Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's
March 11, 2020
Learning to Play Golf
"The Golf Swing is not Golf! What the golf swing is, is a Tool to be used to accomplish the objectives of the game of Golf." This statement is essential to a student's understanding of the process needed to improve their score on the golf course.
In the early 2000's, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott were similar in physique, athleticism, and possessed identical golf swings. From a "Tool" standpoint, they had probably the optimal equipment to play championship caliber golf. The records show that Tiger used his "tool" better than Scott. Obviously there are other factors that determine one being better than the other, but in this case it wasn't a better golf swing. This short essay is given to my Golf School students and other long time students. This is their blue print for achieving success for their golf game.
LEARNING TO PLAY GOLF
When learning the game of golf, the first fundamental is a basic understanding of the objective of the game. That objective is to propel the golf ball from the teeing ground and into the hole in the fewest number of strokes. The method used to accomplish this task are properly constructed and fitted golf clubs and an effective golf swing that can strike the ball to make it go the required distance.
After obtaining the proper golf clubs for your particular skill level, you then need to learn to hit the golf ball. Proper instruction from a trained professional is vital to your development as a proficient golfer. When learning to play golf, many students become fixated on the golf swing. Remember, the golf swing is not golf. What the golf swing is, is a tool that is used to accomplish the objectives of the game of Golf. That said, it is also important to state that the better the tool (golf swing) the greater the options and potential.
There are three stages that golfers work through in becoming accomplished players. They are the Learning Mode, Trusting Mode and the Playing Mode. Each is different in purpose and intent. Although each is an important step in the development of a player, they should not be mixed.
The Learning Mode is what we use to learn a new skill or refine an existing one. In this mode the mind is active, inquisitive, evaluative, judgmental, critical and impatient. We set standards and rely on tactile feedback to accomplish our goals. In this learning mode the concentration is on specific body positions and the feel that these new positions produce. When learning a new swing the student should NOT be target oriented or judged on ball results. What is important is the development of a new skill.
Once the Learning process has progressed to a comfortable point, then a target can be introduced. The mind needs to switch to the Trusting Mode. In this mode the mind is passive and nonjudgmental. You "Let Go" and "Let it Happen".
Follow a set routine and center in on your target and visualize the desired result. Patience is very important in the early stages of this mode. If the ball doesn't produce the desired result, the natural tendency is to immediately go back to the Learning Mode. You will NEVER become an accomplished player if you continue to constantly relearn what you already have learned! If, after a period of time, you are not producing the expected outcome, then you should reevaluate your technique. Switch back to the learning mode. This must be a conscious decision. Target is not in the equation. Once your mind and body are satisfied with the results, then switch back to the Trusting Mode. Do not mix the two. If you do, you will be stuck in a never-never land that will result in you not playing up to your potential.
In the Trusting Mode the main focus is "letting go" of physical thoughts and visualizing the ideal shot toward a specific target. That is the primary focus, but we have many focuses at any given time. These soft focuses or secondary focuses include all the senses of touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste. Kinesthetic, vestibular and visceral senses are also being monitored. In other works, we are aware of many different stimuli each moment of our lives. Our concentration can be centered on one specific goal, but we are also sensitive to the weather, noise, movement, people, and internal feelings. Once the shot has landed, the student and teacher can evaluate the results. The student in regards to accomplishing his task, trusting the swing and keeping in the visual and being target oriented. The teacher will measure the freeness and smoothness of the swing and the physical positions of the body and club. Questions like, "What did that feel like?" or "Did you feel that or visualize that?" are queries addressed to the student in the Trusting Mode. In the trusting mode the student MIGHT be able to ascertain club positions or body positions, but usually it is a feeling that something is different. In the Trusting Mode, being aware of exact positions in the swing is counterproductive.
The reason why we have worked so hard in building a swing that can be trusted, is to use it on the golf course. This is the Playing Mode. This mode mixes cognitive decision making, a habitual sequence process, and a trusted response. The mind is passive, nonjudgmental and visually oriented. The Playing Mode requires that the Left Brain be involved with the decision making of each shot. These decisions include calculating distance, wind, direction, lie conditions, obstacles and hazards, risk/rewards, target, alignment, swing and club choice and shot selection. Following the "Pre-Shot Routine" the left brain passes the responsibility to the Right Brain to accomplish the task. Physical swing positions can be thought about and practiced prior to committing to a "plan of action." Once the cognitive decision has been made and the visualization process has started, there are no longer conscious mechanical thoughts. Once you have addressed the ball you are fully in the trusting mode. Visualization of shot trajectory and target are your main focus. You are now fully prepared to hit your golf shot, there is nothing else to do, but to do it.
