Learn the Truths behind the Principles by Wally Armstrong

“Away with your tips, and show me your reasons.” – W. J. Thompson, Common Sense Golf

The golfer is off his game—someone suggests that he try such and such a thing. It works like a charm, and the conclusion is that the tip effected a cure. In general terms this may be true, but not from the reason the golfer suspects. The tip may have given the golfer confidence, or it may have made him concentrate more, which is largely the same thing. The cure may have been what we loosely term a mental one, and although it works for a while, the old fault usually returns with a greater demoralizing effect. The last position is worse than the first, unless the golfer says, “Away with your tips, and show me your reasons.”
W. J. Thompson, Common Sense Golf

A friend once told me of his experiences with a series of golf lessons at his local club. He was a fairly new golfer who had never learned the proper swing fundamentals, and his game had a lot of flaws and inconsistencies.

During his first lesson the instructor had him take a few swings, then immediately set to work on changing his grip, as well as his posture and stance. “Now hit a few more balls,” the instructor told him. My friend awkwardly swung the club, missing the ball altogether on his first try. After two or three more swings, the instructor again stopped him and began coaching him on the proper hip turn. He took my friend’s club and demonstrated a few swings, then handed it back. “Now you try it,” he said. My friend gave it a try, again somewhat awkwardly, and once more the instructor stopped him, this time to show him how to make a clean take-away.

This pattern went on for the entire lesson. Each time my friend swung the club this instructor had another comment about some specific swing problem, usually unrelated to the previous one. “By the end of the lesson, I was more confused than ever,” my friend told me. “My confidence was shattered, and I still had no idea what to do to fix my swing.”
Sadly, this is not an uncommon experience for amateur golfers. Though there are many good golf instructors at clubs around the country, but there are just as many who have no business teaching the game. They leave students frustrated and puzzled, wondering why they can’t seem to improve.

As in any task, a good golf swing begins with an understanding of the basic principles—understanding the why’s as well as the do’s. It’s not enough to know that we need to keep our head down, our right arm straight, our knees slightly bent, and so forth. We need to recognize why these things are important.

What are the underlying reasons behind these principles? Why does one grip work while another doesn’t? What happens when the hands don’t work together to rotate the clubface at impact? Why is the angle of the take-away so important to a good swing plane?

I often tell my students that one ounce of why’s is worth a hundred pounds of dos. Because when we understand the reasons behind the things we need to do, their truths become a reality to us and we become committed to them in real and definable terms. We see how everything works together to create a powerful swing and how each minute detail is important to the overall success of our game.

All the great golf instructors understand the importance of teaching a student the reasons behind the principles. In fact, they will tell you that a student who has learned all of the mechanics of a good swing without understanding the fundamental reasons behind them will almost always begin exaggerating the different components of the swing. They overswing at the top, their hip turn too pronounced and their follow-through overextended. And before long, these exaggerations have completely thrown off the good and natural parts of the student’s swing, causing even greater flaws and inconsistencies.

This process of exaggeration is gradual, almost undetectable, but it is very real. Once a student begins focusing on what he needs to do without understanding why he needs to do it, he will continue doing and doing, until he inevitably ends up overdoing it.

I encourage golfers to look for a good instructor to help with their game, but don’t allow your coach to lead you down dark alleys. When your instructor tries to change an element of your swing or posture, stop and ask, “Why?” When he relays a swing tip or a practice drill, ask, “What will this do for my game, and why does it work?”

A natural and effective swing begins with an intimate understanding of the underlying principles that make it work. Otherwise we’ll always be caught blindly following the mechanics of the game with no real comprehension of the purpose behind them.