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When I first started teaching golf lessons in Arizona in 2004 when I was attending the Golf Academy of Arizona, I focused on technique and explained what I had learned playing competitive golf at a high level. I was more concerned about what the student’s swing looked like than how to improve their skill of making solid contact and squaring the club face to the intended target. I was mainly a swing coach at a driving range and I wasn’t doing my students any favors in helping them lower their scores long term.
It wasn’t until 2013 after attending the TPI Level 1 seminar and getting TPI certified that I started to understand the body swing connection and how every golfer has a unique swing and game based off of what they are physically capable of. I also went to my first World Golf Fitness Summit in 2014 that focused on coaching. The information I learned from the best coaches in the world helped me see the importance of coaching a skill rather than just technique. In 2017, I took the next step and got a BodiTrak mat and went through their certification to help me understand ground reaction forces and how pressure transfer impacts skill. I have seen the golf teaching and coaching business change because of technology and the information we now have from screening and studying golfers movements patterns.
I recently developed the SWS Golf process to help my competitive golfers improve their golf performance on the course long term based off of what I have learned the past 14 years. Here is a simple breakdown of each step. If you are serious about reaching your potential, I suggest following the SWS Golf Performance process in this order after you have a basic understanding of each part of the game (Phase 1 – Foundation Program).
Step 1: Assess
This step involves screening the body for lack of mobility and stability to find out where the golfer may be compensating because of tightness or weakness of their muscles and joints as well as helping them understand how to use the ground effectively (BodiTrak). This helps the golf performance coach develop a daily exercise and swing drill program the golfer can do daily on their own. It also helps the golfer develop a swing based off of their physical limitations. The goal is to create a plan based off of the assessment so the golfer can develop swing and movement patterns that are efficient and safe. My clients who are most successful make their daily TPI program a priority as much as practice or playing time. The TPI mobility part of their program (10 minutes) each client gets based off of their body & swing assessment is done at the beginning of their practice routine and before they go to the first tee box. The exercises in their TPI program should be memorized (automatic) because it becomes part of their daily routine. They incorporate their mobility exercises into their warm-up routine before they play golf. If they move and feel better, they are going to play better.
Step 2: Skill Development
When I talk about developing skill it includes consistently finding the sweet spot, low point (quality of divot), club face, and distance control. This includes every type of shot from putting, chipping, pitching, bunker shots, full-swing irons, woods, uneven lies, and rescue shots. The client first needs to know how to play each one of these shots (technique) and then be able to have the skill to pull off each shot consistently. An example of a skill drill is trying to land each ball in a hula hoop spread out over different distances playing chip and pitch shots using different clubs. This skill drill develops distance control and gets the client focusing on the process like they should be doing when playing golf. Many of these skill drills can take place out on the golf course when appropriate. I also like to use club face impact tape with all irons and woods to see where they are inconsistent at impact. If the client is consistently making contact off the toe of the club-face, they have to make the necessary corrections and movement pattern changes to consistently move that spot closer to the sweet spot. This is where good coaching helps but also gets the client focusing on external rather than internal thoughts that hurt performance when playing golf. The SIP-FATS process article I wrote goes more in depth on how to improve skill through this mental process.
Step 3: Develop Core Strength & Speed
Golf is a numbers game. The farther the ball travels down the fairway the higher the percentage the approach shot will end up closer to the hole and the better chance of holing out the putt in less strokes. Many new clients I work with don’t have the core strength to make an efficient golf swing so they compensate by using their lower back, arms, and hands too much during the swing causing inconsistency and future health problems. Golf fitness can be a big advantage for the golfer who generates more club head speed and quality movement with less effort and compensations because of their core strength (abdominal, shoulder scapular region, & glute muscles). I recommend all my clients do golf specific fitness training 2-3 times per week working on their balance, posture, core strength, speed, and movement patterns (BodiTrak).
Step 4: The Mental Process / Routine
I teach all my clients to follow a mental process or routine for each shot that includes these three components:
- Visualize the shot you are about to play before you address the ball (see it).
- Rehearse the shot with intentional focus feeling impact position before addressing the ball (feel it).
- After feeling the correct impact position, transfer that same feel to the ball (trust it).
