Saturday, February 14, 2015


Many of you will have noticed I have been quiet as of late. No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth – I have actually been working hard on a project. And I am now very pleased to announce the publication of my book, “The Practice Manual”.

If you have enjoyed any of my blog posts, you will love this book. It goes into much further detail on many of the concepts I present in this blog. More importantly, it ties them all together into one coherent and flowing picture.


The book also offers practical solutions, and helps readers to structure their own practice better and in a way which will develop them fully as a player. The information can be implemented immediately into anyone’s practice plan, regardless of which swing methodology/system/principles they follow. The information is applicable to ALL golfers. If you are a golf junkie, an aspiring college/tour player/already on tour, or if you are just looking for a way to make your weekly one hour of practice more effective, this book is for you.


If you are a golf coach, this book is an absolute necessity – it will help you structure practice plans for your players with incredible detail, and also offer ways of monitoring your players which will be vital to their improvement. The information contained can be used by any coach, regardless of teaching style/method – it is designed to make you a better coach, not to change how you teach.

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about the book, I have created a separate website with more information. Or you can click the link

Trust me – you will become a much better player/coach for reading this.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to beat your playing partners EVERY TIME

In this article, I will tell you exactly how to beat your buddies in your fourball easily, every time. Money back guarantee.

I am a golf professional; I love teaching and writing about golf and it is certainly my main passion. I still enjoy playing golf, but it is very time consuming for me. Rather than go out and play a 5 hour round, I would prefer to sit and write an article, like this. I just have different goals and ambitions these days - playing at the elite level is not one of them.

As much as I appreciate what these guys do, I just have different 
life goals these days

I'm not a bad player either. I can get it around the course and shoot par regularly despite practicing maybe once a month - and that is in spite of a very poor short game due to this lack of practice. I have a Trackman Combine average score (a test to measure your hitting ability against anyone in the world) of 86, and a high score of 88.4 (compare to Poulter - 88.6  and Justin Rose - 88.8, Dufner - 88.7). I also currently hold number 2 in the world for 160 yards mark,with an average of 7.4 feet.

I say this mainly to convey that, yes, I can golf my ball. Also, as I practice what I preach regarding differential practice and working mainly on improving club and ball contact (ball flight laws), it adds weight to the fact that it works. I hit the ball better now than I have ever done, even though I practice maybe 1/40th of the amount I used to.

But I have a secret - one which I am not afraid to hide from others, as I learned one of the greatest lessons from it.

I failed my Playing ability test

For those who don't know what it is, in order to become a member of the PGA, you not only have to pass all the written theoretical exams, but you have to do a playing test. This consists of 2 rounds of golf in one day (which is tiring enough under that pressure), where you have to shoot no more than 15 over the standard scratch (a round of 7 over and 8 over would do it). For a player of my level, it sounds ridiculously easy, and it should be, except

We get in the way of ourselves.

Test day

I played the first round,and despite a freak July hailstorm (welcome to Britain), my electric trolley subsequently conking out from the rain, and dropping all my Jaffa cakes on the wet, fertilized 2nd tee box, thus having nothing to eat for the entire 36 holes, I finished that round just 8 over par.

The second round, the sun came up, the wind died down and conditions were ideal. Now I had absolutely no excuses.

After a birdie on the second hole of the second round, I now was 7 over with 16 holes to play. And I distinctly remember the thought running through my head

"I have 8 shots to play with 16 holes left. That's one bogey per hole and I will finally be a professional golfer"

Ensue an onslaught of bled shots left right and center, seemingly from nowhere (slight club misjudgments, a few missed shot putts etc) until I was standing on the 17th tee 16 over par for the two rounds, wondering where on earth all the shots had gone.

But now was a different mindset. Now I was about to lose the chance of my professional status. I needed a birdie or it was gone.

I birdied the 17th, hitting my shot to 12 feet and draining the putt.

Now it was ON

Ecstatic, I was now back in the game. Just one hole left to play and it was a par 5. All I needed was a par on an easy hole and I would gain my professional status. I was so nervous at the prospect of what I could Gain, that I went ahead and bogeyed the last hole, after the worst approach shot into the green of the day, missing a subsequent 5 foot putt after a chip.

I choked


According to recent research from Chib et al (2014) - Click HERE to see - Our personalities combined with how we frame situations can have a massive determinant on whether we choke or not. This research shows that 

  • Loss averse people (people who hate losing) are more likely to choke if they are thinking about what they stand to gain from a performance. 
  • And people who value winning more, are more likely to choke when they frame things in terms of what they stand to lose

I am VERY loss averse. If I am playing a round of golf with 2 other buddies, my main goal is to not be the guy who finishes last. This is simply how my mind works, and I don't think it is a negative. In fact, I once folded 3 aces in a big hand of poker, as I didn't want to lose to the potential flush that was out on the board. This turned out to be a good decision. 


Think about how this relates to my playing ability test. Initially, I framed the situation on the third tee as what I had to gain -my professional status. I then proceeded to have a long, drawn out choking session until the 17th, where I instantly reframed the situation to what I had to lose. Amazingly, exactly as the science would predict, I performed brilliantly on that hole and walked off with a birdie.

Only to fall foul of the science again, by framing the last hole as what I would stand to gain by performing well on that hole. Again, a choke on the final hole confirms what science now knows.

Trackman Combine

This was even apparent during  my first Trackman combine test. The first time I tried it, my only goal was to not lose to my colleague who had just completed it. As a result of framing it as what I stood to lose, my performance was quite good - to the point that now I was on for a pretty good score. As I was well ahead of my goal, my focus now shifted to the good score that I could produce. I was thinking about what I had to gain. As a result, I hit a few bad drives to finish -choking due to my reframing of the situation.

