To be a scratch golfer (one who plays at par)
you must hit over 365,000 balls by the time you are 30.
That's 50 balls a day for 20 years. To have a single digit
you must hit over 182,500 balls by age 30. That's 25 balls a day for 20 years.
These numbers are my estimates based on observation and interviews.
If the issue was ever studied formally, the actual numbers might be higher
or lower, with some variation depending on the golfer's own innate ability
and talent. But I have no doubt the numbers are 'in the ball park' and
reflect what's really needed to become a top player. How many balls have
you hit in your lifetime? If you are a hacker, probably no more
than 10,000. Do you practice a lot? Then maybe you've hit 20, perhaps even
30 thousand golf balls in your lifetime.
20 to 30 thousand golf shots
may sound like a large number, but if you've been playing 10 years, 30,000
only comes out to 58 golf balls a week, not enough to play 18 holes a week,
or to groove any good swing during practice (and chances are most hackers have
hit far fewer). Considering the numbers that top golfers have hit to get where
they are, why should you be any better than you are? Golf's a hard game, and
you haven't dented the surface. Where do you come off thinking you could
(or should) be better than you are?
You didn't start young? You don't play a lot? They why do you think you can get
good at this game? It's like music. It's not easy. The problem with us hackers is that,
because we occasionally hit a great shot, we sometimes think that with just
the right maneuver the shot can be repeated, and our game will soar. It
will not. It's like music. We will never play like the pros or
the top amateurs, ever. But we can improve in three important ways --
and thus escape hackerdom.
First, we can develop an understanding of
the swing, i.e., of what it takes to hit the golf ball (including those important
things before you take the club back, like stance, alignment and posture).
Second, we can learn about playing the game: things like how to choose the
right club for a given shot, course management, basic golf rules, and golf etiquette.
Third, we can determine a true handicap, which
is nothing more than an honest numerical assessment of our level of skill. If the scores
that go into determining one's handicap are kept by stroke category, you can easily dtermine
what parts of the game need improvement the most (e.g., the full swing, the short game, putting).
Understand that the top golfers were not "taught" to play golf the way you are most likely trying
to learn. It is safe to say that no top golfer ever learned the game from books or videos.
They played first, learned how to hit the ball by observation and imitation and repetition.
When, by virtue of lots of ball striking and playing -- and some talent --
they became top golfers, their methods were analyzed so others could learn from them.
But note the fundamental difference between them and us:
Top golfers learned first and analyzed afterwards. Paradoxically,
all books and magazines and videos aimed at weekend golfers take the
opposite tack: they want you to study the movements first, hoping
you will then learn afterwards. Of course, this process is antithetical
to the way all top golfers learned to play the game. Golf is taught
opposite the way top golfers learn to play.
But what else can modern instruction offer today's struggling adults?
Instructors can't very well say:
"Mr. Jones, quit your day job, move to a golf course, hit 500 balls a day, copy what
the good golfers around you do, play 5 times a week, then come back to me and we'll
discuss your game." So instead, instructors (in all media) tell you or show
you what top golfers do to hit the ball well in most situations, and assume that
you will learn from this information.
I do not denigrate all the analysis. Unless you have unlimited time to learn the
way the pros did (unlimited playing
time with constant coaching by a pro/mentor/parent), you will do well to study
the swing by reading books or viewing videos. For all good players, certain body
positions and movements - of the head, neck, torso, arms, etc. - seem to accomplish
the purpose of the swing most efficiently and repeatedly. Top golfers have been
studied over the years and their movements and positions described and categorized
into "fundamentals" of the golf swing. (About which there are numerous books --
See Golf Bibliography.)
If you peruse instructional books and videos you will quickly realize there are
infinite variations to the good golf swing. Within the variations, is there enough
consistency to crown a single "proper method" of swinging the club? Without doubt
the answer is a resounding NO. The only thing important is that the club head contact
the ball the way you want it to, generally square to the ball (more about his later).
How one gets the club head square to the ball with the right amount of speed is as
highly variable as are fingerprints!
Now here's the rub. Instructional books are generic. They are written for a
mass audience, and therefore set forth a general set of movements for the swing.
The swing is something like this for right-handed golfers:
Bring the club back straight, raising it while keeping the left arm fairly straight.
At the top of the back swing the club head should point to the target.
On the downswing the path should be inside a line running through the ball to
the intended target line. After striking the ball, follow through with the club head
remaining inside the target line. Your weight should shift from the right foot on the
back swing to the left foot on the follow through. At each point of the swing there are
certain desired positions for your head, your back, your elbows, hips and feet.
Your grip on the club is crucial to execution. And last but not least, the ball
must be properly positioned between your feet.
So much so, that you really cannot learn swing fundamentals from a book or video.
You will need a pro or someone with a pro's experience to show you how to swing the
club. Books and videos can be helpful to reinforce certain points, to give you ideas,
and to solidify your concept of what you are doing, but that's as far as they go.
Here's an analogy. You show your kids how to ride a bike. It's easier than golf,
certainly. You probably learned using training wheels, then without training
wheels on the driveway. The goal is to push on the pedals to turn the wheels to get
from point A to point B, without falling down. Now imagine if you had to teach riding
a bike with the following set of rules:
With the right pedal
up and the left pedal down, and while sitting on the bike seat, flex your right leg to
form an acute angle, with the knee joint at approximately 35 degrees. Keep you left
leg on the left pedal, extended as fully as your height will allow. Apply downward
force with your right foot so the pedal descends smartly. The bike will start to move.
As the nadir of the right pedal is reached with your right foot extended, your left leg
will rise and flex to to 35 degrees. Repeat the process, initiating downward pressure
with your left leg. During these leg cycles, keep both hands firmly on the handlebars,
leaning slightly forward and with your weight in the middle axis of the bike, so as not
to fall to one side or the other.
Ridiculous, isn't it? Who learns to ride a bike with those instructions?
Well, something similar happens in trying to teach the golf swing. "Keep your
left arm extended, head straight, etc. etc."
That's not the way to do
it. First, learn what the swing is for. Then study the swing. It may be true that
"The swing's the thing," as is popularly taught, but it's not anything if you don't know what
it's for. First understand its purpose, then let your teacher show you how to do it and/or
how to improve it.
In fairness, one can learn to ride a bike in an afternoon, whereas
learning to play golf is a lifetime's work. But you get the point. The pros didn't
learn to play golf by studying the swing. They learned by doing, and refined their
game over the years. While doing, each future pro had a mentor or parent or someone
to emulate, to guide them, it show mistakes and how to correct them. The process of learning took time,
but when you start at 8, 9 or 10 what's five to ten years? Most hackers start
golf too late -- way too late. They don't have the early formative years to spend on the
golf course, emulating others and, through trial and error, develop the repeatable swing.
That is why, as an adult hacker, you must - repeat, must - study the game, and by that
I mean both "the swing" and the short game, including putting. You must understand what
the swing is for, and you must realize the importance of the short game for scoring.
Once you understand these things, the correct body positions and movements can be taught/refined
by your teacher, and you will gain them through practice.
How you study and practice will
be discussed in other Steps of this book.