Have you ever wondered why you strike the ball so much better on the practice range than on the course? Have you ever wondered why your swing suddenly disappears in the middle of a round? Have you wondered why your lost swing suddenly reappears after you totally give up on the round? Have you ever wondered why we say that the game is 95% mental yet we spend 90% of our time and money working on the 5% physical?
Of course, all of us, including Dr. Putt, have experienced all of these things. They are a common part of the fascination and frustration that adds to the allure of the game. Trying to find ways to overcome these seemingly random acts of fortune is something we all dream of, but all too rarely achieve. We may better the forces of fortune for a short while, but as Machiavelli noted long ago, even the greatest prince is subject to the fortunes of life.
These common experiences lead many to conclude that the game is as much metaphysical as it is science, and this leads to the popularity of such books as Golf in the Kingdom and movies as The Legend of Bagger Vance. In truth, while an element of chance certainly is part of the game, we have compounded the difficulty of the game by thinking about the game in the wrong ways and by thinking about our swings too much while we play.
This, in a nutshell, is the message of Carey G. Mumford, in his e-book, The Double Connexion: How to Get Your Game from The Practice Tee to The Golf Course , available on-line at www.clearkeygolf.com.
Mumford’s ideas will help almost anyone’s game, whether one is a beginner or a seasoned professional. Indeed, he has worked with some tour professionals in their own thinking about the game. The ideas also apply to other sports where precise repetitive physical actions are necessary. For example, Mumford helped Will Purdue improve his foul shooting when he played for the Chicago Bulls.
The basic ideas are simple. In practice we condition our bodies to perform a consistent golf swing. If we have practiced enough, the swing is no more difficult than shifting gears in a car with a straight transmission, walking across the street, riding a bicycle, or chewing food. But when we go to the course and encounter the many pressures of a the game itself, we start to think our ways through the swing, play mechanically, and the conditioning effects no longer work. If you think too much about tongue and jaw movements as you chew, you are likely to bite your tongue!
So what we want to do is to play without thinking, to get in the zone, to play out of our minds, to trust ones swing, or one of the many other sayings that describes the goal without telling us how to get there. Indeed, even saying these things indicates that we are in trouble. When Tiger’s game fell from his usual standards in 2001, he talked in several interviews about how he needed to trust his swing. But wanting to do so does not make it so. One cannot will oneself to trust ones swing. As Mumford points out in his excellent section on “Mental Conditioning: Positive Self-image,” if “you have confidence, you no longer have to make a decision to trust.” Tiger had lost his confidence. The problem he faced was rebuilding that confidence rather than trusting his swing.
And where can Tiger--and we--obtain this confidence? It comes from building swing skills that are practiced enough to become habits, and then being able to repeat them on the golf course. Mumford appropriately tells us that the skills part of the equation are something we should take up with a teaching professional.
Learned skills are the foundation upon which all else rests. Mumford warns that there is no quick fix or tip of the week to the skills part of the equation. Most of us can never build habits because we are constantly tinkering with our swings-Dr. Putt pleads guilty here. We rarely practice anything long enough so that we make it into a well-conditioned habit. We have one bad round or even one bad shot and on the next shot we add another bandage to our swing. By the end of the round the swing we are playing with bears only faint resemblance to the swing we had on the practice tee before we began the round.
Once we practice a skill enough to become a habit, Mumford provides a relatively easy method to automatically repeat it. He calls it the “clear key,” hence the name “Key Golf.” Most basically, the “clear key” involves occupying the conscious mind with a non-golf non-action related thought so that learned habits can do their thing. Dr. Putt will not give away any details here, as Mumford deserves to earn a little of our cash for his insight.
The “clear key” method works. It allows you to hit the ball on the course almost as consistently as you do on the practice tee. That is about the best any of us should hope to do. As long as we are realistic in our expectations on the course, that should satisfy. As skills improve and as we turn these skills into habits on the practice tee, we can then transfer them to the course.
Mumford takes a “holistic” approach to game, not really distinguishing from the full swing to the short putt. In principle, the method should work on every stroke that we have, assuming that one has equally learned skills for every shot one needs in a round of golf. But because there are no shortcuts on building skills on all shots, this is where the recreational player is likely to run into trouble. The recreational player is less likely to have built the required level of skill on the many variations of short game shots then she or he has on the full swing.
Let Dr. Putt put it another way. Recreational players, with limited time for practice, may be able to build a habit for full swings and even half swings and maybe even one third swings on wedge shots. But, it is highly unlikely that any of us will be able to condition ourselves to stroke all of the putts and chips that are of an infinite number of different lengths. What we try to do is use all the experience we have accumulated to gage distance and direction, usually taking several practice swings while looking at the hole, standing either behind the ball or beside the ball. When we think we have it right, we memorize the length of the backswing, step up the ball carefully making sure that the direction is what we previously planned, and then try to reproduce that precise backswing. To use Mumford’s terminology, we are playing on “manual.” The “clear key” may even hurt us here. When we place the mind and body on automatic, we may lose the backswing we just stored in short term memory. A professional may have a 16 foot moderately downhill putt against the grain stored in memory as a habit, but the rest of us certainly do not.
Mumford acknowledges this limitation, saying that automatic can only work when we have built the skill into our memory bank. Indeed, Dr. Putt found that he could utilize the method completely on all full and half shots with only one or two practice sessions using the drills suggested by Mumford. It also worked well on the pressure filled short putts of under 6 feet, for which most of us have us memorized the required stroke. Obviously the method could help with the "yips." And it also worked on what Dr. Putt calls his “reference putt,” which is about 18 to 21 feet, depending on speed of the green. This is a putt where the backswing is about 12 inches and is made in an almost effortless manner. One measures the distance of the roll of this putt on the practice green and then subtracts or adds backswing as required on the course, depending on the distance and slope. The problem for Dr. Putt (and for most recreational players, Dr. Putt would suspect) is that the “clear key” had a tendency to erase these calculated differences from the “reference putt.” He ended up with something closer to the reference putt than was desirable. Of course, the limitation here is in Dr. Putt’s skill level, not in the “clear key” method. So perhaps on these kinds of shots one may have to play on “manual” until the skill level improves. So be it.
A few other quibbles. A search function and more descriptive less abstract chapter titles would make the text more readable. Font size and page appearance was not consistent throughout the text. Included in the text were articles that Mumford had previously published. Dr. Putt found them to be redundant and not particularly helpful. More attention and detail could have been given to choosing a “clear key” that fits the rhythm of ones golf swing. The ideas on playing “style” were most interesting, but exactly how style influences the choice and use of a clear key was not quite clear to Dr. Putt. With respect to writing style, Dr. Putt finds short sentences make for a readable text. Mumford had too many long sentences without a break. Interspersing them with short sentences gives the mind a little rest. Indeed, the mind needs frequent rests from the profound thoughts that Mumford offers.
Dr. Putt is informed that a reorganization of the text is underway that should deal with some of these problems. But Dr. Putt would not wait for the reorganization to purchase the book. With a little effort, one can learn enough as the text is right now is to vastly improve performance on the course and to enjoy playing on automatic. Let the reader be assured that clearing the mind and letting the body do what it has learned to do without conscious effort adds an entirely new dimension of satisfaction to the game.
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