As a youngster I had an athletics coach who had a great way of inspiring us to enjoy the sport. He was also good at keeping our minds off the things that tempt 14-year-olds but don't do much for their ability to record personal best times in the 1,500 metres.
Anyway, he was quite a taskmaster and pushed us pretty hard. But, the training was always directed, with a specific purpose in mind. He used to say, "Practice doesn't make perfect. It makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect."
I thought of his sage words this weekend just after I'd bludgeoned off 200 balls at the driving range in a desperate attempt to solve the swing problems I've been struggling with over the last few months. I came away thinking I'd probably done more harm than good. By pounding shots off, many with the same result - right and cutting - I was merely ingraining the fault, making it a permanent part of my game.
How many players who practice regularly are doing exactly this? The more they hit balls in the incorrect manner, the more this incorrect technique becomes their game. When they finally do decide to resort to a lesson, the fault is so endemic that it takes a monumental effort by them and by their teacher, to cure the problem.
I've never had a one-on-one lesson and I've always thought I know my swing well enough to solve any minor issues within it. Now, I'm not so sure. I tied myself up in knots yesterday trying all manner of different methods to rectify the problem.
I went to the range having convinced myself overnight that the issue was with my grip - it must be too weak. I strengthened it and made a few swings that felt a little odd. But a couple of solid iron shots and I truly believed I'd sorted it. But then the old blocked cuts started creeping back and soon were dominating again. So, next up, I considered my takeaway - I was picking it up too quick, yes that was it. Yup, a few attempts to make a more rounded swing delivered exactly the result I was looking for - a slight draw. Fixed. Nope, five more shots down the line and I had it slicing away nicely again.
Next, closing my body to the target - either pulls or big blocks, then keeping my left knee flexed through impact - low and not very powerful cuts, keeping my head behind it - big hooks. Then, back to the grip. Sounds like the instructions for a barn dance doesn't it?
I think the only reasonable course of action is to get a lesson, so it's time for me, and whoever is unfortunate enough to have to help me, to begin making that monumental effort.
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Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly.
Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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