Every shot is a little different and your routine may change a bit but the process for each shot needs to incorporate these three components to help maximize performance along with tension free breathing. Eventually this process becomes automatic which allows the brain to enter an altered state (the zone) and that is when you perform your best on the course. The response I get from all my clients in regards to what they were thinking when they played their best round of golf is, “NOTHING”. This is where we want to get your game for every shot. It takes focusing on the process rather than the results or outside factors we can’t control to get in the zone.
Step 5: Accountability & The Learning Process
Many of my past clients that go through the assessment and get their own TPI program to do on their own eventually stop doing the program because life happens and they aren’t held accountable. This is where meeting with a golf performance coach weekly or monthly can help the client stay on track and focused on performance. It is easy to get back into old habits or routines. Meeting with a coach weekly helps keep the golf specific exercises & drills fresh and done correctly. There are always going to be problems that come up in a client’s game so that is where it helps to have a coach that also helps the client solve the problems and make corrections on their own when playing. They also need to understand that failure is a part of the learning process. When a new movement pattern is introduced it is important for the client to commit to the process by putting in the repetitions and focus in order to experience improved performance long term.
Step 6: Develop a Practice Plan & Stick to It
One of the biggest reasons the average golfer never improves long term is they don’t have an effective practice plan nor practice developing each skill. I write in depth on this topic in my eBook, The Weakest Link and the online article I wrote: Titleist Performance Institute – Maximizing on Course Performance. I recommend my students practice on the course as much as possible when appropriate focusing on their weaknesses playing from different lies and skills. I provide each one of my committed clients a detailed practice plan they can work on indoors or outdoors year round. The focus is on quality over quantity practice time. If they only have 15 minutes that day, I want them to use that time wisely by working on their weaknesses and ingraining quality movement patterns and skill work. Improved performance just doesn’t happen because you have the knowledge. It happens because you put in the time and work by following a plan. This plan focuses more on developing skill rather than just technique and beating balls (hitting hundreds of balls at the driving range).
Step 7: Correct Equipment
This step focuses on getting the correct club fitting and equipment to help improve performance. The client can move well but still have inconsistency at impact because of a poorly fitted set of clubs. I recommend finding a certified club fitter that has the technology and carries all types of club manufacturers to find out if your body and swing matches your clubs. We refer all of our clients to GRIPS Golf in Springfield, MO for their bag analysis service to make sure they aren’t compensating because their clubs don’t fit.
Step 8: Nutrition
The final piece of the process is making sure your body is getting proper nutrition and hydration (water) before, during, and after a round of golf. If their is caffeine and sugar in the foods and drinks your consuming, golf performance is going to suffer when blood sugars drop because fatigue and focus is negatively impacted. I refer all my clients to a registered dietition at Achieving Your Best who specializes in sports nutrition. A nutritionist can help create meal plans and snacks to help you perform at a high level for an entire 18 holes.
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Here is a pic of one of my clients who has been following the SWS Golf Performance process the past couple of years. Gaven has committed to improving every day by following these steps and his practice plan. He does golf fitness training with me twice per week and one coaching session per week when they are in town or when he isn’t practicing or playing in tournaments during the season. When we aren’t together after school or on Saturdays he is working on his weaknesses in his practice plan or on the course playing and working on all of the skills. Gaven is intentional on his focus and how he practices and trains. He is having more fun because he is experiencing success and he now knows how to self correct and maintain his composure when he plays an errand shot.
It took Gaven a couple of years to develop a consistent movement pattern since his tendency was to over-swing and try to generate more club head speed inefficiently from the ground and his arms. His lower body was very tight due to not working on mobility before he started working with me. This past season he qualified for STATE and placed in the top 20 as a Sophomore in High School. He is determined but makes sure to enjoy the process. We have fun together as I challenge him in different skills (indoors and outdoors). He will continue to have his ups and downs like any level of golfer but I’m confident his scoring average will continue to drop over time because of his commitment to the process.
His parents have given him and I full autonomy and not pressure him to practice or play. I keep him accountable as his coach. There are a lot of high fives and listening to his thoughts and concerns. We are a team and he decides the direction and future of his game. His aspirations are to play College golf on scholarship. I will encourage him to continue to focus on the process and not the results because the results will take care of themselves if the process is followed. His parents and I remind him to stay focused and maintain balance with his school work, life, and golf so he doesn’t get burned out. I’m excited for his future success with his game and life!