I WAS taught that golf was a skilled based activity revolving around ball control, staying out of trouble and plotting one's way around the golf course.
That approach has been usurped by modern technology, speed and power. The advent of Trackman technology has accelerated the 'learning of the game' to a simpler and speedier process.
The knowledge at a young golfer's disposal today, is light years ahead of what was available previously.
Because I was once a fit, all round sportsman who worked hard, I managed to come close to mastering the infamous ‘square method’ - a swing theory that entailed keeping the clubface ‘looking’ at the ball throughout the entire swing; a remarkable feat in elasticity, you will agree, but hopelessly misguided.
The late, Brian O’Brien (Lahinch), a forward looking teacher, knocked my square method on the head and told me to open up the clubface during the backswing and square it again as late as possible in the hitting area.
Trying to master the precision of that move put an unattainable premium on timing and, unsurprisingly, inconsistent results were the outcome.
In 1965, the Golfing Union of Ireland selected its first-ever high performance squad of 20 or so (Billy Rice, Gerry McCormack and I were Limerick's representatives).
Invited to Elm Park GC for an unforgettable lesson with 'Dr Golf', John Jacobs, we were told that the swing consisted of two turns with a swish in the middle and all that mattered was a swing path towards the target and a square clubface at impact and, it didn't really matter how you did it!
Such facile concepts were a huge disappointment. Instead, I became a disciple of Homer Kelley who published The Golfing Machine in 1969.
The timing could not have been worse. I was 23; playing off scratch (only 14 or 15 of us in the 32-counties) and regularly contending in championships.
Kelley's ‘message’ consisted of there being 144 variations of 24 basic swing components across three main categories in 12 sections of the golf swing.
The body was a “double-pendulum” in which the left shoulder was the central hinge; the right arm a driving piston and the hands acting as clamps!
Then, Ben Hogan's ‘Five Lessons, the Modern Fundamentals of Golf’ - the biggest selling how to play golf book ever, even onto this very day, became my ‘go to bible’.
Hogan was meticulous and the first really great golfer to break his swing down into component parts piece by piece, before successfully re-building it again. (Nick Faldo did something similar in the mid-1980s) I liked the idea of boiling everything down to a five fundamentals (I was going to write simple but they are far from it).
No matter how hard I have tried my overall swing has rarely matched the sum of its parts except on ‘special days' when it seemed my good golf was due to confidence and timing and, not thinking about how I was swinging at all?
Is there a technical explanation for when you are playing well golf is easy and when badly, it feels like you will never play well again? Far too late to fulfil all of my ambitions, it dawned on me that ‘perfect technique’ is only one part of playing golf well. Golf is not an exact science and the best way to play it, once the basics have been mastered, is as athletically and as subconsciously as possible.
Golf is as much a mental as a physical test and the better you at it are the more true this statement becomes. How we feel ‘on the day’ and what goes on between our ears does impact our play.
When the mind, body and spirit are in sync., you are in what the pros call ‘The Zone’ and you play your best but, getting into the correct frame of mind is not easy. That is why so many of the top sports people have mental as well as technical coaches.
A mental coach can help a golfer to feel composed and able to play at his best. Many fine instructional books on the mental side of golf have been published in the last twenty-five years but they were not available when I needed them.
It wasn’t the lack of a perfect swing that prevented me from reaching my full potential. Impatience, overtraining, a lack of composure and not knowing the difference between trying my best and trying too hard, did. Too many swing thoughts creates tension.
Nothing wrecks a golf swing quicker than tension. Seeing it, feeling it and doing it (subconsciously) is the better way!
Leaving aside the improved golf ball and clubs, the knowledge that is available to young golfers today is why they are better than any previous generation. There is so much scientific and psychological know how available to young golfers, they can reach the top a lot sooner.
In spite of that, the best age for golfers is still in one's 30s. It takes that long to be properly 'trained'. Being stronger, smarter, more athletic and surrounded by more knowledgeable people brings you only so far. To be a winner, you have to 'get over the line' by yourself. In 2019, the average age of winners on the PGA Tour is 34.1.
Words of the Wise
"Golf is like a love affair. If you don't take it seriously, it's no fun, but if you do, it breaks your heart. (It's worth flirting with the possibility)" – Louise Suggs.