The Most Valuable Lesson
By Michael Hebron, PGA Master Professional, CI
Golfers who are not happy with their progress should keep in mind they have
learned things throughout their lives that were not taught to them by teachers or
anyone else. Picasso once said, “You cannot teach painting, you must find it”.
With that in mind, realizing what can’t be taught (but can be learned) may be the
most valuable lesson any golfer could gain. For the pace of progress to be
acceptable any meanings or insights about information must come from the
student, not from someone else’s descriptions or directions. Actual sensory
experience is difficult to write down or talk about. For one person to express
ideas about motions and feels that would be useful to someone else’s long term
progress is a serious challenge, if not impossible. George Low a respected turn
off the century professional said “Every golfer must have experiences of his own
and use them to their best advantage. I do not believe any really good golfer
has been taught their game”.
Over time things normally change and improve. The game of golf is about 500
years old and over time the golf ball, golf clubs and golf course conditions have
all changed and improved. On the other hand, the way most golfers have tried
to improve has not changed over time as they move from one tip to the next. For
over 100 years tips and “how to” directions from a variety of recognized experts
were accepted as quality information. However these expert sources are often in
disagreement with each other over “how to”. Should we ask, “Are there cracks in
the quality?” How usable can “How to” instructions be if recognized and
accepted sources can’t narrow suggestions that often fragment the pace of
progress for many golfers.
Note: Our brain did not learn how to move our hand and arm, it learned “what to
do” with the toothbrush when we learned to brush our teeth. Golfers should
focus on what to do with the golf club’s shaft, head, and face through impact,
and avoid all the dissimilar tips on “how to” move their bodies from perceived
experts and friends. I have found golfers who allow the shot at hand to become
the “swing model” for where the club shaft, clubhead and clubface should be
aligned through impact, are happy with what their bodies do during impact
(without being taught). Nature designed man to learn from interacting with his
environment, not by following directions.
In the Future
It was an honor for me to be invited to speak at the World Scientific Golf
Conference for the Future of Golfers held March 11-15, 2001 at Arizona State
University. The aim of this prestigious conference was to influence and improve
learning and playing golf in the future. Scientists and educators from all over the
world presented research about learning motor skills that week and to be in the
company of these men and women was invaluable for me. The research pointed
out the following:
Random Training supports long-term retention of skills more efficiently than
drills, and rigid blueprints. When training, it is always useful to change
environments, or the size, speed and shape of motions.
Self-Learning – Education by “selection” or choice, is more effective for long-
term retention of skills than “how to” directions. Being aware of “external”
stimulus (i.e. the shot at hand, or where you want the club shaft at impact) is
more effective than focusing “internally” on moving body parts.
A Learning Model that is “general in nature” is more effective for retention of
skills than a specific expert model. Highly skilled motions can be (and should be)
acquired from models that are just “in the ball park”. Experts are best used as
inspirations not models.
Effective Learning Environments that support retention of skills 1). Focuses on
the learner, not poor habits; 2). Helps the “learner” discover what’s needed; 3).
Provides learners with the opportunity to” personalize information” and develop
the tools of adapting to the shot at hand.
Neurologically learning golf’s motion patterns is not different from learning other
motion patterns. According to the National Learning Foundation, agile learners
are not passive sponges for information or “how to” advice. Agile Learners have
mastered information and turned it into knowledge that is personal in nature with
reflections and choices that were personal.
It is education by “selection”, not “how to” advice that leads to long-term
progress. “We have lost ouch with own experiences as our main source of
personal learning and development.” - David Kolb. Improving long-term learning
skills often starts with reversing or recycling any misconceptions and poor
concepts about learning and the skill to be learned.
There are a number of factors that can fragment learning including: stress, rigid
systems, drills, rote learning, expert models, lack of core knowledge, little or not
creative play, little sensory stimulation, little opportunity for developing
imagination, few chances to solve problems, training in a “get it” or “did not get
it” environment, and consistent low level skill testing.
Perhaps the greatest gift that anyone can receive, and really the only gift worth
having (beyond health) is a desire to keep learning. But, keep in mind, some
approaches to learning are more effective than others, and all information is not
equal in value.
© 2006, 2008, copyright, Michael Hebron, all rights reserved