Musings on Learning

A kind of serious post.

Since Christmas, I have hit about 5,000 golf balls at the local range. I know this because my wife gave me 100 tokens for Christmas and they represent 45 balls each. I already had about 22 tokens at the time.

I have taken four lessons thus far, in my return to golf after 10 year layoff. These lessons are with the professional at the course we play. I think he is a pretty good teacher, definitely better than others I have had in the distant past. He is positive in his approach and has not tried to tear down my swing and rebuild it his way. Instead, he has suggested relatively minor changes that required only thinking about one or two things. Not “At A1 the club should like this, and at A6 the club should like this, etc.” Rather it has been “Think about bringing the club back slowly like this” while pulling the club in the desired arc.

Generally I like learning things on my own. The number of times I heard as a teenager, from people of all ages, “You can’t learn to fix a car from a book!” is one of the great uncountable things. Actually, one can learn how to fix a car or do a great many things by reading. I was almost always willing to give it a try…in fact I still do. I learned how to brew beer by reading. I learned how to code by reading.

Things are easier now. The immensity of knowledge on Youtube provides seemingly limitless opportunities to learn even some of the most unlikely things.

There is a also a service for $39/month that allows one to submit videos of your golf swing and receive critiques and recommended drills. This is somewhat cheaper than lessons and certainly offers a lot of flexibility in scheduling. The sample analysis places your video against a video of a professional golfers with audio and notes about what to try and achieve and how to achieve it. Here’s the kicker: the monthly rate is for four (4) video uploads and video responses of one swing each. From what I have read in golf forums, there is an underlying belief or assumption that there is very little difference between a swing that produces a good result and one that produces a bad result and that a generally a player’s swing is pretty consistent. It takes time, intention, and effort to make a swing change. I think this is all true, it was just hard to embrace right away.

I’m a bit on the older side and I like more immediate feedback. I also have a bias towards wanting a larger sample of data used in decisionmaking. An onsite lesson means my instructor observes me hitting 40-60 balls. Yes, the ball flight and all that goes with it is the ultimate feedback, but I have always been slow learner of physical things. When I look at pictures of the proper grip, ball position, swing path, I tend to have more questions than comprehension. Another example is this: feet should be comfortable shoulder-width apart. Really? How comfortable? Should the outside edge of my shoes align vertically with my shoulders or should my instep? What if both are comfortable?

Sure I can pick a position and swing away and then try other positions, but if other things are still wrong, such as swing path, it is still going to be a mess. So, I tend to need a instructor face-to-face.

Tonight I was at the range. I watched one Bro give another Bro (kind of a Lumbersexual Bro) a lesson. It was a bit pathetic. The Bro giving the lesson didn’t really understand the golf swing. His youth and athleticism let him hit the ball reasonably well most of the time but it was pretty much all arms and shoulders. And that’s what he was teaching his Bro. I suggested that they video each other and talk through the swing differences because what was emerging was a really ugly swing. Really ugly.

There are lot of ways to learn. Common to all of those that work well is quality instruction, regardless of delivery mode.

A final note. In 20 years, there has been a sea-change in understanding the golf swing and how to teach it. There has also a complete change in thinking about what it really takes to win at golf.  Well,  should say there has been a change in these things for those open to learning. Golf is pretty conservative (and boy do I have to say about that some time) and so real change is still hard.