Think about this – I’m sure you have parred or birdied every single hole on your home course at one point, just not all in the same round.
This means that you already possess a swing that can shoot substantially under par. If only you could access your best swings more often.
We often see glimpses of this when we have a stretch of good form for a few holes, or hit the zone on the range. Your best shots are already good enough – tapping into them more frequently may be the key to shooting lower scores.
Often, in an attempt to get better, players will seek new pastures – trying to change their swing mechanics in order to reach the next level. That’s fine when you are starting out – as beginners, our best shots aren’t good enough to shoot par.
But you are beyond that point
Think of your swings like files stored in your brain (we call them motor programs). Sometimes we access our best files, and other times our worst.
The good news is, our ability to access our best files can be improved.
One of the key ways to do this is to improve what we call the “contextual interference” of our practice sessions. This is a motor-learning science term which simply means to make our practice look, feel and include more of the elements that the game of golf itself includes.
Take a look at the below graphic – how much does your practice fall on the high-context side?
Adding more of the “high context” elements above has been demonstrated in the motor learning science to improve the rate of learning as well as the transference of this learning to the golf course, under pressure.
In Next Level Golf, I have a library of training drills/games/exercises which include increased context on many levels.
Every golfer reading this will have, at some point, worked on their swing technique.
But have you ever worked on your skill?
When I ask most golfers this question, they usually look perplexed as to what “skill” even is. Here’s an easy analogy to define it for you.
If you were throwing a ball into a bucket;
🔵 the technique would be the arm motion/angles/positions
🔵 the skill would be your ability to get the ball into the bucket, perhaps with different trajectories etc
A skilled person (above) can achieve the outcome using multiple ways (techniques). They could throw the ball into a bucket (skill) using varying trajectories (blue/red).
You could think of skill as being coordination, but it is much more than this.
It’s your ability to get your reality to match your intention.
The main skills of golf are, being able to
✅ Control the depth/height that your clubhead travels relative to the ground
✅ Controlling the clubface orientation at impact
✅ Control the swing path
✅ Control the strike location (heel/toe) on the face
✅ Control the speed the club is traveling at impact
✅ Control the ground contact location
✅ Control the loft presented
As a couple of examples of this, a skilled player will be able to change where they strike on the clubface at will (or strike the sweet spot, even when starting from different set up locations). A skilled player will also be able to hit different grooves on the face by varying how deep the club swings relative to the ball.
I’ve even had players who are so skilled with arc-depth control that they are able to hit pennies off a putting green without damaging the green!
Skill is developed in a different way to technique.
While technique is generally grooved with lots of movement repetitions, skill development requires a more experimental approach. There are two forms of practice that can increase the rate of skill development – differential and variability practice.
Differential practice is a very strange form of practice where we practice what we don’t want (such as intentionally hitting the toe or the heel of the club) in order to increase our spacial awareness, coordination and control.
If I asked you to, could you hit each section of the face intentionally? While you wouldn’t do this in the course of play, it demonstrates a skill that can be used to recalibrate any poor strikes that occur.
While this form of practice is often tough to convince a player of at first (due to it flying in the face of the “perfect practice makes perfect” mantra), there is increasing evidence of its ability to improve a player at a faster rate than traditional “calibration” practice.
Variability practice – another form of practice with specific benefits to skill development – is different in that we try to achieve a single, desired outcome, but in varying ways. For example, we may try to hit the sweet spot over and over, but by setting up either out of the toe or the heel in an alternating fashion.
Again, this form flies in the face of conventional wisdom – but the motor learning science has shown benefits of this form of practice in many domains.
Next Level Golf has an extensive library of drills utilising these motor-learning theories to rapidly improve your skill development.
Let’s get something straight –
the collision between the club and ball (which lasts 0.75 inches) is the only thing that tells the ball where to go.
It wasn’t so long ago that, as golf coaches, our knowledge and understanding of impact physics was embarrassingly poor. However, with the increased use of tools such as Trackman, and more physicists getting involved in golf, we now know an incredible amount about the club and ball interaction.