Even in my score of 88.4, I was on for a score higher than 90 with 2 drives left to hit. With the penultimate drive, framing it as what I had to what I had to Gain (a score of 90), I choked and hit a drive of a score of 24, dropping me way out of the 90 range. Now, with my mind framing it as "I am about to lose my score of 90", I proceeded to hit a drive of 93. Unfortunately this didn't get me to my goal, but it was evidence again of what the science confirms.

Internal thermostat

This also relates to what I talked about in this article (CLICK HERE). We all have a different set-point for where our thermostat should be. This may be shooting around 100 for some players, or shooting around par for others. Whenever we get on a roll and enter new territory (our best ever games), our minds tend to bring up incorrect thoughts for our personality. Loss averse people playing their best will start to think about what they can gain - thus choking and bringing them back to their set-point. Win seekers mind's tend to veer towards what they can potentially lose.

Being aware of this and having appropriate strategies set up can really aid us in trumping our limits and breaking into a new set-point. After all, once someone has shot in the 90's for the first time, they tend not to shoot in the 100's again because of the new set-point and ability to frame a round of 100 in a way which spurs them to beat it. 

We all have an internal thermostat in all areas of our lives.
Where is your's set? Are you holding yourself back simply from your beliefs?

E.g Loss averse people saying "I will not shoot in the 100's today", and win seekers saying "I will get another round in the 90's today".

This thermostat is an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us gently pushing boundaries whilst maintaining what has allowed us to survive. If we had no mental boundaries at all, we would likely have not survived. Our mind, thusly, tends to bring us back to our set-point by shifting focus onto areas which make our personality type choke.

Choking is a survival mechanism

Wrap your head around that. 

Our internal thermostat is there to help us with survival.

How to use this info 

Try to work out if you are a person who is more loss averse (tries not to lose), or are more dominant towards trying to win. In a fourball, are you only happy if you win? Or can you settle for not being last?

If you are Loss averse, as I am, try to focus on what you stand to lose if you don't perform well. For someone like us, this can be massively motivating, as we get inspired to maintain what we have and will switch up a gear in order to maintain it. As a result of this personality type, we rarely shoot very high scores. If we are not going to shoot out best score, we frame it as "well, I am definitely not going to shoot over this score". This can stop us having blow out rounds.

Now that's a blowout round

The negatives to be aware of if you are loss averse are when you are playing well. This scenario is one where our minds tend to veer towards what we have to gain. As a result, our personality types can choke if we focus on the wrong thing ("I could win this tournament"). Try to maintain a focus of what you have built up, and what you don't want to lose ("I don't want to lose this five dollars"). Ironically, I have even used the phrase "I don't want to be the guy who is leading and then chokes" as a way to better performance.and it really works.   

If you are a win seeker, Focus more on what you have to gain from good performance. This is usually more motivating. Focus on that five dollars you are going to win. Focus on being the one in the group who played the best, everyone talking about your great round in the bar. 

This is not to say you can't stay in the here and now during the execution of the shot itself. But how you are framing the situation as whole will have a marked effect on your performance.  


Tiger has always been a win seeker. His entire world has been around winning and getting towards the record of Jack Nicklaus' majors. So he quite rapidly got very close, as he had the mindset of what he has to gain.

Yet, recent years, and his naughty antics, has brought a media onslaught against him. Commentators relentlessly claim he has 'lost it' (even when winning 5 tournaments in a year with multiple injuries - go figure). how do you think his mindset will have changed as a result of that?

Is he thinking now about what he stands to lose (his dominance over the field and his breaking of Jack's record)? He certainly has produced a few more 'choke-like' moments in recent years than when he was gunning for Jack's record in his earlier, more dominant and positive-focused years, where the media were talking about what he stood to GAIN as a rising star.

Look at how the papers have changed

Lots of assumptions in there, but just something to think about.

Beating your buddies?

I promised to give you advice on how to beat your buddies every time. well, using the above advice is a good way, but there is a better one. 

  • If your playing partner is very loss averse, why not allow him to focus on what he stands to gain. "Hey Jim, you are playing really well today. Looks like you could be winning the 5 dollars. You are going for your 7th par in a row"
  • If your playing partners are win seekers - make them focus on what they stand to lose. "Wow Jim, you are on a hell of a streak, don't mess it up or you could lose this run of 6 pars you have been having".
Watch them crash and burn, and savour the flames.

Just kidding -do not do this. It is poor etiquette and poor sportsmanship. ;)

I would just like to add that I have since passed my playing ability test with ease (a month later) and am a PGA professional.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to gain 55.9 yards in 3 minutes

I have always had a pathetic amount of swing speed. As a junior, all the other kids much younger than me used to whack it 40 yards past me. One of the deciding factors on whether I pursued a career playing professionally or go into teaching happened when I played the Welsh amateur. I got beat 6 down with 5 to play. He hit is 70 yards past me (230 to 300), and was going in with wedges to par fours I was struggling to reach. Please, shed a tear for me.

I recently tried the new Taylormade driver. I didn't see my clubhead speed, but it was around 100-105 mph max. I rarely go above 103mph. In the test I describe here,my clubhead speed only averages 102.5 max, which would be dead last on tour.

My highest average clubhead speed of 102.5 would be dead last on tour.
By a whole 1 mph :( 

 Comparing it to the fastest swingers on tour makes me feel even worse

But, there is hope

Although my clubhead speed is relatively low, during the Taylormade testing, I managed to get one of the balls to go 316 yards. This is definitely further than I normally hit it. We looked at the launch numbers, and the launch was higher than normal with lower spin (17.6 deg launch, 1400 spin) which is the idea behind their new head design. The testers said I was the most efficient driver they had tested, and had never seen anyone with my girly speed get over 300 before. They put it down to my angle of attack.

