Monday, 19 October 2015

Sam Snead: Why Technique Works Better Than Method

In the golf world there are any number of "method" teachers.  There are the "stack and tilters," the "one plane swingers," the "left siders," the "natural golfers;" to name but a few.  All of these methods obviously work for some.  But Sam Snead, in his 1975 book covering the "Key" approach to golf, argues in favour of developing technique, rather than learning a method.

In chapter two he wrote:

"A free and simple approach to golf is more effective than a complicated method.  For instance, when I swing at a golf ball right, my mind is blank and my body is loose as a goose...over the past fifty years of playing top-flight competitive golf, it seems like my best results have always come when I'm hardly trying at all.  At those times my mind and body go on automatic pilot, I swing with my smoothest rhythm and greatest vigor, and the birdie side of each hole opens up for me like I owned the course."

I find this particularly interesting, because my experience, though obviously not playing at anything like Sam's level, has been the same.  Most of my best rounds, rounds under par and in the sixties, which have been relatively few and far between, have come when I've felt that I was totally relaxed and swinging smoothly and easily.  That happy state, where things feel easy, may actually just be the times when we find ourselves in that happy place called "the zone;" those happy times when our swing is in the groove and we don't have to think too much about what we're doing, or how we're doing it.

Sam goes on to say:

"Now that's bad news to a certain kind of personality. There's a type of guy who'd rather hear that golf is hard work, period.  He'd rather be told he needs lots of muscle and a special method to get around in a fair score.  Then he'll be able to go swing himself silly on the golf course and feel like he's done a satisfying amount of hard labor.

Well, golf is hard work--but not on the golf course.  It's hard work on the practice tee and on the practice putting green and in the practice bunker.  The golf swing is a learned motion, an acquired habit.  It's damn hard work thinking about what your swing really feels like, and where it could be improved, and what you have to do next to get yourself to play up to your potential.  It's a form of self-knowledge, and that isn't easy to come by in any field.  Like I said, the game is hard work--especially in the head.

As for 'method,' I've seen too many methods come and go in my half century in golf to really believe that the latest method on the market, whatever it may be, is going to solve anybody's golf problems for long.  I'm not doubting the sincerity or professionalism of the proponents of these methods.  As a matter of fact, I believe that even a poorly conceived method can indirectly help a certain type of golfer simply by getting him to think consciously about his game and about what it will take to improve it.  On the other hand, I've seen too many fine players on tour lose their winning edge because of a sudden conversion to some method or other that, once mastered, supposedly guarantees never missing another fairway or green."

Sam Snead was a classic feel player.  He knew how he felt--and how his swing felt--when he played his best.  He well knew that one size doesn't fit all in the rag trade, or in golf.  We are all unique.  The question is, when you played your best, or when you hit that great shot--because we've all hit great shots--how did you feel?  What, if anything, were you thinking?  Sam believed that this sort of thinking, or self-knowledge, was what can really make you a golfer.

Sam said his mind was "blank," and he was "loose as a goose."  In my next piece I'll cover what Sam had to say about that.