Good news for golf teachers. Not so much the golf mags…

Thought for the Day
Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly

These hard winter months are always a tough time for us golfers. Many, of course, put the clubs away some time in October and don’t fetch them back from the garage or attic until March or April. The rest of us check the weather forecast and anxiously look out of the window and, if it’s not actually snowing, layer up with as many clothes as possible that will still allow us to swing a club. But there are many days when even the most diehard enthusiasts realize it’s impossible to play so we then scratch around for another fix.

This is often the time when we turn, in hope more than expectation, to the instruction book we were given for Christmas, or the pile of golf magazines we’ve been meaning to study, on the assumption that if we can’t actually play then we might at least improve our game from reading the enlightening words of Tiger, or Tom Watson or whichever guru has written a particular tome or article. I have bad news – you’re not going to learn how to play the game, or significantly improve, from the pages of a book or Golf World.


At this point I should confess to the charge of hypocrisy because for many years I worked on golf magazines that always filled many pages with instruction articles from the great and the good, using the words of a pro golfer, knocked into shape for publication by a journalist like myself. But this was simply responding to market forces. There are two basic tenets of journalism that are learned very early in your career and these are: Know your readers; and give them what they want, not what you think they need. If you do not learn these lessons both your career, and the life of the publication that employs you, will be short.

All magazines regularly undertake surveys and sampling during which they ask readers what they want to read about. And in golf, the word ‘instruction’ if not number one will always be in the top three for the simple reason that we all strive to improve. So you get perhaps a three page swing sequence of Tiger Woods, for example, showing his body position at every point of his swing. This will not help you one iota. For one thing, you can see his swing in real time in moving pictures whenever you watch him on TV. Second, none of us know what our own swing looks like. On the rare occasions when I have had my own swing videotaped I have been appalled at what I saw. The free-flowing, classic rhythmical and balanced thing of beauty that I feel, is translated into a lurch-back-and-sway-before-dipping monstrosity of uncoordinated ugliness.


The first time it happened I genuinely questioned whether the ungainly marionette on screen really was me. You can see demonstrations all the time of golfers not knowing what they look like when they swing to the top and then look over their shoulder to check the position of the club. As has been said before, this will tell you two things – how many hands you have and which one is wearing a glove. The act of turning your head to look, changes what it is you’re looking at. Don’t despair though because there is one strand of instruction that can help and this is usually called something like Quick Tips. These consist of single, simple thoughts that could be universally applied and they are the reason why Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, published in 1992, became the best-selling golf title of all time, it was full of them. So a simple thought, such as: ‘You can’t swing the club too slowly,’ or ‘Every putt is straight once you have picked the line’ will do immeasurably more than 1,000 words describing where your club should be at every stage of the swing.

It’s harsh, I know, and I apologise to my former colleagues still working in the golf magazine world for giving away a trade secret but someone has to say it. By all means continue to read but do not befuddle yourself with lengthy analyses of a golf swing, no matter how beautiful and effective that swing may be. If the way you wield a club is the problem, go see a PGA pro. You know it makes sense.

Quote of the week
To play well you must feel tranquil and at peace. I have never been troubled by nerves in golf because I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain
Harry Vardon

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