Even in­struc­tors agree, the best play­ers are of­ten self-taught

Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - DO IT YOURSELF - BY JOEL BEALL

‘Swing your swing,” Arnold Palmer fa­mously said. “Not some idea of a swing, not a swing you saw on TV, or swing you wish you had. No, swing your swing.” Sound coun­sel, given the source; Palmer’s was far from aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, but with seven ma­jors and 95 pro­fes­sional wins world­wide, it seemed to do the trick.

The King is not alone. Golf’s his­tory glit­ters with dis­tinc­tive, self-made mo­tions. Lee Trevino is the poster boy, con­struct­ing his func­tion-over-fash­ion fade from scratch. Moe Nor­man, ar­guably the great­est and straight­est ball-striker the sport has seen, never took a les­son. Calvin Peete had to be un­con­ven­tional be­cause of a child­hood arm in­jury; his down­swing and fol­low-through are of­ten cited as in­flu­ences on David Lead­bet­ter’s book, The A Swing. At the mo­ment, Bubba Wat­son, J.B. Holmes and Jim Her­man wave the self-taught flag on tour.

“Self-dis­cov­ery can be more pow­er­ful than some­one telling you what to do,” says Ja­son Guss, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher.

A phi­los­o­phy not only com­pelling, but proven. The Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion ex­am­ined more than 125 stud­ies fo­cused on suc­cess from au­ton­o­mous learn­ing ver­sus ex­ter­nal goal-set­ting. The tasks var­ied, from shoot­ing a bas­ket­ball to com­puter skills and be­yond, but the con­clu­sion was clear: The re­wards from self-di­rected ex­plo­ration out­weigh those from out­side forces.

Wat­son, who learned to curve shots swat­ting wif­fle balls around his child­hood home, thinks self-taught play­ers can be more re­silient. “You’ll know what works, and you’ll know the sim­ple fixes to get back on track,” he says. His only ad­vice: “All you need to worry about is three feet of the swing, from 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock, right be­fore im­pact and at im­pact [or 7 o’clock to 5 o’clock, for left­ies]. You want to try to get the club square at im­pact. Don’t worry about a full swing.” When Wat­son watches video of his swing, he fo­cuses on this mo­ment of truth.

Do­ing it your­self also gives the free­dom to mold some­thing that feels nat­u­ral, rather than striv­ing for—and at times, fight­ing against—the cues of an in­structed swing. “Some­times home­grown swings are the kind that hold up the best down the road,” says Erika Larkin, who ini­tially taught her­self to play be­fore get­ting lessons and even­tu­ally be­com­ing a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher. “A swing that is com­fort­able and works nat­u­rally for your body can be bet­ter than try­ing to fit into a mold of what an in­struc­tor is try­ing to get you to do.”

Her­man, who learned the game with daily reps at Shawnee Look­out Golf Course in North Bend, Ohio, thanks to an all-day ju­nior rate, thinks for­mal teach­ing of­ten starts in the wrong place. “Things like course man­age­ment and strat­egy get ig­nored in the be­gin­ning stages of in­struc­tion,” he says.

Which isn’t to say you should just pick up a club and start hack­ing. Pick any swing across the pro­fes­sional spec­trum—from the ef­fort­less sway of Louis Oosthuizen to Jim Furyk’s caught-in-a-spi­der-web mo­tion— and cer­tain prin­ci­ples are uni­ver­sal. Guss rec­og­nizes the four ma­jor tenets:

Par­al­lel align­ment among the shoul­ders, hips, knees and feet. Turn­ing the body dur­ing the back­swing. Mov­ing lat­er­ally and ro­ta­tion­ally on the down­swing (which helps main­tain proper wrist an­gles).

Ex­tend­ing the arms dur­ing the back­swing and through-swing.

An­other fo­cal point should be on ten­sion—specif­i­cally, a lack thereof. With an in­structed swing, mak­ing the di­rected move­ments can feel for­eign, caus­ing ag­i­ta­tion and stress on the takeaway, which are swing-killers. Though you want to keep the above fun­da­men­tals in mind, they shouldn’t come at the cost of nat­u­ral agility. “Re­main­ing ath­letic and us­ing your feel and touch is more im­por­tant than be­ing tech­ni­cally per­fect,” Larkin says.

Keep it about out­come, even in the be­gin­ning. “Ev­ery­one should be think­ing about where they want the ball to go while they’re stand­ing over a shot, not how or what tech­nique to use to get it there,” Her­man says.

That said, thanks to a re­cent pro­lif­er­a­tion of fairly un­ob­tru­sive dig­i­tal di­ag­nos­tic de­vices, self-taught golfers can choose to dive fur­ther into the weeds than ever. Ar­c­cos, Zepp and Swing­byte are three ex­am­ples of mod­ern hard­ware that pair with a phone app to de­liver in­stant data about your swings and strokes, and they high­light the ar­eas of your game in need of im­prove­ment.

As with any un­der­tak­ing, you can’t be naive to the pos­si­ble pit­falls. The big­gest is time. It’s go­ing to take longer to sort out what does and doesn’t work, and the range be­tween the ups and downs could be ex­treme.

“Not hav­ing some­one to guide you can take you down the wrong road, lead­ing to patches of strug­gle,” Guss says. “It could also cre­ate dam­ag­ing flaws that can be hard to elim­i­nate.” In essence, your sovereignty comes with a price.

When con­tem­plat­ing a fix or al­ter­ation of any kind, do it be­cause of re­sults, not what oth­ers think of your swing. “Make any changes based on where the ball is go­ing,” Her­man says, “ver­sus try­ing to make your swing look per­fect on an iPad.”

And just be­cause you’ve de­cided to be self-taught, don’t let that stop you from seek­ing help if you’re in a rut. They are pro­fes­sion­als for a rea­son. But with a lit­tle bit of for­ti­tude, test­ing and dis­cern­ment, you can achieve an op­ti­mal swing on your own.

“Al­ways re­mem­ber it’s a process,” Wat­son says. Know that, as with all quests, it’s not the grail you seek, but the ride to it.

“Re­lax, en­joy the jour­ney and swing freely!” Larkin says.

Or, as Mr. Palmer would say, “Swing your swing.”

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