How do you go about learning to be a better golfer? Do you get lessons from a local professional, watch YouTube videos, read books, blogs and magazines or just use good old trial and error?

Why my swing looks like Jack’s

I first started to learn to play in the analogue age. My initial learning style was mostly visual. It was the look of my swing compared to that of Nicklaus, Player or Jacklin that mattered most to me.

Golf on TV was seldom seen. I read books, studied black and white photos of the golfing greats and tried to copy their frame-by-frame swing shapes in the reflection of a window. It was only when I attended Sunday morning group lessons for juniors that I got to hit actual balls further than a pitch and putt 50 yard hole.

Oddly enough, making visual comparisons to pro golfer swings is still a key learning method in the digital age. But now we have data. Lots of it.

Golf gets all sciencey

A few years ago when I lived in the USA, I had weekly indoor lessons at GolfTec, who use a combination of qualified pro coaches, video analysis, swing-motion data and ball-flight monitoring to help golfers improve. Not only could I see what I was doing from multiple angles, I could play it back, see all the numbers, analyse them and see the simulated final results on the ball’s flight. Practice at the range helped consolidate the learning. This is when I got hooked on golf science. I wanted to know the how and why of golf improvement.

Today I still use video and a launch monitor at the range. It’s very revealing. What I’m not good at is the discipline of constant practice to groove in my learning into muscle memory and consistency. A busy work life and time pressures turn the weekly round into an 18-hole trial and error science experiment with variable results.

Three new tricks

After a recent erratic golfing spell I’ve decided to work on three areas where I need to move up a level: Driving consistency, iron accuracy and putting speed.

1. Hovering the driver
Driving the ball used to be a highlight in my game until I got clever and learned to shape the ball flight. I lost consistency and started getting all sorts of weird outcomes. Then one day on the range instead of having my driver rest on the ground before starting my backswing, I let it hover an inch or two. I noticed two main results: 1. The ball was flying higher and longer. 2. The ball path was straighter when I wanted it or less extreme when drawing or fading. I did some YouTube surfing and concluded the consensus of opinion was that hovering reduced sudden grip pressure changes during the first seconds of backswing. Now I need a grip pressure monitor.

 2. Swinging hips
This was a lesson I forgot until I heard some hip action advice in Strictly Come Dancing. I watched some of my recent video in a new light – my swing was more waltz than rumba. I took this straight to the course, telling myself “Start your turn with the hips” and discovered my long irons had a sweet spot. Who knew? The hit was so good I could hardly feel the impact. My balance felt better too, although the sequined body stocking does get some unkind comments.

3. Quiet eyes when putting
Apparently there’s a key difference between pros and amateurs when putting – the ability to fix the eyes on a single point on the hole and then the ball in sequences. It’s called Quiet Eye. So I gave it a go with two cycles of picking out a tiny spot at the back of the hole for 2 seconds, then the back of the ball for 2 seconds before making the stroke while keeping my eyes still. It’s helping. There’s definitely a more relaxed and less tense feeling over the ball that lets the body do its thing. Lines are great, confidence is high, but I’m not quite there yet with a consistent foot past the hole.

The trick now is to find the time to put in the hours of practice to transfer what my brain has learned into consistent and repeatable body movement. Once that is done I’ll be confident enough to go see a pro for a lesson without embarrassing myself. At least my rumba will get a 7 out of 10.

Keep dancing.

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Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and enthusiastic improver.

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