Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sustainable Improvements/Skill Development, Part I



All Things Golf

Todd Elliott

Based on experience, I’m confident that a student can improve with a 30-minute lesson from a qualified instructor. The improvement in such a session might result in a few more quality golf shots, which helps golfers enjoy the game more. While a 30-minute window might allow time to fix a visual fault in the golf swing, chances are those extra few good shots will go away, and the same old game will come back. The “quick visual fix” is not sustainable unless we increase our skill level, because increasing skill level will do more than help us swing the golf club better, it will help us play the game of golf better.

In the archives of golf articles I have written there are many mentions of skill development, this being one of them, but do not get me wrong–athletic capability plays a huge role in the potential of each golfer.

I encourage all golfers to see a TPI certified trainer, who communicates with the golf instructor, to increase the ceiling of potential. A golf coach’s job, then, is to assist the student in getting to the top of that ceiling. Except for athletic ability, which I am not in the profession of making better, our skill level is the biggest difference in how we perform on the course.

Skill development is nothing new, but the birth of evaluating golfers on video camera, 3D motion capture, launch monitors, etc., even though helpful if used in the correct way, has gotten much of the world of golf instruction away from skill development, and more toward selling technical fixes. To make sustainable improvements, and to help golfers to reach their athletic ceiling, we need to develop more skill.

I heard a great story the other day about a teacher 50 years ago trying to help a player who was having a hard time hitting a draw. The teacher took the student onto the course with a basket of balls, and placed the golf balls 20 to 30 yards behind a big oak tree. The teacher told the student to attempt to draw each golf ball around the tree, and then proceeded to drive off. When the student got back to the range after hitting the basket of balls from behind the tree, the teacher asked, so what did you learn? What worked for you to accomplish the task? This is skill development at its finest. What I am preaching is nothing new, but the idea of skill development is not as popular in the instant gratification world we live in today.

Those who are new to the game of golf might be thinking “I’m just trying to get the ball in the air, and what is a draw, anyway?” Hitting the golf ball solidly is a skill, and if that is difficult for you then we need to address that skill first. A practical way to work on the skill of making solid contact with the ball on fairway shots would involve scraping a line in the grass/ground with a tee (on fairway length grass for this example) and take some swings making impact with the dirt, or at minimum with the bottom of the grass, along that line. Since some swings are faster than others the amount of turf taken along the line scratched into the ground will vary. The dirt should be taken starting at the scratched line in the ground, and continued along the line through the target end of the line. Remember, the amount of dirt taken is different for each player, but we must at least get to the bottom of the grass. When a golfer contacts the ground correctly there is a much better chance of getting the golf ball airborne. Of course, this exercise relates to fairway shots. When hitting a golf ball off a tee, the desired result involves clipping the tee properly when making contact with the ball.

What are some of the other skills to work on to improve your game? For starters, think about things like club-face control (in which direction is the club-face pointed at impact), distance control, the ability to produce different shot shapes, and adapting to different variables on the course, to name just a few. These skills are what golfers should be working on. During the skill development process we will all cultivate individual techniques in the process that help us succeed at the skill.

The best way to determine a golfer’s skills capability is through a skills assessment test, which asks the golfer to accomplish the skills mentioned above. For example, can a golfer produce different trajectories when hitting short wedge shots, 30 yards or shorter? This is an immensely important skill that can be accomplished with a multitude of methods, like club selection, ball position, dynamic loft delivery, set-up, etc. Everyone reading this will have a different method that will help them acquire the skill, and that method most probably would be the opposite of how the person next to you on the practice facility accomplished the same task.

Next time you are out practicing try to hit the ground by taking a little dirt with every swing, try producing a different trajectory, try hitting putts to a stick on the ground for speed control, try a downhill lie, uphill lie, etc. Do not be afraid to experiment with any set-up, ball position, club selection, etc. Experimentation leads to discovery. The more experienced a golfer the faster the discovery will happen, and the less guidance is needed. The less experienced golfer will need more guidance as they go through the discovery process.

The key to discovering your own variables to help you succeed is finding a golf coach who can guide you along the path to discovery. Discover the skill that works for you on every situation the course can offer by simply putting yourself in those situations. Do not work solely on technical, this slows the skill development process, and hold no sustainable improvement. And please stay away from five-minute fixes. If simply keeping your head down worked we would all be fulfilling our potential.

There will be more articles to come on skill development, and some videos coming soon on practical application with each subject discussed. Until next time, work on skills that will help you on the golf course.

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 telliott@hideawaybeachclub.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.

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