Are the Principles We Were Taught Accurate or Myths?
We all heard the same things as child golfers, whether from one person or another. Some were teachers, some were older children. These days, I’m not sure that those axioms were in every way correct. My guess is that they carried a nugget of good advice, but were partly based in “symptomatic teaching,” to get a good general response out of us. I feel certain that our formative golf years were at least in part myths.
The most common was “Keep your head down.” A typical response to a disappointing shot was “I looked up.” Are we so sure that’s what we did? Probably not. Pros have studied everything the body does to produce a topped or whiffed shot, and I doubt it starts with the head. That’s probably just a way to suppress other things that want to jump up at the wrong time. The times in which I tried to keep my head down produced a depressing experience, and not in the emotional sense. My entire swing was tied up in a straight jacket. If someone had only stopped at “Don’t worry where it goes for right now. just swing through calmly a few times,” I might not have made such an obsessive mess of the old belief.
Next comes “Keep your left arm straight.” I am still convinced that there is wisdom in such advice, but it parallels the admonition to avoid tearing the tag off a new mattress. Let your left arm bend, and the ‘left arm’ police’ will come flooding out from the bushes. So much golf advice is based on an attempt to create a stable shape out of the pliable tissue of the human body. The only thing we have to work with that acts solidly enough is bone, and even those swim in a pool of joint lubrication – hard to do. So, is such instruction part of the general book of golfing myths, or is it 100% true? I suspect it’s somewhere in the middle. Pros don’t live and die by “the hands, arms, and swing have to be such and such a way, all the time.” They have a varied answer for every situation, and I suspect that a left arm less than straight is not completely off the table.
“I can’t use my driver today because I’m over-swinging.” That often comes from watching our favorite pros on the weekends, and installing our next private myth. “But they make it look so easy! Look at how slow they’re swinging! Why can’t I do that?” Of the leading myths of weekend golf, this may be the ‘mythiest’ of all. Do we have any idea the degree of club head speed that is being generated in those 350 yard drives? Making it look easy might fool a lot of us, but we can be pretty sure they’re swinging hard, far harder than we are. Can anyone imagine Tiger Woods say “I’ll back off ten or twenty yards, then get-em with long irons?” The ancient Greeks couldn’t spin myths like that? The difference between pros and the rest of us all take place at the impact with the ball. The ways in which they get there at such tremendous velocity and good alignment – well, that’s another story.
How about this one? “I’ll diminish the break with speed.” Older golfers remember Arnie charging those putts, going right at it. We forget that he often went four or five feet by. That’s doable for a pro, but a great big character-builder for the rest of us. One of the traps I fell into was irons off the tee to stay in the fairway. Even with a one-iron, which I learned to hit fairly well, I lost yards, and still had to hit another long iron or a fairway wood. The second shot put me in the same jeopardy I avoided on the tee. I finally decided that i’ts going to get me somewhere, so I might just as well learn to hit a better driver. And don’t boom three hundred balls away every day. The pros are thinking about important things on the range while most of us are not.
For a pro, being off the fairway isn’t always such a big deal. On Pebble Beach or the Serengeti Golf Club, it’s catastrophic, but for the normal green northern courses, only sitting behind a tree is a problem. Water is a no-no, but even bunkers aren’t impossible to deal with. Get that distance, they tell us. Deal with the inconveniences of rough when you come to it. The myths of fairways in regulation can take a back seat sometimes. in contrast, going for the pin all the time in the moderate to short game can put us in deep trouble. Overall, I suspect that pros view the real estate as opportunity, while we spot all the potential trouble right off the bat.
The last of the great myths? “Give me another beer. I’m one up and he’ll never birdie the 18th.”