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Skill vs. Technique

An important part of forming a clear perspective of the game, to ensure your priorities are rock solid, is to discuss Skill and Technique.

Occasionally I hear golfers refer to these terms, slightly misrepresenting their true meaning. Skill is often attributed to innate ability that you either have or do not (fixed mindset belief), and technique is something that can be acquired. In fact, both can be developed but one is more important than the other.

I think it helps to see them simply as the following:

Skill is the ability to perform a task
Technique is the specific way in which you might do that

In the spirit of instilling a practical, function over form attitude to your game, know this. Skill trumps technique. The ability to get the job done, the ball from A to B, will always be the most important facet of your ability to score. Developing new skills in golf will directly lower your score. Making your technique better only helps indirectly if it facilitates more skill.

There are no rules to skill. However you, in particular, find is the most effective way to get out of a plugged lie, play a a flop shot, or get the ball to draw around a tree, is fine. If the way in which you do it, gets it done, that's fine. There is no single technique we must conform to, only one that you have discovered allows you more control over the clubhead to hit the shot you want.

When technique becomes the only thing...

You know when a golfer has pursued technique at the expense of skill, when they become so focussed on how they move, that they don't know what the club is doing. They then make the same mistake over and over, because their attention is exclusively on how they move, rather than delivering the club in a way that gets the job done.

Do you want to be the player who makes pretty backswings but doesn't know where the ball is going?

When technique needs changing

As a coach I strongly discourage changing technique for the sake of making it look better. Technical changes can take time and disrupt performance, so there needs to be good reason for attempting them. There are two contexts for doing so, when current technique:

  1. Risks injury, it's not good for the body

  2. Is blocking you from satisfying the 3-dimensionality of the task

If skill is making the ball behave as intended, then the clubhead needs to be delivered through the impact zone in a particular way. The task is 3-dimensional (golf is hard!), and technical interventions are often necessary when the way in which a golfer is delivering the club can only satisfy part of the impact skill required.

For example if, prior to impact, a player's clubface is too open, they may be forced to compensate by releasing the club early to square the face. In doing so they might hit it straight, but the compensation sacrifices good ball-turf contact. In this case, a technical tweak might be required to attend to the clubface and remove the need for compensation.

Direct benefit?

As a general rule, if you can't make a direct link between a technical change and a benefit at impact, bin it. Given how easy it is to over-complicate the swing, you must be ruthless about this.

When it's not technique

If your technique hits the ball perfectly well in a non-pressurised situation, but crumbles under pressure, I would challenge whether the technique itself is the limiting factor. More likely it is the nature of training that is not preparing the mind for the extra challenge of competition. This is very resolvable incidentally.

Types of practice

Skill-focused and technique-focused practice sessions are different animals with different goals. Being clear on your objective is key to ensure you spend your time effectively. I will discuss this in the practice section.

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