Angle of attack is basically the vertical path the club is taking through impact - whether you are hitting down or up on the ball, and by how much. Most players fall between a -3 to +3 range (hitting down or up by 3 degrees). My Angle of attack,or AOA, was +9 for that particular shot. I must admit that I was trying to get it this high, as I know from experience I get my best carry distances with this swing.

But this got me thinking, how much of an effect does AOA have on distance? So, I decided to do an N=1 experiment. Please understand, there are a lot of variables which go into creating distance. This test simply looked at what happened when I changed MY angle of attack using the same driver.

Please note, for the testing, all shots were normalised, meaning that wind and air temperature were not a factor and everything was standardised. Altitude was set at sea level.

+5 AOA

I decided to start with a +5 AOA, as this would typically be my norm for me. After 10 shots, here were my results.

As you can see, my average clubhead speed was 100.9 mph. My average Angle of attack was 5.8 degrees upwards. This produced an average distance of 288.6 yards, with a top distance of 295.1 yards. Carry distance was at 262.4 yards in the air. 

Neutral AOA

Next, I tried to level out my swing. This would be the typical average AOA on tour for men.

As you can see, the YELLOW drives averaged and AOA of -0.7 degrees. Average total distance dropped down to 273, with the highest distance being 278.4 yards. Carry distance dropped down to 234.4 yards. 

Negative AOA

It is very common for us as teachers to see average players with very negative angles of attack. This means the player is hitting down drastically on the ball. It is not uncommon for me to come across someone hitting 8 degrees down with a driver. Well, let's look what happened when I did the same.

Now, the purple numbers represent the negative AOA. On average, it was a 5.2 degree downward blow. This is actually very common amongst amateurs. The distance achieved with the same swing speed now dropped down to 257.7 yards, with a longest drive of 266.7 yards. Carry distance dropped off significantly, averaging only 216.5 yards.  

Positives and negatives

So, going from a -5.2 AOA to a +5.8 AOA resulted in an extra 31.9 yards total,and an extra 46.4 yards carry distance. This was with the same swing speed of 101 mph. There are some problems which I will address in a moment, but first, let's get EXTREME.

I decided to have a look at how far the ball would go if I hit as much up on it as possible. I went beyond the limits of most people, into the ranges of long drive champions to see how far you can get with maximum efficiency of a powder-puff swing speed. Below are my results.

Now I have gone to a crazy 8.1 degree positive AOA. That is a full 13.6 degrees difference in angle of attack. In fact, if you look, you will see one AOA of +11.4. While it is certainly not realistic to make this kind of change to a player overnight, understand that I did this in a matter of seconds, from one swing to the next. 

With this silly amount of positive AOA, I managed to get an average total distance of 295.5 yards, a maximum distance of 305.1 yards, and a carry distance of 272.4 average. This was with a slightly higher clubhead speed (1mph) and a resultant higher ball speed. But I seemed to find it easier to create this higher speed without any extra effort. I theorise that the positions I was using to create the positive AOA also helped me use the ground better.

This means that my total driving distance was improved by 37.8 yards, my carry distance was improved by 55.9 yards.

The results in table form

Below are the results in a table for visual ease

So,we can see that potentially, the same person may gain 56 yards of carry and 38 yards of total distance. That can mean the difference between going in with a Pitching Wedge instead of a 6 iron.

Adjustment of results

Now, most of the swing speeds were very similar and the tests varied by only 1.5 mph swing speed total. However, the highest swing speed also had the highest smash factor (energy transference into the ball). Whilst this could be a direct result of the different technique, it may also be a confounding variable. 

For this reason, I also decided to adjust for ball speed (which will counteract any benefit of clubhead speed and smash factor) and also for spin rate, by using only results which had spin rates within 10% of each other. I consulted Dave Tutelman on how to normalise for ball speed. He had this to say

"Let's assume that the driver is well fit to the golfer. (That means that launch angle and spin rate are proper for the golfer's clubhead speed, AoA, wrist cup or bow, etc.) Another assumption is central enough face contact to get a smash factor close to 1.5. Under those conditions:

*** You get about 2 additional yards for every additional MPH of ball speed."

The results now look like this

It was also interesting that I created more speed with the technique which allowed me to hit more upwards on the ball. A subsequent increase in smash factor shows that this extra speed was also more effectively transferred. 


The swing technique efficiency is worked out by dividing total and carry distance by the swing speed. We get the following values. 

So, the most efficient technique is the most positive AOA, creating 2.88 yards per mph of swing speed, and 2.66 yards of carry per mph of club speed. Compared to the top pro's? It would easily be the highest and most efficient on tour, with Webb Simpson leading at only 2.639 yards per mph club speed. 

What about the physical ball flight efficiency? What did the different AOA's do on yards/mph of ball speed?


So, even when we look simply at the ball distance per mph, we still see a positive correlation between increasing AOA and increased yard per mph. This takes smash factor and clubhead speed out of the equation.

Discussion and take home notes

In this N=1 experiment, increasing AOA had a positive effect on both total distance and Carry distance. It had a more beneficial effect on carry distance, offering a whopping 55.9 yards extra carry. This is positive news for a lot of people, as it offers hope that we can make massive strides in our distance even if we don't hit the gym every day for a year. The swing changes took me less than one swing to make.But, if I am honest, it took around a year before I went from comfortably around -3 to being comfortable around +5. 

It is worth noting that I used a Callaway 8.5 degree head with a stiff shaft. It is likely that, with the steeper AOA's, a more lofted head would have performed better, especially regarding carry distance. Although, it is also worth noting that the most negative AOA also had the highest spin rates overall. 

So, why did this positive AOA go further? Well, the launch angle increased dramatically. With the +5 AOA, launch angle was 14 degrees. With the -5 AOA, launch angle was around 8 degrees. Sure, we could increase the loft on the club to launch it higher, but that would also increase spin-loft and cause a drop in ball speed and increase in spin rate. I think, in order to further maximise distance, using the higher AOA and using a club with less loft would do the trick,as it would spin even less. My furthest shots with the +8 AOA were also the lowest spinning shots. 

