Saturday, 10 March 2012

Small improvements

Luke Donald

As the professional golf tours get underway in 2012 and before the four majors take all our attention this is the time to reflect on the achievement of the world no 1 golfer, Englishman Luke Donald.

Luke has passed 32 consecutive weeks at the top of the world rankings making him, Tiger Woods apart, the longest standing no 1 golfer since Greg Norman. The latter holding the No1 spot for 96 weeks from 1995 to 1997.

For a man who not long ago, 2008 to be precise, was recovering from a career threatening wrist injury the achievement is staggering. So how did Luke set himself on this journey to the top? What changed? Well the answer is one small step after another.

When Luke came back his short game, widely acclaimed as one of the best, was still in tact. But what was obvious from the statistics was that Luke had dropped further behind in the driving distance stakes averaging around the 275 yard mark. This saw him some ten to fifteen yards shorter than the average hitters on tour. So Luke set about becoming stronger to add more speed to his already immaculate golf swing. Over the two years from 2009 to 2011 Luke gained 10 yards in length and was also hitting the ball much straighter. Not, on the face of it, ground breaking in itself but this relatively small change had a domino effect on the rest of the game. The multi-dependent nature of the game of golf meant that hitting more fairways and being closer to the greens allowed Luke to hit the ball closer to the hole. So this small change moved him from 39th to 9th in proximity to the hole in the rankings. History told us that Luke was already a good wedge player. In 2009 from 100 to 125 yards the ball finished 16ft 9in from the hole. In 2011 he led this category averaging 16ft 4in. Again a small but significant change. The final stepping stone to greatness was an improvement in putting stats from just over 60% conversion in 2009 to a 66% conversion in 2011. Ranked 13th in 2009, with a stroke average of 70.01 he reduced his scoring average to 68.86 to see him sit at the top of the rankings.

What we can learn from this is that sometimes even small incremental improvements in all departments of our golf skills at whatever level will elevate our game significantly and can be the difference between winning and loosing. All to often professionals and amateurs alike look at major changes to the swing expecting major changes in their scores. Why not take a leaf out of Luke’s book and have a look at making little improvements in all aspects of our game and see your scores tumble. (Statistics provided by


The horse before the cart

Have you ever thought about how many ways you can improve your golfing performance? A new driver or putter perhaps? Maybe even a course of lessons from the Professional at the local club. Can you think of any others? Read on and find out what I discovered only recently.

It has always fascinated me when coaching or listening to coaches how in the vast majority of cases the coach always expects the student to move their body in a manner as instructed. Why is this the case?

Surely we all are individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. We all have different ranges of movement and flexibility and we are all probably carrying some form of injury that we may not even know about.

If we agree that this is true then surely we should have our movement and the mechanics of our bodies checked out by a specialist therapist before we embark on changing how we swing the golf club. More than likely we are all swinging the club in a way that our brain has worked out is the easiest and least painful. This may not necessarily be the most effective way to hit the best shots.

If we are being coached with internal messages, that is, concentrating on what the body is doing to swing the club then our physical limitations may frustrate us as we struggle to get into a desired position to hit a shot.

However, if our thoughts are external, that is, concentrating on how the club swings then the body should be able to react to that in its own way providing there is a decent range of movement. Either way we need to know if we are healthy enough to play better golf.

Working with and watching DR John Brazier of Kore Therapy in St Annes has been a fascinating experience. I have observed his amazing muscle testing techniques designed to detect any obvious or previously unknown injuries that have inhibited patients from ever reaching their full potential in golf.

One such person was a golf professional and a student of mine. He was a former rugby player before taking to golf and was used to spending time in the gym lifting weights. He came to me for help complaining of lack of distance and control over his shots. He felt that being so strong he should have been hitting the ball further than he did. After watching him play and hit I too was confused as he was definitely delivering the golf club in a very strong and correct manner.

I consulted Dr John knowing that this was not a golf technique issue. Within five minutes Dr John had discovered that my student was operating at approximately 50 to 70% of his power due to a problem with his neck. After about 20 minutes of treatment and more testing we left to check if the treatment had made any improvement to the power and control of his shots.

What we saw was an amazing increase in the power of his swing that was now delivering the club head at speeds of 116mph and ball speeds approaching 170mph. As you can imagine we were both delighted to say the least at the sudden improvement in my student’s performance.

There is no way I, as a coach, could have made such a huge difference in my students power and performance. So I would recommend you put the horse before the cart and have your well-being checked before you embark on a series of lessons to change and improve your golf swing.

Is your game in balance?

Who would have backed the 4 major winners this year? Charl Scwartzel, The Masters, Rory McIlroy The US Open, Darren Clarke The Open and Keegan Bradley USPGA. Interestingly enough the last 7 major winners had not won a Major before.

So how could it be that these “first time winners” did not include the names of any of the so-called “golden generation” of English golfers?

Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Ross Fisher, all failing to capture one of golf’s big four championships.

There is no doubting the ability of the aforementioned players. Between them they have won many tournaments worldwide and in Luke Donald and Lee Westwood players who have risen to be the No1 player in the world rankings.

It has always amazed me how winning Olympians have four years in which to prepare to get things right on a given week, day, hour or minute. The worlds leading golfer’s get four chances every year to win one of the career defining majors, yet this still proves too much for some.

Could it be the pressure of expectations that trips up these great players or the nature of the game of golf itself with so many imponderables or a combination of both?

We do know that to play our best golf we need to have balance. I don’t mean not falling over, but having our conscious mind, physical skills (subconscious mind} and self image (expectations) all equally aligned.

It all sounds so simple. How could it be that Luke Donald, the Worlds no.1 golfer missed the cut in The Open after winning the week before? There is no way his golf swing or putting stroke mechanics broke down that week. His physical skills or sub conscious mind have been trained to work incredibly well with years and years of practice and repetition. As a winner only days earlier you have to imagine that he felt pretty good about himself. What we do not know is what was running through his conscious mind during The Open week.

When you play with a quiet mind the physical skills that have been trained over the years just happen. They are not forced. When was the last time you missed your mouth with a folk? You may want to try thinking about putting the folk in your mouth next time you are eating and notice the difference. Subtle, but Championships are won and lost by such fine margins that maybe by simply having balance we give ourselves a better chance.

This is not to say we don’t need to practice or work on our games. Let me ask you two questions. How important is the mental side of playing golf compared to the physical/technical side? More or less than 50%?

How much time do you spend working on the mental side of your game?

I suspect that you will answer that the mental side of the game is important and possibly is more than 50% of the game.

So it really doesn’t make sense that you spend 100% of your time practicing on only the physical side of the game. What are you going to do to improve your performance? Check your balance.

Friday, 9 March 2012

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Youth Football Development: Nature v Nurture: Either or both...: This week saw the performance of an athlete in an elite football setting that marvelled many of us - Messi. And it was far from messy. It wa...