I recently had a wonderful conversation with Martin Hall when I interviewed him for my brain booster podcast. For those who don’t know Martin, he is a superb instructor who has received numerous awards for his teaching.
What struck me above anything else was how much passion he still has to improve as a coach. He told me of the thousands of books and videos he has in his library at home. It is a measure of the man that he still has this desire after all these years. He doesn’t approach it from the tiresome standpoint of “I’ve heard it all before”.
The list of people Martin has gotten to know over the years is a veritable who’s who of the greatest names in the game. On this list is a certain 15-time major champion, Tiger Woods. Martin discusses knowing Tiger reasonably well and describes attending many of his golf clinics. Always keen to learn, Martin would ask the great man as many questions as possible when the moment was right.
One particular insight was fascinating. He said Tiger always warms up with four wedge shots to no particular location but thereafter, every single shot he hits has a specific shape and trajectory. High and low, fade and draw, bullet straight.
What Tiger clearly realises when he is about to go and play is the game is about the shots you hit and not the swings you make.
At the end of every competitive round you play, you will be asked a simple and direct question. How many shots did you take? Not, how many swings did you make?
I think we have all fallen into this trap over the years in the search for perfect technique and a belief that if we can just swing the club in a specific way, the shots will automatically follow.
If there is one thing I am certain of now after more than 30 years of coaching, it is that this is a fool’s errand.
We will never have our swing exactly how we want it. There will always be something going on that doesn’t feel quite right. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t play good golf.
In the new book I have co-written with Gary Nicol, The Lost Art of Playing Golf, we explore this concept in great detail, asking the fundamental question: does the swing create the shot or does the shot create the swing?
In our opinion it has to be the shot that creates the swing. Until you decide what shot you intend to play then how can you create a swing. When you have a crystal clear intention of what you want the ball to do then your body will have a ‘map’ to follow.
Of course, we are not saying all you have to do is see a draw and it will magically happen. You still need the guidance of a coach as to how you apply club to ball to create certain shapes. But what we are saying is that unless you decide what shot you want to hit, all of the ‘swing work’ can and often does become futile.
When you ask the question, ‘what is wrong with my shots?’ as opposed to, ‘what is wrong with my swing?’ we believe you can make real progress.
Tiger clearly identifies the shots he has in his warm up that day. You can bet if he is struggling to play a draw but is hitting the fade nicely, that is what he will ‘play’ with on the course.
You may not have a perfect swing today but virtually every golfer has some shots they can execute. Yes, at times it may not be pretty but it’s about making the most of what you have on this unique day in your life. Every golfer knows what felt wonderful and silky yesterday can feel a totally different motion today.
Try Tiger’s approach to warming up. Use the shots you have instead of being tied up in knots chasing technical perfection. Who knows? You might just play better.