I try to keep from getting dumberer by reading a lot. One of my preferred subject matters is behavioural psychology or the study of why we do what we do. I came across a great thought recently. The author was talking about our ability to get in the way of our natural learning process and pondered that is likely not a coincidence that we evolve to walk before we learn to understand how to take instruction. In this day with helicopter parents getting involved in every aspect of their child’s development it would take a decade for some kids to “figure out” how to put one foot in front of the other.

“Okay left foot forward, now lift your right knee and extend your lower leg, now same with left again. No, no, faster or you will fall. See, I told you you would fall. You have to listen and focus or you will never learn to walk like a Jones daughter.”

Then you would have a whole industry rise up around teaching your kid to be “the first on your block to walk.” “10 lessons for $765 (not incl. HST).” Obviously this would only cover walking on flat ground. “Going down the stairs packages can be found on my web site. Most of my students have mastered this by the end of high school.” Sounds a bit ridiculous, but this is what golf has turned into in some corridors. Many of the “new age” instructors think you need to teach birds to fly and explain to them the dynamics behind it.

“I also offer lessons on how to teach your puppy to bark and your kitten to be indifferent.”

I have been teaching the game of golf for 25 years to thousands of people over many thousands of hours. I have read and digested a hundred books and thousands of articles on the subject written over the course of 130 years. This has given me a very thorough understanding of the physics that take place in the golf swing and the relationship between the swing and how the ball gets to where it gets. If the instructor was the key ingredient to a player’s greatness, I would have as good a shot at producing them as any other coach out there. But we’re not. I have had my share of students win tournaments and have great success in golf and in life, but I would never promote this as a reason you should see me as the conduit to your child’s golf scholarship.

How many great players have Tiger’s or Rory’s or Jack’s original coaches developed? If you guessed more than one you are wrong. Virtually all of the “top” coaches in the game have acquired their star players well after they have had success at various levels through savvy marketing and self promotion. Some make these players better, some make them worse.

If the instructor was the key ingredient to a player’s greatness, I would have as good a shot at producing them as any other coach out there

The new breed of coaches are hoping for lightning to strike just once so they can use the success of one student, even at the simplest level, as a selling point to create more business (and maybe enable them to raise their fees) but rarely are they able to replicate the success of “the one.” They have children as young as five, eight, ten years old taking many hours of lessons costing thousands of dollars, often teaching things they would figure out on their own if given the time and freedom to play. For a point of reference look at major league baseball. There is enormous access to data on how to best swing a bat for effect, highly paid batting coaches and academies, and yet the batting averages aren’t any different than they were 75 years ago, when the players just “figured it out.”

This doesn’t mean they are all bad instructors or bad people (you’ve got to pay the bills, after all) but maybe just a little full of themselves. It takes a village to raise successful people. The instructor is one small cabin in that community.

There are very wide parameters of golf swings that will allow you to enjoy this game. There are great differences between the swings of those who play the game at the highest level. Playing well and being more consistent in this game is much more a belief in what you are doing than exactly how you are doing it. Babies learn to crawl before walking, walk before stumble-running, stumble-run before running more quickly, and find out sooner or later what their limitations are. They fall a lot during this process and sometimes bang their heads, cry, and get frustrated. Through effort and determination and some help from family, friends, and coaches, you can push your limits and reach your top speed, but that doesn’t mean you are going to win any races. So what. If the process was interesting, challenging, and of course fun, you have learned many things that you can use in many other aspects of the rest of your life.

Hitting a golf ball is physically not that complicated. You don’t have to be particularly coordinated. The precision involved in playing at the highest level is incredibly difficult, but most of the physical skills necessary to achieve this you are born with. You will likely need some guidance to help you become the best you can be but mostly to help clear the clutter from all the people interested in “helping” you. Unfortunately you didn’t learn to golf before you learned to communicate, so it takes a little longer to master than walking. 4

John Piccolo is a golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. You may email him at [email protected]