IT never ceases to amaze me how so many parents of junior golfers complain about their kids’ golf swings and think that it’s the main reason for perceived shortcomings. Parents seem to believe that a competent swing coach can, as if by ‘magic,’ help their offspring to overcome technical shortcomings overnight.
When a golfer believes that the majority of his drawbacks are technique related, it is one of the biggest mistakes he can make. Thinking that all shortcomings can be cured by technical instruction is way off the mark. Lots of good swingers never learn to compete whereas naturally strong competitors can always manage to figure out a way to play golf and a way to win by forgetting about the swing and just getting on with what golf is - a game in which you try to put a ball in a hole as quickly as possible - and, that’s ALL it is.
Once their pupils reach a certain level, more instructors should take the time to play with and caddie for youngsters, to teach them how to get around the golf course efficiently; coaching them to ‘leave the swing out of it’ as soon as the basics are learned. When competing, it’s all about selecting the right targets, knowing how and where to aim and being able to ‘control distance.’ Competitive golf is a matter of self-belief in which strategy and trust are the keys to success while remembering a scorecard has no room for explanations.
How do you become good enough to play in scratch cups, in the South of Ireland, the Irish Open Amateur, the Irish Open, The Open, The Masters, even? What does it take to achieve golfing milestones? How do you do it? How do you play your way onto one of your club’s GUI cup sides, the Munster, Ireland or Walker Cup teams? What does it take? Is it learning how to groove a near-as-dammit faultless golf swing that ‘repeats under the gun?’ Is it about being a great, chipper and putter and knowing how to score low? Is it about having supreme self-confidence in all situations and owning a never-say-die attitude?
The answer is, of course, that you must have all of those attributes as well as being devoted to working your socks off and having a strong, burning desire within. It’s no use just wanting something. You must be dedicated to the task and prepared to tolerate the sacrifices and ‘hurts’ involved in the pursuit, accepting the knock backs without resentment or second thoughts. Setbacks and disappointments must be looked upon as inconvenient parts of the process. Be prepared to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again! You must be prepared to invest large chunks of your time by playing a huge amount of golf. All of this is only the beginning, after you have proven that you are a good enough player in lesser events. Apart from all of that that, though, what are the specific skills or attributes needed to achieve the highest of ambitions? What special characteristics do you need? Can they be learned? The answer is ‘hard work.’ Hard work on the PG, hard work in the gym, the hard work of constant travel.
Tournament golf at any level is a learning curve - not one thing but a ‘million’ things - realizing that you do not always have to play your best as long as you play economically and minimize ‘mistakes’; having a perfect swing doesn’t come into it. The best way of getting comfortable under pressure is to play in lots of tournaments, becoming comfortable with the routine of holing those nasty, 4 and 5-footers every time and making sure that the only shot that counts is the NEXT one. When you reach a certain level, golf is about the strategy of picking the right targets and then aiming properly.
It took me a lifetime to learn that in golf regardless of my swing being good, bad or indifferent, poor shots can end up being good and good shots can end up badly. There isn’t anything you can do except accept it and try to make the next shot count. The only way of dealing with a ‘mistake’ is to never follow a bad stroke with another bad one.
It took me a lifetime to learn that anger produces chemicals that can affect the brain making clever people stupid in a flash. That’s why it’s far more productive for ambitious, young golfers wanting to learn how to play tournament golf, as opposed to learning how to hit the ball, should play rounds of golf with a coach in tow on a regular basis rather than hitting ball after ball, supervised or otherwise, on the practice ground or driving range.
Words of the Wise:
It’s the elite player who gives glory to his coach, not the other way around. Any really good player is so close to being where he ought to be that the coach’s help is rarely more than marginal. A tiny margin can make a big difference and that is precisely why a golfer needs a coach or a mentor but only as a facilitator and an objective, second pair of eyes. The very best coach will teach a golfer to rely on himself.