Better technique = better golf?

Better technique = better golf?

Which swing is better?

Swing 1

Or swing 2
Please Ignore the clothing.
Most of you looking at the swings would say, not contest – Swing number 2. The takeaway is better, the hands move away in synch with the body, the shaft plane halfway back is great, the top position is neutral in terms of clubface and shaft position, it stops at parallel (no overswing) and the foot stays on the ground longer through the downswing and impact.
Swing 1, on the other hand, has a real ugly outside takeaway, where the arms separate from my body early. This causes the clubshaft to look steep early on, before flattening out into a long, over-swung, laid off position at the top. On the downswing, I fire my hips aggressively and my right foot comes off the floor quickly.
I would bet that almost everyone, even the most trained of eyes, would pick swing 2 as the better swing. But actually, the better swing is number 1 – the one that looks the funkiest. Why? it  is the one that gives repeatedly and more consistently the best performance for me.

Looks can be Deceiving

Ah the art of cropping
The problem with swing 2 is that although it looks better, even after 3 years of ingraining it and hitting hundreds of thousands of balls with it (it’s my job), it never worked. In fact, the more pieces came together , at best I stagnated, at worst I went backwards and felt like I had no control of the golf ball. I believe that the things I worked on were the right things at the time, and although anyone can produce an opinion that maybe a slicefixer release, or a stack and tilt swing, or a golfing machine model would have worked for sure, you are missing the point. Fact is, no one in their right mind would take swing 1 over swing 2, but I did and I will never look back.

Adam, How could you let your swing get worse?

