Understanding the science behind the art of preparing for golf can help you use your precious time more effectively
There can be no other sport where so much effort in practice goes so unrewarded in the game itself.
Many golfers spend their entire life working hard at their game with little to no actual progress.
This cannot be because we don’t have the ability to move our body in a certain way. It certainly isn’t the equipment, which is so very much superior these days. For us, it is to a large degree because golfers have no real idea of how to train effectively..
Instead of thinking you are going to go practising golf as you have always done, when you think in terms of training for the game you open up a whole new dimension. A surgeon will train to become a surgeon and then he or she will practise surgery. A lawyer will train to be a lawyer and then he or she will practise law.
We want you to shift your mindset completely so you train to play golf and then go and practise being a golfer on a golf course.
You become a golfer by creating golf shots in the only place that really matters – the golf course.
Go on YouTube and there will be hundreds if not thousands of experts telling you how you should move your body, what positions the club should be in, using all of the fancy terms for angles and planes, yet we promise you very little video space will be informing you of how to train in a way that will maximise your return on investment both in terms of time and money.
The research is very clear: if we want to take our golf game onto the course itself we need to understand how we learn, we need to understand how to transfer skills but above all we need to learn how to train effectively. The most exciting part of this adventure is just what could be possible for you in the future. We firmly believe that no matter what your age is you could, in the next 12 months, transform your game and release the golfer in you that has been hiding away all of this time.
When you fully grasp the concept of training for golf you will get the opportunity to write a completely different story. You will become the director of your future golfing performance.
Do you feel you have spent a good part of your golfing journey hitting the ball reasonably well on the range and yet the ability you show doesn’t ever seem to transfer to the golf course when it really matters? Join the club.
So many of us have lived through the endless frustration of not being able to take our range game with us to the course.
We have a golf lesson. We get told to do something in our swing.
We go to the range and start to work on this new move. After a while we maybe start to hit the ball better and we feel like we are getting somewhere. All we have to do is then take this particular swing thought to the course and we will be fine.
We get to the 1st tee and try to think about the same swing thought that worked so well on the range. Yet the swing doesn’t seem to feel the same and the ball certainly doesn’t behave in the same way.
We start dropping shots and we get frustrated. We try harder to make the swing thought work. We get worse. We go back to the range to work on our swing a little bit more. Sound familiar?
It is perhaps the universal complaint of golfers all over the world.
We can either keep doing the same thing and hope for a different result or we can step out of the loop of insanity and do something different.
The key concept to understand is that of transferability.
Does the work you do on the range, putting and chipping green actually stand a chance to transfer to the golf course?
Tiger Woods’ first coach, Rudy Duran, on how the young protégé changed the way he approached teaching golf forever
The first I saw of Tiger Woods was when his mother, Tida, brought him to me at Heartwell Golf Park in Long Beach, California.
Tida wanted to know if Tiger could be part of my junior programme and would I coach him. Tiger was four years old at the time and could barely see over the pro shop counter. I said we’d go to the driving range where I could see Tiger hit some balls.
I teed up four balls for him. He took out his cut-down 2 1/2 wood and proceeded to hit four perfect drives about 60 yards with a little bit of draw.
I said: “Wow – he can play here anytime and I would love to help with his game.”
I knew at that moment that Tiger was special.
What I didn’t know was how much I would learn from Tiger and that I was actually signing up to be the student.
I became a golf professional in 1971. I tried my hand at tournament golf from 1976 to 1978 with little success. I could hit the ball great in all areas but my scoring was always weak.
During those years of full-time golf I thought that if I just had the correct formula of positions I would always shoot low scores.
Well, that never happened. Hitting the ball well on the driving range and shooting low scores on the golf course are not the same thing.
I actually became the expert on what I was doing wrong when I needed to be the expert on my good shots and what I did well.
When Tiger and I would get together he would practise with me on the practice area and on the golf course.
We never spent much time talking about what was wrong.
It’s more fun to celebrate our success. We would hit chip and pitch shots with different trajectories. High ones, low ones, shots that stopped, shots that ran out.
He just loved to create different golf shots. He wanted to know how to make the ball fly in different ways so he could score lower. He wouldn’t have known about the position at the top of the swing or when he set his wrists.
If he wanted to learn a certain shape of shot I offered some suggestions as to how the club might feel through the ball to affect the flight of the shot.
