of what actually occurs in a good golf swing. They are designed as a temporary stop-gap measure – to stop the “bleeding” that often happens with a golf swing that is not grounded in proven fundamentals.
Band-aid solutions offered by your golf partner or a magazine may work for a round or two, but then they inevitably fall away, and the “bleeding” returns. My advice is to simply stop using them, since both you and your game deserve far better. No one I have ever worked with has told me that they only want to get a little bit better temporarily! And that is the most that tips can do for your game.
Fundamental instruction is the long - term approach to golf skill acquisition that is based on the proven principle that there are Laws governing effective body and club motion. Once you understand what those Laws are and why they cannot be violated without a bad shot occurring, you will make the commitment to mastering them, one at a time, in the proper sequence.
This is the proven method that has a history of working very well in every other sport and in the Asian martial arts tradition. At Balance Point, one of the primary ways we help our students to achieve their long term goals of better golf, is by training in the proper Form (both body and club motion) in super slow motion in front of a mirror. We call this part of our program “Structured Deep Practice”. This was Hogan’s most important swing training “secret” that he discovered in the late 1930’s.
One of the reasons we are now seeing the dominance of young Korean golfers in the LPGA is because of the strong emphasis on slow motion mirror practice in their junior golf programs.
The slow motion training will – over time – ingrain the proper body mechanics into your subconscious mind “memory bank” – or dominant habits. The only real downside to the fundamental approach is that it does take some time before the body begins to attain enough mastery over the new movement pattern. Until the threshold of at least “semi-mastery” is achieved, you will likely not see significant improvement to your shotmaking or scores. Just to be clear, I am talking about days or at most a few weeks of practice, not months and years for that threshold to be achieved!
So at least a moderate amount of patience, persistence and perseverance is required to be successful with this method. I recommend this approach as the most important one of them all for mid to high handicap golfers who really need to learn the basic fundamentals of proper body and club motion.
A second method is called Swing Corrective instruction. It can be one of the fastest ways to achieve fairly significant improvement in one’s shotmaking, It is based on the golf teacher identifying one or two really toxic Fatal Flaws in your swing, short game or putting strokes, that can be removed or at least weakened by doing a corrective drill or exercise. The downside is that the improvement may sometimes be only temporary, especially so if the Fatal Flaw is a very strong habit that exists in the first place because of the lack of one or more of the Laws of body or club motion fundamentals.
A good example is a house with a leaky roof that is caused by a sagging wall, which is caused by the fact that the house lacks a concrete foundation on the ground. Patching the roof is a great idea in the short term to keep the rain out, but if you never install the foundation (the Fundamental approach), you will be forever slapping on roof patches!
A third way I call Sensory Brain Boundary training and it is a great way to quickly start to see some level of mastery over the Laws of body and club motion, but in a very simple, concrete and non-technical fashion. The brain boundary principle is based on the concept that your brain is hard-wired to find the proper athletic form by at first exploring the extreme boundaries of that particular body or club motion. Let’s say you tend to “stand up” out of your spine angle during your downswing (pretty common!).
I learned long ago in my teaching career that simply telling the student to “stay down” or showing them on video how they “stand up” will do very little to help them. But if we take the golf ball away, and ask the student to swing with their eyes closed, with their mind in feel sense or kinesthetic mode, and then ask them to deliberately stand up on one swing, and then dip (the polar opposite motion) on the very next swing, the student starts to quickly become aware of how exactly he is achieving both the stand up move and the dip move. He can sense where the middle point is between those two extremes – or staying Level, which is one of the Laws of body motion!
A fourth way I call Swing Mapping and it is my personal favorite way of coaching, since with the right student, it has proven to be the fastest way to experience significant shotmaking and score improvement, with the least amount of time devoted to practice. The basis for this approach is the mind/body connection model, which means if the golf student can experience a very deep level of insight about a particular aspect of the golf swing, for example, his body will immediately begin to move in a new and better way, closer to how a pro’s body moves.
Your subconscious mind has a Swing Map or blueprint, based on unconscious concepts about swing shape, power, impact, body mechanics and club motion. If you are a mid to high handicap golfer, most of those concepts or “mental pictures” are the polar opposite of the pro’s “mental pictures”. When you can start to “see” what those false concepts and “pictures” are that have been sabotaging your performance, and then install the correct or “pro” level swing concepts into your Map, your body will immediately begin to move more like a pro.
The key is the “light bulb” moment of Deep Insight, which is the golfer’s Intuitive or Subconscious mind really discovering the previously hidden truth about some aspect of the body or club motion. This method almost always creates immediate ball flight improvement, and has a really good track record for that kind of success lasting in the long - term as well.
Golfers who are highly intelligent, with an analytical mindset, and who are fascinated by the process of “cracking the golf swing code” or assembling the golf swing “puzzle pieces” will really benefit from this method. It does require at least a moderately strong mind/body connection and some level of curiosity on the part of the student to work truly effectively though. Swing Mapping is the basis for our Total Immersion golf learning model we use for most of our golf schools here at Balance Point.
A fifth way is called Dynamic Motion training which means using full speed Tempo golf swings to learn how to master Balance, Tempo, Rhythm, Sequence of Motion, and some of the timing elements of an effective golf swing, eg, learning how to release your wrist cock angle in good timing with your body’s Pivot Thrust.
Traditional golf instruction will also use this method when learning Mechanics, which I feel is a huge mistake, since your brain does not have voluntary, precision control over your body and club motion when moving at normal full speed golf swing speeds – only at slow motion speed.
Here at Balance Point Golf Schools, we use all of these methods in our golf schools and private lesson programs. A rough estimate of the percentage of each would be: for golf schools, 40% Swing Mapping, 25% Fundamental training, 15% Dynamic Motion training, 15% Sensory Brain Boundary training and 5% Fatal Flaw correction method. For individual private lessons: 25% Fatal Flaw correction method, 25% Swing Mapping, 40% Fundamental training, and 10% Sensory Brain Boundary training.