Paradigm Shift |ˈpɛrəˌdaɪm ʃɪft|

Noun:

A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.

In my almost 40 years of full time teaching experience, I have found that the major premises and theories (and their underlying assumptions) that comprise the accepted, orthodox modern golf instruction paradigm to be extremely suspect as to their scientific validity at best, and at worst, utterly false. If they are indeed false, then there must be a different answer – a different paradigm – that correctly explains how elite golfers — the tour and club pros and high level amateurs — develop their skill.

So how did I come to this realization? I’m going to tell you my story of how I went from starting golf as a 10 year old boy, becoming a reasonably skilled golfer (able to score consistently in the mid 70’s) though my teens and early 20’s, and then at age 22, starting my career in golf instruction.

My dad made my first set of clubs from one of his old sets. He removed the old grips and cut down the shafts, leaving them extra long (and therefore heavy) knowing that I would grow into them. Regripped with some smaller sized junior grips, my new/old set was ready for my start in golf.

I don’t remember it but I’m sure that I received the usual advice that most new golfers get: “Keep your head still, knees bent, your left arm straight, and make sure to keep your eye on the ball.” The advice that I do remember was to “Make a nice, easy swing.” Now keep in mind that as a 10-year-old, it is very likely that I was not really paying attention, enabling me to focus instinctively on the self evident task: Swing the stick. Strike the ball. Send it that-a-way.

Like my father, my body type is tall and slender and when I was a young boy, I was basically a skeleton with skin. Because I was using cut down adult clubs that were extra long for me instead of properly sized junior clubs, the clubhead felt like a sledgehammer weight swinging around me. My scrawny little 10 year old arms could barely swing the club up over my shoulder on the back swing and then, as the club basically swung itself on the forward swing, I just tried to hang on for dear life while trying not to fall over.

I didn’t know it at the time but this sensory awareness of the clubhead and its path as it swung around me enabled me to instinctively develop the hand eye coordination skill to become proficient at precise, center face contact. I wasn’t thinking about “keeping my head still” or any of the other clichéd bits of ‘folklore wisdom’ golf instruction. I was just trying to get this clubhead weight that was swinging around me to pass through where the ball was sitting on the ground.

Fast forward about 15 years and I’m just starting out as a part-time golf instructor. The indoor golf school that I was working at initially hired me to help with the club repair and component custom club building aspect of their business. This was the mid-1980s when golf was really booming and the three Allred brothers who owned Allred’s Golf School couldn’t keep up with the demand for golf lessons. So they had me observe lessons for a week or two to “train” me and then I was thrown off the deep end, so to speak, and began giving golf lessons.

We had an eight lesson package that would consist of lessons on the mechanics of the full swing — grip, posture, alignment, and in-swing mechanics like shoulder turn, weight shift, wrist position, and so on — with a few short game lessons as well to give students a basic understanding of both the long and short shots necessary to play the game.

I would start off in the first lesson with the basics of grip, posture, and alignment. The next two or three lessons would be a step by step, detailed outline of the mechanical movements necessary to swing the club: The shoulder turn, extended target side arm, the ‘correct’ wrist position at the top of the swing, the sequence of movements to start the forward swing, the ‘lag,’ the weight shift, ‘turning through the ball,’ etc., etc. Apart from the interruptions of a few short game lessons, my “this is how all of your various body parts must move to swing a golf club” instruction would continue unabated until the end of the lesson series.

This went on for several weeks until I had a transformational experience with a 50-something woman and her adult daughter, both brand new beginners. Near the end of our lesson series, and after filling their heads with dozens of mechanical details about the swing, the older woman would prepare to swing and then she would freeze over the ball… She just turned into a living statue. While in her state of suspended animation prior to swinging, her eyes would scan back and forth searchingly. She remained motionless for what seemed to be at least a minute and a half before she would finally take the club back to start her stuttering, halting ‘swing.’

So eventually I decided to ask her why she was taking so long to start her swing. Her answer changed my life as a golf instructor:

“I’m trying to remember all those things you told me.”

