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Slow Down to Speed Up Improvement!

February 3, 2012 4:23 pm

While speaking to a corporate group recently I used the word philanthropist as a description of my mentor, Mr. Arnold Palmer.  This word, instead of rolling eloquently off my tongue, clumsily tumbled out due to mispronunciation twists.   I paused before starting again and slowed down, breaking apart the word into individual syllables.

The process of learning any kind of complex motor skill, (especially the golf swing), is best achieved through feeling it out, like syllables of a word in slow motion rehearsal before pouring on the speed.  In my recently released book Mentored by the King, I reference The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.  In this book Coyle shares the common denominator found in every training hotbed:  super slow motion practice.  He recommends viewing a YouTube video clip featuring legendary golfer Ben Hogan practicing in “Super-Slow-Motion”.   If you have not yet seen this, you will swear the film is running in slow motion.  Rest assured, the waves rolling onto the shore in the background provide assurance the video clip is indeed authentic.  Hogan’s daily practice routine consisted of this form of deliberate “chunking” as he programmed his mind and body to move precisely and purposefully.  Conditioned in his new habit, he then was confident to pour on the speed while remaining in complete control.

Tour Professionals understand the great value of doing isolated drills for skill development.  However, most amateurs are more interested in hitting golf balls in full swing speed and with more conscious thoughts than anyone could ever imagine.  Thus, thoughts change as frequently as attempts at hitting the ball solidly.  To use the great wisdom taught to me by Mr. Palmer, “Perfect your swing slow and short before attempting to go fast and long.”

Case in scenario

Jenn Hong is an LPGA Player whom I began working with this season.  She has been trying to improve her impact position.  Her fault is that she has the tendency to release the club head early and add loft at impact.  This fault can cause great difficulty in striking solid irons and driving into the wind.  I suggested a need to improve her leg action to create ground reactive force that will in turn establish more lag into the delivery position.

I gave Jenn an isolated slow motion drill to establish the feelings.  She diligently went to work drilling with the intent of rewiring her paradigm.

Super slow training for Jenn Hong

Slow Motion Drill for Leg Action and Delivery

The photos shared  are comparing Jenn’s before and after just thirty short minutes into doing the drills. Her ability to make this quick improvement is because she slowed down so that she could feel the difference between her new and old ways. Once she conducted the drill a couple times she then tried the new feel as seen below. What the drills have begun to change is seen in the longer lag of the club and the improved spine angle relationship to hip rotation.

Jenn Hong Super Slow 2

Before Swing (left) and After Swing (right)

Before the drills, Jenn was what we call a high right side drifter. This causes several impact inconsistencies. Notice in the after comparison (photos)  how her shoulders and arms are in better alignment to her foot-line at impact due greatly to improved footwork, leg action and lower center of gravity through impact. Jenn’s left knee remaining flexed and outside of her left hip allows the right hip to lower into a perpendicular position with the spine angle improving rotation and consistency at impact, as seen on the right.

Jenn Hong Super Slow 3

Before Swing (left) and After Swing (right)

The intended take away from this blog: When you slow down you also calm down. And when you calm down you will find that things you want to happen come much faster and easier than ever before. The goal should be to use The Pro’s Secret; work slow and short before attempting to go fast and far.

Until next time,
happy golfing!
Brad Brewer

Copyright 2012, by Brad Brewer

New Research Inspires a Fresh Approach to Learning

December 16, 2011 2:44 pm

By Brad Brewer, Top 100 Teacher, Brad Brewer Golf Academy

Recently a summit for the Top 100 Teachers by Golf Magazine took place in Orlando to share new ideas on learning, teaching and coaching.  I was honored to be in attendance and enjoyed the two days of interactive discussions.  One of the keynote speakers was the renowned research psychologist, Dr. Robert Bjork, of the UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab.  No, he didn’t teach me how to “forget” those missed shots even though that would be nice! His presentation was entitled, “How we learn and practice vs. how we think we learn and should practice.”  Dr. Bjork’s conclusions have inspired me to change my approach toward player development by increasing the interval aspect during a learning and development session.  With this newly understood awareness, my mind began to recall some of my favorite learning experiences with Arnold Palmer, how he taught me how to practice like a pro.  I also have a few favorite lessons taught to me by friends of mine from the PGA Tour that never fail to be successful with every client I share them with.

This blog will touch on Dr. Bjork’s study conclusions and my thoughts on how you can increase your golf training experience by applying a different approach to your practice.

