PERFORMANCE FACTORS

In 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.

The 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.

Nor 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!

Golfers 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 others.

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 technique.

However it is obvious that the better man would be an even more formidable opponent if he could also call on the better technique!

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 neglected, 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.

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