Why Don't Most Golfers Get Better?
The Texas WedgeHog – Rootin’ Out The Truth!

We really struck a nerve with Tuesday’s article about Chris’ dilemma about golf, and I want to thank all of you for chiming in to encourage him to stick with it, get lessons, continue learning and enjoy himself on the course. The majority of comments offered guidance to Chris to help him continue his improvement, and a few of you expressed your own frustrations with not getting better. So that’s my topic of today.

A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. I have worked with these guys in the past and they are very smart and thorough. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number 1 reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better! So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? It’s really kind of puzzling to me, actually. So, this morning the Texas WedgeHog is going to try to “root out the truth” on this matter. Put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Texas WedgeHog’s Top Five Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve
1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and your practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf”. READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you really understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match those drawings. If you don’t, none of the tips and tricks in the golf magazines, videos, etc. will do anything but screw you up. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.

2. Golf instruction/teachers are lost. That applies both to professionals and your well-intentioned buddies. No one can “teach” another person to swing a golf club – you can only guide them in the learning process. And every step of the way requires repetition and fundamental understanding. My rap on many teachers is that they don’t take time to clearly understand that particular student’s learning style or his/her immediate and long-term objectives. Someone who learns by observation is going to be lost in long explanations. Another who is analytical wants to fully comprehend the details of what the instructor is communicating. And if they just want to fix their slice, don’t try to rebuild their swing – just fix the slice!

3. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll NEVER accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and set up. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing maneuvers. With a good grip and a sound set up posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.

4. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far . . . if it’s too far forward or backward . . . if you are aligned right or left of your intended line . . . your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68” in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5” wide. If you vary in your set up by even ¾” you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game . . . . LEARN HOW TO SET UP THE SAME WAY, IN THE SAME PLACE EVERY TIME.

5. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action, it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be, so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to, at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.
Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself. Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only ¼” or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top of backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my five reasons. I’d like to hear your comments on any and all of them, and your thoughts as to how we should address each one. Oh, and don’t forget to add your own.
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.

[ comments ]
Banker85 says:
I have never read any books or took any lessons. I watch the pros and just try to mimic their swings. I have read articles on set up and grip, posture etc. and that helped me get more consistent. I would love to get lessons to understand the swing more but watching the pros is how i learn.
ForeKris says:
reading about the golf sing is near impossible for a lefty (me). 99.9% of the material is written for a righty. Even the Ben Hogan book is hard for me to get through. reversing the instructions in your head as you read is exhausting. i don't understand why the writers don't just say front/back instead of left/right.
ToddRobb says:
I've never taken a lesson so I can't speak on if they work or not. I do believe that the number one reason golfers don't improve is lack of commitment. Most golfers don't pick up their clubs until they get to the course or the driving range. In order to improve you have to practice,practice, practice!! The guys on tour practice everyday and they still sometimes don't get any better, what chance do you think we have if we don't practice at all. When I started playing I read every Golf Tips, Golf Digest,and Golf Magazine I could get my hands on, I still look at some of the old ones for tips I've forgotten about. Putting in my living room everyday and chipping in my yard has clearly helped me shave strokes, they are two aspects of the game that anyone can become really good at.
ksu_FAN says:
Agree completely with ToddRobb. I agree that you must have plenty of practice (and "correct" practice), but there are plenty of good things out there to read/watch/listen to if you can't afford or don't have time for lessons. I think one of the keys is not trying to do too much, ie. don't read an entire Golf Digest issue and then try to implement a dozen things from it into your game. Pick one or two and work on it, otherwise keep it the same. If you do that periodically you are bound to pick up some teaching points that help you get better, but avoid getting overwhelmed and/or losing so much confidence in your game that you want to give up. And remember golf is a game, its supposed to be fun.
falcon50driver says:
Like Carly Simon's song "You're So Vain" You probably think this article's about you. Yes I did fly my Learjet up to Nova Scotia, but it was not to see the total eclipse of the sun. It was to play golf. I started playing around 2004, Played every chance I got, started out in the 120s, hit a plateau at 112, then started breaking 100 regularly. However the mid eighties is about as good as I think it's gonna get. So I've decided to quit fighting it. I've done all the thing everybody suggests. Lessons only helped me go backwards. I've played around 500 rounds total, Had a hole in one for a new Mustang, which about pays for the 500 green fees. So I figure I'm breaking even. I quit.
k-von says:
I agree, M2D, quit while you're ahead.
BME_Badger says:
I think it also comes down to cost and time. Most of us don't have unlimited time to practice and play. And most of us would agree playing is more fun :-)

