November 20, 2019

To Tinker, Or Not To Tinker, That is the Question

Golfers tend to gravitate towards extremes with how they approach the game. Some players are always on the search for new answers, and their game is one big continual experiment. Others stand completely still and stick with what they’ve got.

I want to explore why gravitating towards the middle is usually a better answer for all of you. Also, I’ll give you some tangible examples of what I consider to be healthy tinkering on your golf game. I think all of you are going to find elements of your own game in this discussion.

Constantly Changing, Committing to Nothing

If I had to take an educated guess, my instincts tell me that most golfers fall into this extreme. Because the game can be so frustrating and challenging, a lot of players are always on the search for answers. So much so that they never actually take a moment to analyze their progress.

Whether it’s getting random advice at the driving range, or cruising YouTube and Instagram for endless swing tips – every week is a new experiment. Usually, it ends up being a vicious cycle. There is typically an initial “Eureka!” moment at the range, and the golfer declares that they have the game figured out. A couple of weeks later, after a few shaky rounds, they’re on to the next thing.

Making adjustments to your golf game can undoubtedly yield positive results, but there is definitely too much of a good thing. I always caution players to avoid becoming the golfer who is always buying new equipment, consuming new and different swing tips all the time, and never sitting still. At some point, you have to give whatever changes you make some time to develop.

Sitting Still

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the golfer that doesn’t change at all. They’ve been playing the same equipment for decades, and never made any adjustments to their technique or approach to the game.

While it’s a terribly overused quote at this point, and it turns out he may never have said it in the first place, it speaks to Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

At some point, as a golfer, you’re going to have to make adjustments. It may be your strategy, mental game, equipment, or swing technique. The game is continually changing on us, and it requires modifications from time to time. The challenge is that we never really know what the right answers are. It demands an element of risk-taking, which often scares players who don’t like changing (sorry if this is getting a little too philosophical).

So what are we to do?

A Healthy Dose of Experimentation

I am not someone who likes extremes. This probably will not come as a shock to you from someone who named their website Practical Golf. I have found very little evidence of success in my own game and from observing others that gravitating towards a state of constant change or doing absolutely nothing is going to make you a better golfer. As usual, the answer to your own game is somewhere in between.

There are all kinds of small adjustments and changes you can make to your golf game that can yield small wins over time. Golfers are usually on the search for that “home run” change, but it doesn’t really exist.

Also, don’t assume that small experiments are only limited to your golf swing (technique). In a way, all of the topics I explore on this website (strategy, practice, mental game, equipment, expectations, etc.) are areas of the game where I am trying to give you new ideas to experiment with.

Tangible Ideas

I’ve been tinkering with my golf game since I took the game up more than 20 years ago. Along the way, there were plenty of failures. But there were enough successes that stuck with me and comprised my current game.

Here is a list of what I consider functional experiments that I have done, with links to articles that explore the ideas more:

  • About five years ago, I strengthed my grip quite a bit and found that it improved my ball striking. While there is no right grip for anyone based on your swing, there are plenty of matchups that can work.
  • Putting was a part of the game I always struggled with. So I learned a new way to read greens, got fitted for a new putter, and changed the way I grip the putter as well.
  • My driver was the wildest club in my bag. I shortened the shaft, found ways to improve my ball flight using a launch monitor, experimented with tee height, and learned to embrace it more off the tee with a new strategy.
  • By measuring my impact location, I found that I tend to miss on the heel of the club. Through some testing, I found if I consciously try to strike it on the toe, my impact location moved towards the sweet spot.
  • My swing path is very in-to-out. When I struggle on the course, it’s usually with a hook. On those days, rehearsing an exaggerated “slice” swing before my shots help neutralize an excessive swing path.
  • I found out that I need to move my ball position more forward in my stance with longer irons. If I don’t, I tend to lose distance and accuracy.
  • By studying PGA Tour stats, my own results, and those of golfers in general – I have been able to make smarter strategic decisions and have a healthier mental state on the course.

None of these changes required a complete overhaul of my swing or doing something drastically different. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need to make significant changes, especially with your golf swing. That’s why I always suggest working with a qualified swing professional to guide you through that process and give you a better chance at success.

But I do realize that most of you are on your own. And I do think that making small adjustments and performing experiments from time to time, can make you a better golfer. The only feedback you’ll ever need with these changes is your results. Is that little white ball flying where you want it to go a bit more? Are you seeing improvements on the golf course?

Time is also a crucial element. You have to be patient and give these experiments time to play themselves out. One or two rounds isn’t enough evidence.

The Long and Short Of It

Becoming a better golfer is a delicate balance of changes. If you do nothing and stand still with your game, it’s hard to expect better results. On the flip side, if you are always going to the drawing board and making changes, it’s challenging to find out what is working, or even give it a chance to develop. The gray area between the two is where the answers are for most of you.

If you’re looking for ideas, I’ve got hundreds of them on this site. But as always, I caution all of you not to do too many things at once.

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