A reader e-mailed me the following question:
“Thanks for putting so much effort into your website and videos. Your passion for getting better at golf really shows. I really like your concept – a kinda one man’s journey to a single digit handicap. I think it resonates with many, many golfers around the world.
Along those lines, I wonder myself what is the best path to improvement? How do we identify the areas to concentrate on to make the most long term improvement? So much has been written about the golf swing- but so little I find about making progress.
It would be interesting to hear from your own progress over the last year what your experiences have been.
John’s question served as inspiration for me to really think hard about how to best answer him. It is the ultimate question any player should be asking all the time, “what is the best path to improvement?” and John points out that there isn’t much focus in the magazines on the journey of golf improvement that the player experiences and how to continue along a progressive road to betterment. Everything is focused on quick tips which have never proven to impact golfer’s level of skill.
A framework I developed in recent years to assist me in how to think about this process with the Golf Progress Pyramid, which involves the following four elements of performance:
The model is illustrated below:
The Golf Improvement Pyramid
All four elements are involved in every aspect of our golf, but different areas are critical for a player’s development at various levels of abilities. I see the physical element as the base because you can only do what your body is capable of doing. You then apply a technique with the physical capacity that you have developed. Next up the chain is the decisions you make as to how to apply the technique, and at the peak is the mental game, which I see as developing the capacity to bring out the best in your ability when it matters, and also having the attitude and mental approach to training and practice that allows for the improvement of the other three elements: your body, golf technique, and strategic thinking.
The irony of the pyramid structure that I have in mind is that in the long term, the pyramid is best built from the base up, with improvement layered on top of the level below. But in the short term, such as when you have a 175 yard shot over water with bunkers to the right of the green, the tip of the pyramid proves most influential on the outcome of the shot.
Why is Physical at the base of the pyramid? Because no matter how good my decision making is, if I’m unable to bend at the hips and establish rotary stability in my swing, I won’t be able to make the club do what I want and my choice of shot becomes irrelevant if I’m not hitting the golf ball solidly. Touring professionals have embraced golf fitness in recent years, in great part due to the work of Dr. Greg Rose and Dave Phillips at TPI. Golfers on the tour are playing for a lot of money so staying free of injury and improving their conditioning can really make a difference. But I don’t believe golf fitness is something that’s ‘for the pros’. I believe the opposite is true. The reality is that the mid handicapper has much more to gain from implementing a program that addresses physical limitations because he is very likely to have them.
To get back to John’s individual question, my answer would be that answer we all hate to hear:
My perception of the path to golf improvement is as not a mountain to be climbed but a series of gates to be unlocked. This is why some players get to scratch in two years and some spend forty years unable to break 100. Here is a common ‘locked gate’ that prevents progress in each of the four areas.
1. Physical: Hip and Upper back restriction
2. Technical: The lead wrist is bent, leading to a glancing blow on the golf ball
3. Strategy: Lack of Self-awareness of ability and of what equipment to use
4. Mental: Stuck thinking, ruled by fear
In my next post I will answer John’s last question about my own experiences during 2011, and the answer will be framed in relation to the golf progress pyramid.