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Everyone loves the satisfaction that comes from "knowing" in all walks of life. A temporary surge of superiority flows through your body when you realize that you understand something better than the person across the table from you. It is an automatic response, and is a mindset that creates great hostility in the long run.
Golf is no exception. In the world of golf, it often seems like the end goal of instruction is to prove the other guy wrong, rather than to TEACH golf. While some instructors and players do understand the underlying truths of golf better than others, it is most often false to claim that one teacher is "right."
Hence, if we really break the subject into simple components, NOBODY is ever "right," and all of golf instruction is just one big "myth." But our logical brains don't like that ambiguity, and we attempt to label things as good/bad, right/wrong, rational/irrational.
I am no different, hence the creation of this golf blog. Although I do enjoy the process of writing and learning golf through it, I also value being "right," or at least logical and rational.
In this post, I am going to do my best to point out some of the biggest myths in golf (aka the things that bother me most), and why they are so controversial. Although I could write an entire post (and I may do so in the future) about the top myths of the golf swing, I decided to go stay on a more general level. These myths range anywhere from equipment and instruction all the way to psychological fallacies we make as golfers.
Although lists like these are enjoyable to scan through, I believe that trying to dispel the major controversial topics in golf is an extremely subjective and sensitive task to endure. Therefore, please recognize that many of these "myths" are simply observations and conclusions that I have made, and do not represent the totality of the subjects. I encourage your comments, opinions, and even constructive criticism!
Anyways, here are the top 10 myths in golf (according to yours truly):
I had to include this one first, because it may be the most commonly discussed topic among beginning and intermediate golfers. I am not entirely sure where the idea of keeping your head down came from, but it certainly hasn't lost its presence in the game.
Before getting into a lengthy argument about why you should or shouldn't keep your head down, it is important to isolate the part of the game that you are referring to. If you are talking about the full swing or pitching (>15 yards), then NO, you should NOT keep your head down. If you are talking about short chip shots or putting, then YES, it will most likely benefit you to keep your head down!
And it is also worth mentioning that keeping the head down and keeping the head still are different subjects. It is not a rule that you must keep your head completely still during a putt (Ben Crenshaw talked about trying to move his head during his stroke to get better feel!).
During any motion that requires any amount of weight shift, keeping the head down interferes with the moving components, and creates compensations. But with putting and short chips (I'm referring to those chips that are basically hit like a putt), your body is staying relatively motionless, and the end goal is to keep it that way.
I believe that the main reason for this misconception in golf stems from the golfer's main objective. In the beginning stages of the game, it is often difficult to consistently make contact with the golf ball during the full swing. If your only goal is to make contact with the ball, then sure, keeping your head down may help. With this goal, you are not worried about where the ball goes, or how it goes there.
After the golfer begins to contact the ball more consistently, they associate the thought of keeping the head down with consistency, which couldn't be further from the truth.
So next time someone brings this subject up, be clear on the following things:
Keep your head down (but not necessarily still) on:
- Short chips (that require a similar motion to putting)
Don't worry about where your head is going on:
- Anything that requires a weight shift (i.e. pitching and the full swing)
If you have ever seen your own golf swing on video, I'm sure you understand what I am pointing towards here.
Unfortunately, in golf, or any other physical activity, what we feel in our bodies and perceive in our minds do not always represent reality. We might feel that the golf club is on plane during the golf swing, but on camera, it looks more like Charles Barkley's swing.
On the contrary, you may feel extremely awkward or uncomfortable swinging the golf club into a perfectly fine position.
This myth is one of the greatest downfalls to many golfers. They go on with their rounds and practice sessions "feeling" like their swing is good, but in reality, it is far from it. They may play well during a casual round, but during pressure situations, their game leaves them. They begin to blame their crazy psycho brain for this "choking" performance, when really, it is their inconsistent golf swing. Not many people can perform 5 different swing compensations under the gun, and YOU are most likely no exception.
Once the golfer finally realizes that his/her swing needs improvement in order to perform better under pressure, the next few months are spent practicing. The golfer might record his/her swing on video a couple times, but never stick with it long enough to truly associate what certain positions on video feel like in reality (as opposed to the mind's eye).
