"Be The Ball Danny" - golfing to your potential at every moment

Recently a colleague of mine, Cam Strachan, wrote a post on his golf coaching website. Someone wrote a comment below the piece and he responded to them here. I read it all and also felt compelled to contribute my half ramblings to it below. Clear as mud? Good.

Enjoy, but please read Cam's response first for context.

For me, part of what we are talking about is the difference between knowledge and knowing.

To declare from the outset, I am not an experienced golfer. Not even a half good or regular one. But what I am is experienced in coaching, learning, skill acquisition, movement and performance.

In golf, an example of knowledge is the analysis from identifying so called technical flaws in the swing. It's thinking, it's theory, it's fixing in relation to an ideal. Knowing, on the other hand, is feeling and experiencing what is actually happening in the moment, observing it and finding easier and more effective ways to hit the ball while still putting it all the context of the name of the game - getting the ball in the hole in minimum shots. While there is a relationship between knowledge and knowing for golf, no one said we had to be picture perfect doing it! And there's no evidence that says a universally perfect model exists or even correlates with ongoing improved performances. If you wanna get good at something, then practice that something. So in golf, working on your swing might get your swing better. Might. But it's not automatic that your game will get better.

I've always been uncomfortable with the typical golf coaching approach.

I think it's a brilliant business model.

Somewhere along the line striving golfers became convinced that the prerequisite for good golf is a perfect swing. They're always in fixing mode. Rarely just going with what they've got. How disempowering is that!? The devil's greatest trick. The thing is, this fixing and "I lack" mindset kills enjoyment and our ability to take responsibility for performing right now. As the saying goes, If not now, when? "When? When I just get my backswing right, then redirect my downswing, clean up my impact and then I'll be right....." Traditional golf coaching has reduced the game to just one part of the game. A large part of it granted, but just one part of many.

I actually feel there are plenty of shots in golf that don't require anywhere near a technical ideal, but more of an ability to feel the swing and make clean contact. In fact the top applied skill acquisition expert in Australia, Damian Farrow, says research supporting the idea of a biomechanically ideal template in any sporting action doesn't exist, even for simple, stable motor skills like putting!

Yet most golf coaching I see is for only 2-3 shot types in the game.

Video can be used and can definitely help but its the way it's used that either causes the problem or adds to the solution. If it's used to support the development of body awareness during, and general awareness of, the swing then great. But if it's used to "teach" mechanics then forget it.

In any movement, trying to really understand it is the problem. Understanding will assist motivation to change and work on stuff, but it'll also get in the way of doing. Understanding is thinking, and thinking can't get it done subconsciously during movement. It can't feel, it can't compute fast enough. You can have some principles and touchstone points but that's about it. Unless they are converted to things to feel and be aware of during the action, they get forgotten in skilful movement anyway.

The question for the golf learner isn't "how do I do the movement?" but "what is the movement?". And the movement will be dictated by the task, and your intention. So in golf, what is the task? Example: To get the ball to the right hand side of the fairway level with that bunch of bushes.

Here's the rest of the equation - what a great framework:

Intention ⇒ Action ⇒ Reflection

And regarding top players using certain methods? They're often not that different to us 'normal' players. Top players in all sports including golf, try and use things all the time that either don't work or are unproven, in their quest to uncover something that really makes a difference. Again sometimes the idea is logically great and romantic, but the results don't justify it or can't be attributed.

And improvement of the ball flight? Well I love and believe in the idea of the ball flight telling you everything about a swing and impact. But again, it's a large part of the game but only one part. To perform well in an accuracy sport like golf requires an accurate, consistent swing of course. But the two questions I offer are:

1. What is the best way to achieve this, and 2. What context does the swing sit in with regards to the overall objective of "getting the ball in the hole"?

So until next time, as Chevvy Chase's character said in the classic Caddyshack: "Danny, I'm going to give you a little advice. There's a force in the universe that makes things happen; all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking...let things happen...and be...the ball."

"Be the ball Danny."

Scott Barrow