Technically it’s not worse, as the function is better; it just looks worse. Swing number 1, the funky one, happened as a result of having enough of technique. I was videoing my swing every day, trying to get all the pieces and positions perfect. After 3 years of working really hard on it, I got the swing to look pretty good. However, I was on the verge of quitting golf because my results were getting worse. So I did – I took a ‘break’ from golf during my years at university, maybe playing one or two rounds a year with friends.
When I came back, I had a new philosophy. I remember seeing a high speed video of a club and a ball through impact during one of my university lectures. It sparked in my mind – surely the ball doesn’t know how you swing it? Surely, all it knows are the physical factors affecting it at impact? So when I came back to practicing, I took this philosophy to the extreme, threw out my video camera and purely worked on getting my impact factors correct described in THIS ARTICLE.
The ball only knows this point in time
I worked hard on getting the club path more neutral through impact, and working on tinkering with the clubface through impact until I found control of the flight. I completely disregarded all swing and movement theory, and focused on club and ball contact, and ball flight. I also spent a lot more time messing around with left handed shots, cack handed swings, hammer throw swings, hooking on purpose, slicing on purpose, hitting flop shots with 4 irons etc.
The result was a worse looking swing in terms of movement technique, and even on the trackman the stats were not significantly better. But I started hitting 80% greens and 85% fairways. Last year, I only played 5 rounds but averaged 2 under par (my mid range putting sucks by the way), with a few practice rounds of 6 under after 9 and 6 under after 12 holes (with a 3 putt). So even though it looks less consistent, less controlled, and theoretically worse, there is much more going on here.
What you see on video is really just the tip of the iceberg in
terms of what is going on internally, both physically and mentally.
And it all counts
Many reading this article will say that I am obviously against working on your swing. Of course I am not; it served me well for the first part of my learning for sure. But there is a line you can cross when working on your swing. You can search for the perfect swing so much that you actually stop playing golf and start sabotaging yourself. I always say, the search for perfection is the greatest creator and destroyer in golf.
Some people can get a little too, ahem, mechanical
I suppose the lessons I learned here are many – and I am trying to pass them on. The lesson is NOT that better technique equals worse performance, although this was the case for me. The lessons are;
  • We put too much emphasis on technique. We believe that one day we will hit all these magic positions and every ball will fly towards the target. It doesn’t happen. Tiger has been working on his swing for 8 hours a day for 30 years and still hasn’t got it done. When he gets it done he realizes it’s not perfect and goes searching for a new idea that maybe this time will be perfect.
  • We don’t put enough emphasis on the intangibles, the things you can’t see or touch. Concepts, skills, co-ordination/motor control, clubhead awareness, natural movement sequences (what our body wants to do to produce a good shot versus what we tell it to do). The most important things I learned in this time was how to control the ball better through clubface and path control rather than forcing a perfect backswing, which didn’t work.
  • There is also a lot to be said for the ability of the human body to self-organize. I believe that through creating the correct goal (by visualizing impact) my body was able to find out a way to do it which fits in with my muscle max strength points, flexibility profile, muscle firing patterns, balance points, movement sequences and a few other things that we probably don’t yet know about. On top of this, the improvements happened harmoniously as one – constantly jostling and pushing each other in the right area. The more I study about biology, evolution, genetics, motor learning etc, the more I see the possibility for this to be true.
  • Better backswings don’t make better downswings all the time. And even if they did, better downswings don’t always make better impacts. And even if they did, better impacts don’t always make better ball flights, and if they did better ball flights don’t always make better scores. And if they did, those scores may not always be as consistent as before.
  • The first swing – the funky one – is using the right side of my brain more. It is much more creative as I am thinking more in terms of ball flight. On a scale of 1-10, my thinking is generally in the lower side, 1 or 2. With the better looking swing, thinking is not only elevated to 8-9/10, but it is using the left side of my brain (analytical) and focus on moving specific body parts (internal focus). We know a great from scientific literature that best performers are more right brained and less high up on the thinking scale, especially when hitting the zone. Also, they tend to think of external thoughts, such as club/ball flight rather than internal (body parts). Thinking too much and/or about body parts hampers co-ordination and consistency of movement in almost every skill endeavor.
  • Individuality is slowly being sucked out of the game. As we watch in the future, swings will generally get better and better in terms of technical movement patterns. But those players may be there not because of how good their technique is, but in spite of it. To put this another way, would Jack Nicklaus have won 18 majors if someone had changed his flying right elbow and turned him into a drawer of the ball rather than his stock fade. It seems like everyone sees the holy grail of golf to be that draw shot – what’s wrong with trying to control your fade? Would Lee Trevino have been the player he was if someone had told him he needed to align straight? Would Duval have reached world number 1 and shot an unbelievable 59 if someone had told him he needed a neutral grip to play good golf? What about the shaft plane of Jiminez or Raymond Floyd – two of the most consistent players throughout history. If Seve Had known about K-vest and AMM would he really have been better? What about Arnold Palmer and his follow-through, (did I mention Jim Furyk). What if someone had told Nancy lopes she needed to speed her swing up and be less across the line? What if someone had told Montgomery to stop swaying his hips like that, would he have been more consistent than 7 order of merits in a row? More importantly, what do these guys have that allow them to do these things and still play better golf than you? What can you learn from that, what can you practice? The best coaches I have seen allow variances within the technique, often quite large.
  • For players who need to work on their technique – don’t forget there are several ways you can achieve this. You don’t always have to force a body position, sometimes you can just think of something more external (like ball flight or club and ball interaction) and the desired change can happen as a result of that.
  • Also, If you are going to make a change which requires a lot of mental effort and concentration, make sure you periodize your practice so that you are doing it less by the time you hit competitions. There is a time and a place to be working on your swing – playing golf is not that time.
  • Don’t chase the fallacy that “If I just get this one piece in my swing correct, I’ll be able to play golf”. It doesn’t work like that. Even if it did, you quickly get used to the new move and start looking for something else to work on as you are still hitting it poor. It’s called chasing the dragon. Allow yourself to play golf when you are on the course, play golf swing when you are on the range.
Eamonn Darcy was pretty good, even with this technique

I hope this article sparks something in you. I think, luckily, the world of instruction is starting to see the myth of technique being the holy grail, and more and more better instructors are emerging who allow more freedom within technique. My aim really is to chip away at the myth of technique as the be all end all. It is a supplement to improvement. But just like health supplements, take the wrong ones for your body chemistry, or take it in the wrong dosage and you can do some serious harm. Never take a supplement and you may be missing out one something too.
Can I swing like number 2 – in a heartbeat. Will I want to? Never, I actually enjoy the fact that my swing has a little character to it.

To re-iterate the take home lesson once more – it is not that working on your movement technique is a bad thing, it’s just to understand the limits of it. There is no perfect swing, and good golf is a multitude of factors far beyond what we see on a camera. Keep working on better technique, by all means, but be aware that you come across the law of diminishing returns at some point. I hope this article has at least made you think 🙂

If you want more information like this, find me on twitter @adamyounggolf  and like my facebook page  – Adamyounggolfcoaching.  Don’t forget to share this article on facebook so others can see – it may be enlightening.

One Comment

  • David Krumenacker

    Light bulb moment!!!

    Best articles I have ever read on golf instruction!!!

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