As we continue our journey toward better golf, let’s review for a moment why the process of skill development provides an excellent pathway to fulfilling each golfer’s capabilities. The capabilities of a golfer — or athletic ceiling — as I call it, plays an important part in how good a golfer can be, and how fast skills can be developed. A golfer’s “ceiling” of course, can also be altered by golf fitness, nutrition, participation in other activities, etc. But while I feel very knowledgeable in these other areas of performance, my strongest suit is in helping golfers reach their capabilities, not in changing their capabilities, ergo the emphasis on skill development.
Human performance differs in each category of life; in our work, sports, art, and so forth, but not by much. Michelangelo had talent, but if he had worked at his art only once a month, would we ever have known and admired his work centuries after he was gone? Same holds for golf – a once-a-month effort won’t result in skill development. Also, I’ll wager nobody ever told Michelangelo how to hold a paintbrush or sculpting tool in his hand, or how to make his artistic impressions on canvas or marble. He discovered his own techniques through acquiring knowledge on the subject, and by experimentation.
With all my preaching about skill development, I don’t want to create the impression that I believe technique is not important, in golf or in any other human movement for that matter. For example, the technique employed in how we walk and stand has an impact on how our bodies feel, and whether the movements are efficient, graceful or otherwise. But in addition to technique, working on the skills needed to improve any physical activity, such as golf, helps us find our own way in acquiring that skill. Simply put, we acquire a technique by discovering what works best for us during the skill development process. That process is never complete, and is always ongoing.
As an instructor my job is to do skill assessments with a student to determine where and how the student could benefit the most. We then start by working on that skill, and I let students either discover skills on their own, or guide them to techniques that help them accomplish the skill. How much I interject or guide is usually based on their knowledge and experience in the game, and their comfort level with the process.
The skill discussed today is club face awareness– the ability of a golfer to know where the club face is at impact. This is because the direction of club face at impact has the greatest influence on the initial starting direction of the golf ball. There is a lot of science about how much the club face affects the starting direction of the golf ball, based on how much loft the golfer delivers at impact. But instead of getting deep into the physics of ball flight, let’s just say that if you want to change the starting direction in a full swing shot, the club face direction at impact will need to change to make this happen. The greater the swing speed the greater the importance on the club face awareness.
The best club face awareness skill assessment is done by inserting a golf alignment stick, or survey stick, vertically into the ground 10 yards in front of the golf ball on the golfers target line, making the stick an intermediate target. Placing a pool noodle over the alignment stick helps visually, in my opinion. Since we know club face at impact greatly affects starting direction, the golfer will need to hit one left of the stick, try to hit the stick or directly over the stick, and then right of the stick. If a golfer can accomplish all three over and over again they have a grasp on this skill. If not, there is work to do. This assessment is also a great drill for improving the skill. Usually a golfer will have one side that is much easier for them to start the golf ball. This is good information for the instructor and golfer.
Golfers who have a common miss — left or right — should try to hit it to the other side of the stick. For example, golfers who miss to the right a lot should try to hit the ball to the left of the stick multiple times. For students who have a dominant miss to the right, I ask them to hit it far to the left — how far left depends on how bad their usual miss is to the right. In this drill, it is surprising to me how many times students will hit a shot dead straight trying to hit it the opposite way of the miss, and solid contact usually improves as a result.
Again, the goal for me is not to tell a student how to accomplish a task, but to give them just enough information so they understand the physics of the situation; then set the task, and help guide them through the discovery process. I might have to guide the less experienced golfer a touch more, but I try to stay out of the process as best I can, because I’m not in the student’s skin. I can’t feel what they feel. The way I see it, whatever a student feels while attempting to hit a shot 40 yards left and getting an absolutely straight shot in the bargain is a skill development worth its weight in gold. In that event, all I can say is, “Ok…do that!”
If you have problems with starting direction try this process and let me know how it works. It can be done on your own, or with your coach. Working on club face awareness impacts a player’s performance positively in multiple skills, making it the most important skill in golf. Best of luck, and I hope this helps.
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.