MONDAY MIND FACTOR MISSIVE : THE STYLE TRAP 4 Sept 2017
“He’s got a great swing” is a phrase that needs to be unpicked forever more… and here’s why!!
So tell me, who has the best swing in golf?
I suspect right now your mind’s eye is maybe focusing on Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory perhaps. I further suspect it hasn’t alighted on Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Zach – or even Dustin Johnson. Yet, all eight have won Majors.
When we consider golf swings, we unconsciously conflate ‘best’ with ‘best-looking’. Workmanlike actions need not apply, however effective they are. For many of us, a great swing and a pretty swing are one and the same thing. In an increasingly visual world where we are naturally drawn to aesthetics – face, body, car, house – this is probably inevitable. Yet, it can have dire consequences for your game – and here’s why.
In your golf lessons, practice and approach, it is important to differentiate between style and skill. You can prioritise either, but not both.
Working on your style could well make your swing look better, but it won’t necessarily make you play better. That’s ok if you’re not too bothered about what numbers you’re writing down on the scorecard, or where the ball is going; if you simply want the golfer on the next fairway to look across at you and conclude that you can play a bit, by all means pursue that stylish action. But the facts are that there are plenty of great-looking swings that produce dreadful golf. And, indeed, vice versa.
By contrast improving your skill, without reference to the look of how you’re doing it, will make you play better.
There is a famous image of the top three golfers from last year’s US Open – Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson and Shane Lowery. You could not have three more different looking backswings, and none of them looks especially graceful. Yet, each one of those golfers has developed the ability to put the ball on the clubface with accuracy and relative consistency. That, in a nutshell, is skill. And perhaps, when we appraise golf swings, this should carry a little more weight than how the club points down the target line with geometric precision at the top.
In terms of your performance and progress as a golfer, there are three big problems with chasing style:
1 We all have our own, individual swing signatures based on our instincts, physiologies and a host of other personal traits. When you prioritise style, you are effectively copying someone else, which prohibits you from using all those natural attributes. You are moving away from your own, best golf swing.
2 Skill acquisition owes much to your awareness of where the club is, and how you are applying it to the ball. If you are telling yourself a story of where you want the club to be, it’s harder to be aware of where the club actually is.
3 In developing awareness and skill, you need to feel wrong positions to feel the right ones. For example, sending the ball right and left are key stepping stones to learning to hit it straight. Try to get the club in the perfect position all the time and you are denying yourself that important learning experience.
This is why, if you are serious about improving, I’d urge you to focus less on how your swing looks and more on how it works.
A great start is that the most fundamental of golfing skills is finding the middle of the clubface. Spend your next three practice sessions working on nothing more than improving your awareness of where the strike is on the face. Try to hit 10 shots out of the heel, and then 10 out of the toe. Your ability to control strike point is the acquisition of skill. Achieve that and, believe me, that centred strike takes care of itself.
But above all, make a commitment to becoming less precious about the way your swing looks. The world’s professional tours are proof of the value of pursuing skill within your own swing signature.
And if you still feel the need to find some aesthetic virtue in your game, why not focus on the flight of the ball? After all, the soft fade Johnson hits – from an ugly shut face and bowed left wrist at the top – is undeniably a thing of beauty, and down to nothing but his acquisition of skill. Throughout golf’s history, a pure and powerful strike has always been more than enough to impress any onlooker!
Share your thoughts, experiences with me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope you find this Monday’s Mind Factor Missive useful!