Golf Swing Teaching: Player Q&A;

Question: Golf Swing Teaching

As a guitar teacher there are ways to teach that are well tested and documented.  Repetition is one area that is used extensively with beginners as well as quite experienced players having to learn new pieces.  Fundamental to repetition practice is to break down the music into small sections, perhaps two bars ( say, eight notes) or a single line of music.  That becomes a single task that you might repeat 100’s of times over a week or two.  This approach in a golf context would be like practicing a 7 .30 to 4.30 swing with an 8 iron to chip it to about 12 yards before expanding the swing to 9 .00 to 3.00 shaft position swing and again, chipping to about 25 yards hundreds of times.

As a musician this makes sense to me as its the way we learn music – but there’s little evidence that this seems to be a sound approach to learning golf, where everyone seems to leap into full swings from day one.  surely building up from a small swing in stages would work.

As in your football example – surely someone would aim to throw to a target at 40 yards and build up to their maximum over time and in accurate stages – not start throwing to stretching target straight off?

Answer: Golf Swing Teaching

I 100% agree!!

This may be the best comment/question that has been sent in over the last few years. I am absolutely thrilled that someone has taken the time to write in about golf swing teaching, and the way we learn. There is a lot of great teachers and programs out there. However there is a lot of room for improvement. The golf playing community has not improved very much. There are a number of arguments for this, however, the structure to teach and the willingness to learn within a structured golf swing teaching program is simply not used to its full potential.

When I had the opportunity to design the curriculum for golf teaching programs the first thing I did was design a program that started on the green and worked its way back to the tee box.

I was amazed at how many people that came to take lessons thought that this style of golf swing teaching was a novel idea. It simply made sense to me…especially for new players. Most adult players are like kids, they all want to hit long shots…pound the driver. Major League Baseball had an ad campaign with the slogan “chicks did the long ball”. In golf, EVERYONE digs the long ball. The problem is that the end goal of golf is to get the ball in the hole, not compete in how far you hit each of your clubs.

When I started teaching golf it drove the kids nuts because I would not let them hit driver for 6 weeks! Every lesson they would show up and pull out driver and I would tell them to put it away. They finally got used to it and I firmly believe it helped them all learn the game at a better rate.

I certainly appreciate your guitar/music teaching example, but let us take it one step further. There is no way you would give them a sheet of music and start teaching them a song from day one, even if you did break it down into two bars. You first would instill strong fundamentals of holding the guitar in the most efficient position before starting to teach the chords, scales and progressions. Once that is in place now you can take songs and break them down into pieces.

If we compare this to golf swing teaching then holding the guitar would be the same as the grip, stance posture and alignment. You can’t reach your full potential without having sound fundamentals. I would think that unless you hold the guitar properly then you will not be able to practice as long or as efficiently. You can’t possibly move up and down the neck of the guitar without fundamental positioning. The same works for golf. You can’t hit shots consistently nor attempt different shot shapes unless you have sound fundamentals.

This is no different than guitar. How can you possibly think of ripping off a Led Zeppelin riff when you don’t have the proper hand and finger positions? How can you even play the simplest of songs without proper fundamentals and practicing the chord progressions.

My optimal golf swing teaching curriculum, particularly for new players, is to start with the fundamentals with putting. I believe that the entire game starts on the green. Golf is designed to be 50% putting. If you hit every green in regulation and two putt each one…you will shoot even par. Therefore putting is extremely important for improving your score. It is also the shortest stroke we use in golf. Almost everyone can make the motion back and forth with a putter. There needs to be guidance, but most have the physical capabilities to make that stroke.

Starting with putting also instills confidence in someone who has never touched a club before. The thought of taking that person onto the driving range to hit a full swing shot is crazy. Putting allows the confidence to build because the player will almost always hit the ball. They will make some solid contact and even hole a few putts. After doing that they will feel more comfortable with the next step which is chipping.

I have often referred to chipping as an extension of putting. In fact the farther you move back from the green the more of an extension you are doing. Last night I saw Greg Norman speaking about the exact same thing. He was saying that each shot is a longer or shorter version of another shot. I think this is a great way of simplifying the game.

However, there is one major problem…it is not how a lot of players want to learn. Most players want to focus on the long game, and that is where a lot of golf swing teaching pros focus their attention. What do you think of these thoughts….

  • Upwards of 80% of the game is played within 100 yards of the green.
  • On average, when someone practices, what percentage is long game versus short game…would you agree…90% to 10%? I still think the 10% may be generous.
  • So…Players spend 10% of their time on 80% of their game.
  • At minimum most players should be spending 70% of their practice time on the short game and 30% on long game.

The other issue is that people want to play golf right away. Many people don’t want to take lessons, practice and improve. They simply want to go out and play. It is very difficult to play good golf without at least learning the basics.

I don’t mind if someone just wants to go out and play. That is their prerogative. However, they should not expect to play ‘a beautiful song’. North America does not have the same setup as Sweden, in which you need a license to play golf. In Sweden you have to pass a playing ability, rules and etiquette test before you are allowed on the golf course.

If you want to just go out and play…then just play. That type of player should not be worried about their score…and should not get frustrated with their game. They should treat it as a nice walk with friends with the purpose of hitting and following a golf ball.

I can appreciate your description of breaking the song down into smaller pieces, and then slowly linking all those pieces together to play a beautiful song. I completely agree with you. On my website I tried to break down each golf swing teaching category as a progression. If you go to the driver series and start at lesson one you will see how each lesson gets progressively longer, much like your description of learning a song. I would love everybody to follow my lessons in this fashion. I would also suggest to anybody who is looking to take lessons with a pro that they find someone who takes a similar approach.

The key to finding a golf swing teaching pro is to interview them first. Ask them what their style is. If you are signing up for a series of lessons and they ask you what you want to work on, without an assessment of your whole game, then go find someone who make that assessment. It means they can’t build a plan for your development. If they can’t build a golf swing teaching plan to help you improve then you are not going to get maximum value. Without maximizing your value you are not only leaving money on the table, but you are also leaving shots on the course.

Now, if you are just looking for a lesson now and again to tweak your game, then you don’t need a plan and you can tell the pro exactly what it is you want to practice.

Once again I would like to thank you for sending in such a great question. I could not agree with you more that the system you present for learning guitar would be beneficial in learning and teaching golf.

Good luck with your practicing and playing. I hope you all reach your golf dreams sooner with the help of