Andy Warhol probably wasn’t referring to golf when he said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself,” but he could have been.
“Golfers tend to expect to get better the longer they play, and when they don’t, they can’t figure out why,” says Robin All, a local golf pro with more than 50 years of experience under his belt. “In my opinion, players don’t improve because they continue to do things — usually swing — the same way. The only way they can improve is to force themselves to change. And that’s really hard.”
But it’s not impossible. Robin has learned through teaching and playing golf that those old habits of yours are more than likely what’s keeping your ball from going where you want it to go.
To help students truly understand why their shots have a tendency to zig when they should zag, zoom upward when they need to stay more grounded or simply not travel as far as they could, Robin has long employed a camera as one of his most useful teaching aids. “Problems can usually be traced back to the swing,” he explains. “Seeing yourself in an incorrect position makes it easier to adjust. I suspect it has to do with the fact that seeing is often believing: you may think there’s not something in your swing, but when it’s right there in front of you, it’s hard not to accept.”
Today, thanks to cell-phone cameras that shoot both stills and video, it’s easier than ever for golfers and their pros to pinpoint the source of problems. “Have a friend take photos or videos of you swinging and you’ll be amazed at what you see,” notes Robin, who also recommends taping as much of each golf lesson as you can, too, then playing it back so you can remember the details and see how you corrected your form. Then the hard part begins: practicing your newly-improved swing. “Practice makes permanent, and there’s no substitute,” says Robin. And while Robin believes that lessons are critical to improvements in golf, he readily admits that there are plenty of things golfers can do on their own, between lessons, to supplement and support what they’re learning.
“Problems can usually be traced back to the swing. Seeing yourself in an incorrect position makes it easier to adjust. I suspect it has to do with the fact that seeing is often believing: you may think there’s not something in your swing, but when it’s right there in front of you, it’s hard not to accept.”
Robin All, golf pro, on using video to help his clients improve their swings
First, though, be sure that you’ve got the right equipment. With so many variables — weight, length, lie and flex of the shaft — within each club, getting professionally fitted is a vital part of the process. Robin suggests buying better-quality used clubs rather than clubs that are new, but perhaps inferior, particularly if you’re new to the game. “As players improve, they need new clubs with different features,” he says. “Your third set of clubs is usually the one that works for the longest.”
To start your search, attend golf events and demo days at local golf shops and courses. “Company reps who know their clubs inside and out tend to show up at those events, and they’re good at matching players with the right clubs,” Robin notes. At larger events, you might even be able to test drive technological gizmos that will dissect every aspect of your swing, from the angle of the face at contact to club-head speed and beyond. “The more you know about your tendencies, the easier it will be to find the right club,” he says.
Once you’ve got a set of clubs, use them, particularly at the driving range, where you can hit ball after ball to get a feel for them, and on the putting green. If you can coerce a friend to take more pictures, all the better.
If you’re really looking to progress, or if you’re a brand-new golfer, Robin offers advice that might seem a bit unconventional: consider staying off the course for a while. “Putting it out there too soon and changing your focus from proper form to where the ball lands can keep you from really getting to the point where you truly trust your swing,” he explains.
There are plenty of things you can do at home, too. Thanks to the internet, you can find thousands of photos and videos of golfers from every era hitting every golf shot imaginable from nearly every angle. Looking at them, and noting the details, can help you visualize the tiny changes you can make. If you have photos of your swing in action, compare them to the pros. You might be surprised at what you find. Then head to the mirror and practice your swing, again and again, in slow motion. “Correct repetition really does help create good habits,” notes Robin. A weighted club, which will help build club awareness, flexibility and strength, is a good investment for this exercise, especially if you can find one with a training grip that will position your hands correctly. If that’s not in the budget, some golfers suggest using a broom since it offers a bit of resistance.
Kids love to play with the nearly weightless golf “wiffle” balls that come with toy clubs, but Robin thinks they’ve got a place for real golfers as well, since they offer a bit more reality than shadowing a swing. They can also get you outside with your kids. “If you’re playing well, the ball should just get in the way of a good swing,” says Robin. “Those lightweight balls can help you see if you’re on the right track.” He’s also had good luck with the more expensive variety that can read how they’ve been hit and do what a real ball would have done, only in about a tenth of the space.
This is also the time to develop a pre-shot routine, the first step toward turning your back on all the mistakes you’ve made in the past and concentrating on executing a picture-perfect swing. “If you find yourself becoming too ‘ball-bound,’ or fixed on the ball, and not the swing, think about blind golfers,” notes Robin.
“They actually exist, and some are quite good. They’re proof positive that having a correct swing is about the most important aspect of golf.”