It was great to have the opportunity recently to work with some very talented golfers at Stoke Park in Kinghamshire where they have a tremendously successful scholars program headed up by PGA professionals Stuart Rank and James Jewell.
Watching all of the young golfers walk into the seminar room eager and enthusiastic to learn some new ideas about how to keep improving their game, it reminded me of the difference I often see between juniors and some players who now play for a living.
I had one tournament professional tell me recently he was ’sick and tired’ of the game and how he had ’lost his enthusiasm’ for it.
I am not denying for one minute that playing golf for a living and having no success can be utterly demoralising but it is such a shame when we lose that youthful exuberance and the game becomes a chore.
The very reason a player began to play golf for the sheer joy and pleasure of moving a ball from here to there is often lost in the quest to make money from the game. The irony is that to recapture that joy of shot- making is often the very thing they need to do to actually lower their scores.
One of the things Rory McIlroy still clearly loves to do is play golf. You can still see the thrill he gets from belting one miles off the tee and bringing a particular hole to its knees.
The freedom we still see in his swing highlights a game that hasn’t been crippled by too much technical input and a misplaced desire to perfect the swing. It is no coincidence that he still works with his boyhood coach, Michael Bannon, who has guided him since his junior days.
Out on the range at Stoke Park one of the things we had them do was to hit some shots with a wide open or very closed stance and see if they could still get the club on the ball and move it towards the target.
We had them hitting balls with their feet together then with their feet wide apart, setting up with a very closed or open clubface, even hitting balls off one leg.
The first thing that struck me when they did this was the squeals of laughter and the fun they were having finding a way to solve a problem and move the ball to the target with their own instincts.
The other thing was just how good they were at it. Time and again they found a way to get that ball where they wanted it to go.
There was also a bit of method behind this seeming madness as there has been much research done on the viability of variable practice and how this can be beneficial to our normal swing.
Rather than trying to be a robot and hit the same shot over and over again, when we give the brain extreme ends of the spectrum it would seem that it responds in a very positive way, almost as if it wakes us up to the possibilities of how many ways we can actually set up and swing the club yet still be successful.
So that when we come back to our normal or more conventional style we are able to do that more easily and efficiently as a result of the brain being stretched by the variable practice.
When we just try to do the same thing over and over again from the same place on the range the brain isn’t having anywhere the same level of workout. Anybody who trains in the gym to build muscle will tell you that if you just keep training in the same old way your muscles stop responding and progress is halted.
Some of the science behind these ideas is written in a great new book called The Practice Manual written by Adam Young, which I highly recommend you take a look at.
The most important idea is that by having some fun when you are practising you are not just clowning around you are actually giving your brain-body system a very healthy workout that could be the catalyst for some dramatic improvements.