- Posted by Will Stubbs
- On July 22, 2019
Geek Rating – 2/5
Read Time – 7 Mins
Watch Time – 5 Mins
This year’s Open winner at Portrush – Shane Lowry of course – is a perfect example of the adaptable golfer.
Changing conditions bring the best out of the best, and we saw that with Shane Lowry. He not only employed excellent course management, but his skills also appeared to become more functional as the event unfolded.
Developing the ability to adapt is an essential part of learning, but it’s not just the domain of elite golfers like Lowry. It needs to be an innate part of practice, whereby playful repetition of skills and shots is done at random, akin to what actually happens in the heat of competition.
So here’s some key points to bear in mind as you read this article:
- practice as you play
- challenge convention
- expand your repertoire
- grow your game with a growth mindset.
So, let’s get into this.
Firstly, congratulations to Shane Lowry on such an incredible victory. His game at the key Major of the year really optimised the level of performance you need at an Open Championship. Portrush is not just a beautiful piece of countryside, but it also – along with all other Open Championship venues – poses special challenges which only links golf brings.
In particular, the broad repertoire of shots which Open Championship competitors are called to play. The rolling, undulating fairways and greens leave such a large variety of shots even without crazy bounces – and when you get one of those (which you will), an even crazier recovery shot is just a bounce away. That’s where your repertoire is expanding literally as you play the game. You’re learning on the hoof, and it’s fun.
The variety of shots on an Open Championship links is then compounded by the difference in the ground, the harder fairways, the varieties of grass and the bunker styles.
Early in the week Paul McGinley mentioned how:
“You can go in the bunker and have 10 different lies, as opposed to playing on the PGA Tour and knowing that it’s the same bunker lie every time.”
This emphasises how the roles of decision-making and course management are hugely significant when playing in The Open. It’s interesting to note that the historical average winner’s age of the Open Championship is 36: that’s five years older than other Tour events. In fact we recently had a run of three consecutive Open winners who were aged 40-plus when they lifted the Claret Jug: Darren Clarke in 2011, Ernie Els in 2012 and Phil Mickelson in 2013. And let’s not forget that Tom Watson was a single putt away from picking up his sixth Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009, while aged 59.
In comparison you have to go all the way back to Hale Irwin in 1990, to find a U.S Open winner aged over 40. In The Masters, other than the phenomenal win by Tiger Woods this year the last champion aged 40+ was Mark O’Meara in 1998, while in the PGA Championship it’s back to Vijay Singh in 2004.
So this shows that The Open Championship puts an emphasis on experienced exposure to the golfing elements. The Open Champion needs to be a shot maker, and older Tour players have simply learnt, along the way, more shots.
I think we can all agree that Shane Lowry – still aged only 32 – had an old head on his shoulders this week, pulling off a truly stellar array of links golf shots over the week.
So let’s delve deeper into what this means and how we can take some tips from the top pros to develop this kind of repertoire in our game.
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CHALLENGE 1: WRITE ‘GOLF’ FIVE TIMES…
Firstly we’ve got a challenge for you. Grab yourself a piece of paper and write the word “golf” five times in lower case letters five times….almost as if your were signing your signature.
Have a look at them and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they look different?
- If not, why not?
- Did you have the opportunity to be different?
- Did you take that chance?
- If no, why not? What stops you being creative and seeking opportunities to be different?
Now write golf five times again. Different this time?
Now think back to the last time you practised a shot, putt or chip.
Say you hit a bad shot. What do you do right away? Grab another ball and try the same thing again?
Why did you write golf differently the second time, even though I didn’t ask you to? Yes, that’s right I didn’t tell you to, but I did make you realise you could be different. This identifies how we get caught in the dogma of convention: we need to perturb our own system.
If you took that mentality with your golf as you did with your writing, what do you think your practice sessions would look like? Would you get caught up worrying about a certain shot? Would you ever hit the same shot twice?
Isn’t that a lot like playing actual golf?
I feel if you took this approach you’d never struggle with a certain shot or have anxiety about having to play certain shots.
So now let’s put this into practice, by taking some advice from one of the greatest short game players – and also from one of the sport’s best short game coaches.
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WHY THESE SHORT GAME VIDEOS WILL CHANGE YOUR GOLF
The first video is from the brilliant Luke Donald, former world number one and possessor of unprecedented short game control.
We’d like to thank Rick Shuttleworth for providing this video. He’s one of the best guys in the sports coaching business: he consults for the England Senior Rugby team, the English Institute of Sport, UK Sport and also has a PhD in Skill Acquisition to go along with all of that that. Take a look at Rick’s Twitter @skillacq to find more interesting concepts.
In this video, Luke identifies the basics behind his short game success:
- Random positions
- Limited balls
- Putt the ball in
- Emphasises you never get the same shot twice on a golf course
An important point Nick Dougherty mentioned was the shot being ‘relevant’. IE: relevant to where they were, what the environment was like and the key natural elements which characterise it.
So they played shots out of the heather and potentially from other locations around the green, each giving different shot making opportunities. With reference to the science literature of skill acquisition, the sampling key environmental performance characteristics in our practice is known as “representative design”.
Practicing in this way encourages us to solve relevant problems within the context of the sport. That means learning takes place in an environment that replicates the real golf course.
IE: not a driving range, which exists mainly as a convenience.
Taking a step towards this type of practise can be difficult or immediately rewarding, but is the first step in becoming comfortable, with being uncomfortable – you need to see challenge as an opportunity to grow yourself. We call this a growth mindset and there’s a fantastic TED Talk and book by Carol Dweck on the subject.
Our second video is from the Sky Sports OpenZone last week at Royal Portrush.
Here, Graham Walker – runner-up Tommy Fleetwood’s short game coach – gives gives us some brilliant insight into how we use our tools to maximise our shotmaking opportunities.
In the video he identifies the leading edge shouldn’t be considered as a single entity, but having different characteristics we can employ to our advantage.
So, when you’re practicing, go and deliberately hit shots out of the toe or the heel of the club, and explore how the design of the club can be used to your advantage.
This is a major part of developing and refining an adaptable skillset – which is the whole point of this article.
Walker talks about how before this year’s Open Championship he worked with Tommy on hitting different types of shots from all sorts of lies to expose him to the environmental elements. This type of practice strengthens the transfer of learning to our competitive environment. Definitely one of the reasons for such a fantastic result this week!
CHALLENGE 2: #ZENYOURGAME
This one celebrates links golf, naturally.
- Just like Luke Donald, drop yourself 10 balls around the green and play to one hole. We’ll put one task constraint on you… You can’t pitch the ball on the green. It has to pitch short, and then proceed from there. This will encourage you to use the environment to your advantage and use it to complement your shot making.
- If you’re struggling to develop adequate clubhead contact with the ball, or if you’re fining the ground tough to master, try this simple challenge too (and junior golfers love this one…)
- Using the club head, find 10 ways to flick the ball up and catch it.
- This will help explore the clubhead’s interaction with the ball and the ground. It’s also what we call implicit coaching, as in we don’t show or tell people how to do it. Instead we encourage exploration of the task. This way a golfer may find a way which he or she may never have thought of. That is true golfing creativity.
Thanks for reading this article – and and remember to embrace the uncontrollable nature of golf!
Stretch the boundary of being comfortable by being uncomfortable. That’s where growth really occurs.
Drop us a comment below or get in touch on social media (@ZenGolf) to let us know how you get on and what else you’d like to see in our #ZenYourGame blogs.
In that video, Graham Walker also talks about the Nominate a Mate programme with England Golf. It aims to help get people out the workplace and switch off from things by enjoying a round with pals. Check it out HERE.