Our sessions were all about creating an environment of fun, learning and remembering what we did well to make the ball fly how we wanted.
He didn’t hit the ball much further than 100 yards. He was just five years old – and not a big five-year-old at that.
But where you could really see his skill was around the green.
He could pitch, chip and putt like a tour pro.
I believe his short game was great because he had a natural ability to see the ball flight in advance and feel the club to make the ball fly the way he saw it.
It’s much like driving a race car. Yes, to win a professional car race like the Indy 500 you need a fast car. But you also need to know how to drive a fast race car.
Even if I had an Indy 500 race car I would still never win the race because I don’t know how to drive a race car.
The same is true in golf. You can have a great golf swing but if you don’t know how to use it you will never win golf tournaments. No matter how great you hit the ball on the driving range. Using your swing to shoot low scores on the golf course is a completely different skill than that of hitting the ball on the driving range.
Since those days in the early 1980s with Tiger and Earl, my coaching has evolved from how I taught in the 1970s.
Now I spend very little time telling my students what to do, I just give them options to explore.
Rudy Duran wrote the forward to The Lost Art of Playing Golf, buy a copy of the book here.
Golf is an inherently unpredictable game – how do you cope with variables from an uneven stance to a bad bounce?
Imagine this for a scenario. The temperature is warm every day. The wind never blows. The only thing visible in the blue sky above is bright, golden sunshine. Every blade of emerald-green grass on every golf course is perfectly manicured. Every lie you find in the fairway is perfectly flat. Every time your ball finishes in a bunker, it sits up perfectly. Every lie you find in the rough is exactly the same, perfect. You always have a perfect yardage from the middle of every fairway to a hole cut in the middle of the green. Every green is the same pace and all your putts are flat and straight. Positively utopian.
Sounds pretty awesome but at the same time ridiculous, right?
If this were the case, it would make total sense for you to go to work on your golf swing, hitting 20 balls on the range with each club in a bid to perfect your backswing and numerous other positions to allow you to hit the ball dead straight, exactly the same distance and direction time after time.
You could then head to the short game area to practise the same pitch shot from the same distance and the same perfect lie with the same club for half and hour before repeating the same process for chip shots.
Once you have mastered them, you could place a few balls in perfect lies in the practice bunker and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Bunker play perfected, now it would be time to head to the putting green to work on your perfectly flat, perfectly straight putts from your favourite distance of two feet.
If you believe this is the way forward, the way to become more consistent, please think again.
In all probability, you are practising shots that you will rarely face on the golf course. You may feel you have put in some time and effort and to the casual observer, you probably look like you are working really hard and deserve to reap some rewards for your efforts.
The fact of the matter is, in reality, your practice session bears virtually no resemblance to what you will encounter on any given day on any given golf course.
Yes the temperature may be to your liking certain beautiful days but everything else – including wind, uneven lies, sloping greens, breaking putts and awkward distances – will almost always be a factor. So what do you do then? Do you react or respond? How do you deal with them? Do you in fact deal with them or do you bemoan your bad luck and ill-fortune that the ball is sitting down in the rough?
You can’t believe how unfair it is that you can only get one foot in the bunker and your first putt of the day looks faster than Usain Bolt! Do you complain or do you adjust and or adapt?
Take a minute or two to think about this. Are you practising for utopia or are you training for the reality and inevitability of the diverse conditions you will face and the shots you will have to create when you play golf?
Golf is the ultimate game of adjustment and adaptability. The golf course and Mother Nature demand that we have to adjust and adapt constantly, yet the majority of golfers fail to prepare or train for this inevitability.
In order to improve, you must be prepared to adjust and adapt.
Think about the last three rounds of golf you played and the shots you had to create. What percentage of those shots have you previously practised? How many of those shots required a skill you have neither trained or even thought about working on? Probably quite a few.
Would you approach any other game, pursuit or business situation in the same manner? Unlikely.
So why is it that we practise one thing then act all surprised when we have to adjust and adapt on the golf course?
Strategy begins long before you reach the 1st tee. And it doesn’t end until after the final putt is holed
Do you have a strategy for how you are going to play the golf course? By strategy, we mean have you ever actually sat down and thought about the best way for you to shoot your best, stress-free score?
Or, do you do what most golfers do and hit driver as hard as you can on every par 4 and 5 and see what happens after that?
