The quest for the perfect swing

Don't give up the search for a perfect swing but do accept its ultimate futility

A very influential book called The Search For the Perfect Swing’ was published in 1968, written by a writer called John Stobbs and a scientist called Alistair Cochran.

In it a scientific lens was used to look at what would be the ideal motion for swinging a golf club.

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It became a classic of golf instruction and encouraged further dissection and analysis of how we could best deliver a club with maximum effect into the back of a ball.

Homer Kelley, an aeronautical engineer at Boeing, wrote a book called The Golfing Machine which detailed the many options and possibilities of how we could swing a club but by the use of scientific analysis; detailed elements of the swing that were nice to have and others that were essential to have.

A generation of successful coaches have stated that Kelley’s book was a key element of their development. 

I personally remember being on a trip to Canada sitting enthralled as I listened to tales from a local professional of the legendary Moe Norman and his ability to hit shot after shot as straight as an arrow with his own very personal interpretation of how to swing a club.

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More recently there has been a lot of press about a teaching method called stack and tilt, which seems to divide opinion but has a following of coaches that passionately believe in its effect. 

We have been searching for the perfect swing for a long time but did you realise just how long we have been searching?
It would seem science is telling us that our search for the perfect swing is doomed… In January and February 1687 Thomas Kincaid wrote down in his diary his detailed thoughts on the swing. 

Three hundred and twenty seven years ago he had this to say: “The only reason why men readily miss the ball when they strike with more strength than ordinary is because increasing their strength in the stroke makes them alter the ordinary position of their body and the ordinary way of bringing about the club.”

More than 300 years ago the quest for the perfect swing had begun. Yet how close have we really got in our search for the holy grail of technical perfection? Is there something getting in the way of our progress despite the best efforts of scientists and coaches for over 300 years?

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Maybe the answer lies right between your ears.

“The main reason you can’t move the same way each and every time, such as swinging a golf club, is that your brain can’t plan the swing the same way each time,” says Stanford professor Krishna Shenoy, whose research includes study of movement control.

It’s as if each time the brain tries to solve the problem of planning how to move, it does it anew, Shenoy says.

“Practice and training can help the brain solve the problem more capably, but people and other primates simply aren’t wired for consistency like computers or machines. Instead, people seem to be improvisers by default.”

It would seem science is telling us that our search for the perfect swing is doomed as a result of that grey matter between our ears. Yet should we stop the search? 

In my opinion we should keep looking, we should keep trying to improve our technique, we should use the best that technology has to offer to help us, we should look more into how we learn and the best environments to learn. 

But, and this is the key element, we need to realise that most of the time our swing will be less than perfect but with the right attitude we can still put a score together.

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We can think well, we can scramble, we can manage ourselves better, we can take a more conservative route around the course when we only have our B or C game. In effect we are more than just a swing.

When we go onto the course expecting our swing to be perfect we are in for a rocky ride most of the time.

When we embrace the fact the swing will always come and go we get to play golf and not just golf swing.

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