Read an Excerpt
Golf Information--Opinions vs. Facts
Information used in golf instruction has been opinion dominated for so long that both teachers and golfers, more often than not, assume that these opinions are somehow based on factual information. The opinion of a successful instructor or player may be accurate, useful, and valuable; however, it should be regarded as exactly what it is--an opinion.
Science is very specific and deals only in measurable, quantifiable facts. By examining these facts and determining explanations for why they are so, scientists make theories that explain behavior. The role of the scientist in sports, therefore, is to determine facts that point to the key features that makes a successful performance.
Opinions and Pseudoscience
Opinion-based instruction articles are fine. Many of the most innovative approaches in teaching have come from such sources. A major problem arises, however, when such articles purport to be "research based." I have a folder full of articles that make conclusions on the golf swing that are "based on ten years of research" which, under close examination, translates to "I videotaped a lot of swings and I've looked real closely at them for a long time." In the world of scientific publications, any research information is closely scrutinized by other scientists before it can be accepted for publication in any professional journal. This guarantees the quality of the information and protects the credibility of the scientific profession. Currently, no such checks are in place in the golf publishing community, and the term "research" can be utilized without any kind of scrutiny.
For any profession to achieve credibility, its research must be monitored and above reproach. When opinion is presented as research, people have no way of determining what is good and what is bad in the area. Unfortunately, this is the state in which golf instruction currently finds itself.
By accepted scientific standards, relatively little proper research has been done on the golf swing. There have been a few interesting publications, such as The Search for the Perfect Swing by Alastair Cochran and John Stobbs, and a few conferences on the science of golf; however, little of this information has been related to the human component of the golf swing. Our research on the full swing seems to be unique, which is unfortunate because the best science results when researchers confirm and build on the work of each other.
Sports research seeks to understand the movement elite athletes make in producing a superior performance. Defining that movement in mathematical terms of space and time is the problem to be solved. The solution process lies in making precise measurements--ones that cannot be tainted by individual opinions and prejudices. The final result will determine the common features that are essential for superior performance.
The scientific research process is complicated by the fact that individual skeletal and muscle structures are not the same, which affects how people move and how their bodies perform. So these variables also need to be studied using the same rigorous measurement and analysis methods. Despite these physical differences among people, it may surprise you that we, as well as other sports researchers, have found an astounding similarity in how the better athletes perform in every sport analyzed. Despite the complexity of the human body, the evidence is overwhelming that there is one best way to perform any given sports activity.
The Biomechanics Approach--The Model Swing
Whether the sport was track and field, tennis, baseball, or football, by combining biomechanics and statistics, we have been able to determine a list of things that elite athletes do to ensure a superior performance. The most surprising thing is the long length of the list and how far above the average athlete the elite performers operate. For each of these sports, we have combined these elite movements into what we call a model performance.
Golf is no different. In 1982 we began filming tour players, and to date, the list has grown to include over one hundred PGA, LPGA, and Senior PGA Tour players. Along with the increase in the number and quality of our athletes came a similar improvement in the sophistication of our analysis and our ability to represent the model. Over the years we have progressed from a stick-figure representation to three-dimensional models of world-class male and female golfers (fig. I-2).
The "model" swing concept does not lack controversy. I constantly hear the comment from golf instructors that since all golf swings are so different, there is no such thing as a model swing. Rather than try to convince them with research and statistics, I simply ask them if they teach every one of their students to stand on both legs to hit the golf ball. Since they all do, I point out that they have just described the beginning of their concept of a model golf swing. I quickly get them to agree on other components, such as using both arms, holding the club with the hands, and placing the ball on the ground. They laugh and tell me that these things are obvious--it's the complex parts of the swing that are different.
In any aspect of life, things become complex when you encounter the unknown. Knowledge allows the complex to become simple. That certainly is true in golf instruction; the more you know about the golf swing, the easier it gets--provided your information is correct.