I also think that lessons are too expensive. Maybe pros need to have more functional packages that say for a certain rate I'll get you to this level of competency instead of saying $50 for 30 minutes. I think people get put off by lessons when after the first couple they are doing worse and are wondering what they're paying for. I'd rather pay up front and know what I'm going to get out of it, it also provides an additional incentive to the pro to get you there faster.
windowsurfer says:

I have read and continue to re-read Geo Knudson's The Natural Golf Swing. Knudson was a sweet swinger. I practice a lot but have not taken lessons for a while. I will, but gotta find the right situation. My comment is that, as a former "decent" golfer (a somewhat optimistic 10 HC, 12 years ago; a 20 now) I can have good rounds - out of the blue. It seems to be all about the *tempo*. When my tempo is good, everything is easy and I hit the ball well, consistently. My putting often matches and so I can score well when this magic tempo trance descends on me. Most of the time tho, I flit in and out of tempo, mostly overswinging but quite often babying it and de-accelerating my swing in an effort to keep it 'tween the pylons. If I could bottle good tempo, I KNOW I'd be golden. Thoughts?
Kickntrue says:
@windowsurfer- you'll dig this- I did- oobgolf.com/content/reviews/product+reviews/1-12

@m2d- you're crazy man! mid-80's would feel like heaven. just enjoy the day/weather and sweet shots. no offense- but it's not like you're 20 with a limber body that can be molded into Tiger Wood's. Just enjoy it!
Mattlite says:
First tournament I played in I shot 104, now I can shoot in the 70s somewhat consistently and it really doesn't feel any different than the first time I broke 90. Actually I would say I had more fun playing bogey golf than I do now. There have been 2 plateaus I have gotten over with my game, and I am not sure I will ever get over the next, but I doubt I ever stop trying.
Mookie says:
I've a pattern similar to m2d's. Started in the 120s, in late 2001, and gradually brought it down. 2008 was the first year I averaged under 100. This year, it's down to around 96. I worked through "Five Lessons" early on, but I took a big jump last summer after I read Tommy Armour's "How to Play You Best Golf All the Time." After a weak round digesting it, I played seven rounds in September, all of them under 100, a first for me. I've since re-read it and am still improving. I recently had what could be called a poor round, two balls out of play, several poor chip shots, four three putts, but I still shot a 90. I love it.
windowsurfer says:
Kickntrue: Tour Tempo -- ordered it! Thx man. I wanna be a 3:1 guy.
Lerxst says:
The real reason is I haven't won the lottery yet so I can go and practice every day at the range and play 5 rounds a week. After I get Davind L. as my as my teacher and am able to call Gary P. for why Im topping the ball, Ill hace to settle for Joe who couldn't make the cut on the National and plays a local skins... Not that Im complaining - Im still playing golf and getting s-l-o-w-l-y better. ;)
onedollarwed says:
There is no prerequisite for playing golf. So you can go out there and stink. And there is no clear consequence for playing poorly. You don't have to improve. So most people don't. Imagine picking up a violin a few times a year.
I started not necessarily "young," but "fun." At 13, I played pitch and putt in England several times for peanuts - a field with some flags in it and an 8 iron. Even then, I'd occasionally catch it sweet, and it was magical!
But, alas, I fear that you really need to have some raw talent (not born with, but developed) in the areas of balance, swing dynamics (transferring energy to the ball), and eye-hand coordination.
Nevertheless, it's really worth it to hit the ball well. Because of dedication, practice (and that means using live rounds for learning), and loving to hit the ball, golf is just plain wonderful.
onedollarwed says:
That's what you need to work for. It's a great place to be - to go out and hit every shot solidly. No more mis-hits, scuffing the putter, or stubbing chips. There's still a lot to improve on (like sand), and all of the other strategical/ decision making areas of the game (I can really screw that up), but stick with it and get there. Wouldn't you rather just worry about club selection, yardage, shot shaping, gamesmanship?
All this can be yours if you love it and work it!
And you'll end up playing much of the time at or under par.
KVSmith59 says:
I don't improve because I'm lazy and I suck lol
cshel65 says:
I'm improving. I started in February and was shooting in the 120s. I finally broke 100 at the end of April and on 7/27 I shot 89! Lately I've been shooting in the 90s - today I had back-to-back birdies with a 92. I love this golf thing!
norm_pyle says:
cshel, that's phenomenal improvent! Like most people, I started in the 120's and fairly quickly approached 100. Breaking triple digits was nice, but not as nice as the 89 I posted a couple weeks ago! But this took 3 years to get there, and today I just hit another 100. :-( But it's ok, not everyday is a perfect golf day.
tfarrell826 says:
This is my 4th season of truly playing golf. Messed around as a kid like everyone else. I took 5 or so lessons when I first started and thought that was enough. I made my way from the 120's down to breaking 100 sometimes, but was frustrated last year that I played 45 rounds but barely budged my 21 handicap.

