Ever found yourself drowning in a sea of technical thoughts? You're not alone. Golf coach and author Gary Nicol challenges you to abandon the pursuit of perfection and get back to playing golf
All too often I hear of golf clubs closing down and participation numbers being in decline. But why is this happening?
There are numerous reasons but one of the main culprits is slow play. Golf takes too long to play. Five hour rounds are apparently the norm in today’s world.
As a junior golfer, if we took more than three hours to complete 18 holes, committee members would organise a search party.
It might be harsh to say it’s killing the game but it’s certainly playing its part. However, I don’t believe that slow play alone is responsible for people giving up.
Recent studies conducted in Sweden would suggest that people stop playing golf because they simply aren’t getting any better. They were taking lessons, hitting balls on the range, putting in the hours but were seeing little reward for their efforts.
Thankfully, the Swedish Golf Federation and Swedish PGA recognised this and have since done something about it. After much deliberation, the PGA reassessed their coaching programmes and as a result, more people are taking up the game but more importantly, they are staying in the game.
Why? Essentially, they are playing better and having more fun.
Think for a minute why you play golf and what got you interested in the first place.
People’s reasons might vary slightly but I’m pretty sure that fun and enjoyment of the game as well as embracing all the challenges it throws at us as golfers will probably be fairly high on your list.
Hitting great shots is fun. We all enjoy that feeling of a well-struck shot and derive immense pleasure from watching our ball soar down the middle of the fairway or land on the green and finish close to the flag.
Golf courses and their designers constantly ask us if we can hit this shot or that. No golf course or its designer ever asks where the club is at the top of your backswing or where your right elbow is at the halfway point in your downswing.
That being the case, why do golfers the world over spend an incredible amount of time working to improve what their swing looks like?
Traditionally we’ve all been led to believe that if we make a good swing, we will play great golf. Sound familiar? Then why is it that sometimes when you feel like you’ve made your best swing of the day, you look up only to see your ball flying over the out of bounds posts?
For way too long, the culture of coaching has become overly technical, placing a disproportionate amount of focus on the golf swing rather than the golf shot.
Having coached all standards of golfers around the world for the best part of 30 years, I have seen far too many examples of people working tirelessly on their swings with little or no awareness of where the ball is going. There may be more pointless and ridiculous pursuits but I can’t think of many.
I have even heard players and coaches alike saying: “It doesn’t matter where the ball is going, your swing looks so much better.” Really? It doesn’t matter where the ball is going?
Ultimately, the shot has to come first. Golf is all about creating shots, not making ‘perfect’ golf swings – whatever that looks like.
Now there are very few golfers on the planet who haven’t gone in search of technical perfection at some point. There are however, a vast number who have been driven crazy in their quest. While their swings may look better, their ability to create the desired shot at the right time has at best stagnated and more often than not, deteriorated.
When you focus on things like your hip rotation, where your left knee is pointing or whether your left wrist is cupped or bowed at the top of the backswing, you become almost totally disconnected from the task at hand. The task being to hit the ball from where you are, to where you want it to go.
And that is not just my opinion. There is an abundance of scientific research to verify that statement. What a golf swing looks like is nowhere near as important as how it functions.
Just look at the swings of the top 20 players in the world. There is one thing they have in common – they are all very, very different. Their shots may look similar but their golf swings most certainly do not. Yet the culture of coaching would have us believe that we have to swing the club in a particular way.
You only need to take a quick glance on the internet and you’ll find an extraordinary amount of information on how to swing the golf club, most of which is conflicting and as a result, confusing. Very little attention is paid to what the ball does or indeed needs to do.
This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It never has and never will.
The longer we continue with this culture and belief system, the more we run the risk of losing an ever increasing numbers of golfers and golf clubs.
However, if we follow our Swedish compatriots and start to pay more attention to what we want the ball to do, rather than what our swings look like, we could actually attract more new golfers and retain the interest of existing players.
I honestly believe a cultural shift could make this great game more popular than ever but if we carry on as we are, golfers in all four corners of the globe will become disheartened, lose interest and ultimately find something else to do with their leisure time.
Golf should be fun and interesting. All the best golf courses are fun to play and ask interesting questions of us as golfers.
What do you find fun and interesting, making nice swings or creating good shots?
Does the swing create the shot or does the shot create the swing?
I’ll leave you to think about that. Until next time.
Gary is based at the Archerfield Performance Centre on Scotland’s Golf Coast and is the co-author of best selling book “The Lost Art Of Putting” and the soon to be released “The Lost Art Of Playing Golf”.