If you do have a strategy, where and when does it start? Does your strategy include how you are going to prepare both mentally and physically or do you generally just wait until you get to the 1st tee?
What you do before you head to the 1st tee can and will influence your attitude and performance on the golf course.
A bad attitude is like a flat tyre: You can’t go anywhere until you change it.
How many times have you gone out on the course without hitting any shots on the range to warm up beforehand only to play terribly for the first few holes before you find your game?
Essentially, you are using the first few holes as warm-up holes, by which time you have run up a couple of double bogeys, duffed a couple of chips and three-putted twice. Score ruined. We’ve all been there but this scenario can be avoided if you prepare properly.
Club golfers the world over spend a disproportionate amount of time focussing on how they are going to hit their ball compared to where they are going to hit it. Perhaps more importantly, they spend even less time thinking about why they are going to try to hit it to a certain spot on the fairway or green.
Successful tournament professionals, on the other hand, pay a lot of attention to where and why they are going to hit their shots, not just how.
If you look at the yardage books that these guys use, you will see there is an incredible amount of detail. Distances to and over certain fairway bunkers and water hazards.
How far it is before they run out of fairway. How long the green is from front to back. Where the slopes are on the greens.
No laser or GPS device, as good as they are, can yet tell you how much green you have behind the flag or where the slopes on the greens are.
Tour yardage books are incredibly detailed and enable players to make informed decisions. No guesswork here.
We understand that not everywhere you play will have an amazing course guide or planner.
If they don’t, why not make one of your own? It is an incredibly insightful experience and something you may want to consider. You will discover some subtle nuances about your home course that you were previously unaware of.
You may think because you have played a certain course dozens of times that you know every blade of grass and grain of sand like the back of your hand. The chances are that there are many aspects you have never even noticed.
If you are walking around with your head down, cursing your luck about that bad break you had on the previous hole when your ball bounced into the greenside bunker, you will see very little other than the fact your shoes could probably do with a clean.
Only when you have clear intention can you begin to create the shot you want to hit
We create what we see. Is it possible that you could hit a good shot? Is it possible that the next shot you hit will be the best one you have ever hit in your life? What does the ball need to do to reach your intended target? What does a good shot look like?
Before you hit any shot, whether that be on the range or the golf course, whether it is with a driver, a 6-iron or even a three-foot putt, it is essential that you have a very clear picture of what the very best version of that shot looks like. Once you have a very clear intention, you then have somewhere specific to place your attention.
We are not going to suggest that everyone visualises every shot exactly the same way.
Some golfers see the ball flying towards their intended target with a high fade, others with a low draw. Some even see the ball flying arrow-straight towards its intended destination.
A lot depends on what shot is required, what shot you are capable of playing and what shot you are most comfortable with at that unique moment in time. A lot depends on your intention.
In Jack Nicklaus’s best-selling book, Golf My Way, he says:
“I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a colour movie. First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white sitting up on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory and shape, even its behaviour on landing.
“Then there’s a sort of fade-out and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short, private Hollywood spectacular, do I select a club and set up to the ball.”
Talk about clarity! What is really fascinating here is that Jack has watched the whole movie before he has even selected a club. What we see at all levels, from weekend golfers to Tour Pros, is the player taking a club out of their bag because the shot they face is x yards, make a couple of practice swings and only then look at their target and try to create a mental image of the shot they are about to create. The sequence of events is somewhat different. Perhaps Mr Nicklaus was onto something all those years ago.
Isn’t it strange that when we have to shape a shot around a tree or create one with a lot of curve or height, we somehow manage to see that shot with amazing clarity?
In the book, Natural Golf, Seve Ballesteros said: “When in trouble, I always stand directly behind the ball, stare intently at my target and wait patiently for the movies to begin. Sometimes I see so many shots come to life that I think I’m looking into a kaleidoscope. When that happens, I stay in the same spots and I rerun all the options until I see one working better than the others. Then, and only then, do I visualise the specific swing needed to execute the shot and finally select the proper club for the task.”
Seve had an incredible imagination and was very aware of his target. He waited until he saw ‘the’ shot. He then visualised and probably felt the specific swing required and then, finally, he selected the appropriate tool or club for that shot.
Most amateur golfers spend way too much time trying not to hit bad shots rather than focussing their attention on creating good shots. You always have a choice. Choose wisely.