The State of Your Game: Observations From the Experts—Part II
By Russ Christ
Are you playing the game well? Strange as it seems, you should go get a lesson, or at least video tape your swing. Playing poorly? Don’t necessarily
fault your equipment.
In the second article in a series, we asked Scott Sackett, a GOLF Magazine “Top 100 Teacher” since 1997, and Tyler Kirkendoll, a bio-mechanics expert at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix, to share their thoughts on golf and teaching, how people learn and even what to do if you’re a feel player like former AGA president Dave Barnes.
Kirkendoll has a total understanding of physical structure and how humans produce motion. His strength is his ability determine how to get a golfer better by helping them move better. Over the course of his 21-year career in golf, Sackett, currently the director of instruction at the PGA TOUR Golf Academy, has worked at Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale, Dobson Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Fiddlesticks in Tempe and Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami. He currently teaches at
McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale.
How Important is Your Equipment?
Tyler Kirkendoll: Your equipment, from the actual outcome standpoint, is not the big piece. If you don’t have control over how you move, you’re in trouble. If you’re a bad driver you stink in a Fiat and you stink in a Ferrari.When someone says to me “I’m thinking about new equipment” I’ll say, “awesome, what kind of equipment?” They’ll talk about new irons, a new ball, maybe a new driver. I’ll then say, “What about the rest of the equipment, the stuff that’s moving [the body parts]? Have you upgraded that or is it on a slow downgrade from here on out?” People are capable of moving well, but most of them don’t.
Accuracy in movement is first. Do the right thing. If you have precision you’re going to get a more consistent result from whatever equipment you choose to use.
Are People Really Doing What It Takes to Get Better?
Scott Sackett: [Not really.] People, for the most part, are doing what they perceive as correct.What I’ll do, especially in a golf school setting, is film everyone and then show them, or compare their swing to a video of a LPGA or PGA Tour player. Before the lesson even begins they are able to see what their swing should look like. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but they have to understand five or six key things before we get started. You have to understand where you are (the video shows us that), where you need to go (by looking at better players) and then how we get you there. That becomes our job.
TK: In every case, in the beginning we have to align a students’ perception of what’s actually going on with their golf swing. Here’s an analogy: you are standing in the middle of Tokyo with a map, you know where you want to go. You can seeyour destination on the map. You use your most positive mental attitude, you visualize your goal, you relax, you blah, blah, blah. Do all these things without knowing your starting point and your chances for success are nil.
That alignment of perceptual disparity (you think you’re here, but you’re really over there) is one of the first things we need to overcome.
Along those same lines, a trademark of a good educator, not just a golf teacher, is feeding the student information in a way they can take it in easily and organize it in a way the student can use it effectively.
SS: I agree. You have to touch on how they can physically take in the message. Here’s a great line from Jim Hardy [a GOLF Magazine top 100 instructor who co-founded the John Jacobs Golf Schools] talking about learning: “If you’re not getting better, either 1) you didn’t understand the information, 2) you understood the information, but you couldn’t do it or 3) you got wrong information.” Again, if you can paint a picture ofwhat the student is supposed to do, they’ll do it. It’s that simple.
Dave Barnes (plus handicapper and former AGA president): I couldn’t tell you what my swing position is and I don’t care. If I start getting into angles and planes in my head, I’ll go south quickly. I’m a feel player. So I have to have someone convey the information to me, with some direction, and put me in a position to do something that I can feel and that makes sense to me. I don’t process things like other people. I have to feel it. From experience and feel I can tell if my ball flight is high or low. Other players I know may need that information [to get better], but I don’t. If my timing or tempo is off a little, I struggle. I can work through it and there are times when I can manage my game well enough.
TK: We learned a couple of things from what Dave said. First, he has a holistic organizational structure, meaning that he puts things together as an overall, rather than a bunch of pieces. Second, he appears to have a strong bias toward internal kinesthetic triggers, meaning that he goes by a feeling he has in his muscles and joints. He says he is a feel player. (But at some level, everyone is a feel player. Golfers typically don’t see themselves move, they feel themselves move.)
Developing your swing is a matter of developing a better sense about how you move, and it is always done within a simple three-part model: trial, feedback, response. It always works that way. Good coaches and trainers fit these steps specifically to the client.
It works likes this: Trial is making the golf swing, feedback is getting some information about what you just did and responseis making an adjustment based on that information. You make a swing, look at the video to see what really happened, adjust and then the loop starts again.
Therefore, “feel players” are using training to develop better feel. Visual players are using training to develop better feel.We must listen carefully to the client, then present information to them in a way that fits their model—whether they are aware of that model or not.
Playing Well? Go Get A Lesson
SS: No one ever takes a golf lesson when they are playing well, which is wrong. Here’s the perfect example why you should: when Tom Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach, he called his instructor Sunday night, flew to Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami Monday morning and filmed everything he was doing because he felt it was nearly perfect. They took four green turf mats. Tom hit balls with a wedge, a 6-iron, a 3-wood and a driver. Then they cut holes out where his feet and ball position were in correlation to what he was doing.
Tom still has those mats in his garage. Great players, in my opinion, only get off track in ball position or alignment. If one of those things goes astray then the golf swing gets mechanically dysfunctional. So, if you’re playing well, that’s the time to go get a lesson. And nobody does that. You always have to have something to go back to.
Editor’s Note: We should all learn from Kite—remember what you do well!