Answers To the 6 Hottest Debates in Golf Instruction

Social media outlets such as Twitter provide an entire new channel to absorb a wide range of golf information, and offers a convenient place for teachers and golfers to argue, too.

As an active Twitter user, I try to read as much as I can regarding the trends and ideas teachers are touting on social media. Some deal with how to swing, others deal with swing positions that are better than others, and my favorite is the debate about technology from old-school and new-school teachers.

Covered in this article are a few of the most debated topics on social media, and my thoughts on the subjects (which are more than 140 characters).

Fitness or Not?

In case you missed it, Rory McIlroy and Brandel Chamblee have re-ignited the debate over golf fitness. How much is too much? Should all golfers be lifting weights to improve, or is it detrimental to longevity?
Back when he was winning majors and dominating golf, Tiger Woods helped professional golfers see the benefits of improved physical fitness. Truly, when an athlete of his caliber puts himself in top physical shape, he’s going to be difficult to beat.
I majored in exercised science in college, and while I firmly believe in the merits of exercise, you can take it too far. Case in point: Tiger. As Chamblee has said countless times, Tiger took his fitness to the Nth degree and wound up hurting himself, thus shortening his career (or so it appears).
So what’s the answer? Personally, I feel golfers should be in top physical shape if they want to compete at the highest levels. This includes ALL types of fitness work, including stretching, resistance training and cardio. As with anything in life, if you focus too much on one area you can get yourself into trouble. Ask Keith Clearwater or Tiger and you will hear stories of injury. On the flip side, ask Rory, Gary Player or Camilo Villegas and you will hear stories of success.
Listen to your body, and make sure your routine is well-rounded and you will have fewer injury problems.

Do swing models work?

One of the biggest arguments between teachers in the golf industry is the swing model concept. There are many people in the golf instruction world who believe their method is better than everything else out there today, and will fight to the grave to prove that it is.

Homer Kelley, in The Golfing Machine, figured out that there were more than 446 quadrillion ways to swing the club (thanks to Top-100 Teacher, Ron Gring for the math), so in my mind there are millions of ways to swing efficiently. I try not to teach the same swing model to everyone, but I will say that there are a few stroke patterns that I teach more often than others. So I don’t teach one model swing; I try and teach a few of them so I can work around the inefficiencies of each player without getting stuck.

The flexibility that comes with teaching multiple patterns is quite useful; it allows a person’s natural motion to stay reasonably intact as they work on their game. And secondly, trying to “re-build” a club golfer’s swing from ground zero tends to be too laborious. Too often they’re forced to play “in between patterns” because of the big change. And there’s no guarantee better scores are on the other side.

Is technology dangerous?

One of the most energized topics is the debate between the old school and new school teaching methods, with Trackman being at the center of the debate. Some experts say Trackman is bad and it’s ruining players because they are playing “golf swing,” not golf. I agree to a point. Other teachers (like me), will tell you that nothing has helped them on the lesson tee more than Trackman.

But let’s discuss the difference.

After all, this IS the information age for golf instruction, as there has never been more information readily available regarding how the body, club and ball react during the swing. While I will say that knowledge is power, I will also tell you that it comes with inherent danger; too much information can hamper a player’s development.

I don’t think technology is wholly bad, regardless of what type you use. But I will say technology used during a lesson is ONLY as good as the person who uses it. If I cannot insulate my players from the information they don’t need to know, then it’s not the technology’s fault, it’s mine!

Trackman is not the issue; it’s HOW it’s used that is the issue. You can use technology and Trackman to teach “feels” or you can tie students into knots. It’s entirely up to the teacher to properly use this amazing technology.

Do you play “golf” or “golf swing”

As briefly mentioned above, have we as a golf community become too focused on playing “golf swing” and not “golf?”

I whole-heartedly believe we have!

It’s not the fault of the players, however. With the advent of affordable technology, golfers can understand more than they ever have and many want this information at their fingertips. This is the age of instant gratification; information about anything is just a touch of a button away. If Teacher A won’t give it to them, then Teacher B will. It’s extremely difficult to make a student slow down enough to learn golf in the old school way with new school technology. So for a while, we may just have to accept that people will play “golf swing” until the masses understand that this is NOT the way to shoot lower scores. The golf world is full of great ball-strikers who can’t score. Why? Because they learned how to play “golf swing” instead of golf.

Figure out what is most important to you; a great swing or a great score. There isn’t a wrong answer, unless of course you’re trying to make a living from playing the game.

What’s a better swing position?

On Twitter, I see threads about this position or that position being better than the other because “X” player did it or “Y” player did it. Two of the most contested positions right now are locking the right knee at the top (versus keeping it flexed) and bowing the left wrist during the transition. And next week it will be something different.

While I have explained my stance on the swing models above, comparing the positions that pros get into and what amateurs should get into isn’t necessarily beneficial. The guys at the top levels of their game could have been great players and tournament winners with ANY swing you put them into. Let’s take Tiger Woods for example. He’s won with many different swings. Why? Because he is a highly skilled golfer and athlete, and was able to understand and monitor those swings. Most club golfers just cannot do this.

Just because someone pulls a bunch of photos off the internet and shows you that player X,Y, and Z is in a certain position does NOT make it the correct position for YOU.

Who is the “best teacher” in golf today? 

Simple, the best teacher for you is the one who helps you shoot the lowest scores. Period. I don’t care if you use very little technology or a bunch, the goal is to shoot lower scores and that’s all that matters.

Sometimes for Tour Players it takes a teacher like Butch Harmon who says, “Man you are hitting it like Tiger and Norman did in their prime.” This can give them the confidence to go out and win. Or sometimes they need to listen to the science and psychology of a teacher like Sean Foley who says, “You are swinging the best you ever have and I have the data to prove it to you right here.”

There are different teachers for different players. Find the one who is best for you and your game, and they can be the best teacher in the world for you.

By Guest Contributor Tom Stickney II