Oct 4 / admin

The Best Path to Golf Improvement

A reader e-mailed me the following question:

Hi Nick,

“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:
1. Physical
2. Technical
3. Strategic
4. Mindset
The model is illustrated below:
The Golf Improvement Pyramid

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.

  • Rick Koscher

    Nick, if any of the major golf magazines get hold of your comments here, you just might be their new editor! What a great job you have done laying out for a layman’s approach to this great game. Too often the magic pixie dust is the point of most instruction. The truth is usually never told, like the newest greatest driver ads. Has anyone ever received a rebate from a golf equipment company on the driver they bought last year when they go to replace it with this year’s magic BAT? Publicly traded equipment manufactures have shareholder value as their focal point and your wallet. If you want to golf better, the prescription outline here couldn’t be more clear.

    Rick Koscher

  • Freestylebmxriding

    great blog, thanks for looking me up. I like your pyramid concept, I couldn’t agree more, You can’t perform a proper golf swing if your body can’t move in the proper ways to produce an efficient and repeatable swing.

  • http://twitter.com/golfprogress Nick Chertock

    Rick: I appreciate the comments, I’ll be adding much more detail to these general ideas in 2012 including a free eBook covering “The Golf Progress Pyramid”.  I’ll be posting a ton of golf fitness related videos as well.  Have a great New Year!

  • Paul Staley

    Is it a pyramid or a loop? Consider that Phil had to have Butch Harmon point out that his shoulders were tilting too much–the sort of mistake a lot of us lesser golfers make–and only after that bit of instruction was he ready to go out and dominate in Phoenix,

  • http://twitter.com/golfprogress Nick Chertock

    There’s a difference between long term development as a player and small tweaks of technique.  What the tour pros work on is so vastly different than what 20 handicappers are dealing with it’s hard to make the comparison.  The pyramid addresses what got Phil to an elite level.  He had the physical capacity to lay an amazing technique onto his gifts.  With those skills he can apply strategy which in Phil’s case is to go after every hole.  The peak of the pyramid for Phil involves being able to tap into his best at the key moments of his career like that shot on #13 with the 6 iron from the pine straw.    

    btw most golfers don’t tilt their shoulders away from the target ENOUGH and Phil was overdoing it.  The typical amateur has their rear shoulder coming in too high and around into impact.  Not to say all do that but that’s the common ‘over the top’ shoulder move.

  • http://twitter.com/golfprogress Nick Chertock

    I postponed the ebook as I’m finalizing a different publication called 3D golf.  But I did post a bunch of golf fitness stuff on my YouTube channel!