Varying the Conditions of Practice by Dr. Robert Bjork

When instruction occurs under conditions that are constrained and predictable, learning tends to become contextualized. Material is easily retrieved in that context, but the learning does not support later performance if tested at a delay, in a different context, or both. In contrast, varying conditions of practice—even varying the environmental setting in which study sessions take place—can enhance recall on a later test. For example, studying the same material in two different rooms rather than twice in the same room leads to increased recall of that material (Smith, Glenberg, & Bjork, 1978)—an empirical result that flies in the face of the common howto-study suggestion to find a quiet, convenient place and do all your studying there.
Interleaving versus Blocking Instruction

Interleaving the practice of separate topics or tasks is an excellent way to introduce spacing and other learning dynamics.  The skills literature includes many replications of the pattern that blocked practice appears optimal for learning, but interleaved practice actually results in superior long-term retention and transfer of skills, and research illustrates that learners—as well as instructors—are at risk of being fooled by that pattern. Other results illustrate that the benefits of interleaved practice extend beyondthe learning of motor skills. More recently and surprisingly, we have found that interleaving even enhances inductive learning (Kornell & Bjork, 2008).

Concluding Comments

For those of you who are students, we hope we have convinced you to take a more active role in your learning by introducing desirable difficulties into your own study activities. Above all, try to rid yourself of the idea that memory works like a tape or video recorder and that re-exposing yourself to the same material over and over again will somehow write it onto your memory. Rather, assume that learning requires an active process of interpretation—that is, mapping new things we are trying to learn onto what we already know. (There’s a lesson here for those of you who are teachers—or parents—as well: Consider how you might introduce desirable difficulties into the teaching of your students or children.) Be aware, too, when rereading a chapter or your notes, that prior exposures create a sense of familiarity that can easily be confused with under-standing. And perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that retrieval—much more than restudying—acts to modify your memory by making the information you practice retrieving more likely to be recallable again in the future and in different contexts. In short, try to spend less time on the input side and more time on the output side, such as summarizing what you have read from memory or getting together with friends and asking each other questions. Any activities that involve testing yourself—that is, activities that require you to retrieve or generate information, rather than just representing information to yourself—will make your learning both more durable and flexible.
Finally, we cannot overstate the importance of learning how to manage your own learning activities. In a world that is ever more complex and rapidly changing, and in which learning on one’s own is becoming ever more important, learning how to learn is the ultimate survival tool.

Bob Proctor of The Pro’s Secret, has stated for decades that memorization is not the same as learning just as Bjork mentions above.  I have four short, albeit valuable stories to share.  They all center on the ability to recall and execute perfect shots under the greatest of pressure.  Based on what Dr. Bjork has shared, what may have tipped their performance beyond their peers could be credited to their unique approach to practice.

Scott Hoch (21 PGA Tour Victories, AKA: The ATM Machine)—Pitching Ladder Drill

Back in 1992, Scott was practicing solo at Bay Hill Club.  Every pitch shot he hit was going a different distance in progressions of five yard increments.  I joined him on the range and he was happy to share with me, what he called the ladder drill. “I begin with a 20 yard pitch and then progress adding five yards as my new target until I reach fifty yards.  Then I come back down the ladder with the goal to land the balls on top of the one I hit before,” explained Scott.

Before every shot he began behind the ball, walked in and then executed.  “Why don’t you hit more than one shot from the same spot”, I asked.  He replied, “Because you don’t play golf that way and I want to practice like I play.  Plus, the other way is just boring.”

I have used a version of Scott’s Ladder Drill ever since for my own practice and have incorporated it into sessions with students.  Every shot has a purpose and changes in feel, target and shape.

Ian Baker Finch (1991 British Open Champion)—Up & In Down Under

While playing on the Australasian Tour in the late 1980s, my neighbor at Sanctuary Cove Resort was Touring Professional Ian Baker-Finch.  When we were both in town, Finchie (as his friends refer to him), would give me a shout out inviting me to a sundown dual around the practice green that was my back yard.  His game of choice was a single ball, wedge and putter, winner of the hole chooses the next shot from anywhere around the green and letting your imagination run wild was encouraged! There were no gimmies, just like the basketball game HORSE.   Ian is a master of the short game, a wizard with a wand in his hands.  I learned so much during those Queensland evenings—you must prepare for ALL possible lies around a green.

Harvey Penick—“I wish you would practice putting like Ben.”

This familiar quote was advice given to another of Penick’s famous pupils, Tom Kite.  Ben Crenshaw would take one ball to the putting green and only one.  He would proceed to practice for hours; creating competitions to beat his personal best score around an eighteen and often a thirty six-hole loop.  Meanwhile, what was Tom doing?  The opposite.  He was standing in one spot, hitting to the same hole with multiple golf balls.

Arnold Palmer—Master’s Preparation.

