golf, or any other sport for that matter, there are of course many
factors that always affect performance. Where golf is concerned, some of
these factors derive directly from the individual, while others can be
called external ones. Among the latter we can number the characteristics
of the course, the weather conditions, the special features of the
equipment used, the instructor or instructors, the caddy, the playing
partners, the spectators, family, etc. As for the factors related to the
individual, they are almost innumerable and fall into three main
categories: physical, mental, and technical:
Physical factors: height; build (bone structure,
muscular properties, relative proportions); central nervous system, etc.
Mental factors: powers of concentration; ability to
visualize; motivation; confidence level; ability to manage stress;
analysis of the course; game strategy, etc.
Technical factors: stance; grip; posture; alignment
of body and club; positioning of ball; everything related to the
dynamics of the action.
objective here is not to provide an exhaustive list of the factors that
determine performance but rather to realize that they are numerous in
playing a (more or less important) part in determining outcomes. Believe
me, at this very moment, all over the world, specialists in every field
are carrying on research in universities, laboratories, companies, in
the field, or wherever, as they attempt to push the present limits back
a little further.
As my friend Dave would say, it isn't much use driving
your ball straight for over 300 yards if you're teeing off for a par 3
with the hole only 160 yards away!
Every factor is important in its own way—even ones that
may seem insignificant at first glance. Yet it would be impossible to
determine exactly what contribution each makes—particularly since they
are often mutually interdependent in a rather complex way. What is more,
opinions often differ substantially on the matter.
For instance, some people argue that 90% of golf
performance is mental, but I believe it's useful to qualify this
somewhat. I'm quite prepared to admit that a professional golfer who has
trained for a number of years to develop a solid, consistent swing might
then be able to play without thinking a great deal about how to execute
the action. On the other hand, if someone set about analyzing the
factors entering into this golfer's performance it would be impossible
to discount the fact that in the past he had, precisely, made a
considerable effort to cultivate such an effective technique.
can I accept the theory that 90% of the flaws in a golfer's swing arise
from the position at address. Of course I recognize that this can have
an effect on what follows, and I wouldn't for a moment want to
underestimate its importance. For example, keeping the shoulders open at
address (i.e. directed towards the left of the target) tends to result
in an outside-in swing path, while a strong grip (with hands rotated to
the right) tends to make the ball move from right to left in flight.
On the other hand I could never simply decide to
minimize the importance of the action itself. In principle, a certain
position at address, whether good or bad, should produce the same result
time and time again (as long as the action remains the same). All too
often I've seen beginning golfers who, while basically starting from the
same position at address, nevertheless produced an incredibly varied
range of ball flights. And all too often I've seen good golfers who,
basically starting from the same address position, hit the ball in
wildly different directions. Even when top-level professional golfers
spray a ball off to the right or left—however rarely this may happen—it's
a safe bet that this isn't simply the result of a faulty position at
address but that there's some problem with their action.
In short, all too often my observations have led me to
the conclusion that the majority of problems golfers have with their
swing are indeed… problems with their swing!
playing on the professional circuits all have pretty effective swings
that allow them to strike the ball well enough to be competitive at such
a high level. More specifically we can observe that these golfers all
perform a certain rotation of the body in both the backswing and the
downswing, that they all approach the impact zone keeping their wrists
cocked, and that none of them complete the stroke with their weight
still on the rear foot. On the other hand, not all of them use an
identical technique and, inevitably, some have a better swing than
What is true is that in the history of professional golf
the players said to have the best swings haven't always won the most
tournaments! This helps to underscore the importance of the other
factors that enter into performance—particularly when there is not a
great difference in the level of the competitors' techniques. For
example it is not unheard of for the better man to win over the better
However it is obvious that the better man would be an
even more formidable opponent if he could also call on the better
My first university program in physical education
included a specialization in physical conditioning. The second enabled
me to work as a sports psychologist. In the end, the only profession
I've really pursued was as a golf instructor, teaching primarily the
technique of the game. There is no way I would suggest that certain
factors can safely be
and indeed I'm convinced that all golfers can improve their performances
if they take the trouble to work on any aspect of the game, physical,
mental or technical. However, practical experience has taught me that
the biggest problem—the one that usually prevents amateur golfers from
improving their game—is found on the level of technique, and
specifically in the dynamic of the action.
No doubt a golfer who experiences difficulty in striking
the ball may benefit from using better equipment, following an
appropriate diet, consulting a sports psychologist, and even from
improving his grip. But as long as he approaches the impact zone with
wrists already uncocked, or fails to eliminate some other major flaw in
his golf swing, he's failing to come to grips with the real problem.