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How Long Does It Take To Learn Golf?

By Dr. Ron Cruickshank

 The number one question asked by students is “How long will it take…”  Here in China this question is often followed up with an interrogative like:  “to become more consistent, to be a great player, to get my kid a golf scholarship in a western University, to make it to the PGA Tour or win my club championship?”

We have struggled with this question here in China primarily because we have so many kids that have no cultural or family history in golf.  Often times they come to us without having been exposed to golf except in a most superficial manner and this means starting from the most basic knowledge platform.  This includes the parents. Yet, we continually are asked the ‘how long will it take’ question.

So, in an attempt to answer the “How Long Will it Take” question I offer the thoughts below.

Answer #1: The Obvious but Wrong One

The most tempting answer to the question is ‘it depends on how much you practice or it depends on how hard you work at it.” This seems to make sense intuitively but yet as instructors we know this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, the research shows that many times the exact opposite is true – people that practice diligently often get worse. In fact, over half of them do.  Darn, that doesn’t seem fair.

This fact flies in the face of a cherished belief held by many people.  “If I just practice enough I will get better.”  This is not true.  To get better you must have the right information, practice the right things, in the right sequence and with enough repetitions to make it a habit.  This is not contestable any longer but there is a catch.

The catch is that we’ve noticed that even our students that practice correctly have a lot of variability in the amount of time it takes them to get better.  If you adjust for age, physical shape, flexibility, natural ability, geography and the occasional astrological sign we often see students improve at vastly different speeds.  Well darn again, this doesn’t seem right- there must be something else underlying this phenomenon.

Answer #2: Not Enough Time Has Passed

Ah, the old temporal based argument. This is founded in the oft repeated cultural lore that if we just put in 10,000 hours of practice and have enough time go by we will become experts at our craft.  Alas, while certainly partially true, this is also not the case as many of the frustrated golfers we see at Phoenix Golf have long ago passed this milestone.

As we’ve reported before, multiple USGA/ PGA studies have demonstrated that the average golfer will get AS GOOD as s/he will EVER get within 2 ½ years of beginning. This means you can become both a scratch golfer in this timeframe or you can peak at the national average of 99 or even higher and never improve.  So it is clear that just time and number of practice hours will not guarantee improvement.

Double darn, what is the answer to this pernicious question?

Our Final Answer: You Must Love Learning and Be Good at it.

Yes, here is the truth based on our experience over the years.  To accelerate the speed at which you learn golf (or anything for that matter) you must join the ranks of ‘those that love to learn.” This means you must truly embrace the process of learning and find inherent satisfaction in the process. Below you will see listed some characteristics of fast learners that we have observed over the years. Moreover, I suggest to you that if you adopt some of these characteristics you will speed up your learning of golf as a skill.

But first you must ask yourself a serious question.  Do you have the worst disease of mankind?   It is called ‘hardening of the categories’ and it is often fatal to learning and acquiring new skills.  Most people that have it don’t think they do. In fact, the people with the worst cases are the most adamant that they are disease free because they already know it. Think about this and check yourself.

Before you can become a master learner, you must conquer this dis-ease with new thoughts and approaches and be open to different solutions to old problems. Ridding yourself of this disease will open a surfeit of learning opportunities for you.

How does a “love to learn’ Person Act? 

Over the years I’ve observed the following traits demonstrated by students that have learned quickly and effectively.  This is true in golf and other subjects.  Ask yourself if your spouse or significant other would describe you this way.

  1. Passion for the subject. If you love it then you will be more likely to learn it.  This is because the learning is not ‘work’, it is ‘play’ to you.
  2. Inquisitive about everything concerning that particular subject. When you love something you want to learn everything about it.  You are constantly engaging questions in your mind about what you are seeing, hearing and feeling.
  3. You think about it all the time. Any spare moment you will find your mind drifting to the subject. These are the guys you see swinging in the elevator or beside their cars.
  4. Value competency in what they do. These learners will take the extra time to make sure they understand.  These are the people hitting balls after dark and taking the extra 20 minutes on the green to understand why all their putts are short and right.
  5. Child-like delight in getting it right. They experience real joy and fun when something clicks and they get a new insight.
  6. Open and willing to change. Real ­”love to learn” folks are always willing to change something in the pursuit of learning. They are in no danger of dying from ‘hardening of the categories.”

If you totally embrace all these traits will you be as good as Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth or Jason Day? I have no idea but I do know that your potential will be optimized and for a Coach and a Student I think that is a job well done.

About the Author:  Ron Cruickshank, Ph.D., is a Master Instructor and loves the game. He is the Founder and CEO of Phoenix Golf Academy and the developer of the A1K Natural Swing.  He operates from the beautiful tropical island of Hainan in the SW of China.  His mission is to train the emerging golfers in China to swing with ease.