I share this excerpt from Lesson 28, in my latest book, Mentored by the King.  It is my favorite lesson with the King of Golf and opens with a conversation in Arnold Palmer’s Latrobe office: 

“I have to say that one of my most memorable occasions with you was the week before Augusta, observing you prepare for the Masters Tournament. I recall us being on the Academy end of the practice range at Bay Hill, and your intensity and enthusiasm were so different than any other practice I had observed.

“The best was when you said to me, ‘What shot would you like to see me play?’ I thought to myself, How cool is this that I’m going to get to play Augusta National through Arnold Palmer’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. I said to you, ‘Okay, let me see your tee shot off the first hole during the final round.’ Immediately I saw you transformed with a youthful and confident enthusiasm. To hear you illustrate the nuances of the shot you were about to execute, it was almost like you were there at Augusta on the first hole on that final day. How real was that visualization practice for you?”

A serious look came across his face. “It was very real,” he replied. “I could imagine myself being there as close as my memory could recall with full color, feels, and even the smells, for that matter. My fond memories of Augusta National and especially the Masters week are so revered and emotionally powerful to me. I can remember the details of things that happened forty years ago as crystal clear, as if it all just occurred.”

I’ve been around hundreds of excellent competitive golfers and played professionally myself for many years. Yet I had never seen such loving intensity and focus with each practice ball struck. Each one struck had its importance tattooed firmly with a spirit of the King’s persistence and determination.

“When did you begin to practice like this during your playing career, and how often would you practice like this before a tournament?” I asked. “Was this unique for Augusta, or did you have this similar intensity for every event?”

“Well, let me think a moment,” he said. “I learned to plan my work from Byron Nelson. He wrote about it in his book, and as a boy I read about it and began to apply the practice of playing the course in my mind before every important round. As I became more seasoned and had played the circuit for a few years, the ability to remember certain nuances of the greens and hole layouts and certain pin placements that the Tournament would seem to select for certain days of the event became very predictable. Especially Augusta. I know where the Thursday through Sunday pins will be, and so do the other guys that have played in the event. So when I see these shots in my mind, I am confident that these are the correct shots to execute for each round of the event.”

I wondered whether it was important to remember or ponder his missed shots. “We know you have a library of great shots and moments. What about the poor shots and failures? Do you keep inventory of these as well?”

“Oh, I suppose,” he admitted, “but certainly I don’t dwell on them. Whenever I didn’t execute on the shot that I wanted, this would usually fire me up to work on that certain shot so that I knew, when I faced a similar shot again, I was ready to execute correctly and with confidence the next time around. I will also add that I never spent much time worrying or being concerned about the shots I missed. Rather I got my head wrapped around doing it right and put it to task again as soon as I could, with nothing but great expectations.”

These are examples of how a few of the greatest players do things in a certain way that made their preparation more purposeful and real so it could be recalled during competition, just as it was rehearsed in practice.

Since the Summit, I put into action what Dr. Bjork brought to my attention.  Every student thoroughly enjoyed this interval learning experience.  One student, Ray Fontaine, said, “I now feel better able to apply these shots during my round with greater confidence.”

A traditional golf lesson, utilizes the block learning process, as I did.  It’s the way we learn in school and is based on conditioning recall through repetition.  Thanks greatly to Dr. Bjork’s research and teachings I have learned that the best way to condition a long lasting, deeper recall is through interval learning.

What can you expect?  To create shot making skills that transfer to the golf course with greater confidence during competition because you are better prepared for any shot or situation.  It doesn’t matter if you are a new player or seasoned tour player, we are always striving to be and do better.

Until next time, happy golfing!

Understanding the Steps to Permanent Change by Brad Brewer

November 16, 2011 4:47 pm

“You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks!”  A very outdated and untrue adage because old dogs are getting younger every day thanks to trying new tricks!

However, isn’t it curious how the process often goes?

A golfing buddy recommends a new nugget of game improvement advice, guaranteed to cure your slice.   You attempt the prescribed  fix and amazingly hit a perfect drive!  Thoughts of setting the new course record tantalize your senses until…your slice returns just as quickly as it had seemingly fallen off the radar.

Change at every level of ability whether it’s about the grip or swing path, follows a similar footprint.  There has to be an all in, buy in that change must occur for growth and improvement.  The student must embrace the process of growth through struggle for long term gain.

Accepting that struggle for a brief period is inevitable so as to achieve greater skills, both physically and mentally for better performance, is a Pro’s Secret.  Otherwise the tendency is for the Golfer trying desperately to improve becomes frustrated to the point of resorting back to what is comfortable and well known even if it is hurting their game.  What is at the core of this struggle and frustration?  Ego.  A fear of embarrassment and judgment, and sense of losing control.

“Science has proven that talent grows eight to ten times faster when deep practice creates struggle.”

