Throughout my personal journey in golf, which is now in its 49th year, it has become clear that knowledge is the foundation upon which any success I have experienced is built. Looking back, I find that knowledge has structure and it is that structure that keeps learning clear, precise and meaningful. Whether you are just beginning to play this game or have been an avid golfer for years, I pose that you base your game on a structure of knowledge rather than the all too common “tip of the day”.
After many years of being immersed in style based instruction, I began to recognize that golfers bring with them to the practice range, golf course and lesson tee preconceived concepts that are fundamental to their skill development and progress, or lack thereof. More often than not, a golfer’s concepts are acquired from a random and disjointed model, very unlike most subject matters we learn in life. Take driving a car for example. Chances are good it started with some concept for what the steering wheel, gas pedal, brake and shift lever were for and how they worked. There were probably test drives in empty parking lots, then in light traffic situations and eventually more complex circumstances. Before long you were off driving to a predetermined destination while thinking about what to get for dinner that night without one thought of how to drive and you somehow got to your destination safely without incident. What transpired was that you built a structure of knowledge about driving a car that was clear and precise, built from little to big, and this made it simple, over time, to perform the very complex task of driving with the greatest of ease.
But when learning the subject matter of golf, concepts are typically formed without the structure of little to big, slow to fast or simple to complex. Typically golfers begin learning HOW to swing. Things like “keep your left arm straight”, “keep your head down”, “shift your weight” and “finish on balance” become ingrained concepts for what they must do in order to hit a ball. If the results are undesirable, more information is added like “cock your wrists”, “keep your knees flexed”, “don’t sway” and soon the golfer’s mind is swimming in a virtual soup of commands that is supposed to produce a golf shot that flies straight and true. Sometimes one of these “tips of the day” works and the golfer is deceived into believing more tips are a good thing and when shots go astray they add another and another until they are right back in the soup!
Since concepts are the basis for knowledge in any functional system, I feel it primary that golfers clearly understand two concepts prior to embarking on or continuing forward in their pursuit of golf. These concepts are simple and start at the beginning, a very good place to start.
Concept #1 – What makes a Golf Ball Fly
A golf ball is round and can roll or fly, depending on where it is hit by the clubface. Hit it below the equator and it flies, hit it on or above the equator and it rolls.
Concept #2 – What the Golf Club does to create Ball Flight
The clubhead has a flat surface called a “face”. If the top of the face is tilted away from the target, this is called “loft”. If the bottom of the club swings to the bottom of the ball such that the ball is struck on the flat surface, loft insures the ball is struck below its equator – so it flies.
Below are high speed photos of impact with a Driver, middle iron and more lofted short iron. You can clearly see that the ball is contacted below the equator and the ball is compressed (flattened at the point of impact). This results in launch and spin (flight) characteristics unique to the club used.
These two simple concepts form a foundation of knowledge that sets one on the correct path to developing sound fundamentals that can lead to consistent ball striking and an enjoyable day on the golf course. Knowing WHAT makes a ball fly and WHAT the club has to do to produce that flight provides a foundation for clarity of intention and attention when striking a golf ball; in turn, providing the best chance to reach desirable outcomes.
Knowing WHAT is not however knowing HOW. Know HOW is the stuff of learning through doing. Knowing HOW to hit a 250 yard drive or a 175 yard five-iron straight toward a target stems first from knowing WHAT the club has to do to the ball to create the desired flight. From here, one can set about developing a way or plan to get the job done.
It is here that it becomes clear why knowledge is a primary component to my teaching philosophy. It has been the norm in golf instruction that information regarding HOW was given priority. Just look at any golf magazine or Golf Channel Academy or search Google for golf instruction and the content is overwhelming on HOW to swing a golf club. It has been my experience that most golfers know more about how to swing and what they do wrong than ever before and yet they remain confused about what to change to turn a nagging slice into a beautiful draw. And, they continuously return to the source of their confusion for guidance; more magazines, more academies, more content, more information.
I pose a simple solution, get your concepts straight on WHAT you are doing with a golf club to a golf ball, know WHAT the club must do to give you a desired result, then get on with doing that…and you will see a change for the better. HOW you swing will become a function of WHAT you intend to do with the club to hit the ball where you want it to go.
Know WHAT before you Know HOW!