After weeks of trying to improve their swing, the golfer decides that the practice isn't working. They are not seeing results, and therefore it must not be their swing that is causing them to choke, but rather their mind.
This process repeats and repeats, confidence falls, and all the while, the golfer has never become disciplined enough to internalize the true meaning behind "what you feel" and "what is real."
This may sound like an envious jab at those instructors who are working with PGA Tour players while I sit here and write this..
I believe that it is a valid myth to bust, because it is a common perception in the minds of golfers that their instructor knows exactly how to make their game/swing better.
Any experienced instructor will tell you that teaching someone how to improve their swing and golf game is a lot more complicated than analyzing a golf swing on video and giving suggestions.
On top of that, the instructor must come to understand the mind of their student, and cater to the way they learn. Even further, the instructor must apply their limited knowledge (nobody knows everything) to the variables presented alongside each student.
In the end, the ability for a golf instructor to be effective is way more than understanding Trackman numbers and the golf swing. Sure, it is a huge advantage to have a keen understanding of the golf swing, but in the end, every instructor has a slightly different mental concept of the golf swing. Nobody is "right."
So next time you go for a swing lesson, ask yourself the following questions, and simply acknowledge what conclusions you make:
- Where did this swing coach learn about the golf swing?
- Is this swing coach regurgitating knowledge, or applying knowledge to MY game, and MY learning style?
- Why does this swing coach have a good/bad reputation? Is it more of a bandwagon effect, or is this instructor ACTUALLY that good/bad?
- Is the instructor teaching based on core principles (i.e. a square clubface and a square path equals a straight shot), or subjective generalizations (i.e. - "many of my students benefit from this, therefore you will too")?
- Does the instructor LISTEN to me?
- Do I agree with his/her swing philosophy? Why or why not?
Many of the questions above are not going to lead you to definitive conclusions about the quality of the instruction you are receiving, but will allow you to escape the robotic stream of thinking that many golfers fall victim to.
Think about your own profession. Would you hire a coach/consultant without extensive research and questioning? Now, you are probably thinking about all the criteria that you might demand of someone teaching you how to do your OWN job.
Just because the golf instructor knows MORE than you does not mean he/she knows EVERYTHING (although it often seems that way).
From a logical standpoint, golf is 100% mental without dispute. The mind is the controller of the body, which is the controller of the golf swing, which is the determinant in the outcome.
Sure, you could bring up some counter-argument that the body performs unconscious processes every day, but who really cares about philosophical discussions like these in the world of golf?
What we really want to know is WHY WE PLAY BAD GOLF.
We want to believe that 'if only we could get our minds right, we could be professional golfers.'
It is a thrilling fantasy to engage in, but no golfer in the history of golf has become a professional by thinking their way to success.
The golf improvement process is a culmination of the mind-body as a unit, rather than isolated parts. You do not hit the ball with only your body, or only your mind.
Everything you do in life AND in golf is a unified effort between the body and the mind. If either of these labeled entities become separate, there is a disconnect that results in system failure.
So instead of thinking of golf in two separate pieces, think of it in terms of your ability to connect your mind to your body in order to produce the desired result.
As I mentioned earlier, what you "feel" is different from what is "real." PGA Tour pros may not think on a higher level than you, but I can guarantee that they have a better awareness of what different positions in the golf swing ACTUALLY feel like. They also can intuitively recognize the proper decision to make while on the golf course faster and more accurately than you. On top of this, they are not disillusioned into thinking that fixing their mind is the "answer" to their golfing struggles. They know that the best golf is played when the body and mind are working together in complete harmony.
Therefore, you must rid yourself of the belief that in order to improve your golf game, you must devote 99% of your time to the mind.
Instead, spend 100% of your time working on the "mind-body."
Here is an in-depth post on this topic.
I have written about this topic on the blog way too much to spend any more time on it. If you are not convinced of this, check out my post: Does Practicing Golf Make You Worse?
I think it sums up my views on practice fairly well :)
"I know I know, it isn't the driver, it is me. The golf equipment I use has no weight in the score I shoot."