The collision between the club and the ball is all that matters
There are 7 laws of physics at impact. These are;
🔵 Ground contact
🔵 Face contact
🔵 Swing path
🔵 Face direction
🔵 Club speed
🔵 Angle of attack
🔵 Dynamic loft
As an instructor, whenever I am analysing a player for improvement, we are always looking to influence one of the above variables.
This can obviously be done in indirect ways, such as changing a backswing position, grip or more complex movement pattern – but ultimately, any improvement in ones game will only come if one or more of the above variables are improved upon.
And that’s a fact!
If you want to take your game to new heights, it’s vital that you understand the above 7 factors and how they influence the ball flight/result.
For example, if a player is suffering with directional issues, I will be looking at
- clubface direction
- swing path
These are pretty much the only two variables that change direction and curvature. With larger headed clubs (such as a driver), the strike (heel/toe) on the face also comes into play because of something called “gear effect”. This is a more advanced impact concept to understand, but doing so will help a player to self-diagnose directional issues better.
Not understanding these factors can and will cause players to find incorrect fixes for result issues.
In Next Level Golf, we discuss all 7 impact laws, as well as how they influence your results. We even go in depth into the lesser known areas of
🔴 Gear effect
🔴 spin loft
🔴 face to path
🔴 dynamic swing path
🔴 Face speed
Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia Business School, created a revolutionary way of analysing our shots. He called it “stroked gained”. Strokes gained eliminated many of the issues with old statistics.
For example, player A might have 25 putts in a round, and player B might have 31. On paper, it seems as if player A putted better that day.
However, what if player A missed every single green, chipped to 3 feet, tapped in the majority but missed 7 of those 3 footers. That’s not great putting.
On the other hand, player B might have hit every green in regulation, but been no closer than 20 foot through the day. Not only did they not 3-putt once, but they holed 5 putts outside of 20 foot.
Can you see the issue with looking at traditional stats now?
Strokes gained assigns a statistical cost/benefit to each stroke based on the average shot quality for the pro field. It sounds complicated, but digest the following example.
🔵 From 8 foot, a tour player will hole an average of 50% of their putts.
🔵 From a bunker, tour pros get up and down 60% of the time.
So, if two players are teeing off on a par 3, and player A hits it to 8 feet and player B hits it in the bunker
Player A will have a predicted score of 2.5 (as they have a 50% chance of holing the 8 footer)
Player B will have a predicted score of 3.4 (as they will only get up and down 60% of the time)
Essentially, player B’s tee shot cost him 0.9 of a stroke over player A.
Using this information, we can set better strategies for a player.
For example, if a player has the following predicted shot pattern (based on their normal spread of shots in the past).
In the above picture, the pink star represents the player’s intended target. This player has an even side to side dispersion with normal scratch-level ranges.
If we were to overlay that pattern onto a green with a pin tucked left, it would look like so
In this example, the player hits the green 14 times, and has 6 up and downs to make.
However, if the player were to change their intended target to the middle of the green, it would produce the following outcomes.
Now, the player hits the green 17 times and only has 3 up and downs to make.
It’s important to also understand that both strategies produced the same number of birdie opportunities, as represented by the green dots.
It doesn’t sound like a big drop in scores, but when we multiply it by 18 holes, it makes a lot of difference. Especially at the tour pro level, where we can multiply that number again by 4 (4 rounds).
This is why tour pros are starting to take a seriously deep look at their stats and shot patterns using all of this new data.
Next Level Golf not only shows you how to work out and record your shot patterns, but a simple method for creating your own strategy.
Locus of Attention
While this one might seem simplistic on the surface, it holds a very powerful influence on your game.
Locus of attention refers to where we place our attention or thoughts. Typically there are 5 different types of focus
- Internal – thinking of a body part movement, such as your hip movement, is an example of this
- External process – this is where you might think of the movement of the club through impact – much like you would focus on the head of the hammer while hammering a nail.
- External result – this could be holding an image of where the target is in space, or the shape of the shot – similar to how you would focus on the bullseye while playing darts – not the arm movement
- Neutral – this could be a focus that is not related to the act of swinging the club itself – such as a focus on your breathing, or even humming or counting.
