Review of Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker

I’m finally getting over an annoying episode of Adhesive Capsulitis (also called Frozen Shoulder). It has hung on since early March which makes me feel lucky because it is commonly known to as long as nine to sixteen months in guys my age.

So, I’ve only played a total of 54 holes of golf since March. For 36 of those holes it felt just like a #1 Phillips head screwdriver was getting jabbed into the front of my shoulder. Now, I’m thankfully pain free and so far have recovered about 70% of my range of motion.

I kept working on my game (in my head, anyway) while I was effectively banned from the course. One interesting book I read was Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker. Here’s an overview from the Extraordinary Golf website:

Most golfers approach the tee with a complex mental package: worries and judgments about their swing, the other person’s swing, the course, the weather, looking good, looking bad. They think about what’s wrong instead of what’s possible.

Drawing on his experience teaching both amateurs and professionals for more than three decades, in his clinics around the country, in his Golf in the Kingdom seminars at the Esalen Institute, and at his own golf schools in California, Shoemaker gives players a new perspective.  He combines a host of practical, proven exercises with a whole new way of thinking.  He shows how golf can be coached, learned, and practiced, with results not only in people’s scores but in their sheer pleasure in the game.

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I agree about the complex mental package. In fact, I’d say Shoemaker is putting things mildly in his description of what the average handicap player carries around in his cranium. As Bobby Jones said, “Most golfer’s believe they’re thinking but what they’re actually doing is worrying.” Shoemaker writes about the benefit of awareness and his own efforts to first maintain concentration on the ball for the entirety of his swing and then to develop an awareness of where the club head is throughout his swing. I found both exercises compelling though at the time I was still unable to swing at the ball.

At my worst, I could barely create an arc big enough to hit a long putt but as I slowly recovered I got into the goal of trying to maintain concentration on the ball throughout a chip and then an easy pitch shot. One benefits of the exercise is to free the brain from bullshit swing thoughts and anxieties. Not surprisingly, I’ve found it very difficult to maintain that level of concentration on a driver or 3-wood swing but I can now keep my brain on the ball from putter through hybrid fairly consistently.

The book also espouses the idea of (safely) throwing golf clubs as a bit of evidence that average players have what would be an effective golf swing that’s being inhibited by those counterproductive efforts to fix their swing. The more natural physical actions that will send a club flying toward a target would be well applied to golf swing, I agree. But the photos in the book are a bit off. All but one of the photographs show players who have stood up to their full height while tossing the club. I accept the idea that tapping into one’s natural ability to get the body to throw the club has a solid application in golf but there is, in fact, a ball down there just waiting to be hit and you can’t hit it while standing tall.

For a while, even while I was still reading the book, my brain wrongly substituted the idea of look at the ball for concentrate on the ball. Looking is one thing and concentrating is another. True concentration brings along the possibility of pushing out swing thoughts through the simplicity of concentrating on the ball. As I like to say, simple is seldom easy. Merely looking at the ball keeps the brain free to consider a bunch of thoughts and worries, none of which make the player more likely to hit the ball well.

While I was thinking about this review I came across Dr. Mark Wilson, a researcher in experimental psychology and human movement science and a leading expert in visuomotor skill acquisition and performance under pressure, from the University of Exeter. He researches what he calls, “skill acquisition process via Quiet Eye (gaze).” The term quiet eye (QE) is a term first proposed by Professor Joan Vickers of Calgary University. Anyway, Dr. Wilson has done research on golfers and has found that, “Such intense focus on the ball blocks out negative interference from mental chatter and allows the brain to process the aiming information and direct the body in the proper motions to get the ball where you wish to go.” I like the sound of that and I’m sure Fred Shoemaker would as well.

Extraordinary Golf would be even better had Shoemaker made a a more overt connection between awareness and action. As one’s awareness increases so does one’s ability to move the club with confidence. I guess it might have taken Shoemaker somewhere he didn’t want to go but I’m more than happy to go there. Golf is a hand/eye coordination game. Do you honestly think those tour pros who are so good at bouncing balls on the face of a wedge aren’t showing a skill that helps them strike the ball as solidly as they do? Pros have consistent and powerful swings as well as superb hand/eye coordination. Handicap players lack at least one of those abilities and possibly both. The good news is that concentrating (visually) on the ball may actually enhance hand/eye coordination for a handicap player whose ball striking is variable not only because his concentration is everywhere but also because that high level of defocus makes the hand/coordination required for a solid strike even more unlikely.

The older I get, the less I want to think about the challenge of trying to affirmatively change the way I swing. My paths to physical improvement are dubious; I’m not getting any younger, stronger or more agile. I see Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf as an encouragement to get me to change the way my mind works when it comes to moving the golf club. Years ago, I was smart enough to turn away from Youtube videos and most conventional golf instruction. Now, I’m very close to turning my back on the idea of fixing my swing by trying to swing better. I think if I had done this years ago I would have enjoyed the game even more than I already do. Thanks, Fred…well done!

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The 18th fairway at Griffith Park’s Harding Golf Course in October

 

Review of Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker

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