Success is Earned, Not Inherited

By Dr. T. J. Tomasi, Keiser University College of Golf Senior Faculty and Director of Research

There is no doubt that golf is a difficult game, but do you have to be born with superstar reflexes, the eyesight of an eagle, and the strength of an NFL lineman to be a good player? Not according to Matthew Syed, a former Olympian who has written a book called “Bounce” in which he makes the case that success is more a matter of good instruction, a superior place to practice and the will to work hard than it is a heaping helping of inborn talent. Basically, he’s saying that it’s not so much genetics as it is “epigenetics,” and he uses as an example Olympic skaters who fall more in practice than lesser skaters: “The reason is they are always pushing themselves, they are attempting jumps that are at the outer limits of their capabilities. It’s a branch of science called ‘epigenetics’ — the brain is re-wired as we practice.” 

In 1953, researchers James Watson and Francis Crick made one of science’s most important discoveries: how genetic instructions are passed from one human to another via DNA. It is indeed wondrous how we know to make a nose and not a knee, but there is one drawback to the process: It is slow — too slow to ensure that humans can adjust to fast-changing environments. Thus, in addition to DNA, there is a fast track avenue of chemical switches that turns your genes on and off in order to foster time-dependent adaptation — more a stopwatch than a sundial. Epigenomes respond to the outside world based on things like stress, diet, and, of course, golf practice. Certainly, you are your DNA, but that’s only part of the story — another part is where a good environment and practice come in. 

Still, while we have all the mechanisms for success built-in, life comes at you so fast that you can’t just sit back and let genetics/epigenetics run the show – at some point, you have to engineer effective interventions. In golf, that means being able to trouble-shoot your swing and correct errors, and this process is dependent on a keen sense of cause and effect. 


Identifying the Cause

Repairing your golf swing sounds easy — all you do is identify the fault and fix it. But there is an important step many fail to take: Finding the correct cause of the error. Below is a common problem called the chicken wing, where the lead elbow juts out through impact in an attempt to prevent the club from flipping over (see the second photo). In this case, since I know the player’s swing, I can tell you that at address, his grip is too strong for the rest of his swing.  You can see the result when the club slows down during the transition at the top— the clubface is shut in the hook position. There are good players such as Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell who play shut, but most golfers don’t do well with a shut face. And it doesn’t take but a few snap hooks before anyone with an ounce of talent chicken-wings to keep the face open. 

In this case, focusing on the release, the hip action or some other suspect will not fix the cause, because even though this chicken-wing occurs through impact, the cause is far away – the grip at address. 

As the arrow shows, the club face points at the sky in a shut position, a harbinger of the pull and pull hook.

Success is Earned 2

You fix this fault by tracing the chain of error back to the root of the problem — otherwise, it will never go away.

Takeaway: Intervention at the right time can keep your swing healthy, but it has to be intervention keyed by an understanding of causation.  Making random changes in your swing to cure a bad ball flight without finding the cause is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic – it won’t save you from a bad ending.

If you’d like to study with Dr. Tomasi and other PGA Master Professionals, contact The College of Golf today.


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