Although there is a lot of truth in this, equipment DOES MATTER.
Depending on the phase of the game you are at right now, equipment may or may not be dramatically affecting the shots you are hitting out there on the range and the course. As your game improves, it becomes more and more important to understand the value in properly fitted equipment. Even before you reach a high level, it can be extremely helpful to set yourself up with the right clubs, which can prevent bad habits from forming at the start.
It kills me when I hear someone wishing that they could play golf for a living on the grounds that it would be an "easy life."
Although I have no doubt that most tour pros (especially those who have made it to the PGA Tour) value the opportunities they have as professional golfers, it is completely delusional to think that their life is an easy joy ride.
With more content being produced, and professionals opening up to the media, we are beginning to see some of the struggles that tour pros face every day.
It would be eye opening for the average golfer to spend a week in the life of a professional golfer, and even better, a week in the life of a professional golfer when the golf game just isn't working. From my own competitive experience, the majority of weeks for the majority of golfers are full of disappointment and longing to get better. It is only those brief moments where everything falls into place that we perceive as the "dream life."
So next time you find yourself envious of a professional golfer, recognize that what you see is not all there is. Remember that the guys playing in the final group on Sunday are the best players in the world at the top of their games at the moment!
If you can't form a clear picture in your mind of what the highest levels of competitive golf are like, I suggest reading A Good Walk Spoiled by John Feinstein. You will have a much greater appreciation for the guys winning each Sunday after reading it!
One of the mental errors a golfer can make isn't necessarily one that occurs on the golf course.
It happens when we try to make conclusions about things that we have seen or done on the course or during practice. We may notice that by changing "x" in the swing, we get "y" result. Consequently, it is a tendency to associate cause "x" with result "y," even if they are unrelated.
This type of logical reasoning causes golfers AND coaches great frustration, because by associating a specific cause with a specific result/effect, the golfer/coach may find themselves working on something that is irrelevant.
As human beings, it is tempting to pinpoint the exact reason for something happening. If something tragic happens in the real world, we are always trying to find "the cause," so it doesn't happen again. Unfortunately, in a world where events are more random than we often perceive, this method results in overconfidence of our ability to determine the true cause of events.
This idea is referred to as the "narrative fallacy" according to the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.
So as golfers, it is critical that we become adept at seeing our golf game from 10,000 feet, and then zooming in to find the factors involved.
For example, if we are trying to fix a slice in our golf game, we must look at the very specific parts of the golf swing, but at the same time, see the golf swing as a whole, AND pay attention to other factors like setup position, tendencies on the course, and even some not so obvious things like the slope of the turf and the wind direction.
The slice could be caused by ONE of these things, ALL of these things, or maybe just a select few. The real cause won't always be apparent to the naked eye, which is why golf is so frustrating at times. It requires intuition paired with an objective analysis to really find why that little white ball is spinning away from the target.
Speaking of slices, many golfers do not understand the true cause of shot shapes and starting lines.
What the golfer must understand is that the alignment of the club-face at impact is the main determinant in the starting line of the golf ball, and the club path's relationship to the face alignment determines the ball's curvature.
So if at impact, the club-face is pointing 3 degrees right of the target, and the club-path is coming 6 degrees in to out, the shot will start right of the target and draw back to it.
When using these laws, I stay away from getting too concerned about tiny details. If I see the ball starting at my target and fading away from the target, it is an indication that my swing path is too far from out to in (over the top).
Understanding ball flight laws gives a general sense of what you need to work on.
If you play the same golf course over and over again, there is no reason to play the same tees on that golf course every time. The rules of golf do not forbid you from playing the back tees on the front nine, and the front tees on the back nine.
By switching it up, you will be able to work on completely different areas of your golf game, and get more out of the golf course you primarily play at.
Swallow your ego and try it out. Your game will thank you later.
By no means have I covered all of the misconceptions that we have about the game of golf, but hopefully after reading through my personal top 10 golf myths, you have a more objective understanding of the game.
In such a crazy game, it is wise to do a reality check every once in a while. Do you really understand golf? Or are you susceptible to fallacies like many other golfers?