The Over Thinkers

“I’ve got enough to think about without having to think about all that stuff… while trying not to think about anything.” 

You know who you are… but do you really? There are a lot of “over-thinkers” out there. Influential people that totally overthink this golf swing debate. It seems like everyone these days has an opinion on this. Well, here is mine.

First of all, let’s start at the top. Swing changes seem to be what I hear about the most on the PGA Tour. One of the oldest sayings among the best players in the world is “Dance with who brung ya”, which loosely translates to “let your body do what it’s doing”. I can see if you’re 156th on the money list. If all you have is a draw, I can see why you may want to work on a swing change in order to become a more complete player. Fair enough, your pay check depends on it… but then we must remember Tiger Woods.

TIGER WOODS went through a swing change…an overhaul. Now I agree, at this time, every year, his body is getting older. He has had to tighten things up and while he has, it has taken a little bit of time. However, he made it happen because he is an exceptional athlete. And then he did it again, and managed to do it again, and again…always using something he already had. Tiger was years ahead and the new generations of golfers had to catch up with him, rather than the other way around. When you start messing with what you naturally have, especially at that level, you’re taking a step backwards. In my opinion Tiger set the bar for others to meet, and would have continued to surprise these guys with a few “Tigeresque” outings, and win his share.

Setting a new standard in golf often requires the physicality of a younger body, in my opinion. To my knowledge, Jack Nicklaus didn’t change much about his game during his career but he set the bar that Tiger was after. I personally think Tiger can still continually win tournaments. He just has to be himself and naturally own it the way he has for decades instead of overthinking it and searching for new ways to win. As far as I know, Wayne Gretzky did not go through a skate change during his career. Instead, he set a bar through his entire career for others to follow the same way in which Tiger did in his early years. Gordie Howe also played well past his “prime” in the NHL without undergoing an overhaul in his game…so what’s the difference when it comes to golf? And why is it happening now?

I also think about how nobody tried to change Lee Trevino’s swing or his approach to the game. In fact, his approach was honed through thousands of hours that left him with blistered hands. It wasn’t done on a launch monitor in a lab. The same goes for Chi Chi, Calvin, Thorpe and many others. I feel like this whole process is getting too scientific and is less artful as a result. I’m not trying to say that all PGA stars overthink their golf swing. Notable golfers like Bubba Watson, John Daly, Jim Furyk among others have unique swings people talk about in the golf world but do not emulate.

Everybody’s swing is unique…and I mean everybody’s. It’s not the differences we should be talking about but the similarities. The similarities are what need to be applied when teaching the masses about how to achieve the right golf swing. It’s done by working on an organic skill set and not by a swing change or calculated tips.

In a previous article, I wrote about Arnold Palmer and how he was talking to a golf channel host about what players at different stages of the game should be working on. His answer for all four levels of player from a beginner to a professional was to understand and work on the basics. This is what you should be looking at when all else fails.

I get it. I have clients that believe that simple isn’t enough; even though it demonstrates that it works every time. These golfers believe that there must be more. Of course there is more! There is much more, but you just have to get there to find out. As you become more skillful from mastering the fundamentals, you will see your game improve to a point of consistency when you play. You then have the choice to devote the time and the effort to see how far you can take that – and that’s a whole other conversation. As long as you master the fundamental skills and their sequence, you can do a lot of things with the golf ball. It never happens the other way around.

I think the mainstream message today is based on the personal differences between the greatest players in the world. The only reason they have become the greatest players in the world is because of the tremendous effort that has been put into mastering the basic fundamentals of golf. They then took it from that point to create their own masterpiece – an artful way of swinging the club and playing that has set standards for the new generation.

This is what I believe: Teach the fundamentals well,  and let the student create their own game with this very sound base. I believe we as teachers have an obligation to take a look at the education model. I believe, and have also witnessed, that with increased attention to fundamentals, confidence levels rise and scores start to move in the right direction quickly.

I’m not saying that there is no need for the complicated scientific approach when it comes to changing a golf swing. I find it  interesting to see how there is a whole swing geek culture client base that has been built around this concept. Sorry, I just can’t get excited about it… I’ve got enough to think about without having to think about all that stuff… while trying not to think about anything.

The type of golfer I’m talking about needs to know how to stay still during the golf swing motion while repeating a sequence of 3 moves. That is all that needs to be accomplished in the golf swing. The rest is how your body puts it together as naturally and consistently as possible.

Then there’s Justin, and Jordan, and Sergio, and Ricky, and Rory – golfers who all possess monumentally beautiful golf swings that are extremely powerful and graceful at the same time. I’m really happy I got to witness this era in my life. I believe the golf swing has gotten as efficient as it can get and it’s becoming more athletic and precise…seemingly all in the quest for distance. They hit ridiculous distances, something the 95% of us will never see in our golfing lifetimes.

If you want to see how an efficient golf swing really works, watch the LPGA. These ladies put together technically perfect golf swings to produce incredible power and accuracy. It’s both impressive… and attainable. These ladies are incredible players that hit 7 irons from a reasonable distance and can shoot 26 under par over 4 rounds, of Championship golf… It’s truly impressive.

I have to close this discussion but the bottom line is: there will always be over-thinkers, there will always be someone with more technical data, but all of it is fruitless without sound fundamental skills as the base.