This year I attacked golf with a new outlook, finding a good pro and investing in lessons, as well as reading everything I can get my hands on to truly understand the swing. I am down to a 17 and improving slowly but surely with each round. There are times when I feel like I am not improving fast enough for all the work I put into it. But I have to remind myself that its a tough game and I started with a ton of bad habits that I developed by playing so much bad golf without ant real direction.

Only though study (lessons or other ways), practice and dedication can you really improve at this game. Golf is hard. But playing good golf is among the greatest thrills I have ever experienced.
rtbuckshot says:
I returned to golf this year after an 11-12 year break. I'm 38. Never have had a lesson. I learned on my own as a kid, like everthing else. Played for my high school team and got down to shooting low 80's (Stuart Cink was in a neighboring HS and I played against him too!)

Coming back to it this year, I decided instead of more instant gratification by trying to lower my scores, I wanted to build a sound, fundamental, repeatable golf swing. That has meant 4 times as much practice as playing. Lots or reading.
Swinging beside the house in front of a mirror, A LOT. More range tokens than green fees. Getting beat by my buddies.

I am curently addressing the swing fundementals, have read 2 books on mental aspects, tailored my gym time for golf and upgraded my equipment. I am going thru Hogan's book for the 2nd time.
rtbuckshot says:
My point is you have to know what you want, be willing to work for it, and have a plan to get there. Improvement can be had. I have a job, a great wife and 2 precious kids--golf is not my life. Some people are OK with their game where it is, to them I would say ENJOY YOURSELF!!
matt314hew says:
I can only say that I took many lessons in my life in order to get better and each lesson was completely different. They were having me do a lot of different things. This past summer, on a cruise, a took a golf lesson. The pro on the ship took video of the lesson and showed me my swing. It was horrible.

He completely changed my set up, grip, and swing. I was not bending at the waist, just hunching over. My grip was not correct (the club was shifting in my hand) and this caused me to have more slices than good shots. Finally the swing. I was trying to hit the ball instead of just swinging. My back swing was great, but my downswing was started by my arms, not shifting my wait and rotating my hips. Once i started doing this, i was hitting the ball purer and more often.

I played this past weekend for the first time since the lesson and i was finally able to hit my driver with some consistency and now I will always hit it off the tee.
Hoody005 says:
I am a former baseball player and I started about 8 yrs ago I never thought I would like Golf but the first time i played it I was so frustrated that I could not hit a ball straight that I placed on a tee and was not curving dropping or moving at all. I was hooked I was so mad that I was not good at this game that I started playing alot for the first year. I was generally in the high 90's only because I could hit it 300 from the baseball exp. but who knows what fairway I would be on or what tree I may be behind. This year I have played 3 or 4 times a week for 5 months and am now about a 7 HC I will never quit this game because weather your under par or 30 over you know you can always do better and that is what keeps me coming back. Actually how about I'll quit when I birdie an eagle every hole on the coarse.........
duffer127 says:
So true about where to set up...fixed a case of the sh*nks by standing 2" farther away
Michael Douglas says:
The inablility to get the ball on the green from 50 yards, the inablility to chip within 8 feet of the hole and the inablility to 2 putt most of the time keeps most golfers from getting better. Practice should be 20% long game, 25% putting, 25% chipping, 25% pitching and 5% sand. As the short game improves so does the long game. You learn to deliver the club head squarely tot he ball. It's long game improvement through osmosis.
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