Golf..... shot accuracy.... do the gurus have it wrong?
During my period of practise in 2015 I noticed something that I thought was important.
In the early months it was very difficult to get any sort of consistency in ball striking. I expected that anyway after so many years away from the game, but as the months progressed, it was easier and easier to make half decent contact, without thinking about it.
I could be preoccupied with swing keys, and still hit the ball.
At the time I thought this signified progress, and maybe it did. As the weeks continued though, I had lots of bad range sessions where I miss-hit so much. Later on, in the summer of that year, as my ball striking focus changed to the specifics of contact, I could recognise the differences between each approach, and recount the results.
What I discovered, might be interesting for the better player more than the high handicapper. The more accomplished the player is, the easier it is to make solid contact with the ball, irrespective of what the player is working on at the time.
If you look at the action of players such as Anika Sorenstam, David Duval, and more recently Jimmy Walker, their heads swivel left through the shot. There is a strong argument for saying that when a golfer gets to a certain level, the fact that contact becomes incidental.
The golfers action becomes ingrained, muscle memory and spatial awareness, take care of the depth and path of the club through the ball. I know this is true, from my own experience when I hit balls with my eyes shut. After I take the address position and set the club behind the ball, I can close my eyes and make a half decent pass at it.
Looking more closely though, every golfer alive including the ones mentioned above miss-hit golf shots, and all miss hits come from a, ‘depth of arc error’, and/or a ‘line through the ball error’, which misses the sweetspot.
So I find myself faced with a golfing conundrum.
On the face of it, it seems ok that the specifics of club-ball contact, can be relegated in priority, if the golfer is preoccupied with his overal action. (Automaticity: definition, is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice).
This still didn’t sit right, but I was mindful digging for more information in case I was just making a desperate attempt to validate my theory. That, ‘by not concentrating on the specifics of impact, a players overall striking abilities cant be developed to the full’.
But I pressed on to see if my instincts were valid, and I looked at it from a different perspective.
Is it possible to improve the overall accuracy of the shot by attending to the action alone? I think that the answer is yes, but with a caveat......... which is, only if there are no significant miss-hits. This brings me full circle, right back to where I was when I started.
Whichever perspective I can think of to look at this question from, I still comes up with the same answer....The only certain way to improve the accuracy of each shot, is when the conditions of impact are the priority.
Automaticity: definition, is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice
PGA Tour Shotlink Statistics dont lie
If I look at the PGA statistics for fairways hit and greens hit in regulation they tell their own story.
As I write this blog post (21st March 2018 through the Mastercard Arnold Palmer Invitational), it reveals the No.1 in the stats is Ken Duke with a Hit Fairways percentage of 73.21%. At No.51 on the list is Louis Oosthuizen at 61.98%.
Greens in regulation figures, for the same date show Kevin Streelman at No1 with 72.83%, and down at No.50 are Matt Kuchar and Ian Poulter tied with 68.06% each.
These stats show there are tons of room for improvement…. But I am not suggesting it would be easy. I don’t even know if its possible. One thing that is certain though is.....the most accurate golfers on the planet are missing their target between 27 & 32% of the time.
Taken on face value, it appears that the club face isn’t being managed as well as it could be…. along with the wind factor at the tournaments, making hitting their targets more difficult.
I am trying to come up with another parameter that can also affect the accuracy, but I am struggling to find anything major.
I guess things like any injuries a golfer has, would make an impact.
Also something psychological, such as if a golfer is certain to miss the cut, it might affect their performance….. but how does this tie in with the way the brain manages motor function?
Needle in a haystack
It seems a bit basic to use an obvious example like walking, but, we don’t have to make a conscious effort to place one foot in front of the other.
From the time we take our first steps, the motion is initiated by intention (the intentional plane). This applies to every motor function imaginable, from using a knife and fork, to piloting a fighter jet, once the motions are learnt, they are learnt.
However, this hugely efficiency mechanism is only concerned with basic functionality. The biologically learnt action of picking up a fork, doesn’t function effectively, if you aren’t looking at it.
On from that, what if you were searching for a needle in a haystack, you would use your sense of sight, and maybe touch as well.
You would also use your ability to be methodical, so you would search one section very carefully, in an effort not to miss the needle. Otherwise you would have to retrace your steps.
If the golfer relies on automaticity, he isn’t using his sight to guide him towards increasingly accurate contact, and therefore more accuracy in his shots.
The human mind/body functions have the ability to focus on activities other than the one we are engaged in. For better players this ability creates a problem..... unless the golfers priority during practise, is to be mindful of the path, depth & face direction at impact.
