Epstein's speech covers a wide range of topics, but one of the key sticking points for me was idea that there have been advancements in sports technology and understanding of the sport that has led to athletes performing better even if they are not necessarily 'bigger, stronger and faster.' One of the concepts that he mentions is how the *mindset* of sports has changed. For instance, Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. Not only did people think it was impossible for a human to physically break that barrier, but just attempting to break the 4-minute mile would lead to death from cardiac arrest. Then Bannister broke the barrier and other runners followed suit. Even with the new technology as Epstein describes, there are runners that would have broken the 4-minute mile using the same technology as Bannister. Bannister broke the mold and now the mindset was established that it was possible to run a mile in under 4-minutes and to survive that endeavor.
While I could use this to say in golf we could create a mindset to do many great things that we never thought of being possible (Tour player with legitimately 135+ mph club speed dominating the Tour, hitting putting make % records, iron play performance, etc), I wanted to go more into the aspect of golf injury prevention and optimizing practice time instead.
THE LEGEND OF LIETZKE
If there's one thing I've grown frustrated as a golfer and a consumer of golf instruction is the constant practicing in order to achieve new swing mechanics and then to sustain new swing mechanics. It often seems that golf is the only endeavor where it is needed so much. If you have an expert guitar player that hasn't touched a guitar in over a month, they may not be quite sharp at first, but they'll still be proficient and after a little while they will start to play like they have never took any time off. The same with a good free throw shooter in basketball. With golfers often times we see drastic differences from day-to-day, even if they have been practicing.
Back in the 80's and 90's, one of the finest ballstrikers on Tour was Bruce Lietzke. In fact, I did an article in 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis looking at all of the players since 1980 that were 1 standard deviation above the mean in both driving distance and hit fairway percentage in the same year. It was a select group and nobody has accomplished that feat since 2001. Lietzke did it twice. So did Jack Nicklaus (1980 and 1982) and David Duval.
The thing about Lietzke is that he was known for NEVER practicing. In fact, there's an old story where his caddie wanted to see if it was true and at the end of the season left a banana inside Bruce's bag and when the season started up again months later, the banana (now spoiled) was still in his bag.
Furthermore, we look at the players of yesteryear and have to remember that driving ranges were not nearly as common nor were they filled with golf balls for golfers today. As one famous retired Tour player once told me, if he could find a range the problem was that he and his caddie would have to pick up their own golf balls. And I think it would be hard to contend that the great ballstrikers of yesteryear of Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Watson, Nicklaus, Trevino were not as good if not better than today's great ballstrikers. Again, the last time somebody was better than 1-standard deviation from the mean in both distance and fairway percentage on Tour was 2001.
Experienced golfers are practicing more but it can be argued they are not better than experienced golfers of yesteryear. And they seem to be getting injured more despite all of the advances in medicine, exercise and transportation. To me, something doesn't quite add up. I would expect at the very least the case of Usain Bolt and Jesse Owens described by Epstein...Bolt being technically faster time wise, but mostly thru the technology of running surfaces, shoes, etc. If everything was on the same level, Bolt and Owens would be in a dead heat.
I don't think we have a dead heat these days. As much as I like the guys on top of the golfing world right now, I don't believe any of them could are better than Nicklaus if they had the same equipment. I would easily argue for Tom Watson against and the same with Hogan and Snead.
To me, one of the major differences is in how we practice.
A few weeks ago, I got this message from a reader who had read my thoughts on utilizing slow motion practice to improve his swing.
I just wanted to say I've started slow motion training and am seeing results like I never thought were possible. I thought of you, because I remembered reading your posts advocating it last year.
Anyway I've come up with a pretty solid practice routine where I use a ball every time, I hit seven different positions in slow motion, pause at impact, then release the club pushing the ball a few feet and holding into the finish position. It seems to help if all practice swings include a ball so when it's time to hit a shot your brain doesn't know the difference.
At impact to get into a tour pro looking impact position took a little time. My hips did not want to go there, but after hundreds of perfect reps it started to feel normal. What's interesting is there is absolutely no chance I could have hit that position at full speed consciously.
This whole thing is mind boggling. The only swing thought I still have is to get the takeaway right then I am just picturing the shot and where I want it to land. To my surprise most of the time the shot comes off how I imagined. The ball has a high penetrating flight when no swing thoughts are involved. The club is truly released. So if any swing thoughts are involved I know I'm manipulating the club and that needs to be avoided. Anyway I'm still in the honeymoon phase with this, but I know I'm on the right track.
I'm not a golf instructor, so I'm not trying to sell any type of practice or swing methodology. But, I had seen the benefits of slow motion practice and here we see a golfer that was diligent enough to follow and he is now seeing those same benefits. The big thing is that we both have cut out or swing thoughts from the swing. It not only allows us to perform better on the course, but we are essentially grooving in the mechanics we wish to achieve. Which brings me back to the Ikkos Advanced Motor Learning System. I wrote a review about them here:
The Ikkos system is based on slow motion practice and also uses a visual element to help. What I've found is that you can get the mechanics you want, but still have some initial struggles with your ballstriking because your brain is not used to the timing of your body being in different positions than normal. But with enough repetition, it starts to adapt unless you adjust your mechanics because you're initially not hitting it as well as hoped.
The point being?
I don't think it's impossible for golfers to learn mechanics much more quickly and to be able to do so with far less repetition. I think there is room for practicing less and putting less stress on a player's back and striking the ball just as well, if not better. We may not see the second coming of Bruce Lietzke, but I do not see any reason why players cannot have something where their main purpose of practicing on the range each day is to get in a small amount of practice to help with their timing and then they can head to the practice green and work on putting and short game practice.
I think players like Lietzke had that innate ability to visualize and sense what they needed to do and players like Hogan, Nicklaus and Watson knew what to work on and how to work on it and get the most out of their practice time. So a new mindset for golf may just end up being an old mindset for golf.