“Grooved Swing” or Conscious Competence?

Posted on Posted in Golf Coaching and Instruction

I came across an interesting article the other day, written by Dr. Jim Suttie. Dr. Suttie is a highly respected golf teacher with many years of experience at the highest levels of golf instruction.  The topic was golf lessons and the reasons why many people don’t take them. In the article, Dr. Suttie wrote that less than 20% of golfers ever take lessons. I’m not sure this is a truly verifiable statistic, but the number seems plausible to me. The article goes on to cite a number of reasons that people give for not taking lessons. Here’s one that stood out for me:

“Most people don’t believe they will get any better. In fact, most people believe they will get worse.”

Viewed through the eyes of a consumer, this seems like a pretty compelling reason not to buy in. Why make an investment in something that doesn’t work? But the real question is: where is this sentiment coming from?

Unfortunately, I think it’s an inside job. I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard golf teachers tell a student that, as a result of taking lessons, “you will get worse before you get better”. I’ve heard this said in lessons; I’ve seen it written in golf instruction books; and it only takes a few seconds of googling to find this kind of statement on internet golf instruction web sites.

No wonder more than 80% of you are telling us: “thanks, but no thanks”.

So what to do?

Traditional golf instruction tends to pursue a lofty goal called the “grooved” swing. The grooved swing is a very difficult objective to attain; the product of many, many hours of intense repetitive practice. It has been advertised as an end to the means. The implication is: that without a grooved swing, you will never achieve success in golf. An “all or nothing” proposition. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The goal should be progressive i

I came across an interesting articlethe other day, written by Dr. Jim Suttie. Dr. Suttie is a highly respected golf teacher with many years of experience at the highest levels of golf instruction. The topic was golf lessons and the reasons why many people don’t take them. In the article, Dr. Suttie wrote that less than 20% of golfers ever take lessons. I’m not sure this is a truly verifiable statistic, but the number seems plausible to me. The article goes on to cite a number of reasons that people give for not taking lessons. Here’s one that stood out for me:

“Most people don’t believe they will get any better. In fact, most people believe they will get worse.”

Viewed through the eyes of a consumer, this seems like a pretty compelling reason not to buy in. Why make an investment in something that doesn’t work? But the real question is: where is this sentiment coming from?

Unfortunately, I think it’s an inside job. I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard golf teachers tell a student that, as a result of taking lessons, “you will get worse before you get better”. I’ve heard this said in lessons; I’ve seen it written in golf instruction books; and it only takes a few seconds of googling to find this kind of statement on internet golf instruction web sites.

No wonder more than 80% of you are telling us: “thanks, but no thanks”.

So what to do?

Traditional golf instruction tends to pursue a lofty goal called the “grooved” swing. The grooved swing is a very difficult objective to attain; the product of many, many hours of intense repetitive practice. It has been advertised as an end to the means. The implication is: that without a grooved swing, you will never achieve success in golf. An “all or nothing” proposition. But it doesn’t have to

mprovement, and with the right approach, progressive improvement is entirely possible.

There is a well-known means of describing the progression that people go through when learning new skills called the “Conscious Competence Learning Model”. This model theorizes that there are certain stages of learning:

Unconscious Incompetence –> Conscious Incompetence –> Conscious Competence…

… each of which must be visited en route to the fourth stage, which is known as “Unconscious Competence”. In the presence of unconscious competence, the execution of skills is described as ‘second nature’ – in theory, they can be executed without conscious thought. This is the hallmark of a “grooved” swing. Conversely, in a state of conscious competence, the skills can be executed, but doing so is not second nature – you’ve got to think about what you’re doing. But even if a move is not “grooved”, execution – even to a very high standard – is still possible. In practical application, this means that a golfer can indeed develop a dependable swing, even when unconscious competence is not present. And it means that golf improvement is not an “all or nothing” proposition. It’s a developmental process.

In fact, I believe that conscious competence is acheived by degrees and it could be argued that the world’s best golfers are not necessarily swinging with unconscious competence, but rather, with an extraordinarily high level of conscious competence – kind of a “super-conscious” competence. Consider this quote by Jack Nicklaus, describing his near hole-out on the 17th at Pebble Beach during the 1972 U.S. Open:

“The wind closed my clubface, so I made a mid-swing adjustment…”

I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a “super-conscious” move; representing a sort of a metaphorical golfing equivalent to standing atop Mt. Everest. It’s true that not many of us are going to join Jack on that peak. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible; it just represents progression on the highest order. The purpose of golf lessons is to help you develop your swing consciously and progressively, one step at a time – not to leave you feeling as if you’re embarking on an expedition to the summit of Everest.