A Lesson in How to Learn and Improve Your Game Faster

By Kevin Smeltz, BGGA Director of Instruction

One of the areas where golf coaching has improved over the years is understanding how people learn better and improve faster, which provides more enjoyment and leads to better scoring. There is also another element to this which is the bigger picture of growing this great game of golf. Perhaps we as coaches “missed the boat” with people that return after the standard lesson where they left hitting the ball great and return hitting it exactly like they did before. Maybe it wasn’t because the student didn’t practice enough. Maybe it wasn’t because they didn’t understand, or maybe it wasn’t because the information wasn’t great. Perhaps we didn’t help them learn in a way they can retain it and thus actually transfer those things to the golf course.

The introduction of neuroscience to the masses of golf coaches is becoming more and more popular. How the brain learns, in combination with what research shows us about elite performance, has given us the opportunity to become better coaches and help players become better sooner, as a result.

Being out on the road at various professional events, you can see this with some of the best players in the world as well. The past few years have seen players jump from coach to coach more often than in the past.  Mostly, this in search of better technique. Now I think all coaches will start to understand the neuroscience better. Although a vast area to understand and a huge undertaking, I think most coaches will learn the basics which in turn will help players improve more. There are a lot of golf coaches out there these days, a lot of good ones.  Heck, we are all looking for every bit of improvement we can get.  Even the smallest incremental change in better scoring averages can mean the difference between winning a trophy or finishing in he middle of the field throughout the course of the year.

Amy Yang on the LPGA is no different in the sense that to achieve her goals it is important to look and analyze all possible areas for gains.  She is currently ranked No. 8 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and looking to get even better. Does that improvement come from hitting more greens, more fairways or more up and downs?  Perhaps it could, which is why keeping regular stats is important, but in Amy’s case a lot of it could come from practicing in a more realistic way… one that mimics the real situations one encounters on the golf course in tournaments.

For example, a few weeks ago at the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, Amy putted for almost exactly one hour on Wednesday.  During that entire one hour time period, she did not hit two putts in a row from the same distance or two putts in a row on the same line.  Think about that for a second.  That is about as close to replicating what you do in a tournament as you can.  Why do we all stand in the same place and hit the same 5-foot putt over and over again when we would never do that in a tournament? There are times when you need to work on something technical and need to get the feedback of the ball going in from 3 feet more regularly or the ball starting on the same line more consistently but this particular week she felt like her technique was good.

Going into the final round on Sunday, Amy was in the second to last group with a very valid chance to win and even played with the eventual winner.  While she got off to a slightly rough start and didn’t lift the trophy that Sunday evening, I am sure she took away confidence that she prepared herself the best she could and sometimes we don’t achieve the desired outcome despite doing all we can.

That being said, it will be interesting in the coming years with this research into elite performance how the level of golf will improve.  While this research holds true for the average golfer and the professional, it is especially important for junior golfers that need to fast track their improvement by modeling themselves after elite performers.