She was trying to consciously direct all of the mechanical moves that I had shown her over the previous several weeks. In 20/20 hindsight, I now see why she was taking so long to start her swing but as a young green instructor, I didn’t know what was going on in her mind until I asked her. Most of these mechancial movements in my swing that I was teaching her… they did actually occur during my swing. But I could never recall having to consciously think about them in my own swing… they just happened on their own without my conscious direction or awareness!

I went home that night thinking, “I think I know what I’m doing as a golf instructor but do I really know what I’m doing?”

Fortunately, I was still building and repairing clubs as well as teaching which gave me a chance to listen in on my mentor Vance Allred while he gave lessons in the main teaching studio just a couple of 8 foot partition walls removed from the club repair shop. (Allred’s Golf School operated in a downtown Calgary basement warehouse with 10 foot ceilings divided into various rooms with 8 foot partition walls.)

As I listened to Vance teaching, I heard things about the golf swing that I had never heard before. “Golf is a hand-eye coordination raquet sport… See the strings?” he would say as he raked his fingernails across the scoring lines on the clubface. “The purpose of the golf swing is to generate as much speed as possible. Once it starts, it gets faster and faster until reaching its greatest speed at impact.” This completely contradicted the idea of a “nice easy swing” and the “slow down your swing” advice that golfers are constantly admonished with when they attempt to create some distance on their shots.

What was most intriguing to me was the way in which Vance would introduce his concept of the swing to his students. He would listen patiently as the student described his or her particular “swing faults…” “I don’t turn my shoulders enough.” “My left arm is bent at impact.” “My hips don’t turn fast enough on the down swing.” After this listing of particular body movement swing faults, Vance would deadpan, “Actually, you don’t have a golf swing.” He would go on to explain: “You are describing what you perceive to be ‘swing flaws’ but these are just body movements that occur during the swing. A golf swing is where you create centrifugal force through clubhead speed and then you allow that force to hit the ball.”

Over the next several months in my first year as a golf instructor, I began to incorporate Vance’s concepts into my own teaching. As I gained more experience, I found that over emphasizing clubhead speed, resulted in many of my students developing swings that were full of tension as they tried to use muscular exertion to create speed. Their swings also lacked a natural flow and rhythm, often with an overly fast back swing and an abrupt change of direction from backswing to forward swing.

I eventually decided upon three characteristics that all highly skilled golfers incorporate into their swings: They swing freely, without any restricting tension. They swing fluidy, with a naturally paced back swing and a smooth transition from back swing to forward swing. They swing fast on the foward swing, as they smoothly and aggressively accelerate the clubhead, building to a peak of speed through impact. Thus, the ‘3 F’s’ were born: Freely, Fluidly, and Fast (through impact). This became my definition of a golf swing.

And so, like my mentor Vance, in my first lesson with new students, I would listen to their ideas about what they thought was wrong with their ‘golf swing,’ which was inevitably a description of what they thought was their allegedly faulty swing mechanics. Once they were finished, like Vance I would then deadpan, “Actually, you don’t have a golf swing.” Then I would explain the three F’s and point out how their swing was lacking one, two, or all three of these critical characteristics that define a golf swing and therefore, what they were doing could not be classified as a ‘golf swing.’

As time passed, I found a small minority of my students were not happy with my contention that they did not possess a golf swing at all. Their displeasure was communicated to me with facial expressions, body language, or even sometimes verbally. After all, they had put a lot of work into improving the mechanical movements of their ‘swing,’ thinking that they were on the right track to improvement. So eventually I came up with a way of softening the blow: Instead of saying, “You don’t have a golf swing…,” I began to say, “You don’t have a real golf swing.” Hence, the name Real Swing Golf was born.

I began my golf instruction career with the prevailing modern golf instruction paradigm as my guiding philosophy. This paradigm could be summarized as follows:

“Elite golfers develop the skill that they display because they are moving their bodies through a series of complex movements and positions that they have burned into ‘muscle memory’ through countless hours of practice. They then execute these movements on the golf course by way of conscious bio-mechanical ‘swing thoughts.’ If they are done in a ‘bio-mechanically correct’ fashion, these movements and positions create the proper movements of the clubhead with regard to its pacing and speed, swing path, angle of approach and face position at impact, thereby producing powerfully struck and directionally accurate shots.”

In short, “The bio-mechanical movements of the body create the swinging of the club.”

