In over 40 years of playing, coaching and generally being around golf there’s one thing David and I are becoming quite concerned about.
Golf is becoming a more complicated and difficult game to learn and play.
The vast bulk of elite amateur golfers and professional golfers we talk to at Pro Tour Golf College are struggling to learn and make progress playing this great game to even a satisfactory level.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much money they have spent on equipment, or whether they've taken lessons from a top 100 teacher or celebrity instructor, the alarming fact is that many of these serious amateur golfers simply aren’t improving their game anywhere near the level they want.
So what do we think the main reason for this is? For the most part we believe it's how they are attempting to learn to improve at golf; actually to be more accurate, it’s how they are learning what NOT TO learn in golf.
That’s right, nearly all these golfers are learning how NOT TO have lower scores; or how NOT TO enjoy the game even more; or how NOT TO keep making steady progress; or how NOT TO make it more simpler rather than complex, and I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Yes most of these fine golfers we've observed seem to be great at learning how NOT TO get what they want from golf.
So do these golfers have a learning problem? Nope, they are all learning perfectly.
Let’s take a look at the definition of learning from Wikipedia and move forward from there.
"Learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.
So all these fine golfers are learning as per the definition above, but what we find too often is that they seem to be learning how NOT to get what they want from golf.
The simple fact is that you ARE learning; it's just that you are probably learning how to get what you don’t want from golf, most of the time...But don't despair, because there is another way...
Maybe it's time for you to try a different way of learning to make the progress you truly want, rather than continuing to follow the Western learning path you are currently on?
What You Can Learn from Eastern Martial Arts Training
Marital arts teach respect, discipline, hard work, sacrifice and humility. Students are never taught about the concept of failure as in they are in the West, instead they are taught that rather than failing you have simply not learned enough as yet. (Read that again)
Eastern learning is seen more as a cyclic development where the pursuit of improvement is a never ending journey along a pathway that has no limits. In contrast Western learning is seen as linear development where improvement has a goal (or multiple goals) and development stops or stalls when a goal is reached.
This is an important distinction to understand...
Is Science and Technology Making Golf Harder to Play or Easier?
Since the arrival of sports scientists onto the golf scene around 25 to 30 years ago, coupled more recently with technology such as Trackman and Flightscope, a lot of younger golf teachers and instructors are being influenced to teach golfers more by numbers and statistics generated from these machines than more traditional ways.
This is apparently based around Western scientific ideology that a more accurate, rigorous and scientific approach to teaching golf is the correct way (and some would say the only way) of interpreting the basic movements of a golfers swing.
There’s no doubt that some of the data generated from these machines can be helpful, especially if it interpreted in a useful way by golf instructors.
But the question that you might need to ask yourself is does this technology make you better? And is this technology really necessary? Does it make it easier for you to learn to play better?
Some would definitely say yes, whilst others would beg to differ.
Ultimately you need to decide which way you will go.
Sorry But The Western Way of Learning May Not Be the Best Way For You
Sadly in the West where these ancient values have been shared and taught successfully for more than 50 years they are now under threat with the arrival of the UFC and MMA, where many fighters are in the martial arts just for personal gain (money, fame, self-promotion, etc.)
They’re not so much traditional, philosophically influenced martial artists as they are technicians bent on winning fights. Source: http://www.blackbeltmag.com/category/chinese-martial-arts/
In the West (And it is starting to make its way into the East) we are starting to see a real change in the way golf is being taught where what essentially is a simple game to learn and play, is now becoming a complicated game to learn and play well.
The thing to keep in mind is that if you look back over the past 100 years it shows us that many golfers learned how to play golf successfully with much simpler approaches to learning and developing all aspects of their game from the tee to the green.
At every level in Martial Arts students learn how to learn and acquire basic movement skills through consistent application of the same movements which are practiced until they move from the “how to mind” to the “no mind.”
As they move through their grading’s (colored belts in most cases) they are taught humility by losing their ego which is seen as normal and natural. They also learn total acceptance of their outcomes good or bad.
They are also encouraged to allow their learning to naturally evolve rather than trying to force it to happen. This is seen as the best way to learn and improve skills.
These simple and humble learning values and their Chinese philosophical foundation originate mostly from Chan Buddhism, Taoism, Legalism and Confucianism.
Martial Arts has been taught throughout Asia this way successfully for many hundreds of years with literally millions of people learning, and any one following this learning path regardless of the style learned acquires their skills this way.
Is Old Time Golf Instruction Still Relevant?
It is no surprise that the most popular golf instruction book today (by a long way) is more than 50 years old. Ben Hogan’s Book “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” published in 1957 gives the golfer a very clear pathway for learning the full swing from beginning to end and has helped many golfers to learn and enjoy the game.
The Martial Arts students pathway is from one step (Basic movement) to another gathering knowledge and skill along the way, but interestingly they don't necessarily know what the next step in the process is. And that's OK for them.
When you think of Western golf instruction style do you think the student is being taught in a similar way to the way the Martial Arts student is taught?
I think you'll agree that what’s more likely to be seen in the West quite often is golf instruction that delivers a more fragmented and disorganized amalgamation of parts that many golfers can't make much sense of as to how the parts all fit together.
At least this is what we have been advised is the experience of many elite amateur and professional golfers we have talked to and also worked with--especially over the past few years.
The Get Back to Simple Learning Strategy
We have a very simple Eastern style learning strategy that we have used to help our students at Pro Tour Golf College to simplify their golf swing and make progress that we call the “get back to simple” strategy.
If you want to learn golf more effectively with a learning strategy based more on how basic Martial Arts techniques are taught then you might want to use this strategy which essentially breaks your whole stroke down into smaller and more manageable parts or chunks.
In other words your aim is to make your complicated 7 part golf swing much simpler to learn and develop by reducing it down to just 1 part.
So rather than trying to break your golf swing down into a multitude of parts and then attempt to fit them back together perfectly into a better whole (Western style), you develop your swing more like they do in Martial Arts by visualizing the whole of your stroke as you want it to be and then you reduce your golf stroke down to just one or possibly two parts that you practice and continually develop with your instructor.
At first this will seem difficult to do because you will feel like you need more parts in your model, so you will struggle initially to get you get your head around this new simple swing development strategy, but hang in there with it because you will quickly see the value in this simple cyclic learning strategy and how it can help you to make consistent progress with your game.
And you can do the same thing for any of your golf skills from putting to the full swing. Just break it down and precisely practice your movements with the goal of achieving the “no mind” level.
Make your golf stroke as simple as you can by simplifying what you do, and understand that you are never trying to perfect your golf stroke--you are simply learning and developing basic movements that make your golf swing stronger and more reliable with no end in sight for finishing the work.
Lawrie Montague and David Milne - Pro Tour Golf College
The Professional Golf Tour Training College