How the Learning Pyramid Works for Every Golfer
by Robert Linville
Every golfer seeking to improve with the assistance of a coach will go through four stages of learning as they develop their skills and progress through the journey of playing better golf. These stages are true for great players trying to play a little better as well as for novice golfers trying to learn this great game.
Stage 1: Ability to perform and play shots under coach’s supervision
The first stage is the stage of coach guided direction. This does not mean that the coach is giving “correct answers” for problems, but rather the coach is providing direction as the player and coach search together for ways to play to play better shots. The key factor of development is dete
rmined by well you can perform and play different shots under the supervision of a coach. As you continue to practice and play, this foundation of the pyramid should continue to improve. This foundation helps the player create confidence in the process of changing their patterns (swing patterns, shot patterns, set-up patterns, etc). Once the player is satisfied with the consistency of the desired changes, the foundation is set. The first stage has been accomplished and now it’s time to check the second block of the pyramid.
Stage 2: Ability to perform and play shots while practicing
The second stage occurs when the player feels good about his/her ability to consistently perform and play shots during their normal practice sessions. This is actually the stage of the least amount of pressure. It’s just a student working on producing consistency in their shots while practicing with nobody watching. There is no competition. There is no score. (Although, this type of scoring practice with other people can be extremely beneficial). This stage it’s just you, the club, the ball, and a target. No outside interference. You just measure your ability to play shots according to your acceptance.
Stage 3: Ability to perform and play shots in non-pressure situations
Now comes the stage of progression that tends to get golfers off course. A common theme among golfers is “I’m great on the practice tee, but can’t take it to the course”. There are two observations I would make about this perception. The first is observation I’ve seen watching golfers for 30+ years is the majority of average golfers do not hit shots in practice as good as they think. The shot disbursement patterns are still quite varied. However, the range doesn’t offer water hazards, out of bounds, trees, bushes, etc! Therefore the shots seem ok in practice may actually be poor on the course, which changes your perspective for the same exact shot.
The second observation is there is mental aspect of trusting your practice and not having fear of the outcome. This holds true for novice golfers all the way to the top players in the world. In 2015, by all accounts, Tiger Woods was hitting the ball as good as ever in practice. However, it was evident that he hadn’t built up trust in his (4th) new swing. (This is an entirely separate topic). His shots on the course were not good. Learning to trust your practice and preparation are hugely important as a golfer progresses and improves his/her ball striking and scoring.
This stage is still a very low on the pressure and nervousness scale. This stage is going to the course and playing by yourself or with family/friends with very little importance being put on your performance. It’s just playing on the course and playing shots on the actual course instead of the range. I have never seen a golfer move to the fourth stage without becoming proficient in this stage.
Stage 4: Ability to perform and play shots during pressure situations
The fourth stage is when you are putting your game in a more pressure situation. For a tour player, this would mean playing in a tournament or possibly playing on Sunday near the lead. For an average golfer, it may be playing in club tournament, or just playing in a group on Saturday. It could be playing with a new playing partner. It could be playing a great front nine and having a chance to shoot lowest score ever in a tournament. It could be a junior golfer finally having a chance to win a tournament after competing for 5 years. Whatever scenario makes a player “try harder” and “care more” would fall into this category.
Therefore this phase becomes much less and mechanics and much more about mental toughness, trust, belief, and acceptance. If I’m teaching a golfer and they can produce acceptable results in the first three stages, but not in the fourth stage, then my job is to help them understand that the mechanics work, and they have to learn to use the swing they practice. However, being in these situations can lead to different movements and therefore much different patterns of synchronization. This is when the player and teacher need to format a plan to help the player work on the proper adjustments.
The better you understand the Learning Pyramid for playing golf, the more acceptance you will have with your progress.