One of the most common refrains in teaching, “Feel is not real,” is a teacher’s way of breaking the bad news to a student, that despite their persistent efforts to coerce their limbs into a new order, they can look at the video of their swing—the way a radiologist looks at a mammogram— and not one bit of difference will be visible. Which seems impossible to the student, because they are with every bit of resolve they can muster telling their brain to send a message to the specific body part or parts to move this way or that, positive that every order is being followed, only to look at the video and see the same swing they were making before the orders were sent; it’s only then that one comes face to face with the reality, that what one feels in the golf swing is not what is actually happening.
This is not an affliction unique to poor golfers either; on the contrary, the most intelligent, dogmatic superstars who have ever played this game have made the most ludicrous of claims about their own swings. I say ludicrous, because video of their swings shows quite clearly that these superstars are not doing what they say they are doing; that they say is of paramount importance that YOU do. For instance, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus both maintained that swinging around a steady head was what they did, that “keeping your head still” was a fundamental even, and hugely important to playing great golf. Except that neither of them did this.
Ben Hogan wrote in “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” that one must restrict hip turn, and then turn the shoulders against that restriction to create tension or coil which in turn would give them power. Indeed one can argue ( as I have ) that the whole restricting of the hips movement that now pervades the Tour can be traced back to this “feeling” that Hogan had, that he wrote about and that then became gospel in the game. Except for one problem, Hogan did NOT restrict his hips. They turned an enormous amount.
To be clear, I am not saying that Palmer, Nicklaus and Hogan were purposely trying to deceive the rest of the golf world; what they were feeling was real enough to them. But the great golf shots they hit did not come about because they were actually doing the things they felt but perhaps because their own innate athletic ability was overriding those feels. The minutia was unknown to them, but it didn’t hurt their golf. Or did it?
This is what makes teaching so hard, because how can we learn from the best players, if they in fact are not doing what they say they are doing?
This is why I believe teaching golf has been so controversial over the years, because there has been so much confusion over what in fact the best players were actually doing. Of course with each technological breakthrough in cameras each generation has thought they found the secret. One hundred years ago, the innovative teacher Alex Morrison wrote that slow motion video had made it very clear to him etc… and his student Henry Picard taught Jack Grout who taught Jack Nicklaus, so something must have been clear to him. Or was it that great athletes simply found a way to hit great shots, regardless of the misinformation?
Recently cameras of a very high shutter speed have captured arms and hands, legs and feet and hips at full speed in the swing almost as if they were posed. Technological devices have allowed a forensic look at ballistic characteristics for every imaginable shot, obliterating previous thoughts about impact conditions. Pressure plates have allowed a precise tracing of the movement patterns unique to short, medium and long hitters, obliterating previous thoughts about where distance came from.
Are we, like Alex Morrison, of the false belief that our current technology has given us all the tools necessary to actually know what the best players are doing, or do we in fact have all of the necessary tools to know for sure? One never knows what they do not know. I do know, however, that there is a tidal wave of speed about to wash over golf unlike anything that has ever been seen and it is not because of better balls or better golf clubs, but because of a better understanding of how to move one’s body; of how to swing the club.
As I write this, there are 94 players averaging over 300 yards on the Web.com Tour, led by Cameron Champ, who is averaging 339 yards. This year’s Haskins award winner Norman Xiong, who at 19 made his pro debut at the U.S. Open, supposedly has a swing speed of 133 mph. When you consider that the line in the sand for distance improvements in balls and clubs was drawn more than 10 years ago, you see just how impactful the understanding of how one needs to move to create speed in the golf swing has been and is about to be, and perhaps for the first time in history, players are beginning to match up their feels with what they are actually doing.