There is also the question of accuracy. I am not lying when I say that I actually performed better with the +5 AOA, and second straightest with the +8 AOA. The more negative the AOA, the worse I performed in both distance and accuracy. Although, it has to be said that I practice more often with a +5 AOAand least often with a -5 AOA. 

Everyone may be different, and some may perform better with a more negative AOA. not only does what you have ingrained matter, but how your body is mobile to move will also make a difference. The technique I used to create the +8 AOA wont even be possible for many. While there are many ways to create this positive attack angle, I feel that my way is best for me personally. If you would like to see the swing I used,  look below


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014


You've heard it a million times. The power of visualisation. What exactly does it mean, and why does it work?

Visualisation is simply the process of creating an image or movie scene in our head- daydreaming, if you will. Some people are better at this than others, but it seems as if this skill can be worked upon and developed. You can even teach this skill to a kid; Sit them down and ask them to imagine their favourite food (probably ice cream). Tell them to imagine their favourite flavour, the fact it is hot out, and the cool creamy texture on their tongue. Within seconds, you will see them licking their lips and mouth watering with a smile on their face. Do they want an Ice cream now? You bet!

The reason for this is an inextricable Link between mind and body. If you focus on a situation where you are normally confident (for me, it's the first tee at the golf club I grew up on) you will instantly feel a sense of confidence and put your body in a posture which signals that to others. Before we had language, we used postural cues to convey to others our thoughts and emotions. We are still attuned to these cues these days.

As an example, if you walk into a room with your head held high and chest out, shoulders back, it signifies confidence to the room. Now, you could simply fake these positions through being aware of them. Or, you could work on things which make you more confident. The former person has to be constantly aware of their posture to project the right things to the room. The latter person has this posture automatically.

Focus tool - inattentional blindness

Visualisation is a great focus tool. By visualising in great detail, we can improve our attention onto what we do want to achieve. This doesn't necessarily have to be done during the shot (I personally perform better with a zombie-like performance state during the shot itself), but pre-shot visualisation can really help.

Tiger woods has been known to say that he struggles to visualise correctly. I'm not sure I believe him, or think that his definition of visualisation may have been too strict or unrealistic. But, watch his eyes as he is preparing for this shot. What do you think he is doing here?

Visualising can also help to block out unwanted stimulus. Just as when you focus on a good book, you sometimes don't hear the clock ticking (until someone brings it to your attention), visualising the shot as you wish it to be can block out crowds, danger, unwanted swing thoughts, playing partners rattling the change in their pockets etc.

I wrote about this more in THIS ARTICLE

Neuronal activation

If you flash an image of a coke can to anyone, their brain will light up neurons associated with this. Usually an image of a red truck with the tune "holidays are coming " will rush through your head automatically. This is due to the conditioning your brain has experienced through all of the marketing and advertising.

The same is true of movement. If you visualise a certain outcome, your brain will be firing neurons associated with that movement pattern. This can also work in reverse; see the water in the left and you may say to yourself "I had better stay away from that". Now you are accessing neurons related to a slice shot, or push right.

For this reason,

  • the visuals you try to imagine
  • the words you use to yourself and 
  • the feels you subsequent try to create should all be as positive as you can. 

Now, this may not mean aggressively positive (as in "hit it to that pin tucked 3 feet from water"). We should still exercise a good STRATEGY, but you should be visualising what you want, now what you are avoiding.

Muscular activation. Skier study

A study was conducted with skiers where they sat in a chair, hooked up to EMG ( which measures muscular activation) and were asked to imagine going down a ski slope. The results of the EMG showed that, even though the skiers were sitting motionless, their muscles were firing in a way were similar to actually going down the slope - simply by visualising it.

Obviously, this links to the above point about neuronal activation. As movement stems from the brain, any visuals we use can activate both neurons and muscle fibers. This electrical activity in the muscles builds up as a potential. We have other mechanisms in our brain which convert this potential to movement or not, but needless to say, visualising the wrong or right thing can have a big effect on your performance.

This is evident in ideomotor effect (CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE), where an idea causes a motor response. Get a person to hold a long necklace like a pendulum. If you ask them to visualise the pendulum moving back and forth, it will start to do it ( try it!). This will happen even if the person holding the pendulum believes they are not moving it at all. The pendulum merely amplifies the small signals being sent to the arm by the brain.

Neuro plasticity long term belief systems and confidence rugby kicker visualising

It has been demonstrated that, when we think about something, our brain literally changes it's structure. This is called neuro plasticity. Our brain consists of a bunch of neurons (amongst other things) which are connected in millions of ways. When we activate neurons through thought or intention, we fire an electrical impulse. Do it enough times and the pathways of the signal get strings get and more efficient. Do it even more, and a substance called myelin wraps itself around those neurons, increasing the likelihood that this becomes a habit.

This is why learning and practice works. Done in the right way, practice benefits our ability to draw out the desired outcome. But this also works on a subconscious level too, and is strengthened by emotions. As an example, if every time you met a friend you smelled the Abercrombie and Fitch scent, you would eventually link the two. Now, any time you smelled that scent, you would think of them. If you happened to develop a romantic relationship with that person, that link would become stronger. Years later, long after the relationship was over, you smell that scent and immediately thoughts of them, and the emotions associated with them arise.

Whole belief systems and basically who you are as a person is a result of this process. A large part is genetic, but we know a lot of personality is a result of our environmental conditioning too.

