Getting Students to Accept the Quirks in Their Golf Swings
It undoubtedly happens every day: Somewhere, someone videotapes their golf swing, compares it to what they consider a “perfect” golf swing, and then tries diligently to make their swing “perfect,” too. Or, a teacher is giving a video lesson to a student, and the student is unhappy with what he or she sees.
With the advent of the consumer camcorder in 1983, golf instruction changed forever. Instructors now had the ability for the first time to record and immediately play back the video of a student’s swing, frame by frame. Golf teachers could see details about a person’s swing that were previously invisible to the naked eye. Various instructors and researchers also were able to delve into the mechanics of the swing to a degree never before seen.
With the help of videotape in the early 1990s, I worked out a serious inconsistency in my golf swing, and saw my game reach new heights. The camera was an invaluable tool in helping me become a good player during that time.
However, with such progress comes a price, and that is golfers seeking not just technical profi ciency, but technical perfection. We’ve all heard stories about certain golfers who spend hours on the range hitting shot after shot with a camera recording each one, frequently checking to see if the “right” motion is being made and the “right” position is being reached.
So, just as the camera helped me, I, too, have fallen victim to a perfection mentality at times. I raise my head during the backswing, the result of straightening my right leg. I also tend towards a bit of a stack-and-tilt motion, where my weight doesn’t shift all that much to the right leg and my spine angle tilts towards the target side. I then get my head ahead of the ball coming down, only to have it come backwards through impact.
Try as I might, I have been unable to change these motions. When I try to maintain the fl ex in my right leg, it feels like I’m squatting down to a ridiculous level, and I generally wind up hitting the ball fat. When I attempt to get my spine angle to at least not tilt towards the target, I am unable to get back to the ball and wind up hitting it fat from this position, too. When I try to keep my head from moving ahead of the ball during the downswing, my lower body doesn’t work correctly and I usually wind up hitting the ball thin.
What happens when I just swing naturally? You probably guessed – I generally hit the ball pretty well. Why can’t I just accept the quirks in my golf swing?
USGTF examiner Steve Williams told me an interesting story sometime back. He had a student who he would not let see his own swing on video. The reason was that the student would not just get upset, but almost violently angry at how his swing looked. One day the student came to Steve, insisting he see his swing on video. Steve gave him a strong warning against doing so, but the student insisted. Steve fi nally relented and put the student on video. When the student saw his swing, he was so upset he temporarily left the lesson in somewhat of a tempermental mood. He eventually came back and Steve resumed teaching him, but this illustrates someone being unable to accept the quirks in his golf swing.
As teachers, I think we can sometimes fall into the same mentality that our students have. We tend to think if something isn’t “right,” then it’s “wrong.” But that may not be the proper way to look at it. The right questions are, “Is the setup conducive to good shots? Is the motion repeatable? Are the fi ve aspects of the ball fl ight laws being executed properly in a relatively consistent manner?”
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then a change may not be necessary. Where it gets more complicated is when the answers to these questions are not a strict yes or no, but a matter of degree. Take Rickie Fowler, for example. He had already won on the PGA Tour and was a consistent money winner, but he wanted more. In 2014, he went to Butch Harmon and noticeably changed his swing. Where previously he came into the ball with a very fl at swing plane, he now comes in at a more conventional angle. Where he previously had little width in his swing coming down, he now has ample width. These changes made a dramatic difference in his ballstriking consistency.
At some point, it becomes clear to us what our students – and for that matter ourselves – can and cannot do physically. It’s not easy to accept that your swing will never be what you envision it should be, and I say that from experience as both a player and a teacher. And yet, at some point this acceptance is necessary in order to free the player to play his or her best golf.