If contact was always the priority miss-hits would occur less often, and shot accuracy would increase.
'If contact was always the priority miss-hits would occur less often, and shot accuracy would increase'
The pro's error......guidance system
I cant do anything else but conclude that, clubface & ball contact shouldn’t be relegated to automatic, and its not because I am emotionally invested in that opinion.
Its the way our mind works.
Anything learnt, is filed for recall when needed, and the more often thee information is recalled, the stronger the neural pathway becomes. This includes memories, emotions or motions, and includes, the basic function of swinging a golf club.
The worlds top professional golfers maintain their ball striking by practice.... each player arrives at a standard, that they find nearly impossible to improve on. Some reach this point quickly, and others take longer.
Most top players had a golf club in their hand as soon as they could walk, where making contact with the ball was the only intention.
Pre-occupations that promote aspects of ‘the swing’ as the priority come later, with adult instruction, and/or intellectual knowledge. Competency in striking remains quite constant because its controlled by our motor function... but the work on the 'guidance system' decreases..
Automatic function directed by intention, can take the golfer a long way..........but
Anything learnt, is filed for recall when needed, and the more often the information is recalled, the stronger the neural pathway becomes.
Our body performs all the functions needed to keep us alive, the automaticity of our motor mechanism operates within a different layer, a layer below consciousness.
There is a BUT…….. even though motor function works independently during everyday tasks, rational thinking is dominant, and interferes with the way it operates.
This is easy to undertstand, breathing is automatic, but we can hold our breath if we choose to.
Maybe the complexity can be explained like this.
We can all write with our dominant hand, but ask the motor function to write with the other one, which is unfamiliar, and it has problems.
Then ask it to write the same sentence, with the left and the right hands at the same time, and the difficulty is increased again.
Finally ask each hand to write different sentences at the same time.
The complexity is so high, that only with long intensive practice, would our motor skills be able to perform satisfactorily.
Electricity and water
So we arrive back at the golfers action.
When we start to play, we are asking the motor function to make contact with the ball. When someone first picks up a club, looks down and sees the small ball, hitting it appears difficult.
As we progress, we want this contact to be more consistent, then when contact is a bit better we add in a target.
Further along as the weeks, months and years continue we theorise that to improve even more, we need our body to function in a certain way. So we begin to emphasise different parts of the action (swing keys).
This progression will be familiar to any golfer who has tried something new in their swing, and seen their ball striking deteriorate, at least for a time.
Some never recover their previous skills.
Our conscious/reasoning/intellect is a separate mechanism to the motor function. In the way that electricity and plumbing work on different systems, and in different ways in your home.
It the human biology, different mechanisms perform specific functions, yet, they are still interconnected.
In the home electricity and water are connected, we do need to flick the switch to fire the central heating, or to boil a kettle, but neither can do the others job.
100 year old knowledge
So our conscious/reasoning/intellect cant be relied on to supply information that supports the best motor function, and we use it all the time.
Ideally, our rationale should only supply the intention, then allow the other system do what it does best.
This knowledge is almost 100 years old. The psychologist George Humphrey referred to this parable in his 1923 book....
The story of man's mind: "No man skilled at a trade needs to put his constant attention on the routine work," he wrote. "If he does, the job is apt to be spoiled."
The golfer is diluting the motor functions efficiency with rational thought.
The psychologist George Humphrey referred to this parable in his 1923 book.... The story of man's mind:. No man skilled at a trade needs to put his constant attention on the routine work," he wrote. "If he does, the job is apt to be spoiled
This can be hard to get your head around.
When is conscious reasoning, direction and opinion in the golfers action relevant? The real answer is seldom ........when the mode that operates it (the motor function) governs the action.
The responsibility of intellect, is to provide the intention only.
When you learn something from a book, and try to recall a fact from it when asked, you dont have to consciously instruct your memory, to go down the hall to the 3rd door on the left, open the filing cabinet, and look under the letter 'M'. The task is completed by intention.
How does this relate to improving your golf?
If you truly understand that what you have learnt, has been automatically filed for recall (picking up the club and swinging it), improvement occurs when you tweak the intention, then and practise that tweak again and again.
This way you find out just how much aptitude you hjave for golf, or any motor task for that matter. You start with a base intention (hit the ball), then you tweak the intention, (hit with an open face) and you tweak the intention again (angle of attack).
Intentions are then tweaked with finer and finer intentions as skill allows. As fine as making contact with a particular dimple on the ball with a certain groove, or even smaller than that by trying to create smaller and smaller degrees of spin or line.
I cant tell you what the limits are.... and I dont think anybody can.