~Daniel Coyle, author, The Talent Code

The struggle is the “tug of war” that results from the need to let go of the old paradigm that causes the continual slicing and struggling to accept the new thoughts and feelings long enough to become comfortable and conditioned.

The process of change has four distinct stages:

  1. Unconscious Incompetent.  The golfer’s performance is faulty without a clue.  This is the easy stage, ignorance is bliss so there is very little expectation.
  2. Conscious Incompetent.  The golfer is now aware of what causes the faulty shot execution.   Video and launch monitor statistics are excellent tools to assist in the awareness process along with concise explanation and instructor or model demonstration. Understanding what they are doing wrong and why they do what they do, is crucial to making change.  For instance, if the golfer played hockey or base ball, there are conditioned habits affecting how the swing is made.  Even a new player has what I call the natural golfer tendencies.  Even after four decades of playing and teaching  golf, I have yet to see someone play this game well “naturally”.  Because the “natural” tendencies for all novices is quite the opposite to the fundamentals and science of a repeatable swing.  “Natural” is to grip weak in the left hand strong in the right, lifting of the club, a body tilt followed by a fast throw of the club from the top in a reckless  attempt to hit the ball.  Whiff or top shots at best as the golfer falls back and out of balance.  That is my depiction of the “natural” golfer.

Just knowing what you are doing wrong certainly doesn’t guarantee that you will change your habit to now doing it correctly, and thus the reason for the next stage where the fun begins because the seeds of new habit are planted.

  1. Conscious Competent.  The student has gone through awareness and now begins the process of learning the correct technique. Through several purposeful drill repetitions the student begins to condition the new feelings and when done correctly they can execute in better balance and momentum demonstrating much improved ball flight.  Remaining conscious of what it is that they desire to condition as their new habit must continue for hundreds of intentional repetitions before it forms a strongly conditioned habit that will eventually be performed unconsciously.
  2. Unconscious Competent.  It’s not a matter of time, but putting energy into doing things a certain way that develops a conditioned new paradigm that can be done unconsciously.  At this point, the student is a master of the desired technique!  Continual conscious practice will maintain the solid fundamentals of a correctly executed and repeatable swing and allow the player to perform unconsciously on the range and on the course.

Understanding the power of this four stage process will provide a clearer path for faster results be it golf, business or life.

Until next time…Happy Golfing!

Brad Brewer

Learn more about what successful people do in a certain way!

Mentored by the King, Arnold Palmer’s Success Lessons for Golf, Business and Life, by Top 100 Teacher, Brad Brewer

Why Do We Struggle to Make a Change?

June 15, 2011 4:49 pm

Changing any kind of habit can be challenging for all golfers.  Yes, even the new player that doesn’t have many golf experiences.  Why?  Because we are creatures of habit and we don’t like to change what is familiar, even if it delivers a painful result.

In my newly released book, Mentored by the King, I tell a story about a man who stopped in a country store in a small town in Georgia, one of those great old buildings with high ceilings and wooden floors. In the middle of the floor was an aging Labrador retriever that kept moaning and groaning, but neither the owner nor the customers paid any attention to the dog. Finally, the traveler asked the shopkeeper, “Is there something wrong with your dog?”  “Nah,” he replied, “that’s Buster. He’s just sitting on a nail.”  “Why doesn’t he move?” the man inquired.  “I guess it hurts him enough to moan but not enough to move.”

Humorous, yet a very true fact is that most golfers would rather moan and groan, instead of moving off of their painful nail.  We know better, but still won’t budge.  We often try, even take lessons but only too quickly revert back to laying back down on the “rusty nail” (what we have come to know) in frustration.  Why is this?  And, what have only a few done differently to make permanent change, mastering the fundamentals and increasing one’s success?

Rest assured that I have yet to meet a natural born golfer.  It’s kind of like saying, “She is a natural born pianist”.  She might have a keen ear for music, but must still struggle learning cords and chunks prior to making beautiful music.  Golf is a game that requires conditioning disciplines opposed to our natural feel for hitting a long straight golf ball.  This is why great hitters in baseball usually hit big slices.  Without being aware, every one begins playing the game with preconceived and preconditioned paradigms from other sports or activities.  Some of these habits work in harmony with proper swing fundamentals and others don’t.  We may consciously desire to change certain swing faults but due to these unconscious paradigms we fight the new because it doesn’t immediately feel right.

I have studied this very topic for several years, observing human pattern and learning how to help people change old habits and condition the new from some of the best mind coaches in the world.  I will enjoy sharing these success secrets with you too.  My blog will discuss this all important process of making change over the next several weeks; so you can learn and apply certain aspects into making effective changes in your golf game.

Have you struggled to make changes? Your comments are welcomed and appreciated!

Happy golfing,

Brad Brewer

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