Attaching it to a trigger squeeze grip

Imagine taking control of this mechanism and attaching visualisations, and the emotions associated with that, to something else. Imagine if every time we visualised our good shots and felt those good shot emotions, we squeezed our thumb and forefinger together. Eventually, with enough repetitions, the good shots would be attached to this finger squeeze, and just like a perfume reminds us of an old flame, we would instantly be flooded with confidence when we make this finger squeeze action in a pre shot routine.

A clockwork golf?

Long term

There is obviously no way of definitively proving this, but it is likely that the long term benefits of visualisation are huge. With what we can achieve in our brain through neuroplastic processes, and the subsequent effect this has on the rest of our body on a cellular level, it is very advantageous to understand this process and take control of it. Not just for golf, but for life.

If you can set your brain up to be more conditioned to see the right things, think the right things, interpret scenarios in a specific way and draw out certain emotions, you can really maximise your potential in lots of areas. It is even commonly accepted that we can produce certain genetic changes within ourselves (research the field of epigenetic). Although be realistic, you are not going to get Usain Bolt's sprinting genetics just by visualising it over and over ;)

If you are consistently visualising appropriate things, you are improving your brain's ability to seek out things which relate to it (CLCK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THE RETICULAR ACTIVATING SYSTEM). You are changing your brain's attractor state patterns, re-wiring the brain (literally), conditioning your cells to certain emotions etc.

Can visualisation beat practice?

No. Well, no study has shown this yet. But a study showed that basketballers who visualised free throws improved EQUALLY AS MUCH as ones which physically practiced. This was compared to basketballers who did nothing and didn't improve at all. So, visualisation has the potential to improve you even when you are unable to practice. Imagine combining practice AND visualisation. At the very least, if you are unable to physically practice for whatever reason, doing a 10 minute visualisation session can still allow you to improve. No excuses for not getting to the range.

I have my own anecdotal evidence that visualising a certain move can help you achieve it technically. I have improved my own swing technique just by visualising myself from different angles in a desired position, and going through the motion at different speed in my minds eye. When I was younger, my swing path was about 10 degrees to the right. As hard as I tried, I could never get the club to move to the left through impact. Yet, through effective visualisation of impact, I am now able to easily achieve whatever swing path I desire. It's as if my visualisation opened up the pathway to change my technique.

Just by visualising what I wanted the club to do through this point in space
I was able to effectively change it.

Analysing faults

This brings us to an important conclusion, and one which I am adamant of making players and coaches more aware of. We are so quick to look at the effects (kinematics) such as what the club did to cause the hook. We know the face was closed to the path, but what caused that? Well, now we are entering an era where we can analyse the kinetics of what caused the kinematics. Maybe the rotor cuff fired hard, applied a torque to the club and closed the face down too much? But what caused that?

Not all faults have a physical cause.

Read it again. In fact, as all movement stems from the brain, you could say that almost all technical faults come from an incorrect mental process.

Imagine this scenario - player steps onto first hole on a new course. It is very similar to the thirteenth tee at their home course; their dreaded hole that they always miss left on. Their subconscious is firing the brain wildly, and they are visualising the ball go left, just like their home course. So they aim right to compensate.

How would this hole affect you mentally? How would it affect your
Trackman Numbers?

As they are over the ball, they feel the have overcompensated, but they have set up their body now - they have to commit. Then they remember they were blocking it on the range. Aiming right and a block pattern is not a good mix. As they make their swing, the fear of blocking it further right sets in and they make an unconscious adjustment during the downswing which closes the face. End result - they hit the ball exactly where they didn't want to. A double bluff.

This above scenario is certainly a common thing amongst players. But the majority of players go straight to fixing the swing mechanics. This is the equivalent of fixing your broken car by getting a Plumber to take a look at the sink. Wrong fault buddy.

Time to work on Dem mechanikz

Higher handicaps will usually have a similar situation, but may go something like this;

Player sets up and there is danger on the right. They have been slicing all day so they don't want to go in the danger. They stand over the ball and their instincts take over, and they make a massive swipe at the ball, swinging 20 degrees left through impact (because the believe direction is caused by swinging the club through impact one way or another - see my article BALL FLIGHT LAWS for a better understanding). As a result of swinging 20 degrees left, the ball carves right into the danger they wanted to miss. This is still a mental fault, a misunderstanding of a slice cause, combined with poor strategy and poor visualisation.

So, question yourself. Question your players (if you are a coach). Don't just take it for face value that you sliced it because your path was left. What mental processes contributed to that? At my level, I would say 95% of my faults are mental to some extent. Whether that is overdoing a technical fix, or simple fear of a poor shot. I try to make my players as aware of this as possible. We have been so conditioned to automatically jump to fixing the symptoms of a shot (the club kinematics or body movement) that we almost completely ignore the engine which is driving them.

The mind is the engine

Take home notes

Visualisation is important. It can be a tool for

  • changing our attention
  • blocking out distractions 
  • improving our ability to create a desired movement (through muscular activation and neuronal excitement)
  • to change our perceptions of the world and what information gets through to our conscious mind (reticular activating system), along with genetic changes. 
  • And many faults can be attributed to processes associated with this.

One last example

I once worked with a very good player who was struggling with driving the ball. They were down to hitting 25% of fairways. I looked on the range at their swing. We analysed it with video, looked at the numbers. Yes, they could have been improved, but she was hitting 80% fairways on the range, even with RANDOM PRACTICE.

I took a different approach. Rather than change her swing (I knew she had it in her) I just needed to draw that technique out on the course. Even consciously, she said she was visualising positively and felt confident. But I knew there had to be something going on subconsciously.

I knew it wasn't a case of creating a new swing, but unlocking
what was already there

We spent one day going around the course and hitting a drive on each hole until she nailed one, before buggying to the next hole. Her task was to then go home and visualise each of those shots she nailed, imagining the routine, the feeling of confidence before the shot, the feeling of elation after the shot. As she did this, she held her driver in her hand and squeezed the grip.

