The following guest blog post is from CPGA Golf Coach Ron Sisson, based in Calgary, Alberta. Ron founded an instructional method he calls "Real Swing Golf - The Science of Simplicity". As well he's authored an introspective piece on the game titled, "Golf is dying: Is modern golf instruction the cure, or the culprit?" The following is an excerpt from his enlightening perspective on why golf is in decline, chapter 1.. We will publish additional chapters soon. We thank Ron for his contribution to the great game of golf and please visit his excellent YouTube Channel for more information @ Learn the Real Swing ...
Golf is in trouble. The number of golfers leaving the game has outpaced the number of golfers coming into the game for more than a decade now and that trend has accelerated since the economic crash of 07/08. Varying factors have been cited – 1) golf is expensive, 2) it takes too much time to play, and 3) it is a difficult game to learn for new golfers getting into the sport and for golfers who are already in the game, improvements in skill and score are painfully slow in coming. And these improvements usually only come with the expenditure of prodigious amounts of time and money (see reasons 1 and 2).
But there may be another factor that should be of great concern to those of us who teach the game. In an interview in August of 2010, the late and legendary Jim Flick, the man Jack Nicklaus entrusted with his game after the passing of his life long teacher Jack Grout, voiced his opinion regarding the current state of the game and its steady decline in popularity: "I think there’s lots of contributing factors driving people away from the game. Obviously, time and expense. But the way [the game is being taught today] is so scientific that it turns people off." [emphasis added]
I believe that Jim is partially correct: He is correct that people are being turned off by the convoluted and complicated manner in which the act of striking a golf ball is presented by the modern golf instruction industry – we will explore this idea in Chapter 1. However, I believe Jim is not correct in his implication that the game is being taught "scientifically:" In reality, golf is currently being taught with a pseudo-scientific veneer that upon close examination, is scientifically invalid. A bold claim I know – hence the bold letters – but if you will join me for the remaining chapters of this work on the current state of golf instruction and its future, I will endeavor to support my assertion.
I believe that Mr. Flick's assertion deserves serious consideration: Could the way the game is currently being taught be another factor that is, ironically, contributing to golf's slow and steady demise, instead of helping to reverse it? Without question, I believe that time and cost and busier lives and the economy are all having an effect on people getting into and/or staying in the game. However, like Jim, I also believe that the game is slowly dying in large measure because of the way it is taught – filled with jargon and endlessly complicated bio-mechanics that the vast majority of average and beginning golfers have no interest in, or patience for.
For example, I recently taught a husband and wife, both brand new beginners. They really enjoyed it and were glad that they came for golf lessons instead of trying to learn from friends. I said to them that if they had gone for lessons elsewhere, instead of the simple concepts and principles that comprise the Real Swing Golf Method®** that I teach, they most likely would have received instructions in a long list of bio-mechanical body part "do's and don'ts." She said "If other golf instruction is like that, I know would have gotten frustrated and quit." I wonder how many beginning and average golfers have this exact sentiment but aren't expressing it out loud?
When I start with new students and interview them to find out what their goals are and what they want to accomplish with their golf swing and their overall golf game, over and over again I hear the following statement: "I have no aspirations of becoming a pro. I just want to hit the ball better and have more consistency." Translation: "Can you work with what I've got? I don't need or want to make my swing bio-mechanically, 'Tour Pro perfect.' I just want to hit the ball in the middle of the clubface more often with the clubface square or a least close to it so I can hit it straighter more often and enjoy the game at a recreational level."
I'm presuming that most teaching pros get this same statement from their students at the start of a lesson series. Then what do they do? They video their student's swing from 3 or 4 different angles, upload it to their computer, and then use the side by side split screen to compare him to Tiger or Louis Oosthuizen or some other tour pro with a bio-mechanically "correct" swing! His bad shots and general inconsistency are then blamed on the fact that his body moves differently than Tiger or Louis. Then, the pro tries to get this student to move and position his body during the course of his swing to more closely resemble Tiger or Louis, even if that person's body isn't even remotely physically capable of doing so. The shots are invariably worse and the pro then says something like, "You'll probably get a little worse before you get better... But keep at it! The better results will be there in the long haul!"
Here is a YouTube comment from my Golf Channel Instructor Search audition video that beautifully captures the frustration that most average golfers feel due to modern instruction and the elation they feel when I reveal to them that striking a golf ball is a relatively simple act of human hand-eye coordination – that of striking a small ball sitting motionless on the ground with a funny looking stick: "You sir you, you sir, you're good. 5 years thinking in golf 20 hours a day. I really was obsessed about the swing. I broke more than 10 clubs in frustration. Some days I couldn't even lift the ball off the ground because I had 'paralysis by analysis.'
"Your first video was the answer (10 year old kid mentality). I love it. Now I going to play with my 16 handicap and I enjoy my game like a 10 year old kid. And when I hit a bad shot I now give it the same value as a 10 year old kid would give it. I don't know how to thank you."
The following question should be of grave concern to all of us who love the game and are stewards of its growth and popularity: Is this person's experience with endless bio- mechanical swing analysis and the resulting frustration the 'exception' or the 'rule'? If it is the rule – and a very high percentage of average golfers are experiencing more frustration than fun – is it any wonder people are leaving the game in droves with not enough new golfers getting into the game to replace them, thereby contributing to golf's slow and steady decline?
You would think that golf instruction would be part of the solution – logic would dictate that this should be the case. But what if, in its current form, golf instruction is in reality, a major part of the problem, as the late Jim Flick asserts? What if the very thing that promises to help average golfers improve and enjoy the game more – modern golf instruction with all its "scientific" wizardry – is actually "turning people off" and driving them out of the game in frustration?
And what of non golfers on the outside thinking about joining the fold? When their golfing friends moan about their frustration with the game and tell them how hard it is to learn and how complex the mechanics of the swing are, will they jump in with both feet, excited about learning to play golf?
Perhaps an even more important question is this: We have seen modern technological advances in equipment and golf balls. We have advanced high speed video cameras that have enabled us to see in much greater detail the bio-mechanics of the swing. We can show golfers their swing flaws from every possible angle rendered in 3D
'Terminator'-styled imagery. And still the average golf handicap has shown little or no improvement for decades. Why?
I believe that exploring the answer to these questions is critically important if the game of golf is to shift from regression, with more and more players quitting the game each year, to consistent growth year in and year out with current golfers enthusiastic about their game and new golfers excited to embark on the life long journey of learning the game. I hope to answer these questions in the remaining chapters in this series entitled Golf is Dying: Is Modern Golf Instruction the Cure... or the Culprit?
[ ** NOTE: I use the term 'method' to mean "a concise set of principles and skills relating to the use of the golf club – specifically the clubhead – that are common to all golfers of every skill level, regardless of what their swing looks like bio-mechanically speaking." I do NOT mean "making the bio-mechanics of the swing the same for each and every golfer," which, in golf instruction, is the unfortunate connotation that has come to be attached to the term "method."