Training vs “Instinct” in the Golf Swing

I wrote this in response to a former instructor, who likes to keep people from over-analyzing their swing, and getting lost in swing thoughts when they should be performing more instinctual actions. He’s right, but it is my considered belief that he has skipped a very important step…

As a former martial arts instructor, I’m all about training the specific details of a movement. Once they are ingrained, they are forgotten –which leaves you free to focus on avoiding the foot that is coming at you.

Believe me, there is no time for thought in a martial arts sparring session. You will react. The question is whether you will react with trained neural patterns, or native instinct, with possibly minimal training.

The history of martial endeavors displays the efficacy of trained neural patters, vs. “natural” instinct. (The Talent Code is a great book that explains how neural patterns work, and how they can be developed with slow-
motion “deep practice”.)

What makes most good athletes incapable of teaching is an internalized mastery that is no longer subject to analysis. They can perform admirably, but they can’t explain how it is they do so, and can’t teach anyone else for that reason. (But the people who taught them did the analysis, which is how they got so good.)

So there is analysis, useful for teaching, and “instinct” useful for performance. If you have both, you create master golfers all over the place. If you don’t, you wait for once-in-a-lifetime, one-in-a-million experts to arise, and hope they can explain what they’re doing.

I ran into a perfect example the other day at the billiard table. This fellow made a lot of shots, so I knew he was good. But he floored me when he shot the cue ball the length of the table to sink a straight-in shot, and not only stopped the cue ball so it didn’t follow the object ball into the hole, but he actually drew back the cue ball, the length of the table. (That is not just hard, it is almost impossibly, unbelievably difficult.)

Wow. I was impressed. So I asked him: How do you do that? His response: “Just practice.” Just practice, my eye! You could practice for 100 years, and never develop that shot. Unless you know what you’re trying to do, and then train those movements, it’s just never going to happen. (I believe the key to be precise
acceleration of the cue through the ball, so the two stay in contact. But I’m forced to guess…)

You’re trying to make the game “instinctual”, which is great. The difference between “instinct” and “analysis over the trigger” is the difference between Marine corps’ “instinctive shooting” of a BB gun from the hip, vs. setting
up and carefully looking down the sights. With sufficient feedback, that instinctive style of shooting can be mastered to the point they can shoot another BB out of the air!

That’s terrific, but after they brace the rifle at their hip, the movement has three degrees of freedom — rifle moves up/down, body twists left/right, and squeeze! That’s not to hard to master. Takes a fair amount of practice, but it can be done.

More importantly, those degrees of freedom do not depend on each other, in a coordinated, sequenced set of actions.

The golf swing has 19 degrees of freedom while you’re moving, and a set of more than a dozen additional variations before you even start moving. Those degrees of freedom all interact with each other, so most wind up with an entirely non-optimal series of compensations — and every time they try to fix one, nothing else works!

That’s the reason that most people have so many thoughts in their head when they swing: They don’t have a swing. They most certainly don’t have one they can trust.

Yeah, as a matter of philosophy, I am quite buzzed by the Tathata Golf program. It stands in stark contrast to the path I followed…

I started taking the game seriously in 2000, have spent more than $5,000 on instruction, and have spent hours
practicing. As of now, in 2017 my game is only now starting to show signs of life.

Last week, I shot 3 over par at Sunken Gardens (a par-3 short course with 2 par 4’s). Best score of my life, to date. (I only did so well, though, because I playing off a tee for 1/3 of the shots, and because most of those were medium-length. Have a ways to go before that kind of success translates to a full 18!)

At this point, I have begun to believe that, at last, someone actually has developed a sequenced program of instruction that identifies the movements that need to be performed, and trains you to perform those movements. I know from experience that the analysis will be forgotten when you perform the movements. And will only need to be recalled later, when you attempt to teach them.

In other words, I fully agree with you that “instinct” is the key to performance. But I also believe that analysis is required to identify an optimal sequence of movements, and to develop a way to train those neural patterns.

That’s what I’ve been working on. Most every golfer on the planet is doing that, too — either consciously or unconsciously — because they’re not getting the kind of detailed movement-training that lets them forget about analysis, and focus instead on following along as they train, and then later acting instinctively as they play.

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