Playing golf can be likened to a symphony. You set a rhythm and follow the flow of the music. When playing a musical instrument or playing golf, your concentration is to remain in the present, stay in the flow and accomplish the task. As Bobby Jones stated so well, "After taking the stance, it is too late to worry. The only thing to do then is to hit the ball."
February 23, 2020
Observations from up close
This winter, I attended three days of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego and two days of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in Los Angeles. Watching the best players in the world in person gives you a different perspective of their talent and sometimes an insight to what makes them who they are. I like to choose a group and follow them for at least nine holes. That gives me a good sense of their shotmaking ability, routine, attitude, and strategy.
At Torrey Pines, I followed Tiger Woods for a combination of 12 holes for the two days. This is the best I have seen Tiger Woods swing for quite a while. His composure and attitude was different and upbeat. Of the over 20 times that I have seen him play in person, this was the most positive and refreshing I have seen him on the golf course. At Riviera it was harder to get close to his group, so I was only able to watch about six holes in the two days. He still looked positive, but his body didn't let him swing as freely as what I saw in San Diego. Based on San Diego, I thought the sky was the limit, but realistically Tiger's body is telling him it can't be counted on consistently.
Tiger played with Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa the first two days at Torrey Pines. Rahm is solid all the way through his bag. I saw no weaknesses and he only reinforced my opinion why he will be a top 10 player for many years. But I was most impressed with Collin Morikawa. First time playing with Tiger Woods and he showed no intimidation or fear. I loved his ball striking, course management, and composure. He reminds me a lot of Xander Schauffele. Love the way they play with their fearless approach to the game.
One person that I was interested seeing in person was Matthew Wolff. The young man won the NCAA individual title last year and then won the 3M Open in only his third start on the PGA Tour. He has a very unusual takeaway and backswing, but he is able to repeat the movement. Unusual swings are rare on the PGA Tour. Some will last for a few years, but the flaws will usually catch up with them and you won't hear from them again. I got to see him play eight holes on Thursday and 15 holes on Sunday. He's the real deal. I think the swing will stand up over time. I don't see a major championship for him, but I see multiple PGA wins in his career.
On Sunday at Torrey, I came early to watched one group. Jordan Spieth, Matthew Wolff, and Lucas Glover. I mainly came to see Jordan play and have another chance to watch Matthew. Jordan's long game has improved. Length was surprisingly long, but short game was not what it was three years ago. As he lost shots, you could see his frustrations mounting. It appears he has all the tools in order to regain his stature in the world ranking, but he is struggling to relearn how to score. What came easy three years ago is no longer easy. I hope he can figure it out, because it's not physical right now.
In Los Angeles, it was much easier to get closer to the players. On Thursday I had only around 200 people following three top 10 players in the world, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, and Dustin Johnson. I was able to watch them up close for eight unobstructed holes. I specifically loved the sound that they made with their drives and crisp iron shots. Rory especially just loves hitting his driver. It is a fantastic weapon. One takeaway from watching Rory in person is that he seems to only have one gear. When he is "on", he's unbeatable. He plays the game at full speed and no back off. If that isn't there, he doesn't have a second gear or backup. He wins or challenges when he has his "A" game. Fortunately, he has his "A" game a lot of the time.
On Friday, I watched the threesome of Adam Scott, Sung Kang, and Danny Willett. Kang was especially playing well and out played the others until Scott caught fire for the last few holes. On the difficult back nine at Riviera, Kang hit within 15 feet or better on 6 of the nine holes. Adam Scott ended up winning the tournament, but on the holes I watched on Friday, he was nothing special. Driving was spotty and iron play was average. On the 13th hole, after a poor drive, he hit a six iron to 2 feet. He was lucky, because he aimed at the center of the green and pushed the ball to a tough pin position. He and his caddy smiled and laughed at their good fortune. He kept that momentum going with birdies on three of the next four holes. After his win, the golf analysts were gushing over his play and win over a stellar field on a demanding golf course. Some predicted resurgence in his career and great things to come. Could happen, but I saw the same old Adam Scott, who plays "golf swing" and not golf.
I saw countless other players and many different shots, but one thing that always impresses me when I see them in person is their ability with the wedge within 80 yards. The characteristics are very little divot, low ball flight, one bounce and spin, smoothness of motion, calm body, and great distance control. The average player doesn't fully appreciate the skill that is required to consistently hit those shots. Watching in person gives you a different perspective and appreciation then viewing on television. I really feel fortunate to be able to watch the world's best a few times a year up close and personal.