ONE OF THE OLD­EST clichés in golf is that it is a game of op­po­sites. But like all clichés it is a cliché for a rea­son. It’s true in many ways. One in par­tic­u­lar res­onates with me: The longer I play, the more I re­alise that golf con­spires against you right from the be­gin­ning.

None of us can change the fact that we live our lives by re­act­ing in­stinc­tively. We can’t over­ride our nat­u­ral in­stincts. When we fall for­ward, our hands and arms au­to­mat­i­cally at­tempt to cush­ion our im­pact with the ground. Our bod­ies re­act be­fore our minds kick into gear. It’s a sur­vival in­stinct born of a time when we lived in caves.

The same sort of thing is true in golf. Our brains tell us to hit up on the ball in or­der to get it into the air. But when we do that, the ball goes low. To make a shot go up, you have to hit down, which in­stantly con­fuses our nat­u­ral in­stinct to “lift” the ball. And the more we try to lift, the lower the ball goes, to the point where we are top­ping shots.

That is the first hint that golf is not an easy game. You ac­tu­ally have to try to hit the ball low to make it go high, which is dif­fi­cult to get your head round.

The next step up from that ba­sic level is hit­ting shots in the air. And we do that mostly with our arms and up­per body. That’s what begin­ners do. But there is a price to be paid. When the lower body doesn’t move much, the arms and club nat­u­rally swing left and the ball slices to the right.

After even a short while do­ing that, your brain gets sick of hit­ting the ball to the right. So you de­cide to hit some shots to the left. That’s what your mind tells you. But the “don’t go right” swing is what makes the ball go to the right. Your up­per body comes “over the top” more and more on the down­swing and you hit big­ger and big­ger slices. It’s a slip­pery slope that is only go­ing to be com­pletely dis­as­trous. Taken to the nth de­gree, you end up miss­ing the ball. All by fol­low­ing your in­stincts.

There are other op­po­sites in golf. When you try to hit the ball hard, your shots are shorter. When you try to hit the ball softly, it goes fur­ther. When you swing left, the ball goes right. When you swing right, the ball goes left. Ev­ery­thing is op­po­site.

The good news is your in­stincts can be de­feated. Once you un­der­stand what they want you to do, you can set up a sce­nario where they help you rather than hurt you. One of the great­est ball-strik­ers of all-time, Lee Trevino, worked that out. (It re­mains a mys­tery why no one has ever copied the way he swung the club). He wanted to hit a fade. But he wanted to hit a fade swing­ing from in-to-out, rather than out-to-in, the club mov­ing away from his body through im­pact, not to­wards it.

The only way he could do that was by adopt­ing a re­ally open stance, ev­ery­thing aligned well left of his in­tended tar­get. By do­ing that, his in­stinct was to push the ball to­wards the tar­get. Ev­ery­thing in Lee’s ad­dress po­si­tion helped him hit shots where he was look­ing rather than where he was aim­ing.

In my own case, all of my swing ten­den­cies are rooted in a fear of the ball go­ing to the right. In that re­spect, I’m the same as 98 per­cent of golfers. So I have to set up sit­u­a­tions where I feel like my misses are go­ing to be to the left. If, at any point dur­ing my swing, I get that sen­sa­tion, my in­stincts kick-in and my body re­acts cor­rectly. Con­versely, if I feel like the ball is go­ing right, my body does all the wrong things.

So im­prov­ing is not achieved through find­ing out how to swing the club bet­ter. In­stead, it is find­ing out why you are not swing­ing it bet­ter. You need to get all the junk and in­for­ma­tion in your head out of the way. But you have to do that un­der­stand­ing how your in­stincts con­spire against you. You have to think about golf in a way that is 180-de­grees from where you were be­fore.

Here’s my the­ory on how to cure a slice, the most com­mon fault I see in pro-am part­ners at ev­ery event. Ac­cept that you are go­ing to slice. Em­brace it. Don’t fight it. Hit the shot that you hate. Try to slice the ball as much as you can. The more you try to do that, the harder it will be to achieve. Over time, your slice will re­duce. Let’s say your shots start off bend­ing 40-yards left-to-right. A week later – still try­ing to slice as much as you can – that will be a lit­tle harder. So you’ll be down to hit­ting 30-yard slices.

If that process con­tin­ues, your in­stincts will fix your slice com­pletely. I believe that. Let your­self be a slicer. Aim off into the left trees all day. Do that and even­tu­ally your in­stincts will evolve to the point where slic­ing will be very dif­fi­cult. You’ll go from hat­ing your slice to not be­ing able to hit one. All by us­ing your in­stincts to cre­ate a “draw swing.” Hit slices to your cure your slice. Do the op­po­site.

Believe me, it’s the most lib­er­at­ing feel­ing there is. Aim at the left rough and swing freely. Look at former Mas­ters cham­pion Bubba Wat­son. He plays that way and has all kinds of fun. You can too. By let­ting your slice hap­pen, your swing and mind will au­to­mat­i­cally be­come less in­hib­ited. You won’t be wor­ried about hit­ting into those trees up the right side.

This the­ory works with chip­ping too. To be­come bet­ter with your lob-wedge, prac­tise with your 8-iron. Hit­ting lob-shots with your 8-iron will make you bet­ter with your 60-de­gree wedge. Prac­tis­ing with your 60-de­gree wedge will make you worse with that club. It’s an­other op­po­site. It is ac­tu­ally too easy to hit a lob shot with your 60-de­gree wedge. It is too lofted. You end up hav­ing to ma­nip­u­late your ac­tion in or­der to get loft off, which is ex­actly the wrong way to hit a lob-shot. You want to be adding loft to the club at im­pact, not re­duc­ing loft. So use a club where you have to re­ally lay the face open at ad­dress if you want to hit the ball high.

I’ve come to these con­clu­sions through lots of think­ing and ob­serv­ing. My old coach, Dale Lynch, al­ways told me that the an­swer to ev­ery­thing in golf is the op­po­site of what you first think. He be­lieved that even when he didn’t know what I thought and so didn’t know what the op­po­site was. But he knew that when I even­tu­ally worked some­thing out for my­self, it would end up be­ing the op­po­site of my first thought.

Isn’t golf grand?


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