This premise has golf instructors and their students believing that they must focus almost exclusively on the body and its biomechanical movement and technique, with the presumption that the movements of the clubhead will automatically move correctly if the body moves correctly. The clubhead — the only thing that actually has any effect on the ball — essentially becomes an afterthought.

I didn’t make a choice to adopt this paradigm… it was just the way both average golfers and teaching professionals alike understood and talked about how the action of striking a golf ball worked. I simply followed along until that fateful day when that beginner student’s answer to my “Why are you taking so long to swing?” question created the catalyst to my life long quest to understand how and why really good golfers develop the skill that they possess.

And so armed with the idea of defining the golf swing by what the clubhead was doing and not the body, and the concept that the striking of the golf ball being an action of simple hand-eye coordination, I began to teach my students two key concepts: 1) How to create a real swing as defined by the ‘3 F’s’ and 2) to focus their full attention on sensing the weight of the clubhead swinging around them, trusting their innate human hand-eye coordination ability to use their body in whatever fashion was necessary to strike the ball accurately with the clubhead.

With my students’ minds focused on just these two simple ideas, remarkable things began to happen. Golfers of every skill level began to see immediate improvement in their first lesson. And strangely enough, the biomechanial movements — the shoulder turn, the weight shift, the follow through, etc… — began to occur naturally on their own, without the students’ being remotely aware of, or focused on these body oriented ideas.

For example, this brand new beginner — who up to that point in her life had never even held a golf club much less swung one — went from this…

to this…

…in just 1 hour!

All I told her was how to swing the clubhead freely, fluidly, and fast through impact on the forward swing, focus on the feeling of the weight of the clubhead swinging around her, and to try to get the clubhead to pass through the ball as accurately as possible. I didn’t teach her to turn her shoulders… I didn’t teach her to hinge her wrists on the back swing… I didn’t teach her to shift her weight… I didn’t teach her the correct ‘follow through’ position… And yet she was doing all these biomechanical details without any awareness of them!

As the years passed — with my students continuing to have success with my simple concepts — I became curious as to why they were able to improve their biomechanical technique without any awareness or knowledge of that technique. I wanted to know why their attentional focus of simply swinging the club with a real swing, focusing exclusively on the clubhead’s path and trying to strike the ball as precisely as possible — while basically ignoring all body oriented technique — was working so effectively.

I began to research how human beings learn and execute motor movement skills. Part of that research I found in the work of Dr. Gabriele Wulf, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and a leading expert on performance cue research. (A “performance cue” is the thought or attentional focus that an athlete uses to execute a sport motion.)

I also came across the work of Dr. Chris Riddoch, a retired research professor and avid golfer (began golfing at age four and was a scratch handicap by the age of 17). He obtained degrees in physical education and sports science, including a PhD in sports physiology. He has been a lecturer and research professor at four UK universities: Bath, Bristol, Middlesex and Queen’s (Belfast). During his career, he has published over 200 research articles on the science of sport and exercise.

For a more detailed look at their research, click here to learn more about the scientific basis of the Real Swing Golf Method®

As I reviewed their conclusions, I came to realize that the skills that I had developed as a young boy were the result of an inate, subconscious motor skill learning process that, in a nutshell, has the conscious mind focused on a simple intention — “hit the golf ball as far as possible in that direction” — and the subconscious mind takes care of the billions of motor movement calculations to execute that simple, conscious intention. I realized that throughout my learning process as a boy, and then as teenager, and then as a young adult, I had never once thought about the details of the bio-mechanical movements that my body did while I was simply focused on trying to make contact with the ball and send it in the direction of my target.

The Real Swing Golf Method® of golf instruction will help you tap into this innate motor skill learning process that is a part of every human being. I will help you understand and then employ this instinctive learning process that enabled virtually all higher level golfers to attain their ability to hit long, straight shots consistently.

And the greatest part of all? To quote a few of the 100’s of testimonials of the Real Swing Golf Method®…

You can have private lessons or semi-private lessons with Ron in person at The Back Nine in the Greater Phoenix area in Gilbert Arizona…

With Trackman technology powering The Back Nine’s 3 indoor golf simulators, you’ll see your results in real time with industry leading accuracy. Try just one 60 minute session with Ron and you will dramatically improve your golf swing in just that first hour!

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