CHAPTER 2 – HOW TO LEARN
IMAGINE LEARNING TO SKI with 200cm boards and competition bindings on a double black diamond run. Would you advise any person wanting to learn to use a computer for the first time to begin with a Linux operating system?
Golf is no exception to the rule that you must learn to walk before you run. The very nature of wielding a long stick to strike a tiny ball accurately, with a desired trajectory and distance control, presents a unique set of challenges that are best assimilated gradually. What makes golf noticeably different from other sports is the fact that at impact you are facing at ninety degrees to the line of flight of the ball.
The single most important thing you can do to get on the right track for learning golf is to watch television. That’s right. Check your listings and watch tournament golf on television. Pay attention to everything the professionals do and how they do it. Watch how they putt then watch yourself in a mirror. Do you look like they do? Adjust yourself until you do. Learn to imitate what you see on television.
Some people adapt easily to the peculiarities of striking a golf ball and others find the experience to be intimidating to the point that they strike only air during their first efforts. This is called a whiff, when you swing at the ball and miss it completely. When keeping score, you must count a whiff as a stroke—as if you had actually hit the ball—much like a swing and a miss in baseball counts as a strike against you. A full explanation of the rules can be found in Chapter Nine and keeping score is detailed in Chapter Ten. Terms such as whiff and all other jargon unique to golf are organized alphabetically for you in Appendix I.
The old school of thinking held that the best way for learning golf was to go to a driving range and hit balls as far as you can and worry about control later. This advice was directed primarily at adolescents who, it was reasoned, will sink or swim like a youngster thrown into a swimming pool. It separated the curious from the talented and was a survival of the fittest mentality.
The equipment—being golf clubs and golf balls—in those days was primitive by today’s standards, which standards have become something of a moving target. Just as computer technology advances at a rapidly increasing rate, golf equipment has made similar advances. Many of these advances are the result of technological progress from the space program, which requires the discovery of new alloys and composites for minimum weight with maximum strength. A complete discussion of how these apply to golf equipment can be found in Chapter Four.
These new technological advances in golf equipment have made the game easier than ever to learn, just as oversize racquets have simplified making effective ball contact in tennis and racquetball. Thus, making effective contact and achieving one’s realistic distance objectives in golf are becoming more easily attainable every year.
After studying this book, especially Chapter Six, you will be ready to equip yourself and exercise your new knowledge. However, you may want to enlist the support of a qualified teacher to guide you. The guidance of an experienced instructor can reinforce that you are applying correctly the knowledge you have gained on these pages. Because it is not possible to see oneself and evaluate your own swing objectively, even the most talented professionals of the PGA Tours use instructors and coaches to keep their swings in tune.
You will find, as they have, that the use of a video camera is quite helpful, as is a full-length mirror. Video replays of your swing will help you establish a relationship between what you feel you are doing and what is actually happening. Then by reversing the process, by watching professional golfers on television, even recording them, you can compare your swing to theirs. You will learn by mimicking the experts. This is how children learn so quickly the intricacies of vital motor skills, by mimicking role models. The use of a long mirror is valuable in that it will allow you to check your stance, posture, ball position, and grip to conform to what you see of the professionals and of course in the illustrations in Chapter Six.
The options for getting instruction are to either schedule individual lessons or to sign up for group instruction. The group classes tend to be much less expensive, even free in some cases at municipal golf courses and at public driving ranges. The purpose of this kind of free offering is to stimulate interest that will in turn feed the revenues of the pro shop that sells the necessary equipment, and of the driving range facility.
In addition to being inexpensive, group instruction has the advantage of being a social experience and introduces you to the golf milieu in the relative security of a group. If you are more likely to prefer a group tour when you visit a foreign vacation area, a group introduction to golf might be more comfortable for you. If you decide to go the group route, try to attend a group that is small in size and be sure to enter the cycle at the first session so you are at the same level as the other people in your group. However, if you value your time and want to make maximum progress in minimum time and economic considerations do not restrict your options, private lessons are the way to go.
In either case, to the extent possible, try to find an instructor that most closely resembles your body type. This of course is not always possible but is an advantage to you when you can arrange it. The most important thing to look for in searching out an instructor, whether for group or individual instruction, is one who agrees to begin with you on the green where you learn to putt. To putt is to roll—stroke with a putter—a golf ball across a very smooth area of short grass—the green—which is usually more or less oval or kidney shaped. A green on a golf course has one hole—also called cup—with a flagstick and flag in it and the object is to putt a ball into the hole in as few strokes possible. A practice green typically has nine holes which allows nine or more persons to practice simultaneously.
THE CRITICAL PATH FOR LEARNING GOLF
1. PUTTING – Using a putter to stroke a ball on a green, the objective being to roll the ball into a hole.
2. CHIPPING – Using a putter and other clubs to chip a ball onto a green from short distances.
3. PITCHING – Using a lofted club to fly a ball onto a green from medium distances.
4. FAIRWAY – Using a variety of clubs to advance a ball to a green or close to it from medium to long distances.
5. TEE – Using a driver and other clubs for the first shot on a hole to position a ball for a second shot.
6. HAZARDS – Using a variety of clubs and techniques for playing from sand traps and other hazards.
Learning to putt before you do anything else on a golf course is learning to crawl before you walk or try to run. There are a number of reasons for this, but the physiological basis for it can be illustrated by the influence of length on eye-hand coordination, being that the farther you are from and object the more difficult it is to effect consistent contact. If I hand you a 12” ruler and a yardstick and ask you to hold one end of each, one at a time, and use the opposite end of each to reach toward a wall and flip on a light switch, which one would be easiest to use? The shorter the implement, the closer you are to your intended object and the easier it is to guide the implement to the object.
The putter is the shortest implement in the bag. A typical length for a woman’s putter is 34 inches and putters for men are usually 35.5 inches long. Compare this with the longest club in the bag, the driver, which is typically a foot longer than the putter. Chapter Four goes into detail on the equipment and explains all of the variables, but for the purposes of illustration in the context of the putter being the easiest golf club to learn to use, two other factors bear mentioning.
The putter club head has the widest hitting area—club face—of any golf club, relative to length, and this adds to the ease with which you will learn to make consistent contact with a golf ball. The fact that on the green with a putter your objective is to roll the ball means that it is unnecessary to make a big swing at the ball. Just as the shorter length club is easiest to control, the shorter length swing—or in putting called a stroke—is easiest to control.
The keys to getting a successful start in golf by making things easy has to do with building a history of little successes that accumulate into a foundation of confidence. You may hear people say that golf is difficult to learn, but if you pursue the issue you will nearly always hear these same people say that they began on the driving range trying to hit full shots. Typically, this means swinging too hard in a full swing with a driver trying to knock a ball into the next zip code.
When attempting to skip the putting stage by jumping straight to the full swing, all kinds of problems can occur. The integration of these problems into one’s golf swing is like gaining weight or getting a tattoo; they are a lot of trouble to undo. The adage of an ounce of prevention being highly preferable to a pound of cure surely applies to learning golf correctly.
Excerpted from Everything You Should Know Before You Play Golf by Davy Hoffman. Copyright© 2000 by Davy Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of the author, All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Davy Hoffman.