Canadian Fade - Play, Practice, Enjoy

Swing or Skill?

Derek Highley - Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Take a look at the video below.  What do you notice different about these two swings??

The above video is the basis for my argument of why so many golfers are minimizing their improvement by only working on their golf swing whenever they go to the practice range to hit balls.  Did you spot the differences?  Can you tell the "good" swing from the "bad" swing?  If I had not told you that they were different, would you have thought you were looking at the same swing?

The fact is that these two very similar swings produced two very different ball flights.

For the swing on the left the ball was struck solidly (red circle) and carried 169 yards on target with a little draw.  The swing on the right was struck thin towards the toe of the club (blue circle), carried 149 yards and was more of a low hook finishing well left of target.  If these two shots would have taken place on the golf course you would have been happy with one of the ball flights while the other one would have left you shaking your head.

And here is where the trouble starts. For most golfers we would mis-diagnosis the reason for the poor shot, blaming a breakdown of a Gross Motor Skill; ie. the poor movement of our arms, shoulders, legs or other large body part (insert "I lifted my head" here) when what the above video clearly shows is that this is simply not the case.  Where we need to focus our attention is on the Fine Motor Skills, the smaller movements that go undetected with the naked eye and also quite often with slow motion video.  Hitting the centre of the club face is a Fine Motor Skill and needs to be treated as such.  All too often we try to get better at what are Fine Motor Skills by working on Gross Motor movements and that won't get the job done.

I've seen it all too often, a golfer will hit a shot well off the centre of the club face producing an undesirable ball flight and quickly blame their swing and go about "fixing" it by trying to change something on their next shot.  Usually the attempted change will be something that they heard that weekend on TV while watching the PGA Tour or something that they read in a golf tips magazine or saw online.  Let's use as an example a tip such as "take the club back low and slow", the player attempts to take the club back low and slow on the next shot and they actually do make better contact closer to the centre of the club face and get a better result.  The player now thinks that the secret to their swing is taking the club back low and slow when in actual fact the better contact had nothing to do with the takeaway at all and was just a random improvement.  Since they believe that they have found the secret they will go for it again, taking the club back low and slow and maybe once again they will get more solid contact but soon enough the randomness of the contact will return and they will clunk another shot off the toe or heel and quickly abandon the "low and slow" that was for an all too fleeting moment in time their "magic move" and then the player will go back in search of another random tip to try, and the viscous cycle of tip after tip with no real lasting improvement begins.

Now don't get me wrong mechanics and technique do play a roll in the golf swing but they are not as important as we make them out to be.  Many recreational golfers that come to me for lessons have mechanics that are "good enough" to play at the level that they are striving for, the problem is they are just not skilled enough, there is a big difference here.  For these players improving technique does not automatically result in improved skill, it could just as easily have a negative impact.  But when a golfer becomes more skilled the result inevitably is improved scores. 

The habit of an endless search for improved technique which leads to golfers continuously working on their swings is not their fault, it is not their fault at all.   We have been conditioned over the years to think this way, but it is time we changed our way of thinking about playing better golf and changed our approach to practicing and taking lessons. 

So how do we move from been less focused on technique and more focused on Skill Development?  We need to change our practice habits and our mind set.  Start you next golf season off by getting a base line of where you currently are when it comes to golf's Big 3 Skills (centre hits, low point control and club face awareness), measure how well can you preform these skills.  Once armed with this information you can put together a game plan and timeline that makes sense and matches up with both your goals and the amount of time you have to commit to practice and training.  Think of your golf improvement along the same lines as a fitness program.  We all understand that getting in shape or losing a few pounds does not happen overnight or with one workout.  We understand that a fitness program takes time and commitment, that is what makes getting in shape so difficult.  It is not really the difficulty of the individual exercises themselves that is holding all of us back from been in the physical shape that we want to be in it is our lack of commitment to the process, this is a difficult thing to admit to.

To get you started on a more Skill Based Approach to you golf game try the exercise below to build hand-eye coordination and feel for hitting the sweet spot. Focusing on a task that provides clear feedback allows your body to self organize and fine tune the Fine Motor Skills that are required to hit solid golf shots.

It is drills like this one that I have students perform to help them turbo charge their game improvement without over complicating things and overwhelming them with swing thoughts and technique changes.  And just like sticking to a fitness routine, sticking to a golf improvement routine is hard so that is were finding a good environment that makes the time you spend building skill enjoyable and rewarding becomes an important piece in helping you play better golf and that is exactly what I try to build into all of my instruction programs.

If you are interested in a more "Skilled Based" approach to golf instruction visit and look into our Private or Group program offerings to find a best fit for your game.