After one week she was hitting 50% fairways. After 2 weeks she was up to 70% success. We filmed the swing - no change.

Now, obviously there is an element of snowball effect (player starts to hit a few more fairways, gathers confidence which has a further effect) and Placebo effect. But, those are mental elements too. If visualisation improves those, it is just another reason to do it.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Correlation and causation

This is a Topic which I deal with every day. I think it is one of the things which we should all spend some time understanding, as it can influence so much of what we see on a day to day basis. In fact, whole industries can and have been set up on a faulty premise of this topic, and many people have been duped or even damaged by advice given on a misunderstanding in this area. By understanding this, you set yourself up for a life of rationality, allowing you to see things for what they truly are, as opposed to how they may be presented.

What prompted this post is the fact that I see so many people get this idea wrong. They take things at face value, and make incorrect assumptions (or assume things too quickly). Why is this a problem? Well, incorrect assumptions can lead to incorrect advice, which can lead to detriments to your golf.

What is correlation and causation?

Correlation refers to something which happens In conjunction with something else. For example, if event A happens followed by event B (either simultaneously or shortly after), it could be said that A correlates with B.

Causation is simple. It is something which causes something else. If I push an object and it moves, you can say that I caused it to move. The two also correlate. My push and the movement happened simultaneously, so this is a perfect example of when correlation equals causation.


It is a very big advantage for us to be able to make these links. If we made these links quick enough, it could ensure our survival in the wild, through avoiding danger or seeking things we need. If we can correlate the lions roar with needing to o get away, this is an advantage. Also, if we can correlate the sight of a certain tree with that of the food it possesses, we can be at an advantage over organisms which don't have that ability.

you had better correlate the roar of this guy with the need to run.
The only problem is, we take this automatic linking into almost everything.

Every living animal can do this on some level. A fly can find its way to food simply from following the scent of the food, detecting whether concentrations of particles are getting more or less dense, and changing its course of flight accordingly. But a fly is not saying to itself "the food is over there. It smells good, I had better fly there" as it doesn't have the ability to put these instincts into words to itself. As humans, we seem to be much more conscious of this process, simply because we can describe these things to ourselves through he power of our language.


But there are always times where a correlation happens, but it is not caused by what correlated with it. A and B may have happened simultaneously, but it B could have been caused by a third influence - C. Or even, A could have been caused by B - a reverse correlation.

Think about this example - the decline in pirates causes global warming. There is a clear correlation between the two, but one would be foolish to say that the fall in pirate populations is causing global warming. This is a case of A correlating with B, but not causing it. Global warming is more likely to be caused by a third factor.

It may be that factor C, a change in society, has caused both A and B. Societal changes have increased our rate of pollution, and also changed things which have enabled us to stop pirates existing. This is a case of C causing both A and B.

Or, it could be that pirates don't like heat, and as a result of global warming, this has declined irate populations. Obviously this is silly, but wait until we look at other, golf related correlations and causations.

This is important, because a correct understanding will stop us trying to increase pirate populations as a global warming preventative.

And, in golf?

What if there was a study done where a correlation was found between hitting the ball a long way, and the separation between hip and shoulder turn? For example, if it was found that top pros who hit the ball over 300 yards tend to turn their shoulders 55 degrees more than their hips turn. E.g. Hip turn 40 degrees, shoulder turn 95 degrees. It would be tempting to say that this separation, known as X factor, causes longer distance as it correlates with it. It would then be tempting to extrapolate from that, and then proceed to try and get everyone and their dog to increase this X factor in an attempt to increase distance. A causes B?
X factor - and I'm not talking about the talent show

The theory is further strengthened when we find a scientific explanation for why this case may be true. Muscles are known to have a stretch/ shortening element to them. This is where, in order to contract to their maximum efficiency and effectiveness, they achieve this better with a short 'stretch' just preceding the contraction. Muscles act like elastic bands, apparently ;)

However, what if A didn't cause B. What if long hitting was caused by a different element, C. What if it was the professional golfers' flexibility which was allowing them to create this bigger X factor and thus more distance?

What if there were several causal elements - C, D, E etc? The ligament/ tendon lengths and insertions, the point specific strength ranges of the players muscles, their sequencing, their rate coding, strength and mobility of each muscle, or a ton of other stuff?

And what if other elements caused those things? What if the ability to control the clubhead at speed, along with genetic elements and thousands of hours of practice had developed the above things, which caused the clubhead speed, which had caused the distance.

Houston, we have a....

Now we have a problem, because we try to implement this bigger X factor into the player, but they don't have elements C, D, E. And they also haven't done the things which caused C, D and E yet. What would happen if you try to get a player to increase their X factor when they don't have the flexibility of a tour pro, or the mobility? You would end up pushing them out of their personal range, and achieve their maximum stretch too soon. At best, you would get less speed, less distance, throw the rest of the sequence off and affect impact variables negatively. At worst, you could injure the player.

yeah... umm... just get your shoulder turn to 90 degrees and hip turn at 
35 degrees buddy. Oh shit, sorry...... are you ok?

Pressure shifts

It's common these days to talk about pressure shifts in the golf swing. This relates to the amount of pressure felt under the individual feet of a player at certain points in the swing. A typical tour pro would have about 50/50 distribution at the start, around 80% pressure under back foot around late backswing! and then pressure shifts dramatically towards front foot (80% in front ) early in the downswing ( typically by the time the left arm has reached parallel). Amateurs not only do not shift their pressure nearly enough, but they also do not do it early enough.

image from Dr Kwon, a leader in golf biomechanics

This is great to know, but the information also needs to be exercised with caution. Simply shifting the pressure better is not always going to lead to the desired result. I say "not always" as it depends on a number of factors.