Building a True Model
The model golf swing, like all other sport models we have developed, is much more than simple averages of the elite athletes. A true model identifies the best characteristics of the entire group of athletes, then channels all of these traits into one performance. Thus, both our men's and women's tour model not only has the best strength, flexibility, and body build to play the game, but also all of the movement patterns required to hit the ball long and straight.
Individualizing the Model Swing
When we first began applying our research information to teaching, an obvious problem manifested right away--most people aren't built like the typical tour pro. In fact, we noticed considerable adaptations even in the professional swings due not only to body height and width, but to seemingly minor differences such as arm and leg length, the ratio between the length of the upper and lower body, and shoulder and hip width. While we were able to eliminate these differences during our analysis, we were now faced with the problem of reinstating them so we could use the model information to instruct people of all body types.
The ability we developed to adjust for body type not only allows us to use the model to teach any individual, but also provides great insight into the way swings change due to the wide variety of human beings we encounter in the teaching process. It is comforting to know that, although many subtle alterations are made in the swing due to the difference in body build, there still remains an extensive list of movements that must be produced if a quality golf swing is to be created.
Whenever I present our research results in golf, someone will invariably disagree with at least one of my points and offer, as proof, some well-known professional whose swing is at odds with my findings. What many people don't understand is that research is not concerned with the exception, but rather the typical. Our goal is to find out what the majority are doing because that's where the true success story lies. If one hundred of the best players in the world align their 3-irons down the target line at the top of the swing, and Jack Nicklaus aims his 30 degrees across the line, this position is probably not one of Jack's strengths. In fact, much of what he does in his swing is done to minimize his tendency to hook the ball from this position.
Applying the Model Swing
Over the past seventeen years, we have been using the model to help instructors in their effort to teach the golf swing. In turn, the experience has given us numerous new avenues of research opportunities and a better understanding of the game.
The Myths of Golf
Golf is replete with myths--stories that are widely believed but are not based in proven fact. There are myths about how to swing, myths about equipment, myths about how to improve. Our research enables us to shed light on some of these myths.
This book describes what needs to be done to develop a proficient swing. There are several popular ideas, however, that need to be avoided by those hoping to improve. The following are commonly held beliefs that I find insupportable by the information gathered in our research on the golf swing.
1. One Move to Better Golf
Any number of people claim to have discovered the "one move to better golf." The fact that so many have been proposed is a strong indication that none really exists. The one move that Greg Norman needs to use to keep from pushing the ball to the right under pressure and the one move that Tom Lehman needs to avoid pull-hooking the ball under the same circumstances have no relation to each other.
As much as we would like it to exist, there is simply no one move that will make everyone a successful golfer. If you want to improve your game, you have to understand the causes for your particular problem, then take the time to correct them.
2. All Swings Are Different
There are many ways to swing a golf club--that's why we keep handicaps. Our research has indicated, however, that there is one best way to get the most from the body and club movements. The swings of lower-handicap players come close to matching this model swing; tour players come the closest.
All golf swings can be placed in two categories: people who slice the ball and people who hook the ball. Those who are in the middle are simply being successful at avoiding one of these categories. Our experience has been that approximately 90 percent of developing golfers either fade or slice the ball. This is true because virtually all of the errors that are made in the golf swing result in either a more vertical or a more outside-to-inside swing path on the downswing.
On the other hand, if you overdo most of the beneficial moves in the golf swing, you will produce draws or hooks. Experience tells us that while poor players constantly slice, the better players constantly fight a hook.
3. Arms Lead the Swing
Some instructors firmly believe that the arms lead the swing, and the body follows. In absolute terms, there is no sport that involves striking or throwing an object in which the arms lead the action. Those teachers who profess that the arms lead the golf swing are doing their students a grave disservice. In fact, the higher the handicap of a golfer, the more the arms tend to lead the swing since poor golfers don't involve the lower body. In contrast, the more proficient the golfer, the more the body leads the swing--with the arms and club following.
