Looking down the range during a lesson, I see a bunch of guys hacking away at the ball.
Some of them are obsessively working on their backswings, hoping to find the secret. Some are sending their divots farther than the ball.
And there’s that one “residential expert” explaining to the golfer next to him what they need to do to hit it like Tiger Woods – usually right before this “expert” addresses their own ball and proceeds to duff shot after shot.
GOLF IS DIFFICULT
Most golfers suck at golf. You probably suck.
But let’s be realistic about this – even the top pros suck at the game. Professional golfers
Miss 40% of greens
Miss 50% of 8 foot putts
Miss 40% of fairways
Fail to get it up and down 40% of the time
Even in his dominant days, Tiger sucked sometimes.
Looking at those stats, we can say that a pro is only successful just over half of the time. Even some of the fairways and greens that they successfully hit were probably not what they would call “great shots”.
In order to hit a decent golf shot, we have to strike a spot on the ground incredibly close to where the ball rests.
Get the club to touch down in this blue zone and you will be golden
If we return the club just half an inch higher, or miss our spot by more than an inch, the shot is going to be poor.
These relatively small errors can produce a huge outcome error
We also need to return the sweet spot back to the ball with incredible accuracy. While modern clubs are certainly more forgiving, mis-striking the sweet spot by an inch can result in some real stinkers.
The difference between the green and pink strike is small, but the outcome could be wildly different due to gear-effect
We also need to return the clubface back to a position that will allow us to hit the target – just a few degrees off can cost us shots.
This picture puts it into perspective – the iron on the left is square, and the iron on the right is 3 degrees open. That is enough error to significantly miss a target – and we have to be precise with this task while swinging the club around our body at speed.
Effectively, the margin for error in a golf shot is tiny.
IT GETS EVEN MORE COMPLEX
We have a whole host of moving body parts
Our hips are turning, tilting and pitching, as well as moving side to side, back to front and up and down.
Our upper torso is doing the same
Our scapula can and does protract and retract through the swing
Our arms are constantly changing flex/radius (even for the pros – it can be subtle but it’s always there)
Our wrists go through flexion/extension, ulnar and radial deviation, supination and pronation through the entire swing
Our legs are changing flex
Our lead shoulder is moving through a huge range of motion in both backswing and downswing
Our clubhead and hand path are moving on different planes/paths which are also constantly changing in radius throughout the swing
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If one of those things is off by a fraction, it can negatively affect our ability to return the club to a functional position.
Not only is this task incredibly difficult and with small margins for error, but we have to complete this task at close to maximal effort.
Amateurs can be swinging that tiny clubhead around their body at between 70 and 100mph, with professional golfers exceeding 115mph.
Long drive guys like Joe Miller can swing it over 150mph. At these speeds, even hitting a wide grid is hard
Every shot is also different.
We require different movements for a pitch to a putt to a drive – and even our stock shot will need to vary when we are off a different lie.
Different clubs will also require that we input different forces and torques, which requires an incredible act of prediction and control from our muscles/subconscious mind. Our brain is constantly monitoring and adjusting these to acheive our goal.
Even if we did manage to hit the ball well, we still have to predict how the wind and lie will affect our shot. Misjudging by a small amount can lead to dire consequences.
There is also a huge luck element in golf.
We could hit the same quality of shots during a round of golf, but if we did the wrong one at the wrong time, it could cost us dearly.
For example, imagine you hit a shot 20 yards short of normal due to a technical error. Do it on a hole where there is no water short, and it may only cost you 0.8 of a shot (you might get it up and down 20% of the time). However, do it on a hole where the water is short and it costs you a penalty (one shot) plus the 0.8 shots – a total of 1.8 shots.
The same error (15-20 yards short) might cost a player a whole shot more (or worse) if he does it at the wrong time (right).
Even the fact that
the golf balls are not perfectly balanced, or
you may hit a blade of grass early on in a 10 ft putt which knocks it offline
the wind may suddenly gust or drop off the moment you hit your shot
you may get a harder or softer bounce on the green than you predicted
are all factors outside of your control which can affect how well you play.
DOESN’T THAT MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER?
Well, it should.
It should take pressure off you from trying to be perfect all the time.
With golf being so damn difficult, it’s a wonder at all that we can even hit that little white thing – never mind send it 200 yards plus reasonably towards a target.
When you truly think about how difficult this game is, you start to realize just how brilliant we are as humans.
Yes, the top pros are good at this game, but they make a ton of mistakes too. Besides, these guys are the cream of the crop – the Usain Bolt’s and Michael Jordan’s of the golfing world. Quit comparing yourself to them, unless it’s to see that they can hit some pretty awful shots too.
WHAT DO I DO NOW?
The first step that you can implement today is to lower your expectations.
Understand the difficulty of the game, even if it may look simple. Let your bad shots slide, emotionally. Sure, look at them objectively and seek the issue so you can rectify it if it becomes a pattern. But don’t self-flagellate because you duffed one.
Get over it. Give yourself a break.
HOW TO SUCK LESS
We all suck at golf – even the top guys. However, to steal a hashtag from my coaching friend Liam Mucklow, let’s look at a few ways we can #suckless .
GET QUALITY INFO
Go and see your local professional. Research their reputation first – a good pro can dramatically speed up your learning of the game, and help you identify and bash through barriers keeping you from progressing.
But, please, stop taking advice from your playing partners. They don’t know what they are talking about. Some of the conversations on the range between golfers make me cringe as they talk about “what’s working for them right now”.
If you get low quality advice, you will end up a low quality player.
TAP INTO SCIENCE
Science overwhelmingly supports the use of external cues (outside of our body).
Yet, the golf industry uses overwhelmingly internal cues (move your body like X).
External cues have been shown to help the nervous system coordinate all of the complex moving parts into a workable solution – meaning we help our body work harmoniously together.
When we combine external cues with high quality sources of feedback, we are onto a powerful concoction.
Foot spray is a great source of feedback which encourages an external focus of attention
I use a lot of external cues and feedback sources in The Strike Plan. I also discussed them in depth in The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers.
DEMYSTIFY THE GAME
To most golfers, this game is a complete mystery. I remember when it used to be the same for me too.
But it doesn’t have to be.
By educating yourself on why a ball flies the way it does, you can start the road to improvement and taking control of your own game. Being able to fix yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can have as a golfer – but it all starts with awareness and education as to what is happening to cause the ball flight.
Without this understanding, you are throwing darts in a dark room, hoping to hit a target.
USE BETTER TECHNIQUE
We know that most golfers are using poor techniques, this is obvious.
While there is more to the game than purely technique (strategy, game management etc.), improving how you move the club is a big help – and staying within safe zones regarding impact parameters is paramount to success.
Staying within the blue zones will offer you maximum chance of success. Staying out of the red zones is paramount.
When we creep outside of these safe zones consistently (and people often do), we will experience inconsistent results.