Say we take the hypothetical example of a typical beginner which is trying to lift the ball in the air. If you look at their pressure pattern under their feet, they may have considerably more pressure on their back foot throughout the swing. But it is not the pressure shift causing the poor strike, it is their incorrect concept of how to strike the ball causing the poor pressure shift pattern. I talked about concepts in THIS and THIS article

Why is this important to know? Well, if you simply get a player to shift their pressure like a pro without addressing the concept, there will now be a disassociation between the concept the player holds and the technique they are applying. Their pressure shift is being forced upon them in an attempt to control how they strike the ball, yet the player is consciously (or subconsciously) trying to strike the ball in a way which is contrary.

There is a REASON why a golfer would get into these positions.
And it is rarely because they haven't learned better positions yet.

Sometimes forcing a technique upon someone like this can work. I am not saying it doesn't. But it is an inorganic way of making the correct technique arise. Also, for a correct pressure shift to function correctly, lots of other pieces need to be in place. A more forceful pressure shift (like a pro) but with an overly leftward swing direction (like a typical amateur) can make all hell break loose.

I have seen many times where simply improving the player's ability to strike the ground in the right place has had an automatic positive effect on pressure shift, but without any awareness at all. In fact, the top pros predominantly have their amazing pressure shift patterns which were developed without any awareness of them.

See my lesson example to see one of these concept-led organic changes CLICK HERE

The lesson here is that, not only can things be reverse correlation, but often times forcing a correlation upon someone may need all the other correlatory factors to come with. It is possible to change more than one swing element at once, and good teachers can often find ways of doing multiple complementary changes with one swing thought. However, if you are an amateur, you would be wise to not try and copy what the top pros do without a deeper understanding of all the elements. Leave it to your teacher to help you decide what to work on.

Mental correlates

Golf psychology is also getting more popular. We are doing more and more research into this topic, and I am very interested in it myself.

When we look at the top players, we can see certain mental traits which are common. Look at the demeanour and body language of a player who is playing well. Head up, chest up, walking with a speedy gait. It would be tempting to say that these body language cues CAUSE good performance. But I wouldn't be writing about this is it were true.

how well is the above player playing? Guess... go on

Now, this can be relatively harmless (much so than technical correlates). If you are to force upon yourself a positive body language, it may not do you any harm. It might not make you play better (I could easily walk down the fairway looking like I am leading the tournament, yet be shanking it around the course). So in that respect, it is relatively harmless. Apart from the mental effort it requires to hold your body language positive whilst playing poorly.

There is some research showing that it may be negative though. I saw a study where depressed people were asked to repeat the mantra to themselves "I am happy". The results were astounding, it made them MORE depressed. So, there could be an effect where forcing a mental state upon yourself may have detriments.

So, what do you think is really causing a player who is playing well to have this body language? Chances are, how they are interpreting the situation to themselves is causing an automatic change in their body language. This is evolutionary ingrained in each of us. If you were to visualise a situation where you are very confident normally, your body would likely adopt the same posture. It was our way of communicating with each other before language developed, and is held in our reptilian brain.

So, rather than simply copy the body language or the words that a player is using when playing well, look at the underlying mechanisms behind them. I talked a little about this in my CREATING UNSHAKEABLE BELIEFS post. Needless to say, it would be more beneficial to deconstruct our belief systems which cause poor body language. The long term benefits of this would be positive body language regardless of how we are playing, and without the need to force it upon ourselves.

Maybe we should inform ourselves about ourselves, rather than stick a 'band-aid' on the body language

Another mental example

I'm going to use an example which is similar to something which is out there right now, but I am going to change the example subtly, so the point is the same but the actual idea is protected. I any case, I am not saying it doesn't work, just that we should be cautious.

Imagine a study found that the best putters in the world had a very relaxed jaw, as measured by pressure sensors on a gum shield. It would then be tempting to get people to focus on how relaxed their jaw is throughout the stroke.

Wait, so you're saying I have the makings of a good putter?

But what if the cause of tension was something else? And what if the cause of relaxation was something else! And what if trying to get a player to relax their jaw actually causes performance detriments?

Perhaps the good putter with the relaxed jaw is in a relaxed and confident state of deep visualisation, using parts of their brain which are creative and drawing past successes. Perhaps they have no awareness of their jaw pressure, but it is happening as a result of the above mental processes. The irony is, if you were to suddenly make the player aware of their jaw pressure, it may throw them out of this ideal performance state, as it contradicts the brain activity pattern which made the jaw relaxed in the first state. Oh what a paradox.

The same could then be true of applying a relaxed jaw to an amateur who is a poor putter. It may interfere with their visualisation processes and make them worse. There is also the chance it could make them better, but you should exercise interventions with caution.


There are some ideas which become popular because of sociological Reasons. They then spread further and further until they are commonplace. They may then correlate with elite performance even though it doesn't cause it. There is even the chance it could correlate with good performance in spite of being detrimental to it.

For example, imagine that for years before instruction was popular, golfers rotated their hips and straightened their back leg naturally. Now, imagine a golf coach decides that they don't like this look, and feels that the swing would be more stable if you maintained the flex in your right leg (the same flex held at address). Now imagine that coach gets one or two successes on tour, becomes massively popular, and their instruction then seeps it's way into the entire industry as everyone tries to maintain that flex in the right leg.

Let's FORCE that knee flex buddy

What would happen over the course of time? This idea (meme) would then become mainstream to the point it is not even questioned. And all the top pros who have had any instruction would be doing this knee flex, people would look and say "look, all the top pros do this" and the meme would continue and get stronger and stronger. Even if the idea was detrimental to performance.

I am not a stack and tilt advocate (I simply do not know enough about their methodology to make a comment), yet I know that they were pioneers of a recent abandonment of this 'flexed leg' idea. As a result, more and more people and pros are going away from the flexed leg and towards straightening it, allowing the hips to move on a more natural tilt.