4. Swing Plane
The term "swing plane" is one of the most often used buzzwords in golf. It is visualized as a flat surface that the club swings on throughout the entire golf swing motion. In fact, there is no such plane in the golf swing. A proficient golf swing begins on one plane and continually shifts throughout the swing (fig. I-5). Our instructors use the term "swing path." This is done since a path can twist and turn as it moves, whereas a plane must follow a flat surface. The mere use of the term "swing plane" helps to create a mental picture of a swing that is incorrect.
5. Stay Connected
There is a school of thought that contends the arms should stay "connected" to the body during the swing. This improper action is the major cause of slicing--perhaps more than any other single misconception. In fact, the arms must move independently of the body if they are to produce the correct swing path.
6. Swing in a Barrel
It is the belief of several golf instructors that the swing should be able to occur as a totally rotary movement. They emphasize that the swing should be envisioned as a turning effort in a barrel. In reality, there is no throwing or striking activity that does not involve moving the body laterally to produce the required power. If you look at power players such as Hogan, Norman, and Woods, you see enormous lateral movement. In our teaching, we do see golfers who succeed in "turning in a barrel"; however, they have difficulty breaking 120 on the golf course.
Sports Psychology Myths
The current vogue in golf is to improve your game through positive thinking. It is very enticing to think that a simple good thought and positive attitude will improve your swing.
This type of errant psychology is what I term the "I believe in myself" approach. When sports psychology was first applied to Olympic athletes, a large number of the psychologists were using this approach. It didn't take long for the athletes to realize that just thinking you can do it simply didn't work very well when the competition actually began.
The psychology concept that has found lasting success focuses upon the concept of "I understand myself." This approach teaches athletes to understand both their strengths and their weaknesses so they can work within their capabilities. If the best drive you ever hit went 230 yards in the air and the carry over the water in front of you is 229 yards, you are probably not going to reach dry land. The "I understand" group will help you recognize that, due to your limitations, the potential success of that shot probably isn't worth the penalty failure will exact. Therefore, hit the drive to the safe landing area, and accept the fact that you probably will only par the hole. Accept the fact, that is, until you can get to the practice area and continue working on increasing your distance off the tee.
The second type of psychologist is the one whom we employ in our programs. They may not be as flamboyant, and they may not sell as many books, but in the long run they are much more effective.
I wish I could say that money can't buy a better game. In truth, golf equipment has evolved to the point that it can make a difference. The same player using a $3,000 set of clubs will play better than if he is hitting a $300 set. Equipment matters, but there are limitations. The right club will moderate your slice or give you five more yards more off the tee, and the result is that your scores will improve slightly at the outset. Yet there is an illusion there, because equipment will not erase flaws in your swing. Eventually, poor technique will come back to haunt you. So buy the best equipment you can afford, but understand that the true road to improvement is in developing a better swing.
The Myth of Hope
Everyone wants to hit the ball like Greg Norman. Greg has great talent, is a fine athlete, and works on keeping fit. Most of all, he spends countless hours on the practice tee. The bottom line is this: if you want to get better, you must invest serious time in your game.
On the other hand, dedication alone may not be sufficient. We had a prospective PGA Tour player move to Orlando, where he proceeded to spend ten hours a day for an entire year working on his game. He didn't ask for help since he knew what he wanted to work on. We just watched him, day after day, work on a series of bizarre swing motions. After a year, his actual swing looked like his practice swing, and he couldn't break 85. Dedication is required, yet watching this fellow hammer away unproductively proved you must also be set on the proper path.
For all the approaches used to improve performance, one bottom-line strategy is guaranteed to make you a better player. That strategy is to improve your full swing. Hitting the ball straighter and farther with more consistency is the one surefire route to improvement. That's what this book is about.
All of the information that follows is based on sound, proven research. Every critical position and movement has been found to be a significant factor in producing a great golf swing. And as my partner, Fred Griffin, will discuss, it has been presented to give you not only the knowledge but also a way to make the model swing a part of your game.
I hope you relish the information presented in this book as much as I have enjoyed the research process required to obtain it.