One of the most common excuses for not getting better is “I haven’t got the time”. And although I don’t dig that (if you really wanted to get better, you would find time), I accept that people have busy lives and a couple of hours practice each week may not fit into your busy schedule. But don’t stress, I have the answer!
In my opinion, a coach’s observation of players whilst they are playing on the course is critical to their development. What football, tennis, cricket or rugby coach do you know that doesn’t watch their players ‘play’ the game? Now, logistically this isn’t easy for all golf coaches as course access is not always available, however within my coaching I am out on the course at the first opportunity.
Aside from the blatantly obvious fact that the demands of the golf course are much greater than a confined 2 x 2 driving range bay with a lovely flat lie on a nicely presented mat, I believe club golfers can gain huge amounts from strategy and decision making on the course. Let me give you 1 example of a recent conversation I had.
The winter muddy lie
Whilst chatting to a student a couple of months back, we were discussing the idea of muddy lies around the green (typical of an English winter). Here was the logic my student presented:-
“Now, that’s an awful lie. It’s really sat down on the mud so I need to use my lob wedge to get it in the air”
Ok, so although that might seem like a logical response (the ball is sat down, so you need to get it in the air), the realistic chances of sliding your lob wedge under a ball sat on a dry, muddy lie is very slim. There is more chance of grounding the club before the ball, as it digs into the mud, or alternatively in an effort to miss the mud, you will get a full blown thin! – and there goes your par chance and instead a bit fat double is on the card (at best!).
After explaining this to my student, we both decided that a lower lofted club would suit the situation much better. With this sort of club, it is easier to get the ball onto the clubface as you don’t have to precisely position the leading edge at the bottom the ball. Adding to this, we can often get a cleaner strike from the shallower angle of attack used with a lower lofted club (the club is not digging as much, aiding striking ability).
This is just ONE of the examples that has saved one of my students a significant amount of shots! But believe me, there are tons more….it really can be that easy at times!
STOP!!Now, I know you can often find these sort of lies when you are behind a bunker, almost forcing you into playing the higher shot. But first, I would assess the situation and see if you can in fact play around the bunker or accept that you cannot stop the shot close to the hole; the reality is that the percentage chance of playing the wonder flop shot is slim. I’m not saying you should NEVER attempt this shot but you must first assess the situation properly, and importantly understand that the wonder shot carries with it a smaller margin of error.
NOW, BACK TO THE COURSE
The main point for me regarding on course play is that from my experience I see a lot of club golfers making very poor decisions. As mentioned, I see this a lot around the greens in terms of club AND shot selection and this can literally cost players 5 or 6 shots a round! However, strategy from longer shots can also be poor. “Well, I could get there with 3 iron” is a classic. You could play 6 iron, wedge all day long….get that 3 iron out and you risk taking big numbers! Keeping the driver in the bag is another very important point as well- it’s not a case of just blasting driver everywhere. This games requires strategy!
ANOTHER REALLY IMPORTANT POINT FROM COACHING SCIENCE
As I touched on earlier, the course provides a way more extensive challenge than the range. We have so much more to take in and the conditions on the course can be highly variable. Within coaching science, there is something called Perception-Action Coupling. In short, this explains how we respond to perceptions and these responses can often be subconscious. In a golfing example, individuals often lean back as they perceive that they need to lift the ball into the air (maybe on a tough flop shot). Another classic in golf is when there is trouble down the right, for a right hander. As a ‘safety’ mechanism, a lot of golfers will tend to swing the clubhead more to the left, in an attempt to direct the ball away from the trouble. However, swinging the club to the left often results in a big out to in swing path, which is one of the main components of slice shots……so all that happens here is that the ball is sliced to the right and heads into trouble. And you thought swinging left would save you!
My point here is that on the range, we often do not have to deal with these ‘perception action couplings’ as we are hitting into a huge open field. So, your coach needs to see how you adapt to these on the course, and also advise you on what strategies you can use to stop the named problems! Furthermore, are you taking your swing changes on to the course? Or are you just resorting back to your comfort zone under the pressures of competition? These are important questions that you NEED answering but without the coach there, it’s very difficult to tell. And as far as game analysis, “I tell my coach what happened on the weekend round”, you say! Do you? Or is it just fabricated through your own bias?
I hope this article has helped you realise how important on course lessons are when trying to improve – not only can your coach guide you into better decision making and strategy but they get to see the REAL DEAL and what you are ACTUALLY doing! The funny thing is, I’m not sure golfers believe this hype and instead get more worried about changing techniques; the reality is that learning to ‘play’ the game can be as much if not more beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for changing techniques, but only when necessary!