- Transcendental – most people have experienced this at some point. It’s a zone-like state where your thoughts are quiet, but performance is high
In order to really maximise our potential as a golfer, the ability to tap into each of the above focuses at the right times is vital.
Each focus holds a different benefit and cost.
For example, internal focuses are obviously the best when it comes to changing out movement patterns, but the cost is that they disrupt coordination, and force our brains to lose vital information about the environment.
For example, when asking a player to describe their putting stroke in detail, and then focus on the mechanics of the movement, the player reduces their ability to control the speed of the shot.
Neutral focuses have been shown in the scientific literature to help better players (like yourself) to perform what they can already do (a good golf swing) more consistently, as well as become more pressure resistant.
We can even test different loci of attention to see which one gives us the best performance statistically. This is quite simple to do, but is very powerful.
For example, I often get players to go through a standardised test where they think of either an internal thought, or an external process thought. We then compare the outcomes, and use the information to decide on a mental-focus strategy for their upcoming events.
This is an incredible way to improve performance and consistency without any swing overhauls. And it works instantly
Knowing how to utilise the theory behind locus of attention has been one of the key differentiators between my approach (which is based on the science of motor learning) and the more anecdotal and random approach of many other instructors.
I discuss locus of attention theory and how to use it practically to improve your games in Next Level Golf.
Forces vs Positions
Golfers have been mislead by positions since the dawn of golf instruction.
While positions and movement holds value, the latest scientific research is showing us that forces and torques (the unseen elements) are a more accurate and effective way to improve a golfer.
Think about this example, for a moment.
A person is pulling on a rope, playing a game of tug-of-war. The person they are competing against is stronger than they are – so they are getting pulled forwards.
An observer looking at the movement of the person would say that they are moving (positionally) forwards (going towards the competitor’s station). However, the unseen forces show that the person is actually pulling back away from the competitor.
This above example shows how forces can not only be different to movement patterns, but they can be the complete opposite.
And while the above example is relatively simple to comprehend, many golfers are actively destroying their swing mechanics by applying certain forces in the wrong way.
If you have ever worked on certain positions in the swing and not achieved the results you wanted, it is likely the case that you have been fooled by the difference between forces and positions. And it’s no surprise – golf literature is riddled with errors relating to this topic.
Take, for example, the idea that you need to hit down on the golf ball.
While it is true that, for a well-struck iron shot, we need the clubhead to descend into the ball, the forces we apply at the handle should actually be moving up and away from the ball through impact – not down and forwards towards the ball.
The clubhead might be moving down, but we know that all elite golfers are actually pulling hard in the direction of the arrow shown
We know this from our most recent biomechanical research.
I understand – it’s counter intuitive – actually pulling up, like a game of tug-of-war against the clubhead through impact. However, this action is vital in order to play great golf.
In Next Level Golf, I show how the research of Muira utilises our new understanding of forces to increase speed by 10%+. My drills to increase parametric acceleration have seen members jump up incredible amounts of speed, as well as achieve more consistent impact factors.
I also explain the body movements needed to produce these forces, as well as drills to train it.
But the above example is not the only one – there are countless examples of where the golf industry has mistakingly led golfers down a bad road through not understanding forces.
What To Do Now?
Hopefully this article has armed you with some ideas of where to look to take your game to the next level.
Think of these ideas as “extra tools” that you can add to what you are already doing, in order to get the edge over your competition and yourself.
The amount of content that I have for improving elite/better golfers is too much to put into a pdf – and video is a better form for digesting this content.
This is why I created Next Level Golf – a program that looks at;
✅ Improving the quality and effectiveness of your practice/training
✅ Improve your technique, skill and transference to the course quicker than ever, through using motor learning science principles
✅ Increase performance instantly through locus of attention testing
✅ How to use the latest biomechanical information on forces/torques to improve your play
✅ A simple, yet highly effective method for using strokes-gained ideas to build a tour-pro strategy
✅ Getting a (beyond) coach-like knowledge of impact physics, as well as the swing-technique movements which relate directly to these vital impact factors
✅ Some deep topics relating to improving your game in the “university” modules
✅ Improving your ability to self-coach and continue you improvement, through copying my coaching processes.