Let’s talk about that for awhile.


How to Attract People to Golf: It’s About Making a Connection

Having been involved with the game of golf for more than 30 years now, including 20 in a professional role, I think I finally understand what the unending lure of this game is. To non-golfers, golf seems like nothing more than chasing a little white ball around a field, which leads to the typical reactions of “what’s the point?” and “how boring must that be!” Now I understand that the game is not for everyone, but let me shed some light on why it is so important to us golfers.

Anyone who plays golf on a regular basis – and if you’re reading this post you’re probably one of them – understands it’s not just a game. It’s a lifestyle, a passion, and an itch that begs to be scratched.

Living in Canada causes you to truly miss the game for 6 months every year, which I think contributes greatly to the fanatical Canadian golf culture. If you’ve ever stood in a Pro-Shop in April and watched 4 guys tee off in temperatures 2 degrees above freezing you would understand what I mean… it’s not just a game.

An opportunity for peace of mind

We now live in a world of “hyper connectivity” with our phones, tablets, Bluetooth, texts, tweets, Facebook and instant messages; the problem is…these really are a false sense of connection. Outside of work, real connection with other humans in a (non-fleeting) manner is quite rare these days. When it comes to golf, the nature of the game allows us to connect with friends, new and old, family, colleagues, clients, or even ourselves. Sometimes there is nothing more soothing and mind-clearing than a solitary 9-hole walk in the evening – just you and your clubs.

Along with the inherent challenges golf gives us, it is my go-to activity for a combination of exercise, fresh air, connection with nature, mental and physical challenge, and 2 to 4 hours of uninterrupted connection with one or more like minded people – all in the guise of a game.

For the fun of it

Golf is “me” time for everyone that plays this game, save for the very few who are playing for a living. For the vast majority of us, the score is very secondary to the experience of the sights, sounds, smells, and personal connections we make. I can attest that whether I shoot 65 or 85 nothing in my life is going to change. However, the “Fun Factor” increases the better I play that day, and that’s why I put in some practice time when I can.  We all know that one great shot will bring us back, and leisure time should be fun. Invest in yourself, learn a skill set that will produce more “great shots,” and increase your fun factor. It will always lead to stronger and better connections in business, and in life.

Getting involved

So with all of the personal and business benefits of being involved in the game at some level, why does it appear to some that the game is stagnant?  For my entire life in golf I have been told by friends, local pros, and the golf media that golf was hard…extremely hard to learn to play, and  that in itself was an early deterrent to playing as a junior member at my local club.

The fact that kids (juniors) were not really welcome at the golf course but were tolerated as an inconvenience to the regular playing members, the pros unwillingness to spend any real quality time with the junior players, and the constant bombardment about how hard and frustrating this game is were obstacles I was not willing to try and overcome as a potential new golfer, and instead turned to Tennis as my summer sport of choice. That was in 1973…How have we grown golf as a business and a lifestyle since then?

Back in 1973, the only access to golf instruction was the local pro, or if your dad made you watch “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf,” a TV show pitting one great player of the day against another in a head to head contest. Each player would give a short tip and then showcase their talent. Then there was the gym teacher who couldn’t shoot 100, and even worse, friends who “thought “they knew something. Sure there were golf magazines and publications but it has been only the last few years with the internet and YouTube that the breakdown in the golf instructional industry has fully come to light.

In the history of the game, there has never been a standard of golf instruction that could be taught to the masses of players wanting to learn how to propel the ball downfield and get it into that little hole. Tennis has coaching standards, hockey has coaching standards, baseball has coaching standards – even swimming has coaching standards. Golf? Not so much.

Golf is the hardest game to learn as a child or an adultor is it?

Golf is a skill set, the same as any other sport or leisure activity. At the highest levels it is extremely difficult to perform under the pressures of anxiety and fear, but does that mean the basic skill set is too difficult for most people -in my 20 years of experience teaching golf lessons -absolutely not. The basic skill set needed to learn to play golf, to navigate a golf course with a golf ball or two is not rocket science, I believe anyone with a desire to learn to play, can learn (in a very short period of time) the basic skill set required to complete most golf shots, and I’ve seen it thousands of times. If a player then wishes to ascend in the ranks of competitive players, that skill set has to expand to include a repertoire of specialty shots and most likely mental training; and then there is the time commitment.

I believe the disconnect between the people who desire to play the game, and the people teaching the golf skill set is the real culprit in the stagnant growth of (what I believe) is the greatest game in the world; not for the potential of greatness as a player, but the connection with like minded people, playing a non-violent, friendship building, nature-based game that can be enjoyed for a lifetime, and is never the same twice.

I believe we have to look to the educators to find common ground, and deliver a consistent message that does not contradict, or compromise the trust factor between student and teacher.

The governing bodies of the game (the PGAs) of the world of which I have been a member of for 20 years have (in my opinion) dropped the ball on an educational model for the masses, and left it to individual members to piece together their own methods, leaving much to interpretation, and creating a host of contradictions.

It’s a new world, and change is not only inevitable, it’s here…and if this sport is to thrive and survive, the burden rests solely on the “new” education model for the sport…whatever that may be.

“A well hit golf shot is a feeling that goes up the shaft, right through your hands and into your heart.” ― Ben Hogan

Rob Bernard, Center of Gravity Golf

PGA of Canada.