Say What!!!!!!

The lesson here is, again, just because something correlates with professionals or elite performers doesn't mean it causes it. It may even correlate with elite performance and be DETRIMENTAL to it.

As a disclaimer, I am not saying that having the feeling or keeping flex in the right leg is always a bad thing. Different people need different things, and a good coach will be able to prescribe the ideal feeling for you. However, I see so many amateurs obsess over the fact their back leg is straightening, when in fact it is moving as naturally as it should.


Golf coaches love to talk cause and effect. In my industry, I used to get frustrated a lot when coaches would talk about cause and effect in purely mechanical terms. A player may make a slightly inside backswing and then come wildly over the top, and it would be said that "the backswing caused the downswing". This would always baffle me as I thought " why is it I can make the same backswing yet come down differently to that player?"' Obviously the backswing didn't CAUSE the downswing.

An 'over the top' move tends to promote a leftward swing path, which will promote a fade or slice. It would be logical to say that the inside takeaway creates a situation where the player needs to throw the club back over plane, thus creating the slicing action. The problem with this line of reasoning, if it is false, is that we end up fixing the takeaway in an attempt to fix the slice. But if the takeaway wasn't the CAUSE then we are fixing something which has no relevance to the shot. This can now cause disruption to the player, as they now have a heightened awareness for their swing, yet their results the same.

But what if, hypothetically, the over the top move was a result of the player reacting to the slice they developed early on via their open face-to-path relationship? What if, in an attempt to bring both path and face more leftward (to make the slice more playable), the player player found the over the top move helped this goal. Now, no matter how much you try to improve the takeaway, the player still reverts back to an over the top move, as it is their way of achieving their ultimate goal of getting the ball closer to the target.

If we have the above understanding of this movement, we may be more inclined to fix the real cause first (ball flight). This is a case of reverse correlation, where the ball flight is causing the movements we see. We may be best served by reversing the ball flight for a while (creating a hook with the player) and watching the swing movements reverse themselves. If done correctly, the player can learn the better movements and achieve a better ball flight without thinking too much about how to do it. Not only that, but the ball flight is changed with the ball flight as an ATTENTIONAL FOCUS, which will improve transference to the golf course (as opposed to learning to change ball flight via a swing focus, which may break down when the attentional focus inevitably shifts on the course).

And if the takeaway doesn't improve (which is likely because, in terms of causes, the takeaway is. Not a big contributor), we can always clean it up after the ball flight has improved. But tell that to Ray Floyd and his major championships.

Kinetics and kinematics

Kinematics relates to what is moving. But kinetics is all about how and why it is moving that way. Think about it this way, seeing our hips rotate is the kinematics. But which muscles are causing the hips to rotate?

This is not always as simple to work out as it may seem on the surface. It is very popular for the last ten years or so, to look at the kinematic sequence of a player. This is the order and speed of movements and rotational velocities of the body segments (hips, shoulders, arms and club). Looking at a specific example, we see that in every top player, the hip rotation decelerates coming into impact. In some extreme examples (Rory mcilroy) the hips even move backwards through impact.

It would now be tempting to get players to try and decelerate their hips in an attempt to bomb it like Mcilroy. But, what if the deceleration was not something which was active (as in, the player is trying to decelerate the hips). What if it was a passive result of something else?

Imagine siting on an office swivel chair. If you were to lift your feet off the ground and swing your arms and upper body forwards as hard as you can what happens? The lower body moves backwards. This concept is demonstrated very nicely by Chris Como, in the below video

Click below for video

You can see that the act of him swinging the arms and the club forwards quickly, it drags the segment below it backwards (hips and legs').

So, could it be that, the deceleration of the hips is actually created by the acceleration of the upper (more distal) segments? Why is this important? Well, if we achieve our hip deceleration by trying to slow down our hips, we may slow the whole system down, and use muscles in the incorrect way (using muscles which slow hips rather than the muscles which speed up the upper segments). If we do it in a different way (training the upper body to accelerate harder at the right time) we get the same look on the graph, but we speed the whole system up, which is the goal.

This is a case of correlation (hip decel and speed) being caused by an external factor C. in fact, there are several other factors which may need to go in place to make this move function correctly. Rory mcilroy opens his hips extremely fast at the start before closing that gap down hard, to the point of a hip reversal. But this requires Rory's special combination of muscle insertions, flexibility, mobility, strength profile, sequencing of other body parts as well as ability to coordinate this all into an effective impact position.

Do not Try at home

Side note, it may be sometimes advantageous to tell someone to slow their hip speed, but to copy a graph or move just because a pro does it, without an understanding of how or why they do it may be problematic. A good coach will know when and how to apply this info.

Take home message

Just because something happens in conjunction with something else doesn't mean it causes it. Sometimes they both might be caused by something else (or a ton of other factors), sometimes the cause could be the reverse to what you think, sometimes there may be no causal link at all, and sometimes that link could be detrimental if it were implemented. It can also be harmless too, but it would be wise to exercise caution.

Just because a pro, or all the pros do something doesn't mean it is what you should be doing. Maybe the thing that they do requires a lot of complementary variables to be in place first. While It is almost impossible to fully know the causes or all of the causes to movements, being critical and sceptical can be a valuable tool.

This is not an attack on science. This is an article highlighting a concept which can help us get to more correct answers quicker. I am all for progression and improvements in our understanding. I know some of the guys who are progressing the science of golf right now are making sure they consult with great minds who are aware of this concept, on top of implementing new ideas with their pupils progressively, testing and readjusting as necessary.

I hope this made you think.

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Currently working for the World famous Turnberry Resort at the Golf Performance Academy. I am a golf coach who specialises in not only what to learn, but 'how' to learn. I am always looking to further education of myself and others, and improve